After more than a decade and a half of living in the bush surrounded by thousands of acres of forests, I am no less enthralled with the wonder of it all than the day I arrived from the suburbs.
Right now the whippoorwills are particularly “vocal” around our house. I am told they are an endangered species but not at Sunflower Farm. This bird’s call could be heard over a Gun’s and Roses concert and they particularly like to roost outside our bedroom window and become vocal at about 4:30 a.m. On Sunday I got up to close the window because I had hoped to get another hours rest.
Shortly after 5 a.m., Jasper the Wonder Dog started to make whimpering sounds downstairs. Often this kind of whimpering is caused by the cats tormenting him but then he started barking so I went down to investigate. Jasper had warned his previous owners about a barn fire, so his bark is not to be ignored.
When I got to the bottom of the stairs I knew something was amiss because the chickens were out of the coop and in the pen. I was pretty sure that Michelle had locked them up the night before, but they were out and extremely agitated, squawking and cawing like, well, a Guns’n Roses concert. As I walked past the living window I saw the back end of an animal in the chicken coop and from the perspective of someone who loves the amazing eggs our ladies provide us with each day, this was not a good thing.
I rushed out the back porch door and decided to use a bit of discretion and toss a tomato stake towards the coop, which was the first thing I could grab, to flush out the intruder. My concern was that it might be a porcupine, and they can throw their quills you know! As I stood waiting for its grand exit from the chicken coop doorway, I was infinitely stunned and amazed to see a rather large black bear emerge. This was not a cub. I’m not a bear expert but we see them often in this part of the world and I think it was more than 2 years old. Regardless, it was huge.
Have you ever see one of those horror movies like Aliens where the creature emerges and stands before the main character and you sort of jump in your seat and think, “I didn’t see that coming!” Well I have to tell you, I didn’t see this coming. The fact that this massive creature could emerge from this tiny doorway that I had built to allow my little chickens to get into and out of their coop was quite awe-inspiring. Then again, bears hibernate in little caves don’t they, so there has to be a certain degree of dexterity and shape shifting in their skill set.
So there I was, standing in my summer weight pajamas, 5 or 6 yards from an extremely large black bear, who was looking at me as if to say, “What’s your problem?” Something primordial kicked in at that point. Something in my DNA analyzed the situation and told me, “This is not one of those ‘fight’ events, this is a ‘flight’ necessity. So I was quickly back at the porch pounding on the aluminum door politely asking the bear, with the most appropriate language for a Sunday morning, to kindly leave our humble chicken coop and return to its natural place in the woods.
Endorphins are a powerful drug. And what I learned as I watched this lumbering creature jump the chicken wire fence and tear through the raspberry patch to the woods was that I could never outrun a bear. They are insanely fast.
I blame myself for this visit by a bear. I recently purchased some ‘totes,’ – 250-gallon plastic tanks with an aluminum frame, to hold rainwater for the gardens of our CSA. These totes held “sardine oil.” The second one I got still had a fair amount of residue which I had drained into buckets and carried off and dumped in the woods. Really Cam? You live surrounded by bush and you’re dumping sardine oil? Note to self: perhaps clean the tote more thoroughly before bringing it on to the property.
Secondly, the chicken pen did smell a bit like a garbage dump. It’s a weird thing but the layer mash we buy from O’Neill’s Feed Mill (now TCO) has wheat in it. Our oh-so-fussy chickens tend to eat everything else but. So by the spring there is a large amount of wheat all mixed up with straw under the coop and in the pen and it smells really bad. It shouldn’t, it’s just wheat, but it does have a pungent odor. The garbage dump smell along with the sardine oil was like a big neon sign for a hungry roving bear to come over for breakfast.
And if you’re now thinking “What a citidiot!” I’m with you!
The amazing thing is this. Bears are omnivores. They eat… anything. It wasn’t until my heart rate returned to normal that I realized that by the time I got downstairs, 11 chickens were outside the chicken coop and one bear was inside the coop, and there were no casualties. The bear seemed more intent on eating their layer mash, a mix of yummy carbohydrate-laced breakfast granola-like goodness, than the quarter chicken dinners that must have scrambled over and past the bear to get out of their coop.
I own a shotgun. Many would have reacted with firepower. When I think of the time involved with getting to my storage locker, then realizing I needed to find the storage locker key, then getting the trigger lock off, then getting a blank shell into the chamber and getting back downstairs to fire off a round into the air, well, the screen door seemed to do a perfectly respectable job of suggesting to the bear it was time to leave the area.
I am left with a sense of wonder to live in such an amazing place. A place where a 500-pound creature can survive in the bush, unobstructed by human habitation, and live on a plant based diet. Clearly this bear was focused on “carbs”. That chicken coop was crawling with animal protein, but it just wanted the layer mash. In fact the animal protein was flying and clamoring its way past the bear out the door while the bear was feasting on the meager amount of granola left on the floor of the coop since we remove all their food when we lock them up. It’s like how everyone gives up on those all protein diets because they crave carbs. And really, I can’t imagine a day without them. I am way too fond of bagels… and cookies … and the occasional doughnut!
Me and my new bear friend. Eating a plant-based diet, co-existing in the most beautiful place on earth, the woods surrounding Tamworth. In the future I hope he or she will choose to co-exist farther from my house and the home of our chickens.