Thursday, September 2, 2010

Exit, Not Quite Pursued By A Bear

The Governor's Western Residence is located on a mountainside in north Asheville, not too far from the Blue Ridge Parkway. In addition to being a retreat for the state's chief executive it also hosts high-powered meetings and social gatherings.

This past Tuesday evening, the Asheville United Way hosted a picnic there for leading volunteers and donors, with the guest speaker being local author Wayne Caldwell, author of Cataloochee and Requiem By Fire. Wayne asked Accent on Books to provide copies of his novels for the occasion, so I loaded up my Subaru and off I went.

I arrived about 5:30 for the 6:00 event, backed my car up on the path near the picnic area, and was unloading boxes when one of the United Way folks called out, "There's a bear!" I walked over to the wooden fence on the edge of the picnic area and, sure enough, there at the bottom of a grassy bank and at the edge of the woods was a black bear sitting calmly with her back against a tree. As we stared at her she stared back, and at one point grunted and made a lunging movement toward us, causing us to lunge backwards. However, she didn't actually move, but just resumed sitting silently. The event organizers, meanwhile, were beginning to make calculations along the lines of bear plus picnic, and getting nervous about the results.

They got a bit more nervous when, after a few more minutes, the bear roused herself and, now accompanied by two cubs, started lumbering towards the back of the picnic area. As I continued leaning on the fence I was unaware that all but one other person had abandoned the picnic area for the parking lot. Then I suddenly heard the only other person still with me yell something that included the word "Subaru" as she dashed to my car, opened the driver's side door and jumped in. Operating on the principle of run away first, ask questions later, I ran over to the car and jumped in on the passenger's side. Looking in the side view mirror, I saw mama bear looking back at me from a distance of about fifty feet away near the one-story building which stretched across the back of the picnic area. She then vanished from sight, and, after a few more minutes, we slowly and quietly as possible eased out of the car. By this time, the people who had escaped to the parking lot were beginning to make their way back to the picnic area. The cubs were now in a tree right behind the one-story building with mama presumably at the bottom of the tree. Concluding that a bear attack on their major donors might not be the best kind of publicity, the United Way folks had finally made the decision to move the picnic to the back porch of the residence itself. All that remained was for me to retrieve the boxes of books, which were on a table just on the other side of the building from the bears. This was accomplished without incident, though I kept looking around nervously for the sudden appearance of a black, bear-like shape.

The rest of the evening went smoothly and successfully: good food, a great talk by Wayne and even some book sales. The bears had no further impact on events, though some of the Western Residence employees and I saw them as they came down the hill and went back into the woods, the two cubs wrestling with each other in that cute, bear cub nature documentary way.

Of course it's always unfortunate in one sense when bears show up where humans live, since it indicates hunger on their part, encroachment on our part or both. And it would have been even more unfortunate had either bears or humans been harmed in the encounter. Still, in another sense, there was something almost reassuring about what the incident indicated concerning the balance of things. Now matter how important we humans think we are, no matter how many Community Movers and Shakers are gathered in one location, there are times when Mother Nature reminds us who, ultimately, is in charge.

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