Bertie MacAvoy says “The motto under the name MacAvoy is ‘Bear and Forbear.’” But her husband Ron suggests it should be “FourBears” — or forty. That’s because they have had so many Close Encounters of the Bear Kind at their home in the Cascade foothills of Washington State.
Bertie wrote a series of anecdotes about these human-ursine meetings on her Facebook page. When she dropped social media for awhile the earliest ones might have been lost except that I happened to have clipped and saved them to a Word file. She later renewed her FB account and — because the bears keep coming to visit — added some new bear stories. I sent her the file, but as she is busy prepping a new book we agreed posting them on File 770 is quickest way to restore them to the internet. So it is my privilege to share these stories with you.
One of Three:
Our road is old Weyrhauser land, sliced along its length with long driveways, brush-fronted, at the ends of which are houses. One-of-a-kind houses. Ours is the oldest, built by a family named O’Brien in the middle of the last century. A few acres down from us is a geodesic dome. But at the other end there were until ten years ago wetland preserves, but the county or someone like that decided they really needed money, and they traded a developer for the right to lace mini-McMansions through it, as long as 90% of the wetlands needed for drainage were allowed to remain.
These developers did a bit more than allow them to remain. They filled the 50 year old second-growth woods with trails for the development people to use and they could not conveniently exclude others. So Ron and I used to ride our horses along these trails. The only danger we ever encountered was from a lady with an untrained mastiff who allowed it to attack my pony’s hind legs.
This day I was not riding, but walking my five-month-old doodle Doyle, who is the dog in my picture who looks like Godzilla next to me. (Fault of the picture.) I was training him to keep at heel. About half a mile in from the road, the trail arced to the left, so when Doyle started pressing against my leg, I was only pleased he was learning his business so well.
Then we saw a horse as we rounded the bend. A dark horse under the dappled light, and it seemed to have lost its rider. I went closer carefully, and Doyle heeled, heeled, heeled. Really big broad horse. Maybe a Friesian, or some horse of farm stock turned into a pleasure mount. Then the horse began to stand up.
It stood up slowly, with control, until it was (by later measurement against the high briars around the trail) over eight feet tall.
The black bear stood there, watching me. I thought of the things I had been told to do when confronting a bear in the woods. I thought hard. I came up with ( ———————————————————-.) I noticed the bear had a right paw filled with small branches, leaves and twigs. I remembered that the salmonberries, first of their ilk to fruit, were in full season. I saw at last that the bear was staring much in the way I must have been staring, and that his entire muzzle was shiny, drippy, and dare I say, faintly salmon-colored. I turned on my heel, slowly, whispering, “Doyle, heel.”
Boy, did Doyle heel. He heeled all the while I walked sedately in the direction from which I had come. After forty feet or so I looked over my left shoulder. Though I scarcely dared to do so, I dared less not to. I saw the bear, just at the edge of visibility. He had gone down to all fours, turned on his . . . heel? – And was peering at me carefully over his right shoulder. Our eyes met once more. I continued on until I could no longer see the bear, but could see the brightness of the cleared road ahead. Then I ran like a much younger person. All the while Doyle heeled for me. He heeled my left leg so closely he almost knocked us both down.
When I got home I thought about my moral obligations, both to the bear and to child-kind. Finally I called the County Sheriff’s line and told them I had seen a black bear in the development’s wetlands. “Well, they do live here,” drawled the man who answered. I assured him the bear had done nothing at all hostile. “That’s good,” he said. I reminded him that children play in those woods and he agreed that they do. Then again I said the bear had not been aggressive. By now he was just listening. At last I asked him what they would do about the bear. “I’ll tell a few folks he’s there,” said the deputy.
“But you won’t chase him . . . ” “Well, they do live there.” he repeated.
Bear Story Two of Three:
Because Ron cannot sleep with any noise at all, we live in the dark woods. This has its own consequences.
It was 12:00 pm. Maybe 1:00 am. There was a noise as though a large man was pulling our empty garbage cans along our gravel drive for fun. The dogs, instead of barking, were lying stone-still with their eyes open. I listened, …feeling much like the dogs about this noise, but Ron threw off the covers. “I can’t stand it” he said, rising.
I had been sleeping deeply and did not want this. “It will go away. They’re empty.”
But Ron was walking to the long closet, where the shotgun was. He had never taken out the shotgun before, not in the ten years we had lived here. “Cover me,” he said, climbing into his sweat clothes.
‘Cover me.’ I’d heard it all my life on cop shows. It was when one cop went behind another and . . . did what? All I was really certain of was that cop two was not supposed to shoot cop one, nor let him be shot. Or hurt otherwise.
I was very sleepy. Did not feel the spirit of adventure. But I rose, and not having a suit of sweatclothes, pulled on my bathrobe and foot-snuggies. I wished I could visit the bathroom, but he was striding out of the room. I scrambled to the hall closet and took out my own .357 magnum with laser sight.
(Here I must pause, for all of you who do not live in a county where the sheriff’s department has been so cut that there is an estimated 45 minute response time to any emergency call. We are encouraged to have guns in the house. Allowed to carry them, as long as we do not brandish. I do not carry as a rule. Ron and I are admittedly odd folk, but not odd in the manner you may now be suspecting.)
I followed him down the stairs to the garage door, still trying to think what a person does when ‘covering’. I thought of ricochet. I thought about how far a .357 magnum bullet may go through the trees when it does not hit anything. I kept the laser sight depressed so that I could watch the red light NOT approaching Ron’s back. He pressed the button to open the garage door.
It was very, very dark out there. Even though we hadn’t turned on the garage light, it was black on black. There were the faint grey and green tall rectangles of our wheelie cans lying on their sides, and beyond them a hump of black beyond all other blacks. Ron walked out and stood by the fallen cans and he made a sound. “Aaaaaaaaa,” he said (‘a’ as in hat). It was not a roar at all, but rather the sound an older brother would make to his younger brother who had embarrassed him once again. One time too many.
The bear, a half-grown juvenile, receded through the night. Meanwhile I was still moving the laser site left and right, while never it letting touch Ron. “What AM I supposed to do?” I asked him.
“Just cover me,” he said, dropping the shotgun carefully down and picking up the cans, one by one and wheeling them into the garage, where he jammed them between the cars and the motorcycles and the big beams. I looked out into the dark drive, but could no longer see the imprint of the black bear. I stood there until all the cans were enclosed. “Okay,” said Ron. He picked up the shotgun, we went in and he lowered the door.
I don’t think he said another word that night. He put the shotgun back, and I put back my revolver in its hidey place. I know he was asleep within 60 seconds of hitting the bed. I was surely not.
Third Bare Tale out of Three
Or: Putting on the Mantle of the Nanny
This story was supposed to be illustrated with a sketch consisting of the front end of a black bear in a doorway at night, with Doyle the black doodle standing stiff as a board with his teeth exposed and my feet beside him with legs extending into a white nightie, and one of my hands with index finger pointing forward, in minatory fashion. This sketch turned into nothing but a paper of eraser stains and confusion. All the black on black I guess. But actually anyone’s mind can produce it better than I did on a sheet of 20 weight. Put your own picture HERE
It was September of last year, and the heat on our flat-roofed house had become unbearable, so we left the living room French doors open onto the second-floor deck. It seemed an acceptable risk – after all there were only three thin poles connecting the deck with the ground, we are invisible from the road, and also the two dogs slept in the living room.
While still sleeping I heard a light, metallic clatter, followed by a bass “Wahhoooooo! Wahooooo . . . ” Which brought me to instant wakefulness. It was Doyle’s voice, but he had never used that word in his life.
It called to me with wolf-pack immediacy. I was on my feet and through the bedroom door without conscious thought. Behind me Ron was murmuring in his sleep. He had taken herbal sleep-drops.
Wolf-pack immediacy is not frontal-lobe enough to allow me to think of going for a weapon. I arrived at the French doors, where a piece of moon was cutting through the clouds, to find my very humanized, retired service dog had smashed out our rickety screen door and was standing in the threshold, stiff as a board and screaming into the face of a black bear on our deck. The bear was regarding him with ears forward, which is not a friendly sign in bears. It was a young bear, only perhaps 150 pounds.
‘Young bear’ was not a good sign among bears, either. (Full grown bears know better than to shinny up people’s deck posts to see what is to be seen. They also are probably too heavy to do so.)
I strode forward and placed myself next to Doyle. My response was purely intuitive, but it was the correct one. The bear could not be allowed through the threshold. Think about it. It was also correct pack behavior, because I am and must remain Doyle’s superior His cry went from ‘Whoooooo” to a more self-collected ‘Arghhh” and he back away two steps, placing his head just behind my legs. Again, proper pack behavior, whatever Rin-Tin-Tin’s you may have seen. The bear raised his little eyes to mine.
I don’t know whether the bear was even thinking about going into the house. I know he was immensely surprised to find his j.d. wanderings so forcefully interrupted. But he could also not easily get down off the deck – not without turning his back on two major threats. Neither could I back off, for a show of weakness to a bear with ears forward could easily be damaging. Or fatal.
I pointed my finger at the bear. “Bear,” I said in my most firm and parental voice. “You are not welcome here. Go away.” From the other room Ron mumbled “Who are you talking to? Who . . .?”
I dared not stop speaking. Nor step forward nor back. Nor raise my voice into a directly challenging tone. “Bear, go home, now!” I said, and “I mean it bear, right now. You must go home!” Doyle stood right next to me and between us we blocked the doorway perfectly.
The bear began to walk backwards and reached the rail. I had a strong sympathy for his predicament, but did not dare show it. “Over the rail, bear,” I said. “Go.” And I said other, similar things, not believing the bear understood English, but I can be more chiding in English than I ever could in Bear. And I feared silence.
“Who ARE you talking to?” asked Ron, and out of the corner of my eye I could see his white sleep-shirt appear down the hallway, but I dared not respond. The bear, meanwhile, managed to climb up the old and weather-damaged rail, while still craning his neck to keep eye contact. I talked, Doyle threatened and Ron questioned with increasing bewilderment while the bear crested the rail, and began to slide down the post. (The next day I saw some unpleasantly deep long scratches in the wood.)
When the screeching sound was over and I assumed the delinquent bear was on the ground, I shut both French doors. Doyle collapsed where he stood, eyes open and silent. “Will you at last tell me WHAT?” asked Ron, now behind me. I found my voice had broken and I could not.
This has been the last of my three encounter with bears in the Pacific Northwest. So far.
NEW BEAR ALERT
After feeling at rest last night, having finished my third of three North West bear stories, I was surprised this morning at 6:48 am, as I thought my husband and the dogs had left for their morning trek into Marymoor Park, to have him call up the stairs “Are you there? Are you THERE?” With my empty coffee cup beside me and my Kindle on my lap, I called back “Where could I be? Completely vanished? In another dimension?” and he bounded back up the stairs, just a dark outline with his Canadian Tilley hat on his head and said, “The bear stories are not over! The cans are spread all over the ground and enormous drag marks are everywhere!”
My mind had been on IMPOSSIBLE ODDS: the Kidnapping of Jessica Buchanan and her Dramatic Rescue by SEAL Team Six, which I had just downloaded, so there were about three seconds of reset for me. Then I said, gleefully “But you didn’t wake up!”
The wide-brimmed hat shifted right and left. “I guess there weren’t any recycled cans in the garbage,” and then he was off to the park again.
It’s like Sam Gamgee said. The stories don’t end, you just fall out of them. And maybe back in.
Bear encounter #4 . . . and FIVE.
At one-thirty last night we were awakened by our dog Doyle’s bass bark, which is rarely given and sounds like the trump of doom. He stood beside the doors to the upper deck and repeated the bark, again and again. Doyle is an almost silent dog, so we knew it was something important. But what?
I suggested letting the dogs out into the pasture, because whatever… it was they had room to maneuver and were not at all stupid about their reactions to danger. Ron allowed me to let them out, and the Bark became a sort of howl. I think all Doyle needed, (being a tall, black dog) was phosphorus around his eyes to look like the Hound of the Baskervilles. Dingle was also yipping and running wildly. We could hear her feet on the grass. We could hear other sounds, too.
“It’s a bear,” said Ron. I’d never really heard a bear make noise before, and could see why people call them sows and boars. (Though I myself would always address a bear as Honored Sir, or Ma’m) Ron took point entirely during this encounter, because I was sore and stiff and my curiosity wasn’t overwhelming. Ron went out with an LED flashlight; I could see him through the upstairs window, walking to the fence. “Doyle has it treed,” he shouted.
Doyle had TREED a bear? Our aggressionless, hypersocial Doyle, retired service dog? “Is it a cub?” I called out. “Big enough,” he answered. It’s in the Doug Fir.” Ron seemed fascinated by the situation. Then he added “The bear has started crying.”
I could hear it. It really sounded like a cross between a growl and a child in distress. I went down and called in the dogs. Doyle came in quick enough. Dingle, who tends to get emotional about things, was more difficult. Then Ron said, “There’s another bear. It’s wuffling as the bear in the tree is crying. Can you hear it?”
I could. It was a much deeper sound. “Please come in,” I pleaded to my superhero of a mate, and Ron did, though he was clearly fascinated by the Ursine dialogue.
It was just what no human on the face of the earth wants: a young bear crying for its mama. And Mama comes.
We listened for some minutes, imagining what we would do if the cub (not a little, cute cub, remember) could not figure out how to get down the tree. Would we call the Fire Department? Stay housebound all day? But then the sound turned into a scrabbling. And the Mother and Son (or Daughter) reunion took place. About ten minutes later the dogs closest to our property started barking hysterically. Then, in another ten minutes, dogs further away.
Clearly we live on a bearish superhighway. I can work it out in my head how they come over the wild animal bridge over Novelty Hill Road and thence through the undeveloped area behind us, down our drive and to Peterson Pond (renamed Swan Lake by developers, though there is nary a webfoot of any kind upon it) and across 238th up the road to the North West. But there is nothing for them in that direction but increasing development, and I hope these two have gotten the idea that our Common Way is a bad choice. For their own sakes.
And by all benevolent spirits, for ours, too.
I Just Slapped A Bear
Three o’clock this morning there was a bellow and howl of dogs and I went out, still drugged with my sleeping pill, and there was a bear on the deck, looking in the screen door.
It wasn’t a very big bear. Probably no longer than Ron, although wider. (I have never, ever slapped Ron.) I opened the door and the bear just stared at me, inquisitively.
I’ve had enough. I hauled back and slapped it across the face. On each side of me the dogs were barking and shouting ‘Do it again!!”
The bear reacted just as though his mother had done the same thing to it. It retreated over the deck, jumped the rail and fell bodily onto the garden. Onto the same Nandina bush as the last falling bear.
This edge-of-the-wilderness life sometimes gets old. Really.
And FB keeps telling me I slapped Astrid Bear. I didn’t. I wouldn’t.
Here’s Another Fine Mess You’ve Gotten Us Into — Bear
May 11, 2017
This morning, at 5:58, there was a crash on our north porch, where we have been keeping our Coleman camp stove, since our real range died three weeks ago. (We use it in the kitchen, but there is a danger of propane leaks, so . . . )
Ron scrambles out to see, but I’m looking through a window and shout “Cub! Cub!” Because it’s better to confront a full grown male black bear than get close to a cub with mother around.
The bear is a fleeing streak of black, going off. The stove is now in the kitchen and I smell propane.
It gets old. It really does.