Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Yesterday, in excerpts from Bill Dryson’s book, I learned that getting ready for the trail can be very expensive. Today, I want to impart information about bears in the woods. Dryson writes:
“Imagine, if you will, lying in the dark alone in a little tent, nothing but a few microns of trembling nylon between you and the chill night air, listening to a 400 pound bear moving around your campsite. Now, imagine reading a nonfiction book packed with stories…soberly related, just before setting off alone on a camping trip of your own into the American wilderness. …David Anderson, aged twelve, at 3:30 a.m. his tent was abruptly rent with a swipe of claw and the bear, driven to distraction by the rich, unfixable, everywhere aroma of hamburger, bit hard into a flinching limb and dragged him shouting and flailing through the camp and into the woods.”  (Before his fellow campers could give chase, David was dead.)
“…while my wife slumbered peacefully beside me, I lay saucer eyed in bed reading clinically precise accounts of people gnawed pulpy in their sleeping bags, plucked whimpering from trees, noiselessly stalked as they sauntered unawares down leafy paths. People whose one fatal mistake was to smooth their hair with a dab of gel, or eat juicy meat, or tuck a Snickers in their shirt pocket for later, or have sex, or even, menstruate, or in some small way, pique the olfactory properties of the hungry bear. Or inadvertently round a bend and find a moody male bear blocking the path.”

Herrero (the author of the book Dryson is reading entitled Bear Attacks: Their Causes And Avoidance) recounts the indestructibility of grizzly. But, Dryson also learns that if he is to be pawed and chewed by a bear it would be Ursus americanus.  Black bears, with as many as 700,000 in North America,  are agile cunning, immensely strong and always hungry. Herrero researched and found only twenty-three black bear killing of humans  from 1900 to 1980. But, there were twenty-five non-fatal attacks per year from 1960 to 1980. (Black bear picture from People-First website, no attribution given for photographer.)

Herrero then outlines the avoidance strategies for black bears that are just the opposite from grizzly.  Playing dead is futile, a grizzly will lose interest in a limp form, but a black will continue chewing . It is foolish to climb a tree because black bears are adroit climbers and you will simply end up fighting the bear in a tree. To ward off an aggressive black bear, Herrero suggests making a lot of noise, banging pots and pans, throwing sticks and rocks and “running AT the bear”.  Then adds, of course this could merely provoke the bear. Dryson concludes that no one can tell you what to do. Bears are unpredictable.

I have had two encounters with bears in my native Michigan woods, as a child. Scared hell out of me. Three of us slept with our sugar and milk for our cereal near us, food  planned for the next morning’s breakfast. The bear mowed over our improvised log structure for that bit of cereal and sugar. I learned how fast I could run.
The second encounter was a bear standing and looking into the window of our cabin while we slept. It woke us instantly and wildly awake. A male, he went from window to window, seemingly unruffled by the presence of humans on the inside with a gun. We were ruffled.

I hadn’t given much thought to bears since then, even though one has recently been on my property robbing the garbage cans of my tenants. I explained to them they have to quit leaving cat food out at night in an automatic feeder. And, not to toss any food garbage out until the bear quits coming back. It worked after four visits. I’ve taken to freezing my meaty garbage and only put it out on dump day. I’m beginning to rethink walking the Appalachian Trail. I’ve re-arranged goals before. I guess I could be called Greenhorn, Buttercup, sissy. Yup!  But, I have yet to contact Hilda. Gotta do that!  If other people survive…surely I will too.

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