Friday, June 6, 2014

Encounter a bear? Just walk on by

A woman suffered severe injuries after a grizzly attacked her while she was running along a trail on the huge military base on the outskirts of Anchorage last week. According to reports she did everything right, following the general advice of remaining calm, looming large and backing away, eventually playing dead if the bear actually attacks and grabs you. None of it worked except that she could have been killed if she had not played dead. The bear eventually left her and she made it to a road where rescue followed.

In the aftermath of the attack, an Anchorage outdoors writer who has almost made a living writing about and postulating about bear attacks, offered a newer method for dealing with a potential bear attack. He does write with some credibility given his experience with the subject and his own encounter when a grizzly grabbed his leg and he fought it off with a handgun.

His suggestion deals mostly with urban bears that are accustomed to people on the various running and bicycling trails around the city. According to his numbers, there are 65 grizzlies and about 250 black bears prowling within city limits.


These, he postulates, frequent the same trails and often may lurk in the brush just off the trail while runners, hikers or bicyclists pass. It is the bears' being accustomed to that traffic that forestalls more attacks. The woman in this attack had come between a sow and cub and she stopped. The writer suggests that if she had just kept going and run past them, the bear might not have felt any threat and merely let her pass. Certainly others passed that bear at one time or another and if the runner had kept going she might not have been attacked. It sounds logical but a tough decision to make in the immediate moment when you encounter a bear on the trail. Kind of like a quarterback analyzing the defense in the one or two seconds he has before he has to throw the ball or be smashed to the earth by a charging 300-pound lineman. How many of us can do that? And, the quarterback knows the intentions of the defense; you never know immediately what the bear is going to do.

The writer also advocates the use of pepper spray, citing statistics that show the spray has stopped more attacks than guns ever have and stating that no one has been killed by someone who used the spray during an attack.

I have never been attacked by a bear, but life at the East Pole involves them. I always carry a heavy rifle with me but in recent years have added a can of bear spray. I don't want to kill a bear for one thing and for another there can be incidents where you don't even have time to raise the rifle. In my only encounter out there, bottle rockets did the trick, but this was not an all-out charge and attack.

This happened back when I smoked and one evening when I was there by myself, I was leaning out the window puffing on a cigarette and watching down the hill where a bear trail passed along the base of it. I heard a branch crack and shortly a grizzly emerged from the brush. She was followed by one, then a second, and then a third cub. These were almost her size and given that cubs stay with the mother for two years, these had to be yearlings almost ready to head out on their own.

They slowly worked their way to where their path crossed the trail I had used earlier in the day when I climbed to the cabin. I fully expected her to catch my scent and head off into the woods. Instead she put her head down and began following the trail. For a few moments I stood there mesmerized. Most of us see bears in zoos or stuffed and in cases at the airport. A fully fluffed out bear is a whole lot more imposing than those other specimens, especially when it is on the ground and can get at you -- huge.

As she progressed up the trail, it dawned on me that I had better get ahead of this situation. A friend who worked at a remote fish hatchery where bears often wandered through the grounds once told me it is best to make any bear visit an unpleasant experience for the animal. Her solution was bottle rockets fired judiciously to scare the animals away. With that advice in mind I always keep a supply of the firecrackers near the door. I grabbed a handful of them along with my rifle and a lighter and stepped out onto the porch.  By that time she had reached the point about two thirds of the way up the trail where you make a sharp turn for the last run to the cabin still with her head down in the weeds about 30 feet from the porch. All three cubs were coming along right behind her.

That was too close and I lighted a bottle rocket and fired it. It landed and went off right in front of the lead bear, startling her. She stood on her hind feet, head swinging from side to side trying to catch the scent of whatever had caused that noise. While she was still standing I fired another one at her, which exploded as it hit her in the chest. This time she let out a roar, did something of a pirouette and landed on the cub behind her. They ran back down the hill while I listened for their progress. To my mind the noise stopped too soon, like she was still intent on finding what was at the end of that trail she was following and also what had caused the disruption. They just hadn't gone far enough to not still be a danger, so I fired another bottle rocket in their direction. Another roar echoed through the woods and then rose the noise of what sounded like four bulldozers tearing off through the underbrush. The sounds slowly faded until I couldn't hear them any more and this time I suspected they had run far enough. Half an hour or so later I heard a couple of gunshots in the distance that seemed to come from where the bears would have crossed the main trail if they had continued on the same course.

All things considered, we had had an encounter and everyone lived. It left me nervous. I didn't have Billy the Big-mouth Bass yet, so I put a bunch of pots and pans out on the deck to make some noise if they came back later in the night.

As stated, this was not an all-out attack.  I don't think she ever saw me, but I have to wonder what would have happened if I hadn't been looking out the window smoking that cigarette. It almost gave me an excuse to keep smoking, forget about the health hazard. That smoke had saved me from what could have been a much more serious encounter, one that could have turned out quite differently.

I guess the point of all this is that each situation is going to be a little different and in many cases a judgment has to be made fairly quickly. In this one, I had some time to think and get ahead of it, but that is not always the case. Running on by might be a good strategy on urban trails but not so much in the big woods. Then, too, the bears around the East Pole must be somewhat used to the sporadic traffic on the main trail, so, at least if you are driving a noisy machine, it might be best to drive on by. I did in fact see the hind end of a black bear one day as it ran off the trail a few hundred feet ahead of the four-wheeler. But that is in no way a proven theory. A friend of mine came around a blind corner on his trail one time and actually ran into a black bear. But, the idea of just running or walking on by, gives us one more choice when dealing with a bear.

The original story

Billy the Big Mouthed Bass

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Interesting quotations

My dear Mr. Frost: two roads never diverge in a yellow wood. Three roads meet there. — @Shakespeare on Twitter

"The mark of a great shiphandler is never getting into situations that require great shiphandling," Adm. Ernest King, USN

Me: Does the restaurant have cute waitresses?

My friend Gail: All waitresses are cute when you're hungry.

I'm not a writer, but sometimes I push around words to see what happens. – Scott Berry

“The rivers of Alaska are strewn with the bones of men who made but one mistake” - Fred McGarry, a Nushagak Trapper

A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity. – Franz Kafka

We are all immortal until the one day we are not. – me again

If the muse is late, start without her – Peter S. Beagle

Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. ~Mark Twain Actually you could do the same thing with the word "really" as in "really cold."

If you are looking for an experience that will temper your vanity, this is it. There's no one to impress when you're alone on the trap line. – Michael Carey quoting his father's journal

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing. – Benjamin Franklin

It’s nervous work. The state you need to write in is the state that others are paying large sums of money to get rid of. – Shirley Hazzard

So far as I can remember, there is not one word in the Gospels in praise of intelligence -- Bertrand Russell

You know that I always just wanted to have a small ship to take stuff from a place that had a lot of that stuff to a place that did not have a lot of that stuff and so prosper.—Jackie Faber, “The Wake of the Lorelei Lee”

If you attack the arguer instead of the argument, you lose both

If an insurance company won’t pay for damages caused by an “act of God,” shouldn’t it then have to prove the existence of God? – I said that

I used to think getting old was about vanity—but actually it’s about losing people you love. Getting wrinkles is trivial. – Eugene O’Neill

German General to Swiss General: “You have only 500,000 men in your army; what would you do if I invaded with 1 million men?”

Swiss General: “Well, I suppose every one of my soldiers would need to fire twice.”

Writing is the only thing that when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.—Gloria Steinem

Exceed your bandwidth—sign on the wall of the maintenance shop at the West Coast/Alaska Tsunami Warning Center

One thing I do know, if you keep at it, you usually wind up getting something done.—Patricia Monaghan

Do you want to know what kind of person makes the best reporter? I’ll tell you. A borderline sociopath. Someone smart, inquisitive, stubborn, disorganized, chaotic, and in a perpetual state of simmering rage at the failings of the world.—Brett Arends

It is a very simple mind that only knows how to spell a word one way.—Andrew Jackson

3:30 is too late or too early to do anything—Rene Descartes

Everything is okay when it’s 50-below as long as everything is okay. – an Alaskan in Tom Walker’s “The Seventymile Kid”

You can have your own opinion but you can’t have your own science.—commenter arguing on a story about polar bears and global warming

He looks at three ex wives as a good start—TV police drama

Talkeetna: A friendly little drinking town with a climbing problem.—a handmade bumper sticker

“You’re either into the wall or into the show”—Marco Andretti on giving it all to qualify last at the 2011 Indy 500

Makeup is not for the faint of heart—the makeup guerrilla

“I’m going to relax in a very adult manner.”—Danica Patrick after sweating it out and qualifying half an hour before Andretti

“Asking Congress to come back is like asking a mugger to come back because he forgot your wallet.”—a roundtable participant on Fox of all places

As Republicans go further back in the conception process to define when life actually begins, I am beginning to think the eventual definition will be life begins in the beer I was drinking when I met her.—me again

Hunting is a “critical element for the long-term conservation of wood bison.”—a state department of Fish and Game official explaining why the state would not go along with a federal plan to reintroduce wood bison in Alaska because the agreement did not specifically allow hunting

Each day do something that won’t compute – anon

I can’t belive I still have to protest this shit – a sign carriend by an elderly woman at an Occupy demonstration

Many people hear voices when no one is there. Some of them are called mad and are shut up in rooms where they stared at walls all day. Others are called writers and they do pretty much the same thing. – Meg Chittenden

Life should be a little nuts or else it’s just a bunch of Thursdays strung together—Kevin Costner as Beau Burroughs in “Rumor has it”

You’re just a wanker whipping up fear —Irish President Michael D. Higgins to a tea party radio announcer

Being president doesn’t change who you are; it reveals who you are—Michelle Obama

Things sports announcers say

"… there's a fearlessment about him …"

"He's got to have the lead if he's going to win this race."

"Kansas has always had the ability to score with the basketball."

"NFL to put computer chips in balls." Oh, that's gotta hurt.

"Now that you're in the finals you have to run the race that's going to get you on the podium."

"It's very important for both sides that they stay on their feet."

This is why you get to hate sportscasters. Kansas beats Texas for the first time since 1938. So the pundits open their segment with the question "let's talk about what went wrong." Wrong? Kansas WON a football game! That's what went RIGHT!

"I brought out the thermostat to show you how cold it is here." Points to a thermometer reading zero in Minneapolis.

"It's tough to win on the road when you turn the ball over." Oh, really? Like you can do all right if you turn the ball over playing at home?

Cliches so imbedded in sportscasters' minds they can't help themselves: "Minnesota fell from the ranks of the undefeated today." What ranks? They were the only undefeated team left.

A good one: A 5'10" player went up and caught a pass off a defensive back over six feet tall. The quote? "He's got some hops."

Best homonym of the day so far: "It's all tied. Alabama 34, Kentucky 3." Oh, Tide.

"Steve Hooker commentates on his Olympic pole vault gold medal." When "comments" just won't do.

"He's certainly capable of the top ten, maybe even higher than that."

"Atlanta is capable of doing what they're doing."

"Biyombo, one of seven kids from the Republic of Congo." In the NBA? In America? In his whole country?

"You can't come out and be aggressive but you can't come out and be unaggressive."

"They're gonna be in every game they play!"

"First you have to get two strikes on the hitter before you get the strikeout."

"The game ended in the final seconds." You have to wonder when the others ended or are they still going on?

How is a team down by one touchdown before the half "totally demoralized?"

"If they score runs they will win."

"I think the matchup is what it is"

After a play a Houston defender was on his knees, his head on the ground and his hand underneath him appeared to clutch a very sensitive part of the male anatomy. He rolled onto his back and quickly removed his hand. (Remember the old Cosby routine "you cannot touch certain parts of your body?") Finally they helped the guy to the sideline and then the replay was shown. In it the guy clearly took a hard knee between his thighs. As this was being shown, one of the announcers says, "It looks like he hurt his shoulder." The other agrees and then they both talk about how serious a shoulder injury can be. Were we watching the same game?

"Somebody is going to be the quarterback or we're going to see a new quarterback."

"If you're gonna play running back in the SEC you're gonna take hits."

"That was a playmaker making a play."

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