One of the ways hunting has changed me, is now I can’t stay out of the woods. Before I started hunting, I mostly walked on dirt roads. When I did go into the woods, it was always along a trail, and rarely alone.
That’s what has changed.
I head for the woods.
Now, even when it’s not hunting season, I head for the woods alone or with Leo, my dog. This time of year is especially beautiful: the ephemerals are in bloom, and the leaves, hanging bright and limp, have turned the woods exquisitely, painfully, poignantly, bright. Nevertheless, I’m still mildly anxious about meeting bears, especially now, when they’re hungry and likely to be with their young.
I’ve never met a bear in the woods.
In truth, I’ve never met a bear in the woods, and I’m sure that’s thanks to the bears. They don’t want to meet me any more than I do them.
Vermont’s black bears are notoriously shy. And while they don’t have good eyesight, their sense of smell is vastly superior to ours, as is their hearing. I’m sure they hear me when I’m deer hunting, despite my efforts at silence. In the spring, I do the opposite. I huff uphill; on the way down, I talk to my dog.
Leo’s on the alert, too.
The turkey hen and the big, black bear.
One spring, when I still preferred the roads to the woods, we were chuffing up a steep, dirt road near home. Leo was off leash and ahead when he stopped and growled. I figured it was the black trash barrel at the end of a drive that alarmed him. He believes it’s his responsibility to keep trash barrels, wheel barrels and lawn mowers at bay; he was just doing his job.
But another twenty yards up the road an enormous black bear burst out of the woods chased by a turkey hen giving him the tongue-lashing of his life. They crossed the road.
A few moments later, the turkey emerged, shaking her feathers and talking to herself. Everything about her said, Well I never! I guess that’ll teach him!
We saw no further sign of the bear.
As much as I like bears living in the woods, and as much as I’m always thrilled to seem them from a distance, I’m not fond of the damage they can do.
The bears and the bees.
For twenty-seven years, I kept bees. They pollinated the gardens and fruit trees, and most years, they gave me honey for household use and holiday gifts. No matter how hot it was as I worked them, nor how sticky it was to harvest the honey, I loved having them around. But the last time I harvested honey was in 2012.
The bear population has increased even as their habitat declines due to development, and keeping bees has come to mean keeping bears. On All Soul’s Day, 2012, a bear took out my last hive.
Sadly, I gave up beekeeping.
Social distancing by mutual desire.
I still have all the equipment in the basement, and every year I talk about getting new bees. But I haven’t, because I don’t want to see bears in the bee yard, just as when I walk in the woods, the bears don’t want to see me. Thanks to hunting, which is what’s sent me into the woods in the first place, I’m becoming confident neither the bears nor my own fears will chase me out.