Posted by: A Part of the Solution | February 4, 2010

Bear Tracks

A couple of weeks ago, deep in the heart of January, we were out on one of our seemingly endless attempts at establishing the property boundaries for our new home. One hundred and ten acres (about 45 hectares) is a fair amount of land on the East Coast. And it doesn’t seem smaller when it’s cloaked in forest and seamed with seasonal creeks and ancient ravines.

Just the other day, we were trying to walk our ‘line’ as the snow started falling. It was quiet, and crisply cold in the woods and we hailed the surveying markers as we found them, and followed fallen fence-lines now embellished with flourishes of rusted barbwire. We were out in the woods for most of an hour. And when we finally decided to see where the ridge on our left placed us as we’d been floundering along in a stream valley for some time (I was sure we were well onto a neighbor’s plat by then), we debouched from the woods only sixty yards (55 meters) from where we’d entered.

But back in January as we tried to find our boundaries, or even the sense of them, snows melting and trees dripping in morose antiphonal answer to the babbling brook shadowing that part of our walk, we came across a track most assuredly not that of either of the eager dogs accompanying us. It was bigger (though only slightly) than the dogs’ feet were making. It was crisp enough that in the then warming weather it couldn’t have been more than a couple of hours old. It had that signature ridge across the top of a broad pad–and all five of the claws in front of that ridge. Indisputably a bear.

Our wise neighbor to the east assured the farm manager that there are three bears making their home in the vicinity. He pointed to his grape arbor, a sad, sagging ruin off behind the house. “I looked out the window one morning only to see friend bear. It was sitting just there, tearing hunks of the vine right off the plant to get at the grapes.”

I’m delighted that we have the species diversity and terrain appropriate to supporting black bears. I’m thrilled that we’re a part of a complex ecosystem suitable to maintaining wild top-of-the-food-chain individuals. I’m more than a little less pleased at what this may mean to our berry growing and hive keeping efforts.

In rural parts, there are so many levels of trade-offs it’s hard for me to know how to feel about the specific pieces of participation and population. I was raised on National Geographic and Ranger Rick. I’m a big fan of all that lives in the woods, and I suffer enough suburban guilt to hope I won’t have to curtail or control any of the impulses of my feral co-inhabitants. That hope is fading.

Would that a good fence were enough to make good neighbors of the fauna–or of us.

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