Here in Western North Carolina, black bears abound.
They’re everywhere – clambering onto people’s decks, wandering through yards, invading dumpsters and cars…even doing our taxes (not really, but that would be nice). Compared to the danger factor of brown bears and grizzlies, black bears are more like oversized stuffed animals, but it’s still a bit alarming when they make a sudden appearance. But startling things (provided they don’t kill us) are fun, little reminders that we’re alive, right? So I’m a fan. I guess bears are my Appalachian equivalent of California’s earthquakes, because I thought those were cool, too.
The other night, our dog Titus sounded the alarm that something was amiss outside, and when we threw open the curtain that covers our glass front door, BOOM! Bear.
JR was not at all pleased. With one hand on the doorknob, he shouted, “What do we do?!”
“We don’t do anything,” I replied. “Don’t open the door.” (This seemed like a silly thing to say, but he really looked like he was about to open the door. When I asked him later if he’d planned to do so, he said yes, so I sure am glad I told him not to.)
I banged on the glass, but the bear didn’t give a shit. Giving us a sidelong glance, it stretched the bungee cord on our dumpster just enough to pull out a trash bag, then dragged it into the neighbor’s yard.
By this point, JR had broken into a sweat. “This is not okay,” he said. “He’s way too close!” I reminded him that this sort of thing is the norm when one lives in bear territory, but he wasn’t soothed in the slightest. Even the dogs, who will bark at the neighbor’s cat as if it’s plotting to unleash Armageddon, were utterly cowed by the bear. When they’d gotten a good look at the creature responsible for all the commotion outside, they looked at us like, You know what? You’ve got this. We’re gonna go lie down.
After the bear went away and relative serenity settled back into our home, I thought about JR’s and my differing reactions to the incident. I then recalled that he wasn’t with me for either of my previous close encounters with bears, neither of which involved the luxury of a door, glass or otherwise, standing between me and the big, black fur balls.
Bear encounter #1 took place during our first year in Asheville. I was out walking our dog Libby when something resembling a Newfoundland ran across the street in front of us. Libby was extremely dog-aggressive, so I was actually relieved when I realized the animal was a bear, not an off-leash dog. The relief wore off quickly, however, as it dawned on me that I was alone and unprotected in the presence of a large wild animal. The bear climbed over a fence and into someone’s yard while I left my mom a high-pitched, warbly voicemail about my very first bear sighting.
I’ve already written about my second bear encounter, so there’s no need to revisit all the details here. In a nutshell, I ran myself and my dog Jasper directly into a bear. In my defense, I was distracted by high levels of crankiness at the time.
I suppose, because I’ve had these up close and personal experiences with bears without getting mauled or killed, my panic meter is calibrated differently than JR’s. That being said, I may never throw open that curtain in the den with the naive nonchalance of the past. You just never know what might be lurking on the other side of a glass door.