Risky Business

Black bear in Michaux sneaking up on the cameraI have a trailcam, a camera you strap to a tree in the woods and record what comes by. It is a pretty cool way of staking out an observation point without actually having to sit there for three weeks — which is how long the camera was in it’s most recent position.

I’d put it out a week before I had surgery. The place I chose did not have a lot of obvious signs of any critters but there was something that seemed to feel good.

After my surgery, doc said stay out of the woods for a week, and then another week went by before I got chance to actually go out. When I arrived at the camera, imagine my surprise to discover the batteries still worked.

A quick run-through revealed a Black Bear, several deer (no surprise, that), and a fox. The bear was a surprise.

Many people think bears are dangerous. Not exactly so. In fact, the reason the bear was a surprise was I probably would not have seen it had I been sitting there waiting. Most wild critters avoid humans, even when the humans are common in an area. And the critters’ smellers are way better than ours, so they know where we are long before we know they were near – past tense being operative because, generally speaking, if a bear detects a human, the bear will slip quietly away.

Though sometimes their young, being less experienced, are not as careful. If one happens upon a Black Bear cub. the best thing to do is stand back and watch. Do not be fooled into thinking that because you see a cub and no parent, the cub has been abandoned. Mama Bear can be extremely testy when a stranger starts playing with her kid.

Animals are, I sometimes think, smarter than humans in the raising of offspring. For instance, a bear can sometimes allow her kids to play and forage seemingly too far away, by human standards, from her protection.

I know humans who will not allow their young to climb trees, which is a terrific waste of trees. When we lived in Virginia and our offspring were way smaller than they eventually became, a neighbor called the police because the kids were climbing trees “and they could fall and get hurt.”

To which I replied, “They will bounce, and next time choose stronger limbs to stand on.” That seems to have been a belief of Robert Frost, who went so far as to write a poem about, in part, boys swinging from bending birches.

Our kids’ mama, by the way, was amazed one day to hear the call of her young coming from a place she did not expect. When finally she discovered them, they were more than 80 feet up in a pine. Of course, all the pine boughs between them and the ground would have broken their falls, but that theory was never tested.

I once had a friend whose 12-year-old insisted on walking along the top of a fence. “Get away, Mom,” he cried when she tried to walk close below him. “I can do this.”

She was afraid he would fall. But the job of a parent is to stand out of sight of the youngster. If he does not fall, he has succeeded at something wonderfully risky. If he slips, the parental task is to be instantly beneath him before he lands.

Ask any Mama Bear – the one you don’t see until you lay a finger on her apparently abandoned cub.

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