“Don’t get between the mother and her cubs.” That’s always what people say when they’re trying to scare you about black bears. Well, this morning in the woods above my house, I may not have gotten between them, but I got within 20 feet of them as they played beside one of our moss-covered trails, and I never felt as if I were in the slightest danger. You can see the reaction when the mother finally caught my scent — they were gone. Only afterwards did it occur to me that if she’d decided to charge, I wouldn’t have had any time to react.
Windy days are great for sneaking up on critters that rely more on their noses than their eyes. I wasn’t making any special attempt to walk quietly; the bears were simply making more noise than I was with their rustling around in the leaf duff, and didn’t hear my approach. I had the still camera around my neck and the video camera in my pocket, and I had to make two decisions pretty quickly once I realized a bear family was running towards me: first, do I lose myself in the moment and experience the encounter as deeply as I can, so as to better remember and write about it, or do I try and capture it photographically so I can share the experience with Via Negativa readers? And if the latter, should I take still photos or video?
I am still not sure I made the right decision on either account. I quickly went into a crouch to make myself less visible and prolong the encounter, which I think worked well, but it’s a less than perfect video because I couldn’t keep my eyes on the LCD display — I kept glancing past the camera at the bears. It was fun to see the bear cubs horsing around at such close range, and I regret not keeping the focus on them the whole time. There might have been more cubs up in the woods; we hardly ever see a mother bear with fewer than three cubs. But I suppose this could’ve been a first-year mother. She didn’t seem very big.
The bears ran up over the ridge and I didn’t attempt to follow them, though I did walk as quietly as I could after that. If I’d gone straight back to the house after the encounter, the whole walk wouldn’t have taken more than ten minutes out of my morning: a great reminder of why one should get up from the computer every once in a while. “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door…”