And Bears? Oh, My!

Ah, yes, spring. When the little kids dress appropriately for Easter egg hunts by bundling up in their parkas, mittens, and snow boots. When the optimistic lilacs that felt the 70-degree days in March and started budding turn into lilacicles. When the new green grass glistens with frost in the early morning sunshine.

Still, it’s spring. I know this, because there’s wildlife out and about. And there are a lot of animals wandering around, too.

My favorites are the yearling deer. Their mothers, getting ready for this year’s babies, have sent last year’s not-quite-grown children out into the world on their own. There’s a group of five in our neighborhood, keeping each other company as they try to figure out how to get along without moms to tell them to watch for cars and mountain lions. Scruffy with shedding winter coats, they look unkempt, as if they just got up and forgot to comb their hair. They hang out together like a group of young teenagers on a street corner, trying to look cool and hoping no one will notice they aren’t old enough to drive.

There is a fox in the neighborhood, too. We’ve seen it several times in the last couple of weeks, and two nights ago it ran across our driveway as we pulled up to the garage. That does perhaps explain why we haven’t seen many cottontails in the yard lately. There’s something appealing about a fox—maybe it’s the thick brush of a tail that’s almost as big as its body, or maybe it’s the delicate black feet, or the dainty quickness. I think this one is a female with a den close by, probably on the far side of a busy road. Twice I’ve seen the fox trotting back and forth at the roadside, waiting for a break in the traffic so she can cross. Once, coming home after dark, we caught her having a late dinner of squirrel a la Goodyear in the middle of the road. She dashed to the curb, then circled impatiently, waiting for the cars to go by so she could resume her meal. I hope she’s careful out there.

Actually, all of us probably should be careful out there. As if the ever-increasing population of mountain lions isn’t enough, an article in our weekly newspaper announced that we have verified sightings of black bears in the Black Hills. The assumption is that they are mostly young males, just passing through on their way to seek their fortunes. Sooner or later, though, one of them is going to bring his girlfriend along and settle in. It will give us hikers something to think about besides 150-pound cats.

I’ve only been close to one bear in the wild, and that was a half-grown black bear in Jackson Hole. It was a few feet away from the hiking trail, munching berries without regard to the handful of tourists watching and taking pictures. If you’re going to meet a bear in the woods, this one was probably the ideal size—not big enough to be threatening, but too old to have a protective mama hovering nearby. Still, being that close to it made me uncomfortable. Call me unreasonable, but I find it hard to relax when I’m within easy range of something that tends to think of me as lunch.

I much prefer the fox. I just hope she never finds out about the fox fur coat hanging in my closet.

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