Editor’s note: For all the dads who enjoy stories about wildlife in the Valley … Happy Father’s Day from The Current.
Spring and summer are beautiful times of year and 2011 seemed especially lovely. I don’t remember if there were the usual hordes of black-flies or an onslaught of sharp nosed mosquitoes, it just seemed to me to be absolutely perfect. The year felt different, expectant somehow. The fishing was excellent both spring and summer; life at the lake was enjoyable.
One sunny day in early September, I started to survey the trees around our property. There was an abundance of huge poplar trees and if I cut some down, the oaks and maples would grow stronger and faster with a chance to see the sunlight.
As I was surveying I got that funny feeling that I was being watched. To my right I saw a woodpecker in the distance but as I looked left, I thought I caught a glimpse of black. Was it just my imagination or nature playing tricks with my vision? I hadn’t heard a sound.
Still uncertain, I crossed a well-used animal trail. I noticed deer prints in the hard ground and followed the trail for some distance. I felt there was something unusual about the trail but couldn’t figure out what it was.
I left the area and returned two hours later with a little corn and a trail camera. With a hunch that something else was using the trail, I wanted to find out exactly what or who it was. Maybe someone had been trespassing I thought as I hid the camera and left.
After two days I returned to check the camera footage. It’s always exciting to review the pictures … and this time there were lots! A doe with two fawns, another doe with a fawn, a young buck, and then, best of all, a Mamma bear with four cubs. Wow that was fantastic, I was very excited with three pics of the bear family. Aha, mystery solved!
This was the beginning of an unexpected relationship: over the next few weeks I was on high alert and caught a few brief sightings of the family. I noticed that one cub seemed to lag behind the other three and would wander farther from Mamma than the others — curious or maybe just following his nose. One time he didn’t return to Mamma when she beckoned so she went after him and gave him a swat. It brought back memories: it was just like what I occasionally got if I wandered or didn’t listen to my parents. Then just like that they were gone. The family disappeared, like the black ghosts of the woods that bears are.
October came and I turned my attention to bow hunting. Moose season is always an exciting time with plenty of adventure. I often thought of the bear family and wondered how they were doing. The moose hunt was near the cottage so one day I came home for lunch and fresh boots.
I had time so I decided to do up my dishes. (Yup, I do dishes!) I was washing dishes, gazing out the window and there to my surprise was a bear cub. I watched awhile but there seemed to be only the one. I wondered where the other cubs were and most of all where was Mamma? The cub in my yard was nervous as he crept out from under a stand of cedar trees. He hesitated, looked around and took a whiff of the surrounding air. Suddenly he dashed out, jumped on an apple lying on the ground, picked it up in his mouth and stood tall on his hind legs. His front paws dropped back to earth then he quickly turned and disappeared under the cedars. I could see him eating the apple.
A day earlier I had tossed a few out into the side yard. The hunt that this little fellow was on made me chuckle. He resumed his apple hunt, each time repeating the stand-up antics as if saying, “Look at me, I am king of the woods.” I decided to name him Bobby as he reminded me of someone bobbing for apples. After the fifth apple he disappeared into the bush with his prize. At this point I forgot about the dishes, checked the time and placed more apples. I made seven piles of apples with only one sweet ‘local’ red apple under one pile. I placed the piles in a circle about 25 feet in diameter, set my trail camera and went back to join the moose gang. Returning home that evening I was disappointed to find no cub pics. Before heading out next morning, I checked the apple piles again but nothing had been disturbed.
It was an exciting day — I saw a magnificent moose with an incredible rack but unfortunately could not get the perfect bow shot. One of the other hunters in our group saw the moose. She was watching a doe and fawn but they soon bolted as a wolf came running out of the swamp with this big bull moose hot after him, the moose was intent on stomping the lone wolf into the ground. The wolf raced through the bush and the moose felt satisfied that he had scared that wolf out of the area. None of us had ever seen anything quite like it, but I imagined if I had witnessed the confrontation I was pretty sure the wolf would have lost.
Returning home that evening I checked the camera and much to my surprise, my experiment, cub vs. apples, had succeeded.
The trail cam showed that the cub wandered into the circle of apple piles and sat down in the middle on his haunches. He faced a pile of apples, tested the air with his nose and then turned to face the next pile. He again lifted his nose in the air then turned to the third pile. He tested the air and was about to turn when he jumped up on the third pile and retrieved the red apple that I had hidden beneath the yellow ‘city’ apples. The cub loved the red ones which had come from my cousin Robert’s farm. These local red apples were his favourite and he only ate the yellow apples when he had no other choice.
Bobby the orphan showed up several more times. I was concerned he would not be fat enough to survive the winter because cubs usually spend two winters with their mother before she forces them out on their own. I fed him additional corn and apples. Well, I suppose I didn’t actually “feed” him as he stole the food. Bobby stayed wild and ran to hide as soon as he encountered any human activity or even just a whiff of human scent. Eventually he wandered further away and established his own core area. I never saw the rest of the bear family again.
When the cold weather arrived I had not seen hide nor hair of Bobby the orphan. Later that fall we had a large black bear come through our yard and he was a bit mischievous; he would reach in and take things out of the back of my full size GMC 4×4 truck. I finally figured out that this bear would take my stuff down the old road and then tear the bags apart to investigate the contents. We knew it was a good sized bear due to black hair on the sides of the truck. Finally I got a picture of him one night. Since Bobby had disappeared I wondered if this bear had possibly made a meal of the cub. Big males are predatory and a cub would be easy to catch.
Winter came and went, the snow was almost gone and by April the air was warming up. Sadly still no sign of the orphaned cub.
We loved cottage life, such a wonderful escape from the pressures of city life. The cub had been on my mind and I wondered if he had escaped the many perils of bush life. I set up a camera hoping it might reveal the presence of any secretive creatures in the area. I picked up some apples and corn and put them out. As I was strapping the camera to the tree I heard a noise in the cedar swamp. I stood perfectly still and listened as, cautiously creeping in my direction, came a black ghost — a young bear. Bobby had survived the winter.
As he got closer to me I became nervous; cub or not, he was still a bear. I decided to let my presence be known. Softly I spoke, “Welcome back Bobby, glad to see you made it through the winter.” Well he took one look at me and quickly vanished. Was it something I said?
I finished placing the camera and went into the cottage. I told my wife I had seen Bobby, funny how relieved I felt. We had a good laugh as I recounted the story, I was a bit indignant that he was afraid of me. My wife suggested I go look in the mirror, “My guess is he probably figured you were a big black bear.” I thought she was teasing me. Well, I was wearing a black hat, black jacket, dark blue jeans and sporting a beard. No wonder Bobby ran, he figured I was a big old bear and knew he could be in trouble.
It was the last time I saw Bobby the cub until he wandered into my yard a few years later. I wonder how many times our paths almost crossed during those few years. He probably watched me many times without my knowing.
The bear has always played a role in my life. As a kid the old timers told me many bear tales and I believed there was one behind every big tree. My imagination was my worst nightmare, thankfully I outgrew those thoughts. It has taken years for me to understand what their appearance means to me. Bears have come to represent change, whether they appear in real life or in dreams there will be a change coming. That has proven itself many times over. One thing is for sure, these Black Ghosts have kept my life interesting, exciting and I usually know a change is coming.
Note: Readers interested in Bobby can Click HERE to read Gil’s earlier story “A Bearable Morning.”
All photos Gil Glofcheskie