Mama bear and her baby on the patio. Drawing by Carolyn Newberger

Illuminating the Hidden Forest, Chapter 45: Finding community in bears and cairns

This bear and her cub have, however, given us a gift. In this time of social distance, our mutual delight in the bears is bringing our neighborhood together.

To read the previous chapters of ‘Illuminating the Hidden Forest,’ click here.

May 8, 2020

We have a bear on our road. Or rather, we have two bears: a very large mother bear and a very small baby bear. I first learned of our bears from my neighbor, who lives about half a mile up the street. She posted a video of the baby bear scooting up a birch tree at the far back of her backyard, with the mama bear huffing on the ground.

The mama bear clearly wanted her baby to come down out of the tree. The baby responded by gleefully climbing even farther up, looking every bit like a toddler who has discovered her power to set out on her own, thank you very much. After fretting, presumably for her baby to come down, mama bear turned around and walked away. Down came baby in a hurry, and they ambled into the woods.

“I’ve done that!” I told my neighbor. What mother among us doesn’t remember at one time or another walking slowly away from a stubborn, crying 3-year-old who refuses to leave the playground?

Then, a day later, Lily leapt barking from the bedroom at 6 a.m. and tore through her doggie door onto the patio. I leapt after her and, looking around the empty patio, saw the hummingbird feeder, newly erected, swaying with no breeze in sight. I knew what that meant, and sure enough, on the far side of our property, mama bear was disappearing into the woods with her baby on her heels.

Scrolling through our outdoor camera footage, there they were on our patio. The mother bear lifted the feeder, looked it over thoughtfully, then tilted it and drank a quart of sugar water from a tiny hole in one of the red-painted flowers around the copper rim. The baby, meanwhile, sat on its haunches and complained.

I circulated this film clip to our neighborhood bear watchers, who thanked me for sending it, especially my lovely neighbor with the cub-tempting birch tree. She had been worried because the bears hadn’t visited her yard that morning. Now she knew that they were safely at our house.

A cairn in Kennedy Park. Photo: Carolyn Newberger

Of course, we don’t really want them safely at our house, but rather safely in the woods. We immediately took down our too-accessible hummingbird feeder, now to be taken in each evening and returned outdoors in the fullness of the morning. This bear and her cub have, however, given us a gift. In this time of social distance, our mutual delight in the bears is bringing our neighborhood together.*

I found another gift of a similar nature in Kennedy Park on the trail between the beaver pond and balance rock. On the left as we begin to climb toward balance rock, we have noticed a small boulder seemingly growing taller. Over the past few weeks, a few new rocks appeared on the boulder, then more. Then the rocks started to climb on top of each other, and now there’s a towering skyscraper of rocks. I have added my few rocks, thinking, as I lay them down, about all the hikers who have added their small parts to the whole. Somehow, we find ways of connecting with each other, of saying “Hello, I’m here in this beautiful piece of nature, and so are you.”

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*To read more about black bears and how to manage them, check out www.bearsmart.com.