The other morning, out here on the farm, we had quite a show.
Not only did it get me and the dogs and a trio of bears running in all directions, it violated all sorts of truisms about mother bears and their cubs.
It started a little before 7:30 when a mother bear and her two cubs strolled out of the forest and down the road to our house.
Three bears probably looking for a healthy steak and potatoes type meal. Something like bee larva, fresh chicken, and a side of chicken feed (16% protein, according to the label).
(Not withstanding what Winny the Pooh might say, high protein bee larva ranks way above honey as a bears’ preferred meal.
Bears, especially growing bears, have a real penchant for that high protein meal to be found in beehives.
Bee larva! A food even sensitive bears will risk the pain of bee stings for.
And everyone likes chicken. Even bears
So, it was with a filling spring meal in mind that a new mother bear took her cubs down the road to visit our farm house, only to be waylaid by our pair of gardian dogs Two Great Pyrenees who long ago were hired on for just such an eventuality.
Andorra and Marcus, our duo of working dogs, whose normal duties consists of keeping the deer out of the vegetables saw the bears at the electric fence surrounding the chicken pasture and came running and barking and the bears, rather than standing and fighting, turned, and ran up the nearest tree. A very tall and very wide Tulip Poplar.
The first I saw were three bears up a tree, treed, and our two dogs, at the foot of the trees barking and jumping as if trying to climb.
And my first thought was not for the dogs safety. Or the bears, or the chickens, or even mine.
My first thought was, ‘Where’s the camera?’
And I went running back into the house.
Over the past several years bears have become an ordinary event on our farm. For the forty-five years before that bears were seldom if ever seen in our valley. Wenonah, whose family were the only people living in our valley back in 1962, never saw a bear back here. And until recently the only sightings were of young males, kicked out of the area they’d grown up in, passing through on the way to someplace better.
But that has all changed.
The fifteen or so miles of abandoned farmland, woodlots and pastures to the east of us, over the past decade, has been turned into houses, lawns and 7-11’s.
Our valley is now just about on the outside fringe of DC’s suburbs.
To the east there is no longer bear habitat. Meaning?
Since the bears can’t go to the east, they stop here.
Leaving the trio, a young mother and her pair of hundred or so pound cubs, up a tree. They must have come down to the farm looking for food. Possibly, the mother was one of the cubs, a few years back, when another mother, she was much larger than this one, and her pair of cubs took apart seven of our beehives. One night devouring something like 400 pounds of honey between the three of them.
When I came running out of the house, camera in hand, the mother bear made up her mind and decided it was time to run.
Leaving her cubs behind, she jumped, landing on the far side of the tree from both Andorra and Marcus, and took off, full tilt, across the field, through the orchard, and to that stand of Poplars on the other side.
Leaving her cubs behind.
On her heels, though, was Marcus, he didn’t hesitate, but barking and snapping, he followed at her heels.
And then she was up another tree.
And behind Marcus, one of the cubs, dropped out of the tree and followed.
And me, with my camera, followed all three, Mother, dog, cub, running with camera in hand only slowing occasionally to snap a picture, mostly of my feet, or the sky.
The other cub stayed up in the tree for a few minutes more, took that opportunity to drop to the ground and run. In the opposite direction.
Andorra, our ferocious female Great Pyrenees also took that opportunity and ran, not after the cub, or the mother, but ran in the other direction, down to the house and up the kitchen steps where she bravely defended the kitchen door.
And this is a good time to take a break for the farm news.
Spring Planting. we usually start planting after April 15th, which traditionally is the last frost for our area. Is it the last frost? Tuesday it was up in the 90’s but Friday night the temperature dropped to 35. The weather forecast for the up-coming week has a couple nights with temperatures in the 30’s. Whether the springs are getting warmer or not it still seems prudent to wait at least until the second half of April to start planting.
Planting What? The first vegetables in the ground are the cold weather plants. Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, pac choi, and greens. We have two hoophouses already full of broccoli and greenhouse cucumbers. the cucumber vines are looking good. This coming week we’ll be putting greenhouse tomatoes (tomatoes that don’t need pollinating), and probably peppers and eggplants in the new hoophouses.
Hoophouses The new hoophouses are coming along fine. The 26 foot wide house has been up for a couple weeks, the 34 foot wide house has the hoops up but needs the cross supports connected. Hopefully, I’ll finish those in the next day or two so we can put up the plastic by mid week.
Chicken tractors. Alan, a friend and great carpenter just rebuilt our chicken tractor on wheels. This morning I was up until almost 4 am catching chickens that had been living in the new hoophouse and putting them into the chicken tractor. The chickens hadn’t volunteered to move so I was out doing a little relocation work. Grabbing roosting chickens from the hoophouse’s cross supports and carrying them, two in each hand, over to the chicken tractor and putting them in the back door. 150 birds and not all going willingly. While I wasn’t pecked, often, I don’t recommend being clobbered by flapping wings as a recreational activity.
This morning, after minding my nicks and scratches I drove the chicken tractor to the field in front of the house which is covered with a strong stand of winter rye, surrounded the house with a portable chicken fence and opened the door.
It took coaxing to get the chickens to leave their new home.
Shares. We are approaching 90% full.
Share payments. It’s time to start getting them in. yes. I gave out different dates. The people that recently signed up, not until later. However, I need to know that everyone who has signed up is actually getting a share. Please get in your payment so I don’t have to worry about it.
Asparagus. this warm weather has confused it. We had a large batch for dinner last night. We have moved the geese and turkeys off the main asparagus bed so maybe next week, if the weather stays reasonably warm we’ll invite people out to get asparagus.
And I’ll stop there and get back to the bear, which we left up a tall popular.
I saw the mother scale the first large poplar she came to, scaling it like she was running up steps.
No hesitation, no bother.
And the cub, taking the mothers cue, ran up another large trunk, running up just like ti was nothing. No hesitation, it didn’t even slow down. reached the trunk and went straight up without a bit of trouble.
This confused Marcus.
He stood in between the two trees, running back and forth barking. When he turned and ran at the arriving baby, the cub scaled up higher on the trunk and the mother started coming down.
And when he turned and ran barking toward the mother, the cub switched directions and dropped down the trunk and the mother went up, sort of like that contest you see at country carnivals. The one where mostly young men line up to show how strong they are. Paying to swing a mallet and knock a ball up the pole, trying to ring the bell at the top.
Instead of young men, we had Marcus at the bottom. But even without a hammer he was getting the bears going up and down so high I half expected to hear a bell ringing.
It was something to see, despite their size, the bears looked a lot surer footed on the trees than a squirrel.
And a whole lot faster.
Marcus turned toward the baby and the mother didn’t just climbed down the tree. She dropped. With Marcus’ back turned she landed on the ground and started running.
Running away from both of her cubs
It didn’t take but a few moments before Marcus turned and seeing what was happening, forgetting the treed cub, took off after the disappearing mother.
This is when my camera aiming improved. Instead of half a dozen snapshots of my boots, I started aimed the camera at the mother and Marcus, barking and biting at her heals disappearing into the forest. .
In fact, I was standing there, almost under the tree occupied by the baby, trying to find dog and mother bear in the viewfinder, when right there, less than a dozen feet away, the cub dropped to the ground.
The cub must not have realized I was there because when it hit the ground and looked up, the look on its face was one of shock.
Just like mine.
It could have been a minute, or less than a second, but we stood staring at each other, I don’t know what the cub was thinking, but me, I was thinking, ‘That’s a bigger bear than I thought. Is it going to think its bigger than I am and act accordingly?”
I don’t know what happened to the pictures, but when I downloaded the disk from my camera the half a dozen or so photos I took while the two of us were transfixed weren’t on the disk. It was like I hadn’t taken them at all.
And the cub turned and ran.
Not in the direction its mother had taken, or in the direction its sibling had run off in. But in a third way. It it ran up the hill, and across our driveway, across that field and into the forest behind.
That’s when I realized I was alone. All the barking and the running, and confusion. It was all over. Both cubs gone. Andorra hiding. and Marcus’ barks quickly disappearing into the distance.
After that I went walking around the farm, looking to see if I could make sense out of what happened. that’s when I found Andorra hiding behind the house.Marcus? In about half an hour I found him on the outside of the gate across our driveway, filthy and panting.
There was no sign of the cubs, the chickens seemed to be safe and sound, and the pictures?
When I finally got back into the house and downloaded the disk in the camera there were half a dozen shots of my feet, and my boots. A couple of the sky and tops of trees. A couple of Marcus panting on the outside of the gate and half a dozen of bears in the distance, climbing trees, dropping out of trees and running under trees being chased by a large white dog.