I returned home in the late afternoon yesterday, feeling a bit tired from a pair of days in the city. The cabin looked fine, but as I came up to the front door I paused – there was a beer can by the front door. I had guests last weekend, and we drank more than a few beers, so this was not altogether unexpected – but there were two holes and a dent in the can. I looked at it for a few seconds – they weren’t bullet holes. Did one of my guests take the time to puncture a beer can twice for no reason? And with what tool?
It’s hard to say if we suspect things are wrong because we quickly register such small bits of incongruous data, or if we get a feeling something is wrong and then look with heightened awareness at our surroundings. But I opened the front door of the cabin and knew immediately what had happened. The back door was wide open. On the floor were broken plates, piles of napkins, bottles of liquor and water, and the food containers that had been in the cabinets. The kitchen cabinets were open. The floor was covered in grass seed – I had several bags of grass seed that I had stored under the kitchen counter, and they had been ripped apart and dragged out into the extension. The shelves in the cabinets had been pulled down. A bear had gotten into the cabin.
I immediately knew that I had been stupid, and that this was the single greatest mistake I had made since moving to the mountains four years ago. I had to work Sunday as well as drive my guest home; we had a few beers Saturday night and then left the cabin by 7 a.m. Sunday morning; we did a very meager job cleaning up and we left food in the cabin; and I had left the back door open. I do this sometimes when I go to work – a little air circulation does not hurt during the summer – but I knew I had been an idiot to leave only a screen door between a bear and an empty cabin filled with food – for two whole days, no less.
Stepping outside did not make me feel better. In a little clearing in the ferns about thirty feet from the cabin I found what must have been the bear’s first meal: five chocolate bars and a bag of rice that was adjacent to them in the cabinet. There was absolutely nothing left but wrappers. The chocolate is the smelliest thing I have and I have every reason to believe it was the primary lure for the bear. After finishing the chocolate and rice, I suspect he returned to the cabin for more, choosing the things that smelled the most and (disturbingly) eating them a little bit closer to the cabin each time. So the corn chips and (open bag of) unshelled pecans got devoured twenty feet away; then ten feet away he finished off sealed bags of raw almonds, sunflower kernels, dried soup packets, and raisins; and right outside the cabin door he left a bag of grass seed, unfinished. The only good news was that he didn’t feel comfortable enough to eat inside the cabin: he knew that it was dangerous territory and not a good place to stay. But it appears he got increasingly comfortable with each successful trip to the kitchen.
I don’t know how long he was here but he did not finish off the contents of my cabinets. There were still two cabinets he never got to, as well as a bag of grass seed he never opened. Nor did he finish the first bag of grass seed he tried to drag off. So I had no doubt that he knew where the food was and that there was plenty of it. My cabin had become one of his caches. So he was coming back. All I could do was clean up his mess and wait for him.
And come back he did, around 7:30 p.m., just as twilight was setting in – “Exactly on time,” I said as I heard the first footfalls in the forest. He was walking past the front of the cabin, nosing his way around the campfire – damn, there were still some beercans out there – and I came right out to say hi to him. I’ve noticed this before about this bear, but he didn’t notice me at first – he seems to lack the sensory awareness of a wild animal – he just kept walking past, nose to the ground. I clicked at him and got his attention. He looked at me with unusually hateful, almost canine eyes – visible in the shot I took of him at the time, which I recommend clicking onto for a closer look – and I felt that he was processing the situation: “Damn, that lazy S.O.B. over there has gotten into my own private little stash. But he looks too big to try to drive off. I tell you, if I weren’t just a little bear I’d go right over there and put the fear of God into that skinny little writer-dude. People seem to be everywhere nowadays. I wonder how they taste? Maybe next year.” So he put his nose down again and started ambling off.
Of course that was not good enough for me. He couldn’t just decide to leave – I was going to make him go. So I grabbed a two-pound rock, roared at the top of my lungs – the human voice is so impressive, I am sure I have never made that much sound before in my life – and the bear bolted down the mountainside. I threw the rock straight and far and true, but as he was going downhill I couldn’t tell if I hit him or not. If I didn’t hit him, I sure was close to him, because he took it up another gear and as I ran down the mountainside after him I saw him moving faster than I have ever seen any bear move. If you told me he was going forty miles an hour I would believe you. He was moving as fast as the fastest dog I’ve ever seen. So much for bears not being able to run downhill. As he vanished I realized that if he had charged me from the very beginning at that speed I might not have been able to get back into the cabin – only about six feet away – before he covered the sixty feet between us. That’s how fast he was.
It was then time for me to spend a nervous night at the cabin. The animals of the forest seemed to know I would be on edge and they took full advantage of it. I heard some rustling about in the extension, went over there and saw – of all things – a young ermine, or so I believe it was, a weasel of some sort, I had never seen an animal like this before. It looked like a chipmunk that someone had stretched to be about ten inches long. It was incredibly long and skinny, with a brown coat and white underbelly. He went around the entire extension, looking into everything, and seemingly unperturbed by my presence. I opened the screen door and stood there, and he very nearly walked right by and came into the cabin. He’d be a great guy to have around, obviously, to control the rodents that have been enjoying my garden. Though it looked like a chipmunk would give this guy a pretty good fight – as I said, he was very skinny, and though twice as long as a chipmunk he didn’t look like he had any more heft.
I closed and locked all the doors before going to sleep, and shut the ground-floor window. I also brought my maul in and slept with it by my bed. In the middle of the night, sure enough, I heard what sounded like some large animal eating a plastic flowerpot. I came out – honestly, I don’t know where I got the courage, I’m sure now it came from not thinking about it, I just knew that I had to drive the bear away and had to be resolute about it – and found a raccoon ripping open some tupperware that the bear had apparently not finished. His eyes glowed orange in the light. So I yelled at him and off he went.
It was not a great night for sleep, but there were no more events until morning, when I heard the noise of cracking plastic around 7 a.m. I opened my eyes and looked out the window and there was the bear on top of my car, swatting at the windows. I would have preferred to utterly terrify him, but I was afraid he would break the car window while I was gathering my rocks and readying my voice, and so I just yelled at him from the window. He looked up and then sheepishly jumped off the hood of the car and loped into the woods. I went out and yelled more, but he was already out of rock range. He was moving disappointingly without the fear he had the day before, however.
He had cracked the rainguard that protects my driver’s side window. There were also a couple of scratches and some neat pawprints on both the hood and the roof. There was nothing in the car but a banana peel. The good news is that he didn’t try the cabin, but maybe he just hadn’t gotten there yet.
So I’ve really messed things up here, and put myself and the bear in a fair amount of danger. I knew he was trouble before, and now this trouble is on my own doorstep. I will talk to some people at town hall and see what they recommend. He’s just a young bear – honestly, he’s not much bigger than I am, maybe two hundred pounds or so – but he already has a malicious face. This is only the beginning of the trouble. [For more on the bear go here. He only came back that one more time.]