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  • Maggie Wallem Rowe

Facing Down 2020: Bear Necessities

So how’s this year gone for you so far? Bit of a bear? Are you raring for New Year’s Eve to arrive so you can put on your party hat and drink to good riddance?

This past Saturday, my man and I went hunting bear.

The knowledge thereof, not intimate acquaintance with. Might as well learn about something scary besides Covid-19.

Properly pronounced “bahr” in these parts or, if you want to get fancy, Ursus americanus, over 25,000 of the black furry creatures freely roam the state of North Carolina. Especially our dumpsters. In two plus years of living in a rural county near the national park, we’ve yet to see one. Younger son in Asheville, however, has run into nine and counting so far.

Intrigued by an advert in Smoky Mountain News for an educational program on bears, we traipsed over to the Tennessee side of the national park on the weekend to meet with Joey, a longtime volunteer with Appalachian Bear Rescue.

Joey greeted our little band of bear students with a hearty welcome even though one couple blew in late, bewildered by the mountain roads.

“Glad y’all made it! GPS is worthless. What ya shoulda done is turned left whar the old mill usta be. Gotta be careful ‘roun here, as the bears won’t gitcha but the people jest might. One guy I know? He took a wrong turn, and the granny on the porch like ta scairt him to day-eth. Git ya a compass after this, and you’ll do jest fine.”

Mike nodded, having learned his lesson a few weeks back about the perils of trespassing.

“Now when it comes to bahrs, though, you gotta respect ‘em, not fear ‘em. They can smell food up to a mile away, but thar not lookin’ to eat y’all but whatcha got on ya. Thas why thar so good at dumpster divin’. Why, over in Gatlinburg they’s a motel that charges $20 a night extry to stay on the side with the dumpsters. Best show in town.”

Joey held forth for several hours on All Things Bear: their senses and intelligence, diet, reproduction (“Promiscuous breeders!”), and behavior.

“Even when they git to be a grown boar or a sow, bahrs will go back to the food sources they mama showed ‘em as cubs.” He looked pointedly at the couple who showed up late. “And thar navigation abilities are way superior to yourn.”

Before Joey led our little band of students up a nearby ridge in search of bear tracks, dens, and scat, he drilled us on peaceful coexistence with our neighbors.

“Now, if’n ya see a bahr, keep your distance - at least 50 yards. If he keeps on a’ comin’, talk to ‘im and wave your arms to look bigger. The worst thing you can do is turn ‘n run – he’ll take ya for fast food. And believe you me, that ol’ bahr can run faster’n you. They’s been clocked at a good 35 miles ‘n hour.”

What about bear spray, someone asked. Is it worth carrying?

Joey scratched his head.

“Waahl now, I got some here, ya’ see, but ya gotta be real careful with it, watchin’ the breeze so it don’t blow back in yer face. Knew a girl once who sprayed herself when the wind shifted. I told her, ‘Lucky that bahr didn’t like hot and spicy or he would’ve had ya.’”

And what to do if the bear keeps on advancing?

“Stand yer ground!” Joey declared. “No sense running, so ya gotta fight. Throw rocks, sticks, what have ‘ya, but don’t lie down and play daid. Put up a fight.”

Not to put too fine a point on it, but 2020 has been a bear of a year.

Joey’s advice just might come in handy.


Maggie's first book, This Life We Share, is now available from NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

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