The soft crunch of gravel: a bear-shaped shadow detatches itself from the woods, ambles up the road, turns onto my walk, and stops right in front of the door. Stands there under my portico, still as a statue. The light of the half-moon is disappearing into the dawn like spilled milk into a cat.
I’m up early to help my mother with our annual Important Bird Area point-count, which involves counting every bird seen or heard in three minutes from each of 16 points, located 250 meters apart, before 9:00 a.m. — but first I have to take my coffee, as usual, out on the porch. The large red cedar in my side garden is blocking my view of the bear, who doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to leave. The other week, a bear tore up a couple of greenhouses in a nursery less than a mile from here, but the game wardens trapped and relocated it, they said, several counties away.
I ease the porch door open, creep inside, and tiptoe through the house to the other door. Fortunately, the cold front had blown in the night before and I had pulled the sliding storm window down over the screen. There on the other side of the glass, a massive head shakes slowly from side to side, as if trying to free itself of some hallucination. I consider trying to get a flash photo, but why let the trophy-hunting instinct hijack this encounter?
I crouch down so my eyes are level with the bear’s, six inches away. Does he see me? It’s hard to say. He finally turns around, pads back down the walk to the driveway, and heads up the hill toward the barn. I go out after him, and this time, he does acknowledge my presence, looking back, then breaking briefly into a slow trot.
Two and a half hours later, we’re ascending the southeast-facing side of the hollow along the Dogwood Knoll trail, en route to point number ten, when I spot a large black animal in the middle of the trail: no doubt the self-same bear. We watch from 75 feet away as he sits down — still in no hurry — and appears to engage in some birdwatching of his own. This is the first non-humid morning in two weeks, and with the temperature in the low 50s, it’s reasonable to assume that the bear, too, is enjoying the change.
Video link (subscribers must click through to watch)
We must’ve watched for at least five minutes. The shakey, often out-of-focus video I managed to shoot has been edited down drastically, and fails to convey the slow, contemplative mood the bear seems to have been in. If I hadn’t moved to try and get a clearer shot and disturbed its reverie, we might be there still.