BARE GRACE

My intention when I began this blog was to create a place to share reflections, essays, prose, poems and photos of the creatures that I have met or may yet encounter in the forest here in the western mountains of Maine or elsewhere.

As an cognitive ethologist and psychologist (Jungian therapist) when I observe animal behavior in the wild I am always asking myself what the animal might be thinking. I pay particular attention to the relationship that develops between an animal and myself over time. I also question the role of projection on my part when I am pulled into an animal’s field of influence without understanding why. Most important I follow gut feelings and any nudges when observing any animal. I am a woman with Native American roots – is that why I make the assumption that every creature has something to teach me? I think of the natural world as being a place of deep learning and wonder.

It is my experience that intention and attention on the part of the observer opens a magic door, and once over the threshold inter-species communication becomes possible. I would like to invite others to cross that threshold with me.

As a feminist, ritual artist, and a writer I am Her advocate, that is, Nature’s advocate. I believe that when I write about the animals and plants I am giving voice to their truths as well as my own.

I developed an intimate relationship with the black bear in the above photo for a number of years while I was engaged in an independent, trust based study of his kinship group (15 years). Little Bee interacted with me on a regular basis but always preferred to “hide” behind a screen of leaves and saplings while doing so. Whenever I was around him I felt touched by “Bare Grace”.

Please feel free to comment. I would love to communicate with anyone who wants to share experiences they have had in Nature or simply make observations about what I have written.

If you would like more information about me, please read the essay on how I became a Naturalist…

Unfortunately, I am dyslexic with numbers and directions and have a difficult time with the computer in general and with WordPress in particular so I ask the reader to forgive me for the errors I will surely continue to make.

Sara Wright

12/29/16

I am spending the winter in Abiquiu New Mexico and am currently using my blog as a journal of my experiences in this mysteriously beautiful place. I ask that the reader bear with me as I continue this process… some entries will, of course, be about my relationship with animals, but others will not.

As it turns out I am presently a “snowbird” having returned to Abiquiu for the winter and spring of 2017 and 2018.

With deep appreciation,

Sara

 

Advertisements

Luna

IMG_1663.JPG

 

This morning when I took the dogs out around 6 AM I saw a beautiful Luna moth lying on emerald green moss covered ground. By the looks of its antenna I surmised this one was male because its ‘feathers’ were so long. In the past the sight of one of these deceased moths would have made me sad because I know that this moth in its present winged state is birthed without even a mouth to eat, and as soon as it mates it dies. But now I see Luna in a different light, as one whose time to die has come…Besides, I knew that the female that this male had mated with had laid eggs that would one day hatch…

 

When I bent down to pick up the pale green four inch wide insect with its double set of eyes, I noticed how torn and tattered its wings were, perhaps a result of a would be predator that discovered too late how unpleasant these moths can taste. Or perhaps it was just old age.

 

As defense mechanisms, larvae emit clicks as warnings. Surprisingly, they also regurgitate intestinal contents that have a deterrent effect on a variety of predators. The double sets of eyes on the lime green adult wings are believed to confuse predators as well. The elongated tails of the hind -wings are believed to jam echolocation used by predatory bats, although I hardly think bats are a problem around here. I am always amazed that insects have such sophisticated means of protecting themselves!

 

I brought the moth in the house to look at more closely wondering just where around here on the ground the larva had hatched into its adult form. Females lay 200–400 eggs, singly or in small groups, on the underside of leaves. Egg laying starts the evening after mating is completed and goes on for several days. Eggs hatch in about a week.

 

Each instar – the period between molts – generally takes about 4–10 days. There are five instars before cocooning occurs. At the end of each instar, a small amount of silk is placed on the major vein of a leaf and the larva molts leaving its green exoskeleton behind. After the final instar, larvae stay on the same tree where they hatched until it is time to descend to the ground to make a cocoon. At this point the caterpillar will spin its cocoon around a shriveled leaf that is lying on the ground. When females emerge from cocoons they fly to a tree, emit pheromones, and wait there for males to find them. Males can detect these molecules at a distance of several miles, flying in the direction the wind is coming from until reaching the female. Luna moth females mate with the first males to find them, a process that typically starts after midnight and takes several hours. The entire Luna Moth cycle usually occurs in the space of one year. In the North Country one generation of moths is produced.

Luna moths are what are known as giant silk moths – some have wingspans of seven inches. This moth was the first to be recorded in American insect literature. These most magnificent moths have a range that extends from Canada to Florida, and like every other insect this moth is succumbing to habitation loss, pesticides, logging, light pollution and other pressures associated with Climate Change.

There was a time when I used to see these moths each summer… I remember so well the year one fell out of the sky onto my head while I was standing on the porch of my camp… but these days, the sight of each one, living or dead, is a gift to be treasured and written about.

Firefly Night: A Language Made of Light

fireflies.adapt.676.1.jpg

 

My friend Iren from Abiquiu just wrote me that on the full moon some fireflies were lighting up the night down by the river’s edge. I was so happy to hear that news because last summer those diminutive lanterns were absent around the casita even though it is situated close to the river.

 

In my Maine backyard this summer some green and gold lights continue to flash their signals just before dark lasting into the night. I find myself looking for patterns, and counting firefly numbers obsessively, almost against my will, remembering what was…

 

When I first moved to the mountains 30 plus years ago I camped in the field next to the brook and couldn’t fall sleep at night, struck by “lightening bug” wonder. It seemed as if the field itself was on fire with thousands of these magical lights that blinked as they skimmed the tall grasses, glowing like emerald jewels from the ground. When my camp was built it was awash in firefly light, and each year I anxiously awaited magical, mystical summer nights when my nocturnal friends would appear. The first evening or so after they arrived, I couldn’t resist capturing a few to keep in a ventilated jar overnight, just as I had done as a child.

 

When it started I thought it was my imagination. Maybe it was a bad year for fireflies I rationalized, the first summer I noted the absence of an abundance of lights hovering over the field. But I was wrong. Year after year, journal entries confirmed my worst fears. The fireflies were disappearing and there was nothing I could do about it.

 

Even now that I know that our insects are experiencing a holocaust there is a child in me that cannot accept that fireflies are leaving us and that its just a matter of time before these insects disappear for good. I recently read that tourists flock to places where (synchronized) fireflies are still abundant.

 

The grief I feel is visceral.

 

Fireflies are winged beetles. When a chemical called luciferin inside their abdomen/tail combines with oxygen, calcium and adenosine triphosphate a chemical reaction occurs that results in bioluminescence. This ‘cool’ light is the most efficient in the world because almost 100 percent of the energy used is emitted as light and not heat.

 

A similar group of organisms are glowworms. The term “glowworm” can refer to firefly larva or wingless adult female fireflies—some of which are not in the firefly family Lampyridae. Both glowworms and fireflies are bioluminescent.

 

Each species uses it own pattern of lightening flashes to attract a mate, and most fascinating is that some fireflies synchronize their yellow, pale red, green, or orange lights. Several studies have shown that female fireflies choose mates depending upon specific male flash pattern characteristics. Higher male flash rates, as well as increased flash intensity, have been shown to be more attractive to females in two different firefly species.

 

Many would be predators are repelled by firefly blood that contains defensive steroids which apparently taste awful!

 

Some firefly larvae can emit light from underground, and in some species the eggs glow. The underground-dwelling larvae of the lightning bug are carnivorous and feast on slimy slugs, worms and snails. Others live in the water, have gills and eat aquatic snails before coming ashore. Most adult fireflies feast on pollen and nectar.

 

Three main factors for firefly disappearance are habitat loss (when fields are paved over fireflies don’t migrate; they simply disappear – this fact may suggest that these insects may be tied to a particular place), logging, toxic chemicals like DEET (which tend to linger in aquatic environments where many fireflies start their lives), and light pollution.

 

Most species of fireflies thrive as larvae in rotting wood and forest litter at the margins of ponds and streams. And as they grow, they more or less stay where they were born. Some species are more aquatic than others, and a few are found in more arid areas—but most are found in fields, forests and marshes. Their environment of choice is warm, humid and near standing water of some kind—ponds, streams and rivers, or even shallow depressions that retain water longer than the surrounding ground.

As previously mentioned both male and female fireflies use their flashing lights to communicate. All species speak a language of light.

Human induced artificial light pollution (including those cute little solar lights) may interrupt firefly flash patterns. Scientists have observed that synchronous fireflies get out of sync for a few minutes after a car’s headlights pass. Light from homes, cars, stores, and streetlights may make it difficult for fireflies to signal each other during mating—meaning fewer firefly larvae are born next season. Where fireflies once had uninterrupted forests and fields to live and mate, homes with landscaped lawns and lots of exterior lights (that some people leave on all night) are now the norm.

I find it distressing that so many folks are obsessed with the idea and the reality of ‘Light’ in all its manifestations and yet we are losing the very creatures who actually speak the language made of light.

Toad Stories

20190707_104713.jpg

(Andrew’s toad eggs – photo courtesy of Andrew)

 

Last year I wrote about the giant Western toad that appeared in my garden in Abiquiu last August. Without sufficient summer rains to create pools of standing water in the desert I knew believed that this toad couldn’t have bred. I guessed by her size that she was a female.

 

I watched her bury herself in the ground in earth that stayed moist. She stayed around for about a month, submerging herself during the day, setting off to hunt each hot night. I was so thrilled to have her that I was determined to build a permanent toad pond this spring to entice any amphibians in the area to move in – including that giant toad, if she returned.

 

When I researched Western toads I learned that because of agricultural practices/ engineering/river damming Western toads were considered “functionally extinct.” This phrase means that although there are still pockets of these terrestrial amphibians left, their numbers are so low that the species has no hope of long-term survival. This grim fact made me even more determined to create a home for toads.

 

This spring with the help of my friend Andrew we sunk a wooden barrel in the ground and surrounded it with hand picked stones. It was Andrew’s idea to create a channel from the roof to the pond, so that every time it rained the little pond would fill with clear water. After we completed this project I was excited to see how efficiently it worked. Even morning dew from the roof found its way to the pond, and a light rain kept the water clear without flooding. There is something that is incredibly satisfying about putting every drop of water to good use in the desert!

 

Now I needed some amphibians. I thought I would start with frogs. One tree frog serenaded me from the next field for a month, but even with adequate rain in Abiquiu the spring cacophony of frog song was absent, so no breeding occurred.

 

Andrew and I waded around looking for frogs eggs in some other wet places without success, and I reluctantly returned to Maine thinking my little pond would remain empty all summer because there just weren’t enough amphibians in the area to populate it…

 

Here in Maine I have a number of Eastern toads living around the house. Although their numbers have also plummeted, for the moment the species is still extant, and the sounds of toad trilling sweeten each night. About a month ago I discovered some “toad-poles” down by the lake, gathered some in a pail and brought them to the house to put in a vernal pool that I had dug many years ago. It is situated next to the brook over a small seeping spring and I have raised thousands of toads and frogs over the years. It is immensely satisfying to know that although I can’t do anything to save a whole species at least for the moment, I have a thriving population. I just wished that I could spirit some toad-poles to that small oasis in Abiquiu…

 

Imagine my joy last week when Andrew emailed me with the news that after the first good rain in July, he noticed two toads clasped together in his home dug pool and heard them calling. The following morning he discovered strings of toad eggs attached to underwater vegetation!

 

I already knew the story about how Andrew’s Western toads came to him. One spring he noticed that there were tadpoles in standing water that was drying up on his property. He transported buckets of the wiggling amphibians to one pool that he kept full of water to save them from being fried by the sun. From then on Andrew had a toad family. In fact, I met one early this spring.

 

“Please, oh please, take some eggs to my pond,” I begged. And he did!

 

As of this writing all I know is that his eggs hatched almost immediately, I think in about three days.

 

I am anxious to discover how long it takes these western “toad-poles” to transform into terrestrial creatures and I am ever so hopeful that by the time I return to Abiquiu, I too will have some nubbly brown croaking bug catchers hopping through the scrub around my pond.

 

Thank you Andrew!

Losing Time on North Pond

IMG_1577.JPG

(author on her way to launching her kayak – its to the right)

 

After having missed a summer kayaking I was overjoyed when I finally slid my little blue otter into the waters of North Pond this year.

It was a blue and gold day when I paddled out to see if the rose pogonias were still in bloom in the bog at the southwest end of the pond. These delicate pink and white native orchids with their fringed tongues that rise above a rich sphagnum moss community are a sight to behold for any orchid lover. I was amazed by this year’s abundance of flowers.

Attaching my line to a couple of cattails so I could drift and contemplate this marvelous boggy neighborhood, I was initially struck by the sheer diversity of plants that inhabited the nitrogen poor ‘island’.

That’s when I saw the pitcher plant flowers. Why is it that I am so enamored by these solitary dark crimson and green flower spikes? Perhaps because they seem so improbable in an otherwise low growing community of plants, except for a few, none of which tower over the pitcher plant inflorescences except for the occasional swamp maple and cattails. After examining one perfect five lobed flower with its central starred balloon like center I looked for its companion, the pure white flower of the diminutive sundew, also held high above tiny rosettes of sticky red clusters, but they had already gone by.

For the millionth time I wondered why it was that these two carnivorous plants grew in such close proximity to each other. I suspected some kind of mutualism or relationship must occur between the two, one that benefited both plants, but had never found any research to support this idea. I did know that the flowers of the two carnivorous plants, held high above the plants on stalks prevented the carnivores from trapping those insects that would pollinate them, an adaptation like most, that always amazed me. Both kinds of flower heads followed the sun, that is, they were heliotropic.

I pulled myself in close to the bog to inspect both the pitcher plant and its friend the sundew with my usual curiosity. Carnivorous plants occur in locations where the soil is too poor in minerals and/or too acidic for most other plants to grow (although in this seemingly diverse bog one might argue that point). The pitcher and sundew have evolved traps to lure, drown and digest animal prey to supplement nutrient-poor soils, providing us with a perfect example of the complex relationship between plants and the places they grow. Both are deadly traps for mosquitos.

The pitcher plant consists of a group of hollow, reddish-green leaves, each connected to a stem that extends roots downward into the bog. Each “pitcher” has an upper, flared lip that has hairs that curve downward and is generally partially filled with water. Insects attracted to the pitcher crawl inside the modified leaf and are prevented from leaving by the downward pointing hairs. Eventually the insects tire and fall into the water where they are digested for the most part, by bacteria. The products of digestion, high in nitrogen and containing amino acids, are absorbed by the leaf, supplementing photosynthetically produced organic matter. The water contained by the leaves supports a community of interesting organisms that include bacteria, protozoa, rotifers, and other creatures. In some places pitcher plants even devour spiders, salamanders, and small frogs.

The round-leaved sundew has a number of small rounded leaves attached to a central stem. The modified leaves form a sort of rosette. Each leaf has glandular hairs around its edge and most leaves have a drop of a sticky substance attached to the end of each hair. Insects like mosquitos and ants become trapped in the drops. When they try to escape their frantic motions cause the leaf to fold over the insect. The whole process takes about 30 minutes. The prey is subsequently digested and the digested nutrients, also containing essential nitrogen and amino acids, are absorbed into the plant, supplementing the food produced photosynthetically.

 

Amazing, don’t you think?

 

Another observation suddenly occurred to me while I was examining the two plants. Both plants were primarily reddish and green. This color correspondence might be another clue supporting my idea that these two plants benefited from each other in very specific ways…

 

Suddenly my eye caught the loon floating high and then sinking in the water nearby. This one was fishing. The loon dipped his/her head and bill into the water searching for fish with his very red eye that come fall would turn gray for the winter. The red eye, it is believed, filters out blue and green light making for more effective summer fishing. The brilliant red may also help a loon attract a mate.

 

The dark shadow on the water caused me to look up into a late afternoon sky, just in time to see the white eagle’s tail. A top predator was flying over my head. And it was late.

 

Reluctantly, I decided to paddle back to the dock. Hours had passed while I was enthralled by what I had seen at the bog and my never-ending unanswered questions.

Wild Rugosa Roses

IMG_4175.JPG

 

I have lived around Rugosa roses most of my life. Most people who visit coastal areas are familiar with these thickets of fragrant and very thorny rose bushes that are covered in white or magenta flowers during the summer and have shimmering deep orange to red seed – pods in the fall. The bushes thrive growing wild often spreading by rhizomes in the sands and dunes that are closest to the ocean. The plants also reproduce by seed. No other wild rose bush has such a density of thorns on each stem which makes it easy to distinguish from any other wild rose. The single or multi-floral blossoms waft an impossibly sweet scent towards the discerning nose while providing bees and insects with the sweetest nectar imaginable.

 

When I moved inland the first bush I bought was a Rugosa rose. Although they do not grow as prolifically in the Maine mountains as they do on the coast, it is still possible to have beautiful healthy blossoming bushes gracing your yard, and over the years I have watched mine spread slowly through the sandy soil, the new shoots always trying to catch the sun. Each June I look forward to picking richly perfumed flowers for the house. This year the roses bloomed late and caught the first heat wave that hit Maine. I was disappointed to have the roses peek for such a brief moment in time, although there will be a second bloom later this summer. Even so, the scent of blooming roses outside my window awakened me at dawn for a week.

 

Imagine my surprise when I moved to Northern New Mexico to spend winters and discovered Rugosa roses thriving at gas stations! My respect for these tough denizens of the wild increased as I witnessed the bushes blooming under a fierce southern summer sun. I was determined to buy one for the casita…

 

It wasn’t until Mother’s Day while visiting greenhouses that my friend Andrew spotted a few small bushes in an area that was overflowing with hundreds of pots of more cultivated roses. I was so excited to have found what seemed to be a lost friend because I had asked about buying these roses earlier in the spring only to discover that no one seemed to carry them. Frankly, I was surprised, because if these bushes thrived in unlikely places like gas stations in Santa Fe, they would probably grow well just about anywhere. I have developed a deeper respect than ever for tough plants after living in the desert!

 

Needless to say, I returned home that day with a small blooming Rugosa rose that I tenderly planted in front of the south porch. The bush had just a few blooms left on it so I left them on the bush, bending down to smell the deep magenta flowers instead of picking some. By the time I left for Maine the bush had developed small green seed pods called rose hips. Because I have a drip system in place, (thanks again to Andrew), I am hopeful that the bush will take, although I know from personal experience that planting these roses can be tricky.

 

When I researched Rugosa roses for this article I was astonished to learn that most of these roses originated and are native to Asia and Siberia with smaller populations native to this continent, Europe and Africa.

 

The rose as a species according to fossil evidence is 35 million years old and in this country some 150 species, including Rugosas, eventually spread throughout the Northern Hemisphere, from Alaska to Mexico.

 

Apparently, garden cultivation of roses began some 5,000 years ago, probably in China. We are so fortunate to have so many kinds of wild roses growing in this country and now I have some understanding of why there are so many wild species. Roses have been around for a very long time! There is another pale pink wild rose that grows wild in Iren’s Bosque in Abiquiu and here on my property that is also very fragrant. Years ago, I also transplanted a tiny white rose from Bowdoinham Maine that has mushroomed into a giant wild bush near the brook that used to be covered in bees. These one-inch single white rose clusters are also amazingly fragrant. Sadly, many rose hybrids loose their scent and are ignored by pollinators which is why I prefer wild ones.

 

The petals of the screened-dried Rugosa rose make fragrant long lasting indoor bouquets (dry petals in an attic or warm place until they crush easily).

 

Best of all, this rose produces delicious nutritious edible seed pods for humans and non humans alike. The fruit can be eaten raw or cooked because the hips are sweet. If one has the patience to make rose hip jam as I have, the rewards are considerable. The fruit is a fairly large size for a rose with a relatively thick layer of flesh and is rich in Vitamin C. Inside the seeds are a good source of vitamin E, and can be ground into a powder and mixed with flour or added to other foods as a supplement. It is also possible to make a tea combining the fruit with some leaves that is very pleasing to drink. If my little rose bush In Abiquiu makes it I plan to make a sun tea that combines rose hips and mint leaves from my southern garden. Just the thought makes my mouth water.

 

There are other practical reasons for growing this species. It hybridizes easily with other roses and is valued because it is so disease resistant and tolerant of road salt. It is also an excellent plant to control erosion.

Independence Day?

TB in the glade.JPG

 

She haunts me

little bear,

too slight,

too wary

to seek

seed I cast

for her

under

White Pine

in whose strong arms

she finds

comfort and safety,

if only for one night.

 

The animals are innocent

 

Where was she when

exploding fireworks

whitened a black velvet sky

split stars night after night?

Where was she

when mindless drones

spewed raging gunfire

screaming for Right?

Who comforted her

in her fright?

 

The animals are innocent

 

The deafening noise

punctures holes

in our bodies,

fractures cell walls,

jamming synapses

freezes thought

muddles our brains.

Caught in a vise

of metal rain

our terror increases

with each act of aggression –

mindless booming,

Indifference.

 

The animals are innocent.

 

So much for July Fourth –

the golden mean

of manifest violence.

Fraudulent strength.

I can’t even imagine

the terror a small bear must feel.

Her senses are so much keener

than mine.

 

The animals are innocent

 

How is it that we dare

celebrate freedom

in a country

where “independence”

is reserved only

for those

in power?

 

The animals are innocent.

 

The rest of us

lay low, desperate,

praying to deaf gods

for relief.

Bound by fear and abandonment

lack of integrity

choice is not real

for those whose trees

have been cut down,

whose health

is compromised,

whose money has run out.

Make no mistake – these

endings do not create

new beginnings.

 

The animals are innocent.

 

One night she

clawed her way

up rough barked pine

climbing high

into forked branches.

Peering down

hot coals

bore through

fragile skins

of difference.

The littlest Bear

and her woman bend light,

twist roots.

A common plight is exposed.

The glue that binds us both

is made of pitch.

 

The animals are innocent.

 

I try to comfort…

but her fright

meets my own

Towers of Steel

and Silence

insure

our anguish

remains un named.

 

The animals are innocent.

 

We are haunted,

and hunted…

bloodied by sharp yellow talons

we do not weep or moan

but swing helplessly

in a darkening

bitter orange sky.

 

The animals are innocent.

 

How do we accept what is

when we have been chosen

by America’s Eagle

to become its next prey?

 

 

Working Notes:

 

This poem has a number of themes – one is about a shy little bear who is too frightened to come for food when she needs it. I first met her the night her mother left her to mate towards the end of May. Too anxiety stricken to function effectively she was unable to relax enough to eat. Instead Rosie Marie dove into the trunk of the nearest white pine, climbed into its upper branches and remained there wailing pitifully for about 45 minutes. This bear was too small, weighing less than 40 lbs which puts her at risk for survival, as does her unbearable anxiety. When she disappeared I didn’t see her for a whole month and believed she might be dead.

 

When she re-appeared her extreme nervousness still prevented her from eating more than a few mouthfuls of the seed before racing to her tree for safety; the tree had become a surrogate mother. I have never seen this little bear relax enough to sit or lie down as her relatives do when eating. Although she isn’t afraid of my voice/endearments she runs the moment I step out the door and recently has taken to becoming a “night bear”. If she eats at all, she does so after dark. After spending just a few precious days with her she has become invisible for a second time. I think about her constantly, seeing those haunted eyes that first evening, hearing her keen… With the bear hunt looming I wonder somewhat hopelessly, how a little bear can survive alone in this hostile hunting climate? There is no one help her.

 

A second theme is that about the Fourth of July – and the flag waving “patriots” that force the rest of us to our knees under gunfire blasts that last until the last drunk passes out. Those boys (not men) that assault people with deafening noise from exploding fireworks, raging motorcycles, and semi- automatic rifles do it just because they can. The founding fathers of this country created laws that have given them the power to do so. After all, they are the righteous right – the good ol’ boys who respect no boundaries, stick together, regardless of age. Compassion, decency and integrity are absent. Where are the protectors, the men who model kindness, respect and restraint?

 

And what can we do but endure while our animal bodies and souls are shot full of holes? These bodies, human and non-human alike are in the fire and under assault just as the Earth is.

 

A third theme is about interspecies relationship and how one woman and a bear are bound by mutual commonalities.

 

A fourth theme involves the eagle. The bald eagle has become a corrupted symbol for power that our “democracy” has stolen from its original inhabitants along with its mythology.

 

For Native peoples the eagle is a literal messenger from the gods who watches over the people.

 

For Americans the eagle has become a symbol that celebrates power over and the belief that this country has been divinely chosen (with god on our side) to be a world leader. It follows, of course, that we are better than others. We talk democracy and demonstrate with power over – our words and actions don’t match up.

 

In the wild, eagles soar high in the air, “close to the gods” as Indigenous peoples once believed. What we don’t want to see is that these birds are also are top predators, treacherous bullies who rule the skies, birds who tear flesh without mercy. The natural history of the eagle along with its corrupted mythology should give us pause… When Americans stole the eagle they killed the “messenger of the gods” and “birthed” his dark side, a rapacious killer.

 

This is Independence?

Black Bear Intolerance in Maine

Living with Black Bears

 

As a Naturalist/ethologist I am compelled to keep on speaking out on behalf of Maine’s Black bears because they are so misunderstood.

 

A person has a million to one chance of being killed by a black bear. We are 32,000 times more likely to be murdered by another human.

 

Black bears are primarily vegetarians.

 

Black bears are maligned thanks to certain individuals, ans special interest groups like the NRA and state fish and wildlife agencies who are interested in perpetuating the myth of the “nuisance” or “killer bear” to foster their own agenda.

 

In reality, Black bears are extremely shy, intelligent animals that outperform chimps in many tests of learning. They have navigational abilities that defy scientific understanding. During hibernation Black bears are capable of healing themselves of life threatening wounds and are able to re-cycle toxic bodily waste without damage to muscle tissue.

 

Black bears co – evolved with trees as a prey animal. Black bears cannot live in areas where trees do not provide them with adequate protection.

 

Black bears are very nervous animals who convey their fear by moaning, slapping the ground, huffing, blowing, or in extreme cases, false charging when surprised or approached by humans.

 

If we want to co –exist with bears we need to learn their language – all they are asking is that we give them some space.

 

We also need to re- interpret bear behavior in terms of their fear and not our own.

 

Understanding a bear’s fear helps a person to re-evaluate what appears to be threatening/aggressive behavior.

 

A “nuisance bear” is a hungry bear and most human-bear conflicts occur late in the spring and early summer after bears have emerged from their dens in April/May. Initially, these animals are sluggish and have no appetites. Their hunger returns after metabolism returns to normal in about three to four weeks. After ingesting tender grasses they search out bulbs, corms, ants and larvae as they wait for the first berries to ripen.

 

The 40 – 70 pound adolescents are most vulnerable during this period. After their second spring Black bear mothers leave them to mate. The young are searching for territories, are immensely curious as well as being hungry and this is when they are likely to visit backyards for a snack. Sometimes adult bears do too. I am always astonished when people complain about bears destroying feeders when the solution is obvious: take bird – feeders in during late spring and early summer especially at night.

 

Well documented research by bear biologists (www.bear.org) reveals that given a preference, Black bears will choose natural foods over birdseed/garbage as long as it is available. There is a brief period during spring/summer when natural food is scarce. It’s worth repeating: if you don’t want bears in your backyard take bird – feeders in.

 

With an exploding human population we are taking over the land these animals have lived on in peace for millennia. Why can’t we learn to share resources without taking measures to destroy these iconic denizens of our forests? In Ely Minnesota for example, supplemental feeding keeps bears from visiting backyard feeders and reduces nuisance bear complaints to almost zero.

 

However, in areas like Minnesota people choose to co –exist with bears, and don’t insist that wild animals conform to human expectations. Maine is fortunate to have a stable black bear population, one that attracts many visitors – hunters among them – Why couldn’t we choose to do the same?