Monday, January 12, 2015

Shooting bear and other critters

Last week the local paper ran a front page article about someone shooting a 650 pound bear.  My first reaction was 'jerk'.  Later a related article appeared in the Washington Post  to which a friend from Charlottesville wrote a letter that more or less captured part of my feelings.

Specifically, why I felt the guy was a jerk is I felt by killing that old bear he was potentially diminishing my  enjoyment of life.  And if not deminishing my life he was doing it to someone else that had the potential to see that bear.

When you live out near and spend a lot of time walking in the woods one of the pleasures is getting a glimpse of a large bear. The same is true with other animals.  The other day one of my neighbors, a retired marine,  called to report, with pleasure, that he had just seen one of the few bald eagles that occasionally populate our area. On his living room wall he has a picture of a large bear, maybe not 650 pounds but close, that had walked into his yard a few years back.

Look at our farm facebook page.  I post a picture most everyday of something that happened out on the farm.  Vegetables, tractors,  people visiting  Generally we get about 100 hits a day.  When we post pictures of owls, bears, wild  turkeys and the occasional coyote the numbers go up into the 300-600 range.  The most interest comes when we post pictures of critters that people seldom see outside of a zoo. It gets the most hits when there's a picture of one of the critters that people rarely get a chance of seeing outside a zoo.

To write this I've just gone back through my files looking for pictures of bears.  Its funny some of the most vivid images I carry around in my mind don't have photos to go with them - a huge bear coming up the valley while four of us are looking at the old civil war battlefield a couple miles from our home.  Another when Wenonah and I were first dating and we were hiking in the park around Charlottesville when we spotted a mother and her cub fishing in a stream below us.  We stopped and watched for several minutes before the bears realized we were there and then ran straight up the opposite hill. 

Why do I carry those images around in my mind so clearly and why is there such pleasure attached to those memories?

Like my neighbor I have a picture of a bald eagle in my mind.  Its over on the other side of the mountain,  I had been bushwacking through the woods and came out on an unused field.  Way over on the other side was a bald eagle perched on a dead limb.  I stood there for several minutes watching it until suddenly it must have seen me, or there was some prey.  Something.

The eagle jumped from its perch and as it did the large dead limb it was sitting on broke and went crashing the hundred and fifty feet to the ground.

Outside of whether nature needs that eagle or whether the large old bear serves some purpose for nature the fact that they carry such intrinsic value to all that come across then, to the people that buy calendars of pictures of wildlife or to see the pictures on our facebook page it shows that they have a value far outside an individuals ability to kill it.

 Yes, I know, I've heard the arguments, (regularly since we have a hundred acre wood lot full of wild life that people want to get permission to hunt on).  'By shooting large animals I'm performing a service'. 'Venison is wonderful to eat'.  'I want to control the animal population'. ' There wouldn't be a hunting season unless the animal population needed to be controlled'.

A few years back there was an albino deer that could be seen often (because she was white she really stuck out).  One time I saw her in the woods down from our house.  When I took out my binoculars I saw she was sitting in the midst of a couple dozen other does.  She just stuck out because of her white coat.

A couple years later I no longer saw her around.  One of my neighbors brought up the subject.  'you know that white deer that you occasionally saw around her.  A guy down Waterfall shot her, he said because she was different.'

Unfortunately that captures to a t why some people shoot animals.
The 650 pound bear was shot because, well, how many 650 pound bears do you see out there?

The albino doe, like the buck with the large rack of antlers, was shot, not because the hunter liked venison, egven though he might, It was shot for the same reason that my neighbor called to tell me he'd seen a bald eagle, 

The difference with the person shooting it over the person who observes it, Maybe takes a pictures, Maybe calls up a neighbor and tells then about it.  Or maybe just remembers the event.

There is something pleasureable about seeing large, unusual wildlife.  However, the person that kills it either doesn't care that others might see it.  He's just thinking about himself.


The person that  goes out into the forest and kills wildlife because its large, or different or rare, doesn't think about anyone else but himself.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Coming across a hole dug under a boulder in winter.

What do you suppose is sleeping down at the bottom of this hole? (Standing outside I thought 'That looks like it could be the winter home of a black bear '). 

'Fortunately, though,' I added, 'whatever it is, this time of year isn't likely to wake up and come out in a bad mood.'

When I came across this den I was in a part of our mountain where no one ever goes.  I had been out cutting wood, walking through an area of large boulders looking for a way to get to some large standing dead trees.

At first I stopped.

I've done a little bit of reading about animal dens.  Wondering where the occasional bears we see around here spend the winter.  The literature mostly says that black bears around here don't actually hibernate,  what they do instead is have long naps lastings days and weeks.

And they take these naps in different sort of places depending on their size and whether they're sharing their sleeping spot with cubs or not.

Hollow logs,  Shallow caves,  holes dug out under boulders.

One of the things that made me step back and look at this spot is the effort that had been made to make it seem like there wasn't anything here.

I mean that is until you looked carefully.

But top a causual observer.  Someone that was just walking by, they wouldn't have noticed this whole or the effort taken to scatter the dirt excvavated from under the rock.

Once you stepped back and took a look the area looked like one of those prisoner of war escape scenes.  Where the soldiers living in a barracks had been going out  each day with bags of dirt in their pockets and scattering the dirt around the exercise yard.

After a while the place where the prisoners take their daily walks is paved with half a foot of clay that has been dug out of the hidden escape tunnel.

For fifty feet around this opening, underneith the leaves that recently fell from the trees, several inches of clay,  probably coming from down under that rock, had been spread across the land.

An A for effort however once someone knew what they were looking at a C-.

And what also gave it away.  Made you realize that this was the opening to an underground room with one or monre critters sleeping inside  is the opening has been closed.

But not from the outside, as it would have been if I had dug out a tunnel and thenlooking at my work from the outside thrown a couple shovel fulls of clay into the opening until it was closed.

This opening had been closed from the inside.

Whoever had dug it and climbed inside and then had scraped a couple paw fulls of clay and had pushed it up into the opening from the inside.

In other words the critter that had sealed the opening had done so after they had entered.

They were in there right now.

I took out my cell phone,  took a couple pictures,  decided that whatever dead trees that might be around could wait until another time for cutting and left the area.

I figured that there are few enough bears or bob cats or whatever would bew taking a nap for the inter under a large boulder like that that they did not deed me disturbing them.