What’s A Little Bear Breath?

Bear come out of hibernation a little hungry and horrifically smelly.

If you read the last post, Cascara Bark & Kumi, Our Young Goat Herding Hostess,

Typical view from one of the lofty locations on our island home. This was our reward, in 2010, after scouting a trail created by deer. Unreliable, bushy and fun!

you’ll know that Susan and I wander the pathways of this island at will.  In spite of chattering breathlessly, we take time to notice what nature is offering.

Last Tuesday, except for a goat farm at the end of the hike, we were entirely alone with Nature – finding scattered fluorescent orange tree bark, animal scat, a pile of fur and, of course, tent caterpillars.

A Salmonberry shares its greenery with a tent caterpillar. The current infestation is very much unappreciated as trees stand bare following the ravages of these pests.

We decided the strange scat on the trail, must be from a domestic animal.  It was not fresh, but it was not aged either.  It was not horse droppings.

The next morning, as  “pod leader” for a cluster of about five mini-neighbourhoods, I received a message from the Emergency Response Coordinator about an adult Black Bear being seen on the island.

When tides are very low, bear and cougar will swim across the narrowed passageway to our home.  Once discovered, the animal will quickly be tranquilized and taken back to the big island.   These animals are not always found quickly since much of our island is undeveloped.

As I prepared the forwarded message to members of my pod, my mind went to the scat and the pile of fur Susan and I saw the day before.  I thought of the baby goats and the freedom with which the nannies browsed.

However, I was completely unprepared for the story that appeared in our local paper that afternoon.

On the previous Thursday, five days before my hike with Susan, a young 14 yr old girl was taking her usual morning shortcut to the school located in our village.  She tripped so stopped to examine her injured ankle.

Suddenly, a full-size black bear emerged from the foliage beside her.

She didn’t move.

Her focus was downward on the ankle.  Then she saw a huge black paw.  When she looked up, she faced a full grown black bear.  It began to sniff her, getting close to her face.  Then it began to rub against her shoulder.  The bear was so close she could smell its breath.

The nudge, she said, was “gentle, kind of cozy, but hard enough to bang you around while sitting down”.

She added, “It smelled kind of gross.”

This young lady wisely did not move.  With a bear, confirmed our animal control officer, a passive defense is the best defense.

After about eight minutes, the bear moaned and walked away – toward one of the most luxurious hotels on the island.

The 14 year old said, “It was strange.  It was amazing to be that close, but then I kept on thinking ‘this is it, I’m going to die.'”  It was later in the afternoon that she was struck with the full impact of the incident.

Thankfully our young islander was not harmed.

Since this terrifying bear-sniffing incident, being entirely uninformed, I’ve been on two good walks by myself and two lengthy hikes with friends.   Now, however, I’m content to see my walking shoes sitting idly on their shelf.  I’ll put them on again after another message arrives from the Emergency Response Coordinator:  “It’s Gone.”

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54 thoughts on “What’s A Little Bear Breath?

    • Interesting you say that, Joss! The energy of the transformation must affect animals, too. How could it not? The Animal Control Officer said “the number of bear-human conflicts reported across the province in recent weeks is not unusual for this time of year.” If they were “conflicts”, it’s strange that the stories aren’t on the news. I wonder if he really meant “encounters”.

      • it does make you wonder, doesn’t it? Encounters would be much better and hopefully those who have them, are feeling blessed. My sweetie once came face to face with a white wolf as he was cutting through some brush. They stared at each other for about 15 seconds and then the wolf wandered off. he says it was one of the most magical moments of his life.

        • I learned, from First Nations people, that each of the “figures” on a totem pole is someone’s story of a spiritual experience. They tell the carver the story and describe the “figure”. No one is ever allowed to tell another person’s story…only the one who experienced it. So, if your sweetie was to tell the carver, it sounds like there would be a wolf’s head on the totem.

  1. Whoa! What a story. I’d love to have been that little girl. I’d have probably shat myself, but to be so close to an animal like that, to have exchanged the same air….

    Wildlife…we encroach on their environment so it’s inevitable that they encroach on ours. About 3 weeks a yearling cougar was seen repeatedly in Boise. It had followed the river down from the mountains. After 3 days worth of sitings, the police shot the poor thing. They just couldn’t risk the consequences of a cougar on the loose on the busy greenbelt that runs through campus and all the way through town. I had hoped the poor thing could be darted and removed, but that didn’t work. Sad.

    Then last week, a moose wandered into town. That one was darted and moved back into the mountains. Poor critters.

    I hope your bear’s story has a happy ending.

    • We’re a fiercely animal loving bunch around here so, like Boise folk, Linda, we’d only shoot if it was obvious there was no other way, too. We all know which side they need to err on.

      Since our one radio station doesn’t transmit fully over the island and since the paper comes out once a week, we rely on computer transmissions to stay informed. No news of a transfer AND no news of killed sheep! That’s amazing because this one has to be well fed to walk away from our lass.

    • Me, too, June. With any bear story, I always think of the time you and I were hiking along Clearwater River when we heard the crashing of branches cracking and falling to the ground. Then – THUMP! A bear had fallen out of the tree. Remember? We did an effective “ABOUT TURN!”

    • The remainder of her walk with no people around (she got to school a half hour late) must have been terrifying. Crickey…talk about being scared. However, I guess she was in enough shock that she was on automatic pilot. I wonder if her acceptance that she was going to die sent a “no-threat” message to the bear.

  2. Smart young lady! What an exciting tale for her relay to others, so glad it did not end badly as fear often makes us do the wrong thing.
    Funny she said it smelled gross…wonder what the bear thought of her scent!

    • It’s hard, Charles. I’ll put them on for errands today and do a few rounds within our small village. Then I’ll go and pick up some fresh lettuce from my friend’s greenhouse. She can’t have an outside garden because her neighbour’s property is a deer grazing field!

  3. That is certainly a story that the brave young lady will be recounting for many, many moons…what a story to tell one’s grandchildren! Thank God she had the strength and presence of mind to stay still…it’s scary just thinking about it…

    Please be very careful Amy and leave the walking shoes on the shelf till there is an ‘all clear’…

    Stay safe Amy…God bless…

    • I can feel your care through this blogosphere, Shamasheikh. Thank you! There’s still no report of the bear having been found. Bears are omnivores and in spring like to eat flowers, grasses, small animals and insects. Thank goodness it had been eating enough to walk away from a human. Rest assured, I am content to let the Bear wander alone until it is caught and returned home.

  4. What an amazing story, it sends a shiver down my spine! I can’t imagine what it would be like to come that close to a wild bear – I’ve only seen one in a zoo, where it was tethered in a pit, pacing back and forth, so sad.

    • Oh Jacqueline, I cannot condone zoos. I loathe them. I realize it is wonderful for children to see animals, but who do we need to be kinder to…a child for 3 minutes or an animal for its lifetime?

  5. Hi Amy – what an amazing story for that young kid – gosh how absolutely fantastic to have that experience .. so lucky for her ..

    Yes – enjoy your walks when they return your walking shoes to you! Cheers Hilary

    • What a contrast of stories between your blog and mine! I’ve just been going through your posts. You are so prolific, Hilary…how on earth do you get so much done??? I’ve been warring with wretched tent caterpillars and I WON’T go into detail. I’ll just say that too many of our trees are totally bare – leaves devoured by these creatures who have yet to turn into unattractive, crazed brown moths! Also, Duc le Chat has hyperthyroidism along with an internal infection so I’ve been catering, cajoling and coaxing for over a month. It looks like he may be coming around now. And I thought I’d be spending a good chunk of time at my brother’s cottage on a pristine lake in the interior of BC. Oh well… it confirms that I find much to enjoy regardless! (I see the same spirit in you, my friend.)

  6. Sounds like an easy life, not complicated with urban busyness. I could consider your neck of the woods but I’m not so sure about the goat herding business. And bears? Shucks, I would’ve been running all over the place.

    • Totsymae, this is an island of artists. You’d be among people who would SOOOO understand you at the deepest level. You would not have to explain yourself. I’m not sure if you’d be an artist with a stand-up comedy routine OR a comedic writer who paints incredibly OR a mysterious madam X who goes to Arabia for secret reasons.

  7. Aah, bears. We do so love to Winnie-the-Pooh them, but they are not cute, cuddly or, really, all that smart. Would/should we consider Winnie smart? Dunno. But I do know that as much as I admire them, bears scare the living daylights out of me. I don’t want to be within sighting range of a bear, let alone sniffing range! That young girl certainly was brave, I don’t know of many that age (or older, for that matter) who wouldn’t have panicked with a big ol’ bear using them as a scratching post. Take care on your walks Amy, the horror stories surrounding bear encounters gone bad seems to have really ramped up this year. Loved the picture of the salmon berry — thanks for blurring the image of the tent caterpillar.

    • Yes, Kathy, my idea of dying gracefully is not lying on a trail bleeding after a bear mauling. How about having a QUICK heart attack in an elegant beach house with Robert DeNiro after winning the Nobel Peace Prize for some sentence I wrote that saved the world? Much more appealing!

  8. Oh my goodness, what a story. I’m so glad that young girl wasn’t harmed! How terrifying that must have been for her.

    When I lived in the Pacific Northwest, I was out for a walk with my then newborn son. Just him, the stroller and me. Then all the sudden, on a rural street, I saw a huge black bear gallop across the street about 50 feet in front of us. I never felt so vulnerable. A new mother, with this tiny life, and this great big black bear prancing by.

    Slowly, I wheeled the stroller around 180 degrees, and walked, shaking, back towards a busy street. I didn’t want to look behind me, but it felt like the bear was watching me the whole long way (I’m sure he wasn’t, it was just so frightening to realize I had nothing to defend myself with, and no car to hop into). I called a friend, and she picked us up and drove us home, as to get home, I had to go right by where the bear was last seen.

    The bear did come right into our neighborhood, later that night, and that was the last anyone saw of him for a while. I felt VERY thankful to have made it home safe and sound!

    Such is life, there in that glorious part of the country. Sounds like you can relate!

    • Vulnerable is an understatement! Yikes. Thank goodness you were able to get back amongst people. Glad you were okay!

      (I’m in the Canadian Gulf Islands)

      It’s so hard to imagine following the suggested actions: No eye contact. Be submissive. Back away – never turn and run. Bears have horrible eyesight, but so what!

      The bear is still on the island so I’m nervous even having my cat outside. I know he can crawl under a storage shed, but still…

  9. Yes, amazing. This hits close to home. Because of the drought we are experiencing we will, no doubt, have bears wandering in searching for food (we are on the edge of the Sierra Nevada foothills.) I would not have known to stay still. I read somewhere about making a lot of noise. Hmmm. Thanks, Amy, and I’m so glad the young girl is safe.

    • I am not an expert, Victoria, but we were taught to go through the bush making lots of noise. Some people carry cans with rocks in them so they rattle constantly as the people walk. Bears have great hearing (and smell) and will run when they hear the noise, apparently. When I was doing some work in the interior, we had an abundance of black bear one year. We saw them frequently as we enjoyed nature quite close to our vehicles. We were told if we saw one bear, we could be certain there were 10 that saw us. Not sure if I believe that, but it came from a wildlife officer.

  10. Wow, an amazing post, and what a clever girl to defend herself so consummately! Bears are beyond my ken: it sounds like that’s not such a very bad thing, although I would love to see one from a VERY safe distance,

    • Fortunately, Kate, I’ve only watched them from a safe distance and when I’ve been in vehicles or small planes. The young girl’s story, I heard recently, wasn’t believed by some people…until the Animal Control Officer confirmed paw prints and bear scat at various locations on the island. Even our friend Cin was a bit skeptical. But, it’s true, this was a bear and she somehow managed to stay calm. Let’s face it…frozen with fear!

  11. In almost 35 years of living on 65 acres in the Maine woods, I yearned for bear encounters! I chased a couple of bears into the woods, trying, in my young naivete, to make contact. And this I recommend – unless one is caught off-guard, as was this young woman: running AT the bears sure does make them run the other way! At least in my experience. Then there were the bird feeder bears who came and smashed all our bird feeders in search of easy seed. Again I had to run AT them, banging pans together to shoo them away! And not to seem overly smug by any means, but never once was I afraid of black bears. What I mean in saying this is that if one is afraid, no doubt the animal – be it a bear, skunk or wolverine – senses this and responds, perhaps, with aggression. Otherwise than that, they are, in my experience, usually pretty gentle creatures.

    • With most wild animals I’ve encountered, they’ve run away from me. Of course, that poses a question. Why do we hear of bears entering a tent and mauling people who were minding their own business as they slept? I would never knowingly place myself between a mother and its baby. I know wild animals do not like to be surprised. The more noise we make, the better. As a kid when I wandered all over with my dog, I was always calling to the dog or talking to it. Perhaps that’s why I was never bothered by one wild animal as a child in the bush.

      I truly understand you shooing a bear off in that manner. I’d just make sure I was close to safety in case it was very hungry or in a bad mood! 😀

  12. Amy aunty this is bit scary. I do believe that, the young lady is really brave. To be honest, I do not have such a strong heart to face such a situation. Thank you for sharing this amazing story. I hope you will be with your walking shoes on very soon. 🙂

    • Thanks, Arindam. I too hope I’ll be able to walk again soon. I’m beginning to feel like a slug and I gave up my gym membership! I’ll have to bounce on my rebounder! Hope you are well and doing lots of interesting things with fascinating people. My mom used to say, “Hope you are with people you like better than yourself!” 😀

  13. Yikes……close encounters of the bear type.

    If it’s all the same to you, let’s skip this personal experience and just be in awe of the young ladies…..

  14. I love what Joss said. I believe that I would also feel honoured after the shock had subsided. And humbled, too. I probably would have done the same thing because what choice do you have when you’re already squatting on the ground and this bear happens upon you. In my situation, that would have been my saving grace. Otherwise, with me having such a fear of bears, if I’d been standing and seen it coming, I would have ran out of instinct. And I know that is the last thing I should do. It’s good to read these stories and hopefully cement the appropriate response in my brain!

    • Having grown up where black bear and other wildlife were commonplace, I had lots of healthy respect, but no fear. The animals didn’t bother us unless we were silly enough to get between their babies and them. Whenever we saw an animal, it was busily running away from us. My dog went everywhere with me and would dash out of the undergrowth, scaring me way more than any wild creature.

      When I worked/lived in the far North, it was different – there were grizzly bear. I had a healthy fear of those gorgeous creatures.

      Davina, I remember you from before. You may have done this purposefully, but your link is to your gravatar, not your site.

  15. Oh my goodness! I wonder if the bear saw you through the branches that day, Amy. What a wise 14 yr old to stand still. I’m glad she was not carrying Cascara berries. He may have followed her home. 🙂 Just kidding. I learn so much from reading these posts about your nature hikes. Thank you.

    • That darned ol’ bear is still on our island and throws a wrench into my feeling okay about hiking anywhere. Even with another person, I’m staying away from the bush trails. The trail where the 14 yr old saw the bear was a 1/2 mile from our village. So I’m really missing my walks. I grew up in bear country, but this is different. The bear is alone and it may be getting aggressively hungry which means grouchy.

  16. Passing through trying to see what i missed. I had read this, but I must say the girl remains in my memory. I can just see the scene so vividly. What presence of mind, thank goodness.

    I think is great how your community works together on this.

    Wishing you many – safe – and pleasant walks on your lovely island.

    • My hiking is still curtailed – today I stayed on roads with traffic. Silly, really, when I consider how I wandered endlessly as a child amongst all sorts of wild life. But one lone bear, not on home turf, getting hungry…who knows what kind of mood it’s in by now.

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