Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Bearly There

On this last day of 2017 the air temperature is in the teens, some 20 degrees colder than the average for this time of year. When I wake at 6am it is dark and, because I have lowered the heat and it won't come on full until 7 am or so, it is cold. I am curled up under two quilts, a sheet, with one fleece blanket below me and a smaller one over me. MH snores by my side. I am not inclined to rise before 7am and so stay huddled up in a ball until forced to leave my warm bed.

Just like a bear.

(Director Mike Anderson took this picture in 2014 at New Jersey
Audubon's Scherman Hoffman sanctuary in Bernardsville)

Ever wonder why you feel more sluggish at this time of year or eat fewer cold salads in favor of mashed potatoes, squash or anything covered in thick gravy? It is our body telling us that, like the bear, it is time to fatten up before a harsh winter when there is less food to be had and less daylight to find it. When I had to rise at 6am to commute on the train I needed an alarm to jolt me awake. Not now. But even with daylight it is a struggle to leave my "den" for the outside world.

I put out the feeders. Many mornings it is my only reason for getting out of bed.

At this time of year the bears should be hibernating but this intense cold is only recent. It was relatively warm for November into early December and there was a 16-day bear hunt that lasted until Dec. 16, so I thought the bears might be on the move and would menace my feeders and feeder poles, as they have done at least four times that I know of (one of those times a bear nearly destroyed my pear tree as it tried to climb to the one small pear still on it). I have been taking the three feeders in every night. Now I don't have to although I know the deer may put their front hooves on a baffle and attempt to knock the seed feeders enough to drop seeds for them to eat. At least one baffle was destroyed that way.

And yet, the number of bear complaints is down. According to a Star-Ledger article quoting the NJ Department of Environmental Protection, as of Dec. 20, "the activity of 965 black bears has been reported to the DEP, a sharp drop from the 2116 of 2016, the department's bear activity report shows.

"In addition to 261 sightings where nothing happened, 695 bears caused 'damage or nuisance' in 2016, a more than 50 percent drop from the 1,394 problem bears last year.

"In 2016, 722 bear sightings resulted in the animals simply leaving the area without doing anything."

My only reason for rising most mornings
nowadays (Margo D. Beller)
It was in 2016 that the pear tree was damaged. It was in 2015, on a bright late September afternoon, that a bear ambled through my yard, snapped off an iron arm from a feeder pole, nearly destroyed my house feeder and then ambled off to the next street. I guess that is considered not doing anything.

Still, despite the "few" bear sightings and the lower number of bears killed 409 versus 2016's 636, during what might be the last hunt for a while (the incoming governor pledged to suspend the hunt, at least for now), the thought of even one bear foraging in my yard is enough.

No, better to brave the cold at night and in the morning.

The intense cold is as hard on me as the high heat and humidity of summer. Bears have a thick coat to withstand the cold while they hibernate. They have the right idea, which is why you'll find me huddled in my quilts and blankets and flannels on this winter's night.

It is expected to be 5 degrees when I put out the feeders on the first day of 2018. Happy new year. 

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