So we have a black bear.
I’m sure we’ve had them before – the woods across the street are dense and home to a ton of wildlife. They’re also protected green space so there’s not much back there to disrupt them.
Our trash cans are probably a little long in the tooth, and the ones that aren’t we don’t make a habit of tying shut with bungee cords. With this being the active season for bears foraging before the long winter’s sleep, it’s not surprising that one has decided to call our house his favorite take-out joint. (Even though he’s equally as likely to find a dirty diaper as he is to find leftovers. Toddler poo or hamburger bun? I’ll take what’s behind door #…)
It’s a little surprising, however, to see huge, heavy trash cans lifted up and deposited in other places. Or bags of trash dragged into the forest and dispersed, ironically, right beneath a sign that reads NO DUMPING.
Bungee cords have been obtained, the forest cleaned up, trash cans rearranged. Not a big deal in the long run.
What would be a substantially bigger deal would be if I were to run into said bear, or bears, on the street. It’s not completely out of the question, anything could happen. And being a worrier, and a mom, which is kind of redundant because all moms are worriers, I actually think about things like this when I’m out walking with my son. I notice the houses where I might find a good hiding spot to stash my son (in his wagon) while I deal with the bear. I watch the woods and look for easy access spots where a bear could sneak up on a single mother dragging a wagon full of a wiggly toddler down the road.
At my sister’s suggestion, I decided to carry a whistle. Except the only whistle I have is on my keychain. It’s a rape whistle. So, if God forbid a bear approaches, I’ll be blowing a rape whistle to fend him off. I guess if it gets the job done, that’s fine.
The problem is, I keep forgetting the rape whistle at home. I take a single house key when I go out as it’s easier to carry, because I collect key chains, so my keys weigh approximately 85 pounds in total. I have a dainty little wrist fob so I can “wear” my keys and it just sort of tugs my sleeve entirely out of shape from the sheer hulk and weight of the thing.
I stop and ask myself every time, what kind of neglectful mother am I to forget the rape whistle? What if a bear suddenly leaps out of the forest? I may have a few seconds to stash my kid out of sight, and then I have to start making as much noise as I can. A rape whistle would be REALLY HANDY right about then. I’d also turn up the volume on my phone and play music as loud as I could, grab trash can lids and bang them together, shout, bang rocks or bricks together, whatever I could do to make as much noise as possible.
All while making myself as big and tall as I can and glaring down the bear, because I’m a mama bear, too.
We wouldn’t even be worrying about this, even if a bear was rummaging regularly through our trash, had a hiker not been mauled to death not far from here last month. But, that happened, and now everyone thinks every black bear is a potential threat…even though that sad situation was about a one in a billion chance. He got unlucky. And it seems he didn’t know what to do if approached by a black bear.
There’s been a ton of media coverage since his death, and a lot of it focused on how to avoid being mauled to death by a black bear, which is actually a useful thing for the media to tell us.
Here’s the Cliff Notes version.
1) If it’s black, fight back.
2) If it’s brown, get down.
In NJ the bears we encounter are black bears, and they tend to be pussies. They may talk a good game, even get up in your face and fight, but if you fight back, as big and tall and LOUD as you can…kicking, punching, screaming, hitting with rocks and sticks, aiming mostly for the eyes and face and generally going primal, utterly ape shit on the bear, he’s more than likely going to back off and say “whoa bro, get some therapy”. And off he’ll go.
If you are unlucky enough to be the plaything of a grizzly bear, you need to play dead. Drop and don’t stop. Curl into a fetal position and protect your head and neck from injury while you do the roadkill routine. Just let him lose interest in your presumably-deceased body, and hope somebody sees you and calls for help. Then WAIT, because grizzlies are smart enough to hang around just in case you resurrect yourself. But they’ll eventually lose interest.
Whatever you do, black or brown, DO NOT RUN. This is the first instinct we have when faced with mortal danger. Ignore the flight part of your fight or flight response and fight to remain calm. Remember, black fight back, brown get down.
There is a third bear rule that applies to parts of the United States, and that is the polar bear rule. The polar bear rule goes:
3) You’re SO screwed.
Understand a few things about bears:
- They attack when they feel territorial.
- They attack when they have cubs (remember, mama bear).
- They attack when they are surprised.
- Or if they’re a polar bear, they’re a motherflippin’ polar bear, and they can do whatever they want.
Some things you can do to protect yourself:
- DO. NOT. RUN. if you see a bear. Your best bet is to also make sure the bear sees you, so there’s no surprise factor. (Fact: Bears even hate surprise parties.)
- Don’t leave trash around a camp site, especially food waste and empty packaging.
- Don’t decide to try to play Christopher Robin to his Winnie the Pooh. It will not have a storybook ending. Bears are only cute if you’re looking at them from a safe distance, say, on a computer screen absolutely nowhere near an actual bear.
- Carry pepper spray (it’s not just for rapists and muggers!)
- Carry a gun (somewhat less advisable, in fact, disregard this advice entirely unless you’re licensed and it’s legal where you happen to be standing at the moment you encounter the bear)
- Carry a rape whistle (I keep telling myself this will be useful, but there is really no evidence)
So the next time I leave the house to go for a walk, please remind me to bring my keys. Because I’m not sold on the idea that the rape whistle will help, but bludgeoning the bear in the face with my 85 pound wad of collectible key chains might just do the trick.
*Note: I am an animal activist and would never promote unprovoked, senseless violence against animals. However, if a bear is about to attack my child and/or me, all bets are off. I’ll donate the same day to save Arturo the Polar Bear or free bile bears in China, but I will have no qualms about whacking a black bear upside the head if he lunges at me or mine.