Postcard from home

Hi Eva, Mark and Steve,

I guess you must be in British Columbia by now. The weather here has been mostly cool and dry since you left, until yesterday, when the skies opened up right around fireworks time — from around 8:00 p.m. until almost 10:00. I still heard plenty of booming, though.

This morning I was out on the porch by 6:00, and was rewarded with my first good bear sighting of the year. I heard a racket in the walnut trees behind the Guest House, but saw only a pair of gray squirrels at first. The next thing I knew, a small bear cub was climbing the big red maple beside the driveway. A few seconds later, the mother appeared, along with three other cubs, one of them clearly identifiable as the runt of the litter. They were full of play, racing up the trunk of every tree they passed, one after the other, and then dropping to the ground and climbing on their mother as if she were another tree. I didn’t have my camera with me, but even if I had, I don’t think there would’ve been enough light for either a still photo or a video. I was just happy to see evidence that the mountain is still a good black bear nursery, as it has been for most of the past fifteen years. I watched as the bears scrambled up the bank above the road and moved slowly off into the woods. I could hear them crashing around for a couple minutes after they were lost from view.

This wasn’t the only family I’ve had the pleasure of watching from my front porch in the past week. Last Friday morning, the twin fawns that have been hanging around the yard put on a real show. They too were full of play, and were tearing around in big circles that took them well up into the woods and then back through the tall weeds in front of the springhouse, while their mother grunted anxiously. I’ve seen fawns at play plenty of times before, but what surprised me with this family was the way the mother got into it a little bit herself. When the fawns returned, they pranced on either side of her until she, too, began ducking her head and kicking up her hind legs. Then they were off again and the whole sequence played over. The second time they returned to their mother, one of them actually vaulted over her lowered head and climbed up onto her back — just like the bear cubs I saw this morning. The play session ended with a round of nuzzling, before they returned to their regular business of munching on everything in sight.

I haven’t had any more sightings of the third family of large mammals on the mountain, the coyote pups that we saw a month ago down toward the end of the mountain. But I did hear them howling in concert on Monday afternoon — a real cacophony! It sounded as if they were somewhere not too far beyond the Steiner-Scott Trail, and I went over there the next morning, hoping that the pups’ typical enthusiasm for playing in the middle of mowed trails would give them away, but no luck. I haven’t heard any more practice howling since then, so perhaps they moved on.

All these sightings have me thinking about play behavior, and how it seems especially pronounced in habitat generalists, which makes sense: such species would have the most need of a flexible, experimental kind of intelligence. The other day, a blogger friend of mine posted something about the human capacity for joy, but it’s good to be reminded that this capacity is by no means limited to human beings.

At any rate, I hope you’re all having a good time, and are taking plenty of breaks from driving to get out and explore.

11 Replies to “Postcard from home”

  1. hey DAve
    your tree climbing bears
    remind me of HAP
    who has made his way
    with permission
    and WITHOUT
    back to the great outdoors
    where he deloights in running up
    one tree after another
    sometimes doing the leopard lay-about
    on the limbs

    the out of doors
    brings the WILD out
    in him

  2. That makes me feel all the better for handing him off to you! He’s gonna be hell on nestlings, you know. Still, he sounds like a lot of fun to watch.

  3. Dave, you MUST carry your camera permanently attached to your person. Another mini-video of the bears and the fawns at play would have been unmissable. Can you get them to replay those scenes for you?

  4. Well, I’ll keep my eyes open. But as I said above, the bear family wouldn’t have made much of a photo; it was too dark. And I watched the deer through a screen of leaves from a small cherry next to the house – one of the things that makes my front porch such a great blind – so not much of a movie there, either.

  5. How are your brothers and niece enjoying their trip, especially BC? I still wish you’d gone with them and swung by the SW corner too! Lots of similar wildlife in BC…

  6. Well, other than the four-hour delay at the border caused by U.S. border agents being assholes, it sounds as if they’ve been having a pretty swell time. I haven’t heard from them since they entered BC, though.

  7. wow, three cubs…I guess there’s plenty of what a bear needs to be healthy on your mountain.

  8. Great stuff. I love reading these accounts, Dave. Sadly, we’re a bit short on bears here in North Herts, but we can do deer from time to time. I was woken up last night by the sounds of rummage around the french windows. This morning several distinctive black turds indicated a visit from one of the local (if not naturally indiginous) muntjac.

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