Encounters with wildlife are one of the many joys of being in the Appalachian mountains. Bird songs are heard breaking into the silence of the day. Hoot owls and the occasional screech owls are heard in the distance as night falls and the stars appear. The whippoorwill sound is much rarer than when I was a little girl, but on those special nights when one is close by you can hear the singsong tone that is unmistakable.
There is an almost daily sighting of deer and now in the summer time a spotted fawn grazing in the newly mowed hay fields or bounding off at my approach through the woods. Wild turkey with their young poults are sometimes seen crossing a path. The tom turkey’s call can be heard from one ridge to the next calling for a mate.
But one chance encounter happened to my husband and I as we sat on what will be the main floor of the house some day. We had been working hard on the property, mowing, trimming, and clearing some areas. We had taken a couple of nice cold beers up into the house and sat in a couple of chairs right in front of the open window frames enjoying our view and some wonderful mountain breeze. We had gotten quiet together. That ability to walk or hike to a special place and just sit quietly without talking and take in the beauty and sounds of the mountains was one of the first things we shared that made me think he might be the “one” many years ago. And on this very special day we were sharing one of those times when we heard a scuffle in the trees below us. Then we heard a snort and we both thought it was likely to be a deer.
Then I stood up, and looked out of the window opening down into the front yard of the house and saw a black bear just walking up out of the tree line and right up the yard! I reached my arm back with my eyes wide open in surprise and grabbed my husband and said very quietly in an urgent whisper–“it’s a bear!”. He stood up right away and we both watched in shock and amazement as that wild black bear walked over to our water hose laying in the yard, picked it up with his right front paw and proceeded to drink water from it. The bear then “placed” the hose back on the ground as if he had done this before. He turned toward the house and raised his nose sniffing into the air. We weren’t sure if he could smell us, but he didn’t seem to be bothered by us if he did. He wandered over to our truck and my husband whispered, “we don’t have any food in there do we?”–worrying that the bear would climb in the truck to get it if we did. He sniffed around the truck but then ambled off towards the trench that had been dug down the mountain to lay our power line. And me without my cell phone to take pictures!
We watched this really incredible wild creature amble his way up the trench, stopping to sniff and smell for grubs or anything else he might be able to eat. We had walked from one room of the house to another, not speaking, trying to watch this sight as long as we possibly could! We had never seen a wild bear here, though my father-in-law had a picture of a bear caught by an outside game camera on their property nearby. When he had gone a little ways, we began to whisper in amazement to each other, “can you believe that?”, “we just saw a bear!”, “I can’t believe we just saw that!”, and many more expressions of our excitement. We assumed it was a male–but you know there was no way WE were going to try and check. It had no cubs and that was our primary clue.
A couple of weeks went by without any other sightings. We did tell the construction workers to be aware and to not leave food scraps or trash around the house site to entice him to come there daily for a snack. But we did our research on the typical territory for black bears, males range up to 60 miles and females range up to only 15 miles. It became a source of conflicting emotions within me now, did I want to see him again? Well, not when I was alone hiking on the trail around the house! But I didn’t want to think I wouldn’t see him again either–after all–this was his place first.
I had taken the mower to the top of the property one afternoon a few days later to mow the trail that tracks along the border of the property and I met a neighbor coming up our trail on his four-wheeler. He stopped and we chatted just a moment and he said, “I better let you know that I saw a bear just now down the trail, and he ran off up the mountain when he saw me”. So, the bear was back! And I was going to be alone on the trail armed with only a John Deere riding mower! Well, if he had run away from the 4 wheeler, he would probably run away from my smaller and slower mower–right?
So now, you are likely thinking one of two things–she turned around and went back down the other way out of fear?–or she went on down the trail anyway with her heart in her throat?–or what? I won’t keep you in suspense any longer. I did go on down the trail with my mower and went all the way to the house site where I decided I wasn’t going to be going back up the trail unless I knew my husband was close by on the sight to give me a little more security. I didn’t see the bear again that day or since, but I look for him (or her) often.