Thursday, October 04, 2007


While out recently, I came across a pile of fresh bear scat, so fresh that it's moisture made a ring in the dust around it. Shortly thereafter, I saw where the small bear had walked down the road in my tracks from not an hour before, apparently unconcerned with the dog and I.

Nothing scary, certainly not dangerous. Bears in Alaska, now, the brown bears, are much more intimidating. Maybe all those "Outdoor Life" covers rubbed off on me. Those bears are so big! One of the first bear tracks I saw up there was so wide that I could place the palms of both hands, thumbs tucked under, side by side in it. Apart from size, those bears are really impressive in their lack of concern about people. Still, in over a month of fishing salmon streams, that time spread out over several years, we've only seen a couple of bears.

Black bears down in the Southwest are a completely different matter. It took me years to see a bear. Once I did, it seemed as though I saw one or two nearly every year after that for a time. Having missed this last bear by minutes, it occurred to me that I'm about due, as I haven't run into a southwestern black bear in a couple of seasons.

The first bear that I got a decent look at was actually two, a sow and cub, encountered while elk hunting in southern Colorado. I was working my way up a broad draw that was thick with brush, pinyon, and juniper. For a bit, I'd had the idea that something was up ahead of me- a general feel and anticipation, but never the distinctive thump of a hoof on hard ground or anything visible. Suddenly, about five yards to my front left the big brown sow blew across my path and to my right, closely followed by her cub. After a couple of seconds of crackling brush and thumping hearts, I could hear her sending her cub up a tree; her grunting and his claws scrabbling at the bark. I made a wide circle around up wind and we all went on with our days.

The year after that, I came around the corner on a gravel road and saw this guy:

as he messed about with a reflector marking a culvert. He was a very young bear and one of the most handsome I've yet seen. For once, I had the big lens on the camera, so I pulled off to the shoulder and jogged over a small hill to intercept him, getting a few pictures.

I find bears easy to identify with, in an anthropomorphizing sort of way. Coming across a hillside of overturned rocks in the spring woods and its easy to visualize the hunger that led to all that effort for some ants and grubs. In Alaska, finding a section of boardwalk on a trail scattered- ten foot 2x12 planks tossed about and tumbled- and you get a real sense of tremendous strength and the moment of "pissed off at the world". To me, at least, it is hard not to envy the casual strength with which that pique was presumable worked out. Life as the Hulk. One morning as I was looking for deer in the southwestern mountains, I saw a pair of round ears protruding over some low bush a couple dozen yards ahead. Binos in hand, I slowly eased up until I could see a medium sized bear, this fellow all black, sitting under a spruce with his hind legs flat on the ground, his forelegs between them. His post under the tree had a fine view of the ridge opposite and the rest of the fairly open hillside and caught the morning breeze. He was looking around without an apparent care in the world, despite a jay some three feet above his head which began scolding, perhaps at me. I regret not having a camera handy at that moment to try to catch the air of ease he (or she, of course) projected- sitting in the shade, a fine cool sunny morning, watching the world. I, in turn, watched him until a couple of bird hunters and their dog came up the hill behind, sending us each in search of quieter venues. I fancy our mental reaction to the intrusion was about the same, albeit for different reasons.


Steve Bodio said...

It strikes me that though I often see sign, I rarely see bears. Maybe three in the last ten years (and one in Motana)-- one near Mangas, one in the San Mateos (BIG), and one in the Magdalenas.

But saw fresh droppings in the San Mateos this week!

mdmnm said...

Hey Steve,

I think it probably averages out to about one every three years for me, too, Alaska aside. I'd think that we'd see them more, especially given significant amounts of time spent sitting and glassing in the fall.