My friend Judith posted a piece this morning about bears in her backyard. I've had a few encounters with bears in my years of rural living. The most frightening occurred when my four children were small. We had moved from a suburb of Connecticut to a house in northern Vermont. We were surrounded by woods on all sides, a lovely place for the kids to play and for us to take family hikes looking for signs of the wildlife that lived there.
We were told by a neighbor that a small village had been built deep in the woods along a fast moving stream but the houses had all been removed further down the road to become the county seat when the railroad was established. The old stone foundations could still be found along the stream and there were several good swimming holes.
One hot summer day I took the kids, who at that time were 9, 8, 7, and 3, exploring. We followed a path through the deep woods, our two pups racing ahead and doubling back to make sure we were still coming. We'd gone almost a mile when the path split to skirt a huge patch of wild raspberries. We stopped to pick a few berries and decided it didn't matter which path we took; undoubtably both ways would converge into a single path again on the other side of the berry patch.
Just then the dogs came flying past us, their ears flat, their tails tucked. They raced back down the trail the way we'd come. At a noise I looked back and there, rising up from behind the berry patch was an enormous bear. I could feel the hair on my head actually stand up. I took the youngest girl into my arms, herded the other kids in front of me and said, "Sing! Sing loud! And walk but don't run. Don't run even if you're scared."
Off down the path toward home and safety we went, singing at the top of our lungs. It was the longest walk I'd ever taken. I kept turning around to see if that bear was following us but I didn't see it and I didn't hear it. I didn't dare run but I never wanted to be out of a place as badly as I wanted to be out of those woods.
I had nightmares for weeks about bears mauling my children. They, on the other hand, considered it high adventure and my oldest boy spent hours researching bears at the library. We learned that the bear we saw, a black bear, is shy and that it most likely took off in the opposite direction just as speedily. If it had been a mother with cubs we were in danger only if she felt her cubs were being threatened.
It was the only bear I saw in the 12 years we spent homesteading. There's a resident bear here where I now live; it's been sighted often. Just last night it prowled around the compost bin and left its calling card in a pile under my swing. I've only glimpsed it once as it lumbered into the woods after drinking at the pond. I have never taken a photo of it, as Judith did her bears. That's okay. I need only close my eyes to conjure that bear rising up behind the berry bushes. That's enough for me.