Search This Blog

21 June 2011

my old neighbor, Molly the Single-Mother Bear

Click to enlarge.

Actually I don't think this is Molly, because Molly was always too smart and crafty to be caught out in the open in broad daylight. I suspect this is Molly's daughter Tiffani, with her own first brood of springtime cubs. 

Like Molly, Tiffani's a single mom. Male bears just want to have their fun, and then desert their families, leaving mom to raise the cubs. Males are pigs.

Bears have recently invaded the dumpsters at Northampton's largest apartment complex, the dumpsters are near the kids' playground, so everybody's nervous about bears. The City Council is now considering passing new regulations about feeding bears. I'm sure the Council will ask the bears to testify and give their opinion of the new regulations.

* * *

The Daily Hampshire Gazette
Northampton, Massachusetts USA
Tuesday 21 June 2011 (Summer Solstice)

Respecting our black bears

by Robert Merkin

Until we moved last year, our backyard neighbor for many years in Northampton was Molly the Single-Mother Bear, and her yearly brood of cubs.

We suspect she was spooked into the secluded wetland center of our block one day, looked around, saw it had everything a mother bear with cubs needs, and set up permanent residence.

Molly was the perfect neighbor. Our American black bear (Ursus americanus) instinctively avoids human contact, and Molly and her cubs were invisible ghosts most of the time. Only locals who enjoy a sunrise walk ever saw Molly and the kids making the rounds of unguarded neighborhood dumpsters, trash cans and bird feeders. By the time the city awoke, Molly had led her cubs back to the hidden wild heart of our block for the rest of the day.

But two or three times a year, usually at sunset, Molly and her family would give us the most spectacular thrill of an in-person parade or nature show. One night for a half-hour she let a half-dozen hushed, astonished neighbors, adults and their bug-eyed kids, watch her train her three cubs in the art of fence-climbing and bird-feeder raiding. Neither neighbors nor bears scared or spooked each other. For this city boy, it was spiritually richer than church. One cub had trouble climbing back over the chain-link fence and wailed piteously, and Molly replied with a mother's annoyed growl. The cub got the message and clambered back over the fence.

I soon learned not to worry about our safety or our cats' safety. During our years with Molly I worried far more about Molly's safety and the safety of her cubs. The scenario I dreaded most was that kids roaming through the wetland wilderness -- their right and rite of childhood -- would molest a cub, Molly would react ferociously, and the police would have no choice but to kill her and orphan her cubs. Police detest this chore.

So I would urge all parents to "bear-proof" their kids by teaching them always to walk (not run) silently away from any bear they encounter, and never to bother, scare or threaten a bear.

A few years ago in a Western national park, a troop of "city boy" scouts encountered a bear cub, and their adult leader urged them to throw rocks at it. They killed it. For the rest of the day the park rangers' radios echoed with anger, disbelief, and sobbing.

I call my old neighbor Molly (and her dopey adolescent son Todd), but Commonwealth bear experts scrupulously do not give names to the bears they affix with tracking collars. So many bears who have wandered into our neighborhoods come to a tragic end that giving them names would make these deaths even harder to endure. Our dedicated bear experts protect their emotions by referring to the bears only by their radio collar codes. But their feelings for these bears grow as deep as our feelings for family members.

There's plenty of room for all Massachusetts bears in our still-extensive deep woods. They don't seek our neighborhoods because they've run out of wilderness. They seek our dumpsters, trash cans, and most of all our bird feeders. Our sloppy and thoughtless habits with discarded food and birdseed guarantee bears a free buffet all year long. In our neighborhoods, they don't even hibernate, because hunger triggers hibernation, and neighborhood bears are never that hungry.

Regardless of what our legislators, lawyers, judges and developers may say, we do not own these creatures. We do not have the right to displace, molest or kill them, or to disrupt the remarkably successful living patterns they took millions of years to evolve.

If they annoy us now and then with strewn trash or a wrecked bird feeder, this is trivial compared to the numbers of bears we kill, molest and harass. They wouldn't be in close proximity to people if we hadn't invited them with our all-year-long free buffet.

Whether we know it or not, we are the bears' stewards, charged always with the responsibility of safeguarding and protecting them. They were here first; we came long after, with a mindset that regarded them as dangerous, delicious, and useful for fur and grease. In recent years, spectacular black-market prices for their organs, believed to have magical medicinal powers, put them at even greater risk from rapacious slaughterers who do not deserve the honorable title of lawful hunters. 

The very best way we can discharge our responsibilities as stewards -- and as parents -- is to teach our children respect and common-sense rules for their neighbor bears. This would promise future generations of adults who take their wildlife stewardship responsibilities seriously. 

Our other chore is to give far more thought to the way we get rid of edible garbage, and, if we must enjoy our birdfeeders, to spend a little more time, money and effort to erect the most bear-proof feeders we can. Very few people understand the harm and danger they invite with inferior birdfeeders placed in easy reach of bears.

There's new bears around our new home, but I miss Molly, dopey Todd, and all his sisters and brothers. They were the best and most amazing neighbors this city boy ever had. Please keep them safe and healthy.

- 30 -

Robert Merkin is a novelist ("Zombie Jamboree," "The South Florida Book of the Dead") who lived in Northampton for thirty years. He and wife Cynthia now live in the woods in a nearby hilltown.

No comments: