Deer season is closing and unfortunately bear season is upon us. When we first moved up here we were warned to tag our dog Eloise. She is a big Bernese Mountain dog and from the back of her 110 pound self looks remarkably like a bear. The local general store guys met her and advised orange scarves for her tail and neck. They warned us that it was because the bear hunters are often first timers. They advised us that VT has a lottery for the licenses and there are only 500 of them granted. Lots of people apply and a man might go his whole life without ever winning the opportunity. Sometimes first time hunters get their bear and cannot figure out how to get him out of the woods. This is an opportunity for the locals who drive in with winches and tractor trailers to charge a fortune for helping the hapless hunter carry out his prize. Other times they mistake the big black dogs and the newspapers all carry at least one such sad story per season. Since we walk in the woods with our dogs most days, we bought the scarves.
I wondered how anybody every got a bear when we are always in the woods and never see any. Oh we see their winter caves. And occasionally our bird feeders get mangled to pieces and we assume it was a bear. But they are illusory. Until last August…
I was driving along route thirty when a big black rolly poly thing lumbered across the road ahead of me. That’s a bear! I thought. Wow, oh a bear! I was so excited I started looking for a place to pull over for a better look. I realized the bear had wandered through some thin woods that empty onto a campground where RVs park and plug in for the night. I raced over there and saw a man with a tiny little dog wandering around munching on a hot dog. The wood with the bear was a few feet behind him. I rolled down my window and suggested he pick up his dog.
“I got it at the stand around the corner,” he shouted figuring I was asking after the hot dog.
I yelled a little louder.
“Yeah, it’s pretty good”
Oh good grief. I got out of my car and walked closer explaining that I’d just seen a bear right behind where his little dog was. He scooped her up with wild eyes, and began backing away from me in a fright…overreacting a bit I thought.
Only then a man walked slowly out of the door of his camper and said
“uh. no ma’am, she’s right behind you”
What?…oh..I turned around and some four or five feet away was a beautiful 3 or 400 pound black bear. We looked at each other for a moment or two and then she slowly turned around and headed off to the bigger woods beyond.
I think of her now this hunting season. As a city person I have come to understand that filling your freezer for the winter can make the difference in a VT farm family’s life. I sort of understand about culling the deer herds too.
And of course these folks, the real Vermonters, have lived here carving out a hard scrabble mountain life for generations. Their traditions and ways are foreign to me and I try to remember and have respect.
Just the same I think of my bear this winter, and I wish her safe travels and a long life….