Living with Wildlife at the Forest’s Edge

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Thump! That single bang of something smacking my window sat me straight up in bed. Four in the morning, I’d been sound asleep. Now my brain muzzily ran through the possibilities.

I don’t know why it latched onto “owl,” because my next thought was: “if an owl’s flown into the window in the middle of the night, there must be something wrong with it.” Or there’s something wrong with it now, after hitting the window so hard.

The bottom ledge of that window is over seven feet off the ground, so a deer was unlikely. Somewhat more awake, I fumbled for the light.

Bam! A second strike.

My fuzzy head was thinking it unlikely that the owl had knocked itself out, got up and flown into the same window twice. I wondered, with the force of it, that the glass hadn’t shattered.

I found the light switch, and reached for the window at the same time. Sliding the pane open, I saw the bird feeder mounted by the window swaying without a breeze. I looked down.

One big, black paw was clinging to the bottom windowsill by heavy claw tips. The sleek, furred face of a black bear looked up at me and our eyes met. Something wild stirred in my heart. My fingers were mere inches from her paw. I could nearly touch her ears. I had the strongest urge to reach out and stroke her fur.

A Disney upbringing is going to get me killed. My body had better sense than my brain, and slammed the window shut.

In the same breath, she dropped to all fours. Three loping strides, and she melted into the forest. Dark beast into black shadow. If it wasn’t for the swaying birdfeeder, you might not have believed she’d been there.

If the window was slightly lower, things could have turned out differently. Trying to give the newly arrived birds a break, I’d left the feeder out too late in the spring. With the weather warming, I should have known that the bears would be waking up soon.

Living on the edge of a national forest, the rules are a bit different than living in town. Pay attention to your surroundings – because of animals, not people. People are rare here. Animals are not. Watch where you put your feet. Give up going barefoot. There are often snakes or spiders hanging around the paths and their edges. Every summer someone makes the news stepping on a Copperhead in the middle of some campground at night. This ruins the evening for both the you and the snake.

You can have a compost bin, but don’t put food scraps in it. Doing that here will draw anything from the smallest deermouse to the largest bear. Don’t expect to use outdoor garbage cans. Don’t leave food in your car, even that fast food bag you meant to throw out.

Later that same year, in the heat of summer, I encountered the bear again. This time, on my way to the shed, I switched on the outside light. Movement caught my eye just before I opened the door.

Gorgeous as ever, there she stood about ten feet from my side door, right in the middle of the path. If I hadn’t looked, my dog would have been out the door in a flash. She’s small, so you can guess who probably would have won that encounter.

It’s quite possible to enjoy wildlife around your property and be safe. Just use your senses, and your common sense.