There’s bears everywheres.
Point of fact, as I write this, a black bear is ascending the stairs in someone’s front yard across the street from the cafe I’m sitting in. Broad daylight, bold as you like.
With all the bears creeping around this season and being needlessly destroyed by the ignorant and trigger-happy, I thought I’d offer a few words of advice on how to avoid harming or being harmed by bears.
Who am I? Well, I’m a pedestrian that lives in bear country, and I encounter bears on an almost daily basis in peak season. I’m still alive, have all my limbs, and I’ve never had cause to do anything above yelling at one to get it to go merrily on its way.
Be warned, though: this is just my opinion drawn from my experience with black bears in my part of the world. Don’t blame me if you get eaten by a polar bear or sexually harassed by a panda. Not my intention, and also not my problem.
Oh, and here’s a painting I did.
1. Make noise. All sorts of noise.
In my experience, bears are only potentially dangerous when you surprise them, or if you find yourself standing between a mother and its cubs. The trouble is, if you’re just rambling around on your own in the dark listening to headphones, you might just find yourself unwittingly walking right into one of those situations.
I certainly have.
The solution is simple: don’t be quiet. Be noisy.
Also, don’t listen to headphones.
Making noise gives the bear a chance to hear you coming so it can clear off and get the kids to safety before you get anywhere near it. No surprises, no cubs, no danger.
I didn’t want to wear big jingle bells wherever I went, so I started taking around portable instruments. Ukulele, accordion, or whatever else fit in my bag. That way, I could make noise, practice an instrument, have fun, and look only slightly less ridiculous than a person wearing jingle bells.
If you don’t feel like doing that, carry an air horn. Or french horn even (I’m still looking for a trumpet).
Unless you expect to encounter more dangerous species of bear (grizzly, polar, or care bear), defensive measures are completely unnecessary. Guns and pepper spray will wound, terrify, and antagonize a bear unnecessarily, and that will make them much more dangerous and unpredictable than simply clapping or yelling at them would.
2. Bears don’t actually want to eat you. You’re too much effort.
Some people new to living in bear country make the ridiculous assumption that they are being hunted by bears everywhere they go. They imagine that making noise is just making the whole predator/prey exchange a little easier for the bear, or that it’s best to slip by unnoticed as though they were lost out in Jurassic Park.
Bears aren’t out to hunt you. They’re out to find the most caloric bang for their effort buck, and humans are just WAY too much of a workout. Berries, mushrooms, apples, dying fish, and garbage are more their speed.
I mean, look at them. They’re chubby bastards for a reason. They don’t like to break sweat, and even though they’re well equipped for battle, they, like us, would rather our food didn’t fight back.
Their priority is to fatten up, not expose themselves to combat.
When I’m out foraging for side dishes, I don’t see a bear and say “Whoah! Hey! Jackpot! Who needs mushrooms or apples or crawfish when I can eat this bear?” and just go straight to work trying to kill it with my pocket knife.
Waaaaay too much effort. Way too much danger.
It’s the same for the bear. They’re just not that ambitious.
And bears have learned quickly that people carry guns, explosives, caustic sprays, and keep big scary dogs with them. We’re basically wizards to them; big unpredictable Gandalfs with deep bags full of lethal trickery-fuckery.
I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to tangle with a scary forest warlock for a snack – especially when there’s some perfectly good, less animate stuff just lying around.
3. Don’t carry around backpacks full of refuse. Don’t keep salmon in your pockets.
Should be obvious, but hey, don’t be a walking dumpster.
This rule applies to many things in life.
Ask your friends and family: “Do I smell like rotting horse meat sitting in a hot waste receptacle?”
If the answer is yes, you may be at greater risk of bear encounters. You might also be a zombie, at which point, you may need more help than I can give you here.
If you smell normal, make sure that your house does, too.
One encounter I had involved a bear trying to get into my kitchen because a house-guest of mine left a big tray of bacon fat sitting in my sink to congeal. I heard the beast climb into my back yard over the fence, and I got upstairs just in time to close my sliding glass door before it wandered in. True story. Had I been listening to music that night and missed the sound of it breaking fence-boards as it climbed in, there’s a good chance I’d find the bastard poking around my studio looking for secret deposits of breakfast meats (of which there are many).
What’s more, make sure to pick your fruit.
Either way, just remember that bears love a good untended fruit tree. If you pick your trees clean, you can make all sorts of wonderful preserves, pies, and desserts with it. If you fail to pick your fruit trees, not only do you lose out on making delicious food from it, you also lose your right to complain about the bears that come by to feast on what you leave on the ground for them.
Bears, like people, don’t respond well to being pushed around, kicked, spit on, or suplexed. If you insist on being a dick to a bear, things may suddenly go sideways for you.
Under no circumstances should you attempt to punch, flick, lasso, french kiss, circumcise, tickle or ride a bear. Do not hit on a bear’s significant other. Do not invite bears to play candy crush on facebook. Do not go to their lairs and attempt to recruit them into your religion whilst they’re still hibernating.
Do not snap wet towels at them.
Basically, just think of all the things that would upset you, and then don’t do those things to others. Including bears. If you’ve made it this far in life without grasping that concept, then by all means, go forth and wet-willy some bears with my blessing.
5. If you don’t feel safe, don’t go!
There’s plenty of times around this part of the year that I feel like going out somewhere at night, but have to consider that I might discover a bear in my path. Or a cougar.
If I don’t feel safe, I don’t go. I trust my gut.
Remember, we’re animals too. We’re equipped with all sorts of great instincts and senses that tell us when we’re in danger, and I’ve always paid attention to them.
When I feel like I’m being watched, I realize that I probably am being watched. No big deal. I just acknowledge it and behave appropriately.
In sum, remember these points and your local bear population should get along just fine:
– Don’t surprise a bear. Make some noise.
– Pick your fruit and keep your garbage/compost stored away somewhere secure.
– Don’t be a dick.
– Trust your instincts. If you don’t feel safe, don’t go.