And it just don’t come no better than a bear… –Steven Fromholz
Those of you who know my recent history in North Carolina know that when I moved to Asheville in 2008, I was sure I would see a bear. I mean, Asheville sits smack in the middle of a huge forested area of western North Carolina that is home to hundreds (thousands?) of black bears. We sit virtually in the shadow of Mount Mitchell (the highest point in the U.S. east of the Mississippi), which is basically bear heaven. Surely I’d see bears everywhere.
Now to be fair, I’ve seen (in the wild) whale sharks, tiger sharks, shoals of hammerhead sharks, elephants, lions, and cape buffalo (one very bad-ass animal). So maybe it shouldn’t be a big deal, but there’s something about the idea that bears are living right among us that makes me really happy. So I just wanted to see one.
Fast forward three years, until I returned to the Isle of Man. I’d attend poker games, and everybody had a story about the bear they saw (including the cub that came in through Kenny’s dog-door to steal the tub of dry dog food). Tom and Brandi came across a big bear while walking their dogs at the base of Mt. Pisgah. Lisa’s friend Richard had bears in his back yard every other day it seemed like. And I won’t begin to talk about the video that Lisa took after I’d moved back to IoM – two bear cubs wrestling in the back yard of our house.
But never once did I see one.
So here I am up in Ashe County, three hours away at our family cabin. I’m headed into town for groceries, getting near Sturgills (less than two miles from the house), and there, by the side of the road, is a juvenile black bear – maybe a year old. Now bears are actually substantially more rare up here than they are down Asheville way (why, I don’t know). But there he was. Briefly. He took one look at me and my Prius, and he bounded up into the bushes. Of course, I pulled over just past where he’d been and jumped out. As I jumped out, he bounded up into the bushes again. That is, I think his curiosity got the better of him and he wanted to get a better look at whatever that big white thing was. Then either he lost his nerve, or his mama told him in no uncertain terms to get his ursine ass back up the hill into the safety of the bushes.
My first thought, you know, was “C’mon out and let me get a better look at you! I’ve got my camera right here!” But look where I was standing – a major thoroughfare through the county and up into Virginia. There are houses just a hundred yards in either direction. And more guns in those houses than I really want to think about.
So I chuckled and thought, “You know what – you just head back on up that hill and into the forest; you’ll be way safer up there and your mama will be a lot happier about it.” I’d seen him, I knew he was there, and that was plenty.
Anyway, I got to see my bear, and then he was gone to somewhere way safer and more out of the way. Kinda like catch-and-release bear sighting. Just wished I coulda got a picture first.