I regularly find myself relaxing with a steaming hot mug of tea and looking out of the window as various birds, especially blue jays and cardinals, flit around in the garden. I am no twitcher (my bird identification skills are too lacking) but I am thoroughly enjoying observing birds in the garden and it is quite exciting when a woodpecker comes to visit. It is also a joy to watch the squirrels playing around in the garden, their curvaceous bushy tails wiggling after them as they dart around. Now that Spring has completely sprung, they have been joined by rabbits. Thankfully these bunnies must keep their burrows elsewhere and are not digging holes all over the garden. As such, I can just sit back and smile as I watch them bobbing around.
We see deer a lot around here – though not in the garden – but I have not yet seen a raccoon or an opposum. I have actually never seen an opposum in the wild ever and have only once seen a wild raccoon. My husband thought it was a hunchbacked dog. The kids are absolutely longing to see a raccoon. It’s almost tempting to leave a bin bag full of edible goodies out just to tempt one but, of course, I am too responsible to do so. The youngest Pict and I did, however, see a small groundhog today. Out of the corner of my eye, I thought it was a plump squirrel but when look properly it was clearly a small, perhaps juvenile, groundhog snuffling around in a neighbour’s shrubbery. That was fun.
Another wild critter encounter my kids really want to have is with a bear. Yes, a bear. As in apex predator. They completely understand and appreciate that bears are dangerous. Indeed, when my youngest two set up a cuddly toy zoo in their bedroom, the littlest one reassured us that the bear would “just” eat our heads. Nevertheless, they want to see a bear in the wild. Recently a young bear actually wandered along a street that is just a little distance from here. It was tranquilised and removed before it could meet my four boys. They were actually disappointed. 250lbs of presumably frustrated, stressed black bear wandering down residential streets and they actually would have been happy to come across it. We clearly need to have that wildlife conversation again. Scotland’s apex land predator is probably a fox or badger. This is a potentially life-saving learning curve for this pack of immigrants.
This reminded me – yet again – that I still have not researched what the current advice is regarding how to react to a bear encounter. I remember that at one stage the wisdom was to do nothing but flop around and play dead so that the bear did not feel threatened and ultimately became bored and wandered off. Because if I was a bear I would get probably get bored with something I had mauled to shreds too. Climbing a tree is also ridiculous advice because I am pretty sure bears have evolved to climb trees in a way that humans have not. There is no way that even pumped full of adrenalin I would scale a tree quicker than even a decrepit bear.
I have now diligently (as in half an hour of googling) researched what I should do if I happen to encounter a bear in the wild – or a bear encounter me. There is lots of advice about not panicking. I expect I might instinctively ignore that advice. My kids might be overcome with excitement but I am pretty sure I will experience panic on at least some level. There is also mention of standing your ground on several sites. That should not be a problem since the aforementioned panic will have rooted me to the spot. Apparently it is advisable to avoid eye contact with a bear. How in the heck do I manage that? I’ve just seen a bear amble towards me and I am supposed to react as if I’ve seen nothing? I need to look at it to make sure it is not walking with intent towards me while licking its chops. How on earth do I assess the situation while avoiding making eye contact? I also have to apparently walk away slowly if the bear is not approaching but the only way to determine the bear’s trajectory is if I look at it. So look but without making eye contact? Tricky. It’s like some weird etiquette guide. No yelling is not problematic since I am sure my voice will be a frozen, solid lump in my throat but apparently speaking in a monotone voice is best. I assume several studies have been conducted to come to this conclusion. So no shrill Miss Piggy shrieking if I encounter a bear. I get it. Could be quite challenging if that previously referenced panic strikes. Flap hands to indicate status as a human. Oh. Kay. I just have to trust that a bear will know the difference between a flapping human and a giant bird.
Some sites do advise climbing trees. But only if you can get higher than 33 feet before the bear reaches you. And you have to back away slowly in order to reach the climbable tree. Hmmmm.
So if all of these strategies fail, it is necessary to follow further helpful instructions such as deploying pepper spray. Maybe this is un-American of me, who knows, but I don’t carry pepper spray on me. I actually don’t own any. So actually the first piece of advice any of the articles about bear encounters should have mentioned was purchasing and packing pepper spray. The pepper spray should be discarded once discharged because bizarrely the pepper can lure bears. So walk into bear territory carrying pepper spray as a strangely alluring deterrent? Mixed message. If the pepper spray does not dissuade the bear – and let’s face it the pepper spray may just make it extra angry and determined to shred and pulp – then it is advised that the attacked human drops to the ground and rolls up in a ball on their side or face down on their stomach. Presumably this is to make it more difficult for evisceration to occur. I am all for keeping my guts inside my body so that’s some great advice right there. Of course, I would rather not have a chewed head, nibbled limbs or shredded buttocks either. But the lesson has sunk in: protect the organs at all costs. But this is advice pertinent to Grizzlies. If Black Bears attack then you should fight back. Apparently this is because black bears are more timid than their grizzly cousins. But I bet they are not more timid than a Scottish woman who is trying to identify what type of bear she has just met while conversely trying not to make eye contact with it and while backing away slowly and figuring out which backwards direction qualifies as downwind. Then, once the attack is over, one is told to check the bear has left the vicinity – all while face down, curled in a ball and absolutely not making eye contact – and then go and seek help as rapidly as your munched legs can carry you.
All of this research just leads to the conclusion that my kids can hope for a wild bear encounter as much as they like but I am countering their vibes with ones that involve never meeting a bear. Ever.
I am sticking with squirrels and birds, thanks.