Wednesday, June 14, 2006


Wildlife on Vancouver Island: BC is "Bear Country"

Warning? But it's so cute!

In my mindset of scaled-down wildlife expectations, I was quite pleased to encounter this fascinating piece of driftwood. If you're like me, you see it as a kind of Picasso-cubist version of a bear. It's lying on its side with its legs thrashing the air.


Looked at one way, it's head points away from us; looked at another, it's a headless bear, with its neck pointing toward us.

Where it really goes off the rails is that there's a bear head coming out of its belly. Cool, huh?


Given the disappointment on the marine wildlife front, and my willingness to settle for abstract driftwood likenesses of animals, maybe it's ironic that less than an hour later we drove right past a black bear. It was standing in the other lane, as close to us as a passing car on that narrow road. I slowed, to give myself time to break in case the bear had squirrel-like instincts and darted in front of the car.

"Don't stop! DON'T STOP!!!" said B, to make sure of my intentions.

Now, the little conical black mounds we saw from time to time in the road took on new meaning. I had dismissed them as shredded bits of tire from logging trucks, but they were bear "scat."

"There must be something wrong with that bear," said B. "It wouldn't sh*t in the road if it were well. Poor bear!"

Well, when we got to the parking lot trail-head for our next hike, we saw that we were in "black bear country."

The nature advisories at the trailhead were very informative. Under a heading called "If an Attack Occurs," the poster advised:
Playing dead is not appropriate with black bears.
You might say that this warning explodes the old wives tale about playing dead to fool the bear into leaving you alone, except that no further explanation is given.

And what do they mean by "not appropriate"? Is offensive to their sensibilities? As in "nude bathing in streams and waterfalls is not appropriate with black bears. If young bears are present, adult bears will take offense and maul you to death." Or is it simply inappropriate to lie to nature's creatures?

With more explicit reasoning, they explain that dogs should be kept on a leash, or preferably off the trail entirely, since they can cause "wildlife conflicts," which is a polite way of saying that their presence can make a bear go ballistic and attack everyone in sight.

For this reason, we were a bit unnerved when the older German guy briskly walked up to the trailhead with his unleashed bloodhound. He was carrying a walking stick and wearing shorts and stout boots, looking very much like the cover photo for AARP's hiking issue. I could imagine side-by-side then-and-now photos of him kitted out in much the same way back when he was 8 or 9 in his boy scout uniform, or whatever the German equivalent was back in 1938 or so.

Meanwhile, B's head was very much in bear country. Not wanting German dude to enrage any black bears that might be in our path, B tried to broach the whole bear subject by pointing out that we just saw a bear in the road.
"Oh, there are lots of bears around here," German guy said jovially.
Rather than employing a direct approach, like "why don't you leash up that dog, you crazy old coot," B decided to wind around to it by first broaching her theory about the sick bear taking dumps in the road.
"I think the bear is unwell," she said. "It's been, er... defecating in the road."
"It's been vat?" said German dude.
"It's been defecating in the road."
"Vat's defecating?"
"Shitting," explained B.
"Oh!" he said. "Poopies!"
We all paused reflectively for a moment.
"Bears poops everywhere. This is normal," said German guy.
"Shouldn't you put your dog on a leash?," B blurted, suddenly deciding to go straight at him. "It could provoke a bear."
"Oh, no," said German guy, gesturing at the dog who had run some distance away, "he always stays near me."
At this point, B and I exchanged a high sign by which we essentially agreed to give this guy a ten minute head start down the path. We needed to kill time until he went off.
"Oh, cool," said B, pointing to the ground. "A banana slug."
I whipped out the camera and started taking pictures.
"Hafen't you efer seen one of those before? They're all over. Vere are you from, anyway?"
A few more exchanges of desultory conversation, and one "have a nice day," German dude set off down the trail, his blood hound running and sniffing well ahead of him. We ambled around the parking lot, checking my watch every couple of minutes -- the idea was to give German dude a 10 minute head start.
"Well, if he encounters a bear, hopefully we'll hear the noise way off in the distance," said B.
"This is like waiting for your tee-time while the foresome ahead of you slowly gets its butts on to the next hole," I said.
To pass the time, B decided to discuss her understanding of the reason for curling up and playing dead with a grizzly (as opposed to black) bear: to help protect your vital organs in the belly area.
"One swipe of its claws, and basically you're finished," explained B helpfully. "Your guts --"
"Well that's not appropriate for black bears," I said.


We then speculated about why not. I frankly could not understand how you could fool a bear into thinking that you're dead just by curling up on the ground and being still. The theory is that they don't eat dead meat. But if their sense of smell is so refined that they can whiff your scent from a great distance -- as is reputed -- why can't they smell that you're still alive instead of stinky, decomposing dead meat when they're right on top of you?

This question hung in the air. Then one of us -- I won't say who -- farted.
"Hey," said B. "Maybe that will keep the bears away."
"I'm not so sure. Aren't bears in the same family as dogs? And dogs are poopsnifferous animals. Maybe they'd be drawn to the smell."
Ten minutes were up, and we set out on our hike. We didn't encounter the German guy -- alive or dead -- on the trail. And the only other bear we saw was the next day, on the side of the road.

Wikipedia says: "If you play dead, black bears, unlike grizzlies who may leave you alone, will eat you or drag you away."

There was a black bear prowling around the U District here in Seattle a couple weeks ago. No one knows why it wandered into the city, but its being poopsnifferous might have something to do with it.
ttsrf: to surf while lying on one's chest (women only)

oh, i *must* stop fooling around with romance languages. german sounds like a lot more fun!


wpwiktp -- wipe with k(leenex) toilet paper (what you say to a black bear leaving his poopies in the road!)
the youth organization in 1938 Germany would have been the Hitler Youth (or were you just obliquely referencing it?).

Last weekend a de-clawed cat managed to tree a black bear a few miles away from us here in New Jersey. Maybe you should take a cat with you on your hikes?


islfvwgj (izzle-fave-wa-jig): a very fancy thingamabob.
Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Subscribe to Posts [Atom]