Incident at the Bear Den

Huckleberry Bear Bear has a mind of his own, and his own bear sense of time. We learned that a long time ago and it hasn’t gotten any better.

He is also now an elderly bear, not to mention a bit large, and moves rather slowly. He is particularly sizeable this time of year, having put on a couple of hundred pounds or so in preparation for hibernation (a bear can never be too sure). When he goes out into the regular Bear Gardens we recently completed, he lowers his expansive bulk after sniffing around a bit and suns himself for the duration. So we should have been doubly warned… stubborn; elderly; plump, not to be rushed…

The other day we put him in the large Wildlife Garden for an outing and a photo shoot with Marilyn, our favorite bear photographer. We don’t have many good pictures of Huckleberry to share. He meandered around a bit, almost lively, exploring trees and bushes. Then he discovered “The Den” (in capital letters from his point of view). Jean built it for the wolves to play in and get out of the sun before we had planted trees for shade. He buried a large culvert; then covered it with rocks and soil to make a little hill above it. He intended it for the wolves so they could run in and out and play chase as it was open at both ends, to the east and to the west. Over the years the bottom has filled with soil and pebbles and leaves.

In his wanderings Huckleberry came across the opening. A big dark inviting hole. In late fall…

Too late did we realize our mistake. He was fascinated. He would not be lured away. Slowly, slowly he entered the west side of the opening until all

we could see was a large black back end – and then nothing. Just blackness, whether his back end or the darkness of the hole we could no longer determine. My immediate reaction was, “Oh my god, he’s never coming out of there! He’s going to stay for the winter!” Close to the truth…

We heard snuffling and scratching and digging. It sounded suspiciously; frighteningly, contented. Jean went to the east side of the den opening and tried to entice him out with marshmallows. Marilyn waited patiently. Eventually a nose appeared. Then retreated. More scrabbling. Jean lay on his belly to reach in with a marshmallow. Nothing. A nose appeared again; then a bit more. Then more scrabbling sounds. It seems as if his bulk was too large to make it out through the opening on this side. What if he couldn’t turn around? Trying to get a bear out How do you get a 600-pound black bear out of a den backwards? What if he got stuck trying? We live in constant worry here.

Jean reached in and tried to help him move some rocks to increase the opening. A nose plus a little more appeared again. But no go. Jean returned to the west side to see if he could get him to turn around and come out. Eventually he managed to turn around and a nose re-appeared. So at least he could turn around. More bear appeared. He lifted himself out the rest of the way and took a bit of a walk following Jean. He likes following Jean. Then, to our horror, he made another beeline for the den. We rushed to cut him off but too late. It turns out he can still move quickly if he wants to.

After more waiting we gave up and went to visit some other animals in the “Small (in size only) Animal Garden.” This is its formal, six-word name, required by the small (in size only) animals. We checked back periodically to see if Huckleberry had come out, but no luck. After another hour or so Jean went back again. Huckleberry was still in the den. It was heading towards evening (he has done this to us before). Jean called him out again, asking if he were ready to go home yet. After a few minutes Huckleberry placidly emerged. He had had enough. Jean lead him across the garden towards to his regular enclosure as Huckleberry willingly followed him towards safety. Despite all the excitement of the new, home is, after all, home.

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