When A Bear Comes to Your Front Door

I have fed chipmunks peanuts from my palm, stalked beaver around the lake in a canoe, tossed bread to wild ducks from the dock, caught and thrown back more fish than I could count. I’ve admired the flight of a bald eagle, a great blue heron and a twittering hummingbird. I’ve seen porcupines shoot quills, white-striped raccoon tails glow in the dark and deer dart gracefully through the woods. Part of the appeal of the North woods is this privileged relationship one develops with the forest animals. Living so closely to wildlife teaches respect, but in all my summers spent in Wisconsin, I’ve never considered what to do if a bear comes calling at my cabin door.bear

The locals at Summit Lake recount bear sightings every summer, but we had heard it so often, it sounded like folklore, the bear being like the Hodag, the mythical beast of the old lumberjacks of Rhinelander.

Still when living in the woods, bear is always in the back of your mind. When I grill out and hear a thrashing in the forest, I think, “Bears, burger, me…dead meat.” Just as I turn to run, I’ll see a white tail flip up in the green brush and a deer dart across the path.

So one drizzly afternoon, when my mom exclaimed, “Oh my, there’s a bear!” at first it didn’t register. I reluctantly put down my book and looked out the picture window in front of the lake. Not more than 15 feet away, a bear stood on his hind legs sweeping a clumsy paw at the bird feeder. His black coat was sleek and glossy from the rain and made him look slim. He had a cute, round snout and beady, black eyes. Standing five feet tall, he didn’t look that big or that bad. Before I could grab a camera, he lumbered back into the woods towards the lake leaving us with nervously reassuring one another we weren’t hallucinating.

“I thought it was a big, black squirrel climbing the tree!” my mom said in disbelief.

“Are you sure it was a bear?” my daughter asked skeptically.

“We couldn’t all be wrong,” I answered, pointing to my parents and sister who looked a bit shell-shocked from the sight.

“I don’t know,” Nat speculated. “How good are your eyes – you  all wear glasses.”

Next morning, my sisters and I were apprehensive when we walked down our wooded lane, stopping to chat with our neighbor the local woodsman.

“Nothing to be afraid of,” Steinie said. “Those are black bears, not grizzlies. Won’t bother you. Just give a holler. Tell ‘em to git and they’ll go on home.”

Yep, July 19, 2001, the day a bear came to call was etched in my memory. Over a decade passed before I saw another one. Sure enough Dad and I did a double take as we watched a smaller black bear look right as us then amble back into the woods.

Since ghost walks and flashlight tag were now out of the question, we spent summer evenings peering out the window. Every shadow looked like a bear. When it was too dark to see, we recounted bear stories over again as if to reassure ourselves that it wasn’t just some apparition of our imagination.

A lot of folks tell tales of hitting deer darting across the highway, but leave it to a Frenchman to boast of being hit by a bear. My husband swears that a big ol’ black bear ran right into him after he swerved on highway 64. Of course, the only witness was the bear, so we’ll never know for sure.  Sounds like one of those fishing stories where the catch gets bigger every time you tell the tale. But it could be true. One neighbor asked for advice on how to shoo a black bear out of his garage with a yard rake. My sister, Karen, was sitting on the dock admiring the lake when a bear ambled out of the woods aiming to hang out at our house until her dog, Kizzie barked.

It is one thing to see bears in a zoo, but another to see them in your front yard. I know what a caged animal must feel like. While our bear roamed around his woodsy world in freedom, I stared at him from behind our glass cage. It was a humbling experience, a vivid reminder that I am just one little creature in God’s great kingdom.

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Posted in family, inspiration, travel.


      • No, those don’t exist here. in most parts the only wildlife you’ll see are rabbits. I have seen the occasional red squirrel here. In the national park The Veluwe we have deer and boars. There are quite many foxes all over the country as well they say, but you never see those. We do have badgers too, but they are relatively rare and very hard to spot anyway.

  1. Good story, and I like your last comment the best. It is hard for us to remember sometimes that other creatures didn’t move into our neighborhoods; we moved into theirs!

    • Yes, Carol, we humans often times forget that we are sharing earth with other birds and four legged beasts. Nature is a beautiful reminder that is behooves us all to take care of our planet.

  2. Pat, what makes you think the HODAG is a myth?!? Keep you eyes open when you drive up to Rhinelander to eat at the Pub?

    • Oh no, Don, don’t say that. Now I will not only be seeing a bear in every shadow, but I will be “imagining” the Hodag lurking behind every tree!

  3. I can totally relate to this as one day Jono and I went for a walk when there was a break in the skies after being holed up in our Pennsylvania vacation condo with three days of rain. We walked up a road within the resort and there was a big black bear I swear 25 or 30 yards away looking right at us. Scared the heebie jeevies right out of us. Who would have expected that in a resort? But then again, it was surrounded by woods.

  4. Pat, It’s amazing how we don’t have to look very far to find stories, or bears for that matter, especially in the Wisconsin woods. Great story with an interesting twist– you peering behind your “glass cage” while bear grabs a snack!

  5. Enjoyed your recount of your bear encounters.
    When Andy and I walk every morning we keep our eyes, ears and his nose on the lookout for a bear. We have yet to see one on our walks even though we are only two doors down from you all at the lake! We have seen bears several times while driving,though, on Greenway, down by the barn, on hwy 45 and county road G.They are amazing creatures! Just not too up close and personal!

    • I think it’s our French chef’s cooking that is attracting the bear. Next time he shows up on our doorstep, I’ll shoo him down your way. ha ha

  6. We used to do a lot of tent camping when I was a kid. One summer, when I was about 8 or 9 years old we were camping at Jackson Hole, WY, which was notorious for bears. I was sleeping next to the wall of our big Coleman tent when a bear stepped on my arm. In the morning, I told my parents I’d dreamed that a woman with a red fingernail had pressed down on my arm with one finger. Mom and Dad said they had been cowering in the tent, hoping the bear would move on. What else could you do with four little kids?

    • OMG Lynne. Incredible! How scary! Now I am sure you can weave that memory into your next novel! My mom said she saw the bear lumbering across the yard while my sister was sitting by the dock. Mom was waving her arms around in front of the picture window because she wanted to signal to Karen to get out of there, but she was afraid to holler cause she wasn’t sure how the bear would react.

      • If you want to know anything/everything about dealing with bears, my friend CJ Hernley lived in Alaska for over 20 years, and not only hiked, hunted and fished for fun while raising a family, but also served as a (rifle-bearing) nature guide for hikers and hunters. She has studied bears and invented a defensive maneuver called the “Bear Dance.” Her stories are jaw-dropping amazing, and she’s crazy funny, besides. You will love her. I haven’t read her latest yet, “Cactus In My Ass” but I plan to! http://www.amazon.com/CJ-Hernley/e/B008R1SRQS/ref=la_B008R1SRQS_af

  7. Fortunately, the only bears I’ve seen have been in zoos! I think I might faint if a real bear came to my door — but the Sheltie probably would bark and try to herd it into a corner, ha!

  8. You gotta love the good outdoors, animals & all creatures enjoying the spoils of Mother Nature- even if you’re looking out from a distance! Great ione Pat:)

  9. Oh my goodness. We have had more bear sightings around the city in the last few years as building encroaches on the homes of the critters, but I’ve never had one in my own yard. We did have one on the sidewalk out front during the Waldo Canyon Fires (maybe it was burned out of its home?) but my silly twenty-something daughter who was visiting decided to chase it to get a photo on her camera. Luckily (for her!) it ran instead of pouncing on her for her stupidity. Beautiful but scary creatures.

  10. Another fun time to see a bear is when you are cruising along Forest Road on your bike and out comes Momma Bear, do you speed up and hope to go around or stop and wait awhile? I decided to wait and after a few minutes, Momma got off the asphalt and lumbered down into the ditch and off into the woods! I guess I need to have Gigi with me to run them off the road!! Did get a couple nice pics though.

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