hey, is that a bear under there?

Welcome to the Weekly Guest Spotlight

Leslie PiferTonight’s guest is writer, Leslie Pifer. For more about Leslie, click her picture to visit her website.

Born and raised in the hills of Western PA, I am a bit of a self-proclaimed and proud of it country bumpkin.  As such, I’ve been reading Erica’s country adventures with much amusement.  I told her, she hasn’t seen anything yet!

My parents’ property is 23 acres, the majority of that is woods, so we have had encounters with many a wild animal.  Now THAT is country living!  We’ve had deer walk through the yard from time to time, and well, anytime you went in the woods, you could easily come across a deer or two.  A couple years ago, we saw a freshly born fawn while out on one of our walks, which was pretty cool.  Little thing was still wet from being birthed!  Its Momma was not happy, and was creating a fuss, stomping and snorting, and huffing at us from some unseen location, so we didn’t stay too long or get too close, but even my Dad had never seen such a new fawn, so it was quite an experience for us all,

Of course, we had more than our fair share of squirrels, chippies (er, I mean, chipmunks), raccoons in and out of the yard, stealing from the birdfeeders and whatnot.  Every year, someone sees a couple turkeys, or a flock passing through.  I’m told that just recently they had a few nice big Tom’s in the yard, complete with impressive beards, which would have been neat to see.  I’ve only seen the Tom’s from a distance in the past.  Mom says that she got some good pictures, but has yet to send them our way.

There are coyotes in the woods; my sisters and I have never seen them (Dad has while out hunting) but we have heard them.  The sound of a pack on a chase on a brisk, crisp, clear, cold winter night…is eerie, yes, and mostly indescribable.  When the howling and barking stop, you can assume they have overcome their prey.

These last couple years, we’ve had some of our most exciting, and potentially scary visitors.  We had one or two in the yard when we were teenagers, but not like what has been happening lately.  I’m talking black bears baby! But, this past year and a half, it’s been Black Bear Central at the Pifer house! 

It all started in late November 2010.  It was deer season, and one of my Dad’s buddies was hunting down behind the house when he noticed that a patch of clay, dirt, and leaves had been disturbed around some brush piles, like something had been digging.  Of course, Dan went to check it out.  What did he find?  A black bear had made its den to hibernate for the winter under the brush! Of course, Dan showed Dad, and Dad showed us when we were home for Christmas that year. 

For some reason, despite the fact that I did have a future phone, I never took the time to google it, and did not believe it when I was told that when bears hibernate, they are not out cold like we have been led to believe all of these years.  So, we all trooped down into the woods, to check out Yogi (I know, we have GOT to get better at naming these animals!  Rocco, Turkey Lurkey, and Yogi are just not original!)  We got close to the den, couldn’t see well, just a mound of black fur behind sticks and leaves.  I decided to get closer.  I tiptoed around the side, and squatted down, despite whispers from Mom and Dad to be careful, about 6-8 feet from what must be the front of the den.  I was not worried, because I truly thought bears were practically dead to the world when hibernating.  I can tell you now, they are NOT!

I had my camera out and ready, searching for the best possibly angle.  With the way he was curled up in there, plus the fact that it was dark and hollowed out in the den area, it would have been very tough to get a picture in which you could really tell what you were seeing.  This frustrating process probably only took a few seconds.  Then, without warning, Yogi shifted, and I was staring into his (thankfully) groggy eyes!  If you have never stared into the eyes of a 200-300 pound black bear, I can tell you, while amazing, it is not something I would recommend! 

With what I thought was major grace, courage, and will, I stayed crouched, still and silent for a few seconds, until I was able to focus the shot, take it, and slowly back away.  I’m told it wasn’t all that graceful (I rarely am) or still.  My sisters were amazed I was able to take the picture, or that it turned out as well as it did, as apparently, I was shaking, and more than just a bit!  I did get the picture though, and it was the best shot gotten all winter. 

We did go back to see Yogi again during our break, but it was a warmer day, and we were unable to get close at all.  From across the gully, we could see him sitting up in his den, shaking and shaking, very much like a dog shaking the water off itself.  He knew we were there, and made enough noise, not growling really, but definitely warning sounds to stay away.  We stood across the gully for a couple minutes, just watching in awe, until we decided to let him be for the rest of our stay.  I know my parents checked on him every now and then, and he stayed through the winter, leaving abruptly sometime in March.

He may not have gone far, however.  Last summer, there were probably at least seven, yes SEVEN black bears in the area, all of whom were spotted in my parents’ yard.  We had several visits by lone bears, one of which my sisters and I witnessed while home over the summer.  I also have a very blurry, through the screen door picture of a very large Momma and quite large, likely yearling cub just lounging on their backs out in the middle of the front yard one early summer morning. 

Then, there was Memorial Day weekend bear sighting.  I was actually home, but missed it, as Mom forgot I was there, and didn’t think to wake me up.  Yeah, I’m still a little bitter about this one.  So, it was 4AM, and Mom was up for one of her middle of the night bathroom visits, when she heard something outside the bathroom window.  The windows are open all summer, which is how she heard this funny noise.  She pulled back the blinds on the bathroom window to see two bear cubs maybe two feet away, one actually on the front porch leaning against the railing, the other just off the porch, leaning against the outside railing, each taking turns tipping the hummingbird feeder and slurping the red, sugary contents.  It took two times of my mom yelling at them to get out of there to get them to move.  They took off up over the hill, where their Momma was messing with the compost in the garden.  The three bears took off down another hill (and at this point Mom and Dad are running through the house, watching their shenanigans through various windows…and still forgetting me…) where they were joined by what is assumed to be Momma Bear’s last year’s cub.  It was crazy!

So, the four on Memorial Day Weekend, the big Momma and cub lounging in the front yard, and at least one lone bear makes seven!  But, it could easily be more, as there were quite a few appearances by a solitary bear, and they are somewhat difficult to tell apart when they appear alone, and days or weeks apart, not to mention the fact that they were often seen from behind as they were leaving.  But, yes, THAT is country living!    Of course there are many other stories I could have shared, and I may still write them, but I thought that this story best proved my point; Erica, you haven’t seen anything yet! 

Big thanks to Leslie for sharing her bear with us! I’m sort of looking forward to running into some bears…ok, not running into bears but maybe seeing them from a safe distance. Like the internet! Yeah…I want to see my bears from the safety of the internet. I did see a groundhog the other day. They sort of look like small bears, right?

Oh well. I’m sticking to chickens for now!

Until the next time…I’ll be very careful about peeking under branches from now on!

Copyright © 2000-2018, Erica Lucke Dean. All rights reserved. Any retranscription or reproduction is prohibited and illegal.
Posted on May 18, 2012 .