Photo Finish

I can’t claim shock because I had an idea a neighbor or random passerby had probably seen that bear my dogs and I recently jumped out of a narrow strip of wetland before it tore up five plastic-covered hay bales nestled along an adjacent tree line above.

In fact, I was confident additional information would come my way. Hey, maybe even a photo — definitely not out of the question these days when most people carry cell phones and are thus camera-ready. That’s one good reason why I wrote about my close encounter with that burly black beast last week. I was smoking out a story. It has always worked for me. And, well, I guess I can chalk this one up as another success.

Yes, indeed someone did get a photo of that bear, albeit not atop the hay bale as her husband, then she had seen it before she was unfortunately forced by uncooperative traffic to pass the site and return. By that time, the bear was getting out of Dodge, heading west across the paved road. Her faraway cell-phone snapshot caught the fleeing beast climbing over the flex-beam guardrail and into a small marshy depression. I betcha from there it followed Allen Brook right to Angie Menard’s tasty bird feeders. No, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if that beast got a little taste of Angie’s treats.

When on Tuesday morning I told my next-door neighbor about the new developments pertaining to last week’s bear column, she wasn’t surprised. A hardy lady, she rides her horse and sometimes 4-wheels on the ridge above our homes, where she said she often runs into bears. In her opinion, there are many bears in the neighborhood, and she’s concerned that her dog, Molly, a chocolate Lab, could on the wrong day find conflict requiring vet bills. Most interesting from her perspective are the yearling twin cubs she’s happened upon more than once, very cute.

But, back to that Monday email with photo attached that was waiting in my inbox late Monday night at home. There it sat, just before midnight as I was preparing to run the dogs one last time before winding down into bed following my nightly Recorder shift. The sender, identified only as Keith, who later confirmed that we are “kinda neighbors,” opened his message with this creative little yarn:

“I was headed to town and saw a tall man in a black gorilla suit leaning against the white plastic hay bales and scratching them open. Hard to miss the contrast of black against white. I thought, ‘Can’t be,’ backed up, then, ‘No, that’s a bear,’ and watched it for quite a while as it continued to scratch open the top of the hay bales. (I was wondering if there were still grasshoppers/grubs alive in them.)

“At one point the bear climbed on top of one and was on all fours when it took a mouthful of hay and dropped it. After a while I rolled down my window and yelled to knock it off because (the farmer) would be upset getting his bales all messed up. I was ignored. I went to town and called my wife to take a picture, which is attached.”

Had his wife enjoyed an open road to herself, there would have been more than enough time to snap off a few shots of the bear atop the hay bale. No such luck. The traffic dictated and she had to drive past the site, turn around and come back from the south, by which time it was too late.

Oh well, better late than never, because we still did smoke out a citizen photo, an accomplishment to savor in this game I’ve played for many decades. I attribute the stroke of luck to constructing a personal relationship with readers, which I think is crucial to getting information. If sources don’t trust or respect a scribe, they don’t offer much.

Anyway, I’m sure that bear has negotiated its way around me and my dogs for days or even weeks, and will likely continue to do so for days and weeks to come. To their credit, my dogs, carefully bred pursuers of birds and beasts, must know better than to pursue the big black beast even though they’re aware of its presence along with the deer that routinely allow us to pass, always ready to spring up out of their beds and flee if we make a move in the wrong direction or get too close.

I guess by now we have become part of that riverside habitat, not unlike the hunter who secrets himself for hours on stand in the woods and can palpably feel himself blending into the landscape, senses sharpening acute. To me, settling into that fascinating place is more pleasing than touching off my weapon’s loud roar.

Must be getting old, I guess, although, to me, age is only a state of mind, one that affects people differently. While some get wiser and hone their face-to-face communication skills to a fine-art form, others grow cranky, unapproachable and totally uninterested in anything resembling open and honest discussion.

I prefer sage listener/communicators.

I passed my first summer acorns on the ground along the edge of a young cornfield over the weekend, and the sight told me woodshed time is closing in. The area is littered willy-nilly with deer tracks, yet the hoofed creatures don’t seem to be eating the small, round nuts. No tree expert, I always thought those big oaks standing atop the first escarpment overlooking the river were red oaks, which they may indeed be. But judging from the tiny, plump acorns, there could be a black oak squeezed in there. Then again, maybe I should ignore the size of the nut. Perhaps they’re immature and fell prematurely in a strong, stormy updraft.


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