Bruin’s Nest

I finally got the whole story from the horse’s mouth — a bear tale that comes at an opportune time, bear season less than two weeks away.

I would probably still be in the dark had not a green military helicopter disturbed my peaceful Upper Meadows neighborhood last week. Word has it that a State Police task force uprooted 400 mature marijuana plants before they were done scouring the swamp and hillside behind my neighbor’s home. I can’t confirm their take; only witnessed a couple of plants being lugged off myself; but my neighbor told me they got 400; could have been four for all I know. Quite a scene it was, a well-coordinated harvest-time sting by an eastern Massachusetts team, five or six of them, all specialists, nondescript, just T-shirts and pants, some Army fatigues, others plain jeans: a gotcha-Greenfield moment.

But back to the bear tale, one my friend and neighbor had tried to share a few weeks ago, following a backyard incident. When I started pecking at my keyboard during our telephone conversation, he hesitated, said he hadn’t seen the bear himself. He was just repeating what he’d been told by the man he hired to clean up extensive damage left by a June storm that passed through and wreaked Meadows havoc. Now I have the whole story, one illustrating the adaptability of wild creatures, however large, that have learned to hide out in thickly settled, food-rich neighborhoods. Such beasts feed when the time is right, lay back when it’s not. This demonstrates that.

The devastating summer storm that flattened large trees in my neighborhood did quite a number on my friend’s yard. Several tall pines were broken in half, some destroying ornamental plantings below, one crunching the ridge of his garage roof, another damaging his parked Chevy Blazer. What a mess! But that’s ancient history now; time for a more recent event, one that occurred last Thursday morning.

While sitting and talking to my next-door neighbor in his screened porch, you would have thought there was a manhunt under way; terrorists maybe. A low-flying helicopter was circling my immediate neighborhood, making tight loops apparently concentrated on my friend’s property three doors down. Finally, when the focus became obvious, I called my neighbor on a cell phone to see what was going on. Was he under attack? Suspicion? Did he need help? He just chuckled, said he was fine; I ought to come over a take a look; quite an operation.

I hung up the phone and took a short walk, helicopter circling above, finding my friend way out back. He was talking to a female neighbor and a few men I didn’t recognize, two of whom were there to remove trees and debris left behind by the June storm. I learned the identity of the third man when he turned to walk toward the swamp and woods line, where the helicopter was hovering, men scurrying about on a mission. The stacked writing across the back of his Navy blue T-shirt said it all: Massachusetts State Police. (Ooops, wish I hadn’t made some wisecrack about our tax dollars being put to good use. Oh, well, I guess I’m famous for gaffes like that, though rarer in recent years.).

Anyway, within seconds of the cop’s departure, a member of his party exited the cattails 100 or more yards north of us carrying a marijuana plant as tall as him. He was traveling east toward an unseen vehicle. The plant was reportedly one of many pinpointed by an infrared heat-seeking device aimed at the ground by cops from the airborne helicopter.

As we observed the sting and chatted, the leader of the tree crew approached to join the conversation, which quickly changed to bears. My friend wanted the tree man to tell me his tale. We were standing within spitting distance of the lair from which it had fled, and my friend thought it high time for me to hear the story.

Perhaps 20 feet to our right stood the massive, eight-foot-high stump of what had been a triple weeping willow blown down during the storm, leaving behind a mess that had to be professionally cleared. Three massive leaders had fallen onto the yard, the bottom ends laying in a thick clump of brush surrounding the stump, pointing straight as a preacher to the heavens. On the hot early-August afternoon of the bear siting, the laborers had already cleared most of the mess from the lawn, stacking logs for someone who had promised to take them, piling the smaller branches over to the side. That done, the foreman decided to tackle the three thick, heavy logs resting in the tangled stump clump, but first he had to develop a safe strategy.

After assessing the task at hand and deciding on his first step, he squeezed into the small oval jungle — chainsaw in hand, tall stump towering over him — and looked for enough elbow room to start the saw. That’s when he spotted something big, black, motionless and close that didn’t alarm him at first, assuming it was a stump or log or chunk of upturned turf. But when he fired-up the saw, the motionless black object sprang to its feet and bolted across the field to the woods. It was a big, black, burly bear, probably a solitary male that had lain in its lair under the fallen willows through a morning of commotion, close encounters with human beings and chainsaws, and never budged. The animal must have been feeding on the two nearby apple trees full of fragrant, succulent fruit, and it wasn’t about to leave unless absolutely necessary.

Later, the tree man, a hunter who has killed bears, went out to the apple trees along the swamp’s edge for closer inspection. Curious, he discovered another bruins’ den hollowed out beneath the fruit tree that was partially uprooted and laying semi-horizontal. Further investigation revealed plenty of bear sign: scat, claw marks and broken branches on both trees. Favorable feasting for the big bruin.

The opportunistic beast has probably been back to those apples many times over the past three weeks, will likely continue returning until all the fruit is devoured, picking its spots, people or no people.

Whether bi- or quadruped, they find a way.

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