Living in Bear Country
August 1, 2020
“In all things of nature there is something marvelous”
Our little homestead is right in the middle of bear country. Sussex County, NJ has a serious concentration of black bears and we are learning about living life in harmony with these fascinating and awe-inspiring creatures. When we first moved here the thought of seeing a bear in our yard was exciting and a very different experience from what we were previously used to in our crowded suburban backyard.
Well, reality is quite different from the romantic notion. The first few times we crossed paths were not in person, but rather by seeing damage that was done to our cement garden borders (yummy treats on the other side) or huge upside-down garbage bins that housed some tasty leftovers from a picnic or scat that polka dotted our perennial beds. Then came our first in person encounter. In early spring, when some left-over bird seed was still in our feeders, we awoke to a mother bear and her three large babies standing up in our arbor gently pulling down the tasty bird food and happily eating. Being so close to these enormous and amazing animals took our breath away. We were overwhelmed and a little frightened. They were powerful and much larger in person than we had imagined. But the gift of living on a plot of land that had real aspects of the wild on it was tremendous. And we were, and are, so very grateful for it.
Since that morning we have had many moments with our furry neighbors. They can be seen moseying about our yard or retreating into the woods when the sound of a tractor spooks them. We've caught glimpses of them cutting through our garden paths and shade garden in mid afternoon. One time, John and I almost bumped into the mama bear while she was poking around looking for something good to eat. Overall, sharing our land with these lovely large beasts has been enchanting.
We are however, cautious about the dangers of coming in close contact with them. We respect them, they were, after all, here first, and we acknowledge that we share their space. We are vigilant about garbage, BBQ grills, our dog and strolls around the property at dawn. But we are also excited whenever we get a chance to see them and the thrill hasn't diminished. We have learned so much about them and what an important part they play in the Eco system. As consumers of not only roots and berries but also of fish, small animals and carrion, they are a vital part of the food cycle. They are exceptional seed dispersers because seeds pass through a bear unbroken and are left to germinate in the natural fertilizer that is their scat! And without any natural enemies (save man) they are at the top of the food chain.
So as summer enters August, we look forward to what the autumn will teach us about these incredible animals. We now know that females and males hibernate differently. Impregnated females especially, have a unique circumstance in which they enter the colder months. The mother will enter her den in early October (males go dormant in December) and have her babies sometime in January. The offspring are born blind, with very little fur and are quite defenseless. She keeps them warm and nurses them for months until they all emerge as a unit in early April. And these dedicated mothers will keep her babies with them for about 18 months. What protection and dedication they demonstrate and how remarkable that we get to watch their lives unfold before us!
As we excitedly wait for the coming seasons and what they will teach us about these marvelous sentient beings, we will be ever observant to the little bit of wild they bring to our landscape. We will be attentive to it, respect it and most of all enjoy it!
And remember...Please don't feed the bears no matter how much they may ask!