Lunch with a bear
Life in a small Western town is different from what I grew up with in New Jersey. For example, take today's lunch. Jan and I drove into Lake City to do some errands, and decided to have lunch at Southern Vittles, a local restaurant. In front of the restaurant was a big old tree, and up about twenty feet in a crotch of the tree was a yearling bear cub. We didn't even notice him until the waiter pointed him out.
I walked up to the base of the tree (after first looking around very carefully to make sure I wasn't getting between Junior and his mama!) and took his picture.
He'd been there since this morning, the restaurant people said, evidently waiting for mama bear and her other cub to return. Bears wandering around Lake City looking for food (mainly trying to open up dumpsters) are apparently pretty common. The bears are always hungry at this season—packing on the pounds in preparation for their long winter's sleep—and they're especially hungry this year, because the berries have been sparse due to the drought.
In fact, there was a tent camper up on the other side of the lake who was mauled by a bear just a few days ago. It was looking for food and woke him up. He was startled, the bear was startled... and you can guess who came off the worse for wear. He's OK now, but it took 138 stitches to put him back together. I'm glad I'm in a metal-bodied RV.
We finished our lunches (which were excellent, by the way) and adjourned to the public library, which happened to be just around the corner, to use their Wi-Fi connection. (Our connection at the campground is very slow.) There we sat on the porch and caught up on software downloads, while keeping an eye on the bear.
A thunderstorm brought a drenching ten-minute downpour that left his thick fur matted, but he stayed up there, huddled against the rain. He nibbled on the leaves for a bit, and stuck out his long tongue to lick some goody off a branch.
After about an hour and a half, he slowly climbed partway down... changed his mind... climbed back up... and then climbed down again, tail end first. By this time a crowd had gathered, and the sheriff's deputy had to shoo them back. The deputy had a rifle and some big orange shells—maybe salt, maybe tranquilizer darts, I don't know.
The bear looked around and decided the deputy was bad news. (Bears are smart.) Then he turned... and headed straight for me at a fast lope! I was fumbling with my camera, while praying that he wouldn't decide to take a shortcut across the corner of the library porch where we were sitting. The good news is that he didn't. The bad news is that I got no sharp photos. Well, I had a good excuse!
He ran past, less than six feet from me, and headed on down Silver Street with the deputy in hot pursuit. I heard one shot, but the bear ducked into an alleyway, and a few minutes later the deputy came back to his car. Jan and I felt sorry for the bear, and wondered how he'd find his mama. But we agreed that we'd carry bear spray from now on when hiking through the woods.
All in all, it was an interesting lunch. Next day, this sign appeared on the picnic table in our campground:
And that afternoon, a pair of young men in their twenties set up a tent about fifteen feet away from the table with the sign. They cooked supper, then brushed their teeth and spat on the ground next to their tent. (Toothpaste is a bear attractant.) I could have said something, but they'd already seen the sign, so what good would it have done? Fortunately, they pulled out the next morning.