(Bear in the Superior National Forest, 1930. Minnesota Historical Society photo.)
JJ asked if I had any bear stories. Of course I do.
Duluth, where I grew up, is right on the edge of the Great North Woods. While it wouldn't be accurate to say it's common to see bears wandering the streets there, it's also not out of the ordinary. The coffee shop in the Hotel Duluth was named the Black Bear Lounge in honor of a bear that smashed through a plate-glass window and tumbled into the cafe. (It had been following a fish truck for several miles through town.)
That was in 1929, before my time. Bears have been coming to my home town since long before there was a town. This was their area; we just got in the way. In 1902, the New York Times reported that residents killed a record 15 bears that autumn.
"A bear broke up a picnic party in the city limits recently and ate up the lunch," the story reports.
I saw my first Duluth bear the year after we moved to Duluth. I believe I was three or four years old. I remember neighbors rushing past, all headed toward a big house down the street. It had a very large yard with a black metal fence, and we stood outside the wrought iron in a long row, gawking at three dog-sized bear cubs who were quivering in the tree tops.
This was quite foolish, of course, on our part, because where there are cubs, there is a mother, and where there are people between cubs and a mother, there is trouble.
But nothing happened that afternoon, except the police finally arrived and shooed us all away.
My friend Katy and I used to go on bear walks in the autumn, along Chester Creek and in the ravines. Sometimes we found them. Somehow, in the city, they felt less dangerous, more urban and almost human, so out of their element. We are, of course, talking about black bears, and black bears seldom attack humans. Polar bears are dangerous. Grizzly bears are dangerous. Black bears, not so much.
Still, they are big, and they are surprisingly fast, and when Katy and I hiked along the creek path and spotted a bear on the trail ahead of us, we thrilled to the danger, remote as it was.
The last autumn I lived in Duluth, a bear came around my neighborhood nightly for several weeks. Toby and I lived in a small house on the edge of the woods, and wildlife was common--deer, coyotes, foxes. The bear was just part of the merriment.
One night I heard a banging noise at the back of the house, and I went into the kitchen and turned on the back light. I found myself staring directly into the giant face of a black bear. He was standing on his hind legs; his huge face filled my kitchen window. He had small, dark eyes that blinked in the sudden bright light. He was batting at a birdfeeder that hung there, and as I watched he grabbed it in his paws--he had long, black nails, like a Goth--and tilted it, spilling the birdseed into his mouth.
Then he dropped down on all fours and padded off into the yard. I heard the bang and clatter as he knocked my garbage can over, and he pulled out a black plastic garbage sack and dragged it halfway across the grass. He dropped it several feet later; the bag was full of nothing but old New Yorkers, and as Doug suggests, perhaps he had already read those issues.
I went outside and looked around. The neighbors' black Lab was deep in her doghouse, shivering, and she would not come out no matter how much I called.
Toby, my dear sweet blonde dog, was oblivious. He had been sleeping soundly in the living room during the adventure, and he never heard a thing.
How about the bear that sat down on our deck with her
feet on the
steps, poring the bird seed into her mouth? I was in
the kitchen doing
dishes when I heard a loud crack, which was the limb
birdfeeder being broken off. She wasn't more than 9
feet from me. (the
deck was 10 x 10) when she' eaten it all, she threw it
down & got up &
ambled away thru the VanderHorck's yard & down the
alley. I was always
glad I wasn't cooking something that smelled good to
her or she would
have come in & grabbed it. karl used to get so mad
because she came in
every night & broke his bird feeder.