A bear, finally.

We’ve had our cabin in the Adirondacks for five years this month. The town where we are is Long Lake, which is smack in the middle of the park and the symbol for the town is this. images.png

In the foyer of the Adirondack Hotel in Long Lake stands an 8 ft tall stuffed bear. And yet, for five years, we’ve never seen one.

The May 2016 issue of National Geographic focuses on Yellowstone National Park on account of the 100th anniversary of the national park system and in it there is much about the tension between pleasing the visitors to the park and at the same time keeping it wild. Used to be that seeing bears in garbage dumps was not only a common occurrence, but served as an attraction. At some point, people figured out that this wasn’t such a great idea for either bear or person and the habit was stopped. This is true in Yellowstone as it’s true in the Adirondacks.

Bearjam Jonathan Blair NG May 2016.jpg

A month or so ago, a bear was sighted in the Wissahickon Valley park that begins less than a mile from my home. Though it’s a protected area including 50 miles of trails, it exists within Philadelphia and most certainly not where you’d expect to see a bear. The sighting of the small bear was announced on local news along with dire warnings not go hiking alone.

As far as wildlife goes at our cabin on Long Lake, we’ve seen otters and a snapping turtle, lots of chipmunks and a ton of dragonflies, not to mention the biggest spiders I’ve ever laid eyes on. But no bears. Until yesterday.

Tom and I went for a run on one of my favorite routes. After running a couple of miles on paved roads, we descended down a hill on a dirt road to a wooden bridge that looks over wetlands. I love the view, though I’ve never captured an image of it because I don’t run with my phone. Tom and I stopped at the bridge and took in the stunning view before turning around. As we ran back up the dirt road, the only exit from the area, Tom said, “Um, that’s a bear.”

I looked up to see a small bear sniffing about in the middle of the road. To be clear, it’s the only road. This isn’t like the suburbs where you could just take a different route home. There are no other routes home.

“That is a bear, right?” Tom said, no doubt remembering the time he thought he saw a bear, but it turned out to be a Newfoundland.

“Yes, that’s definitely a bear,” I said.

He was a ways away. Maybe a hundred yards. We didn’t feel that we were in immediate danger, except that the bear blocked our exit. And we didn’t have any pots and pans.

“He’s small,” I said.

“Which means that the mom is probably nearby,” Tom said.

While the bear continued sniffing at the road, completely oblivious of us and our worry about how to get by him, two trucks rumbled down the road. The bear, mirroring our own response to seeing him, looked at the trucks and started booking it in the opposite direction. Toward us.He was far enough away that my reaction just a mild uh oh and not a full-fledged freak-out.

The trucks stopped and the bear veered into the woods. Tom and I agreed that it made sense to run as fast as possible up the hill while the trucks were there. You know, in case we needed a shield. As we booked it up the hill, the first truck slowed as we approached. The driver rolled down the passenger window and said in the calm unsurprised manner of Adirondack people, “You might want to keep a look out on the right. Little bear in those woods.”

My gut response was Um, yeah, can we jump in your truck bed, please? Instead, Tom and I just nodded our understanding and continued running until we crested the hill. A look behind us confirmed that the bear had not re-emerged from the woods.

It had never occurred to me that I’d see a bear sniffing about on my favorite running route. As if that dirt road with the view from the bridge belongs to me. Maybe it’s the bear’s favorite area too. Because after all, we chose to settle in his territory, right? Not the other way around.

(Long Lake image from wikipedia. Bearjam from National Geographic, May 2016. Photo by Jonathan Blair.)