Monday, March 24, 2014

Bobcats, Coyotes, and Bears, Oh My! By C.P. Stringham

The woods and gorge behind my parents' house with the beautiful waterfalls. 
As some of you know, I’ve been on this healthier me lifestyle since June 2013. As it turns out, sitting with fingers flying madly over a keyboard doesn’t really burn calories throughout the workday. I know. Shocking. No one was more disappointed than I was. If you didn’t see my blog regarding my progress, here’s the link to Holidays, Damn Holidays. Since January’s almost daily 2.5 mile-excursion around The Matterhorn began, I’ve kicked up the difficulty level. Yes, after conquering the steepest part of the hike without stopping to rest and catch my breath (or throw up,) I began jogging or running along some of the downhill and flat sections. It has been amazing! Something I never thought I could achieve. The feeling of accomplishment was almost euphoric. I’d never before felt that from exercising. Instead of being exhausted and in absolute pain, I was ready to take on the world. Me, the fatty, leaving Paralegal Jenn and The Rage in the dust!
My oldest and me on 2-14-14 during our trek
around The Matterhorn. Would I use her 
for bear bait?! 

And leaving them in the dust was all well and good until the day my brother joined us for our hike—he does that from time to time over the weekends now that he’s dating Paralegal Jenn. On one recent Saturday, my oldest daughter joined us as well. She and I quickly took the lead by powerwalking our keisters off. At midpoint, we began picking up our pace by jogging and, at times, running to keep our heart rates up. A few times along the way, we chased beautiful deer and the scene was most idyllic. Very Wild Kingdom meets Chariots of Fire.  We made it back a full 10 minutes before the others. My best time yet at a little over a half hour for 2.5 miles. It was a champion moment…until Paralegal Jenn returned with the others and shared part of their conversation. When the first group of deer crossed our path ahead of us, my brother jokingly told the others that he would laugh his @ss off if we drove a bear out of the woods and it crossed the road in front of me. Not funny. It actually scared the bejeezus out of me because this is something that could totally happen in Bradford County. We have wildlife aplenty. Suddenly, being out in front and breaking time records no longer appealed to me.
Trail camera shots from my friend Penny Wood's backyard
shows her nighttime visitors; deer and coyotes.
Bradford County ranks right up there as one of the most rural counties in Pennsylvania. I’m sure there are a few ahead of us, but I would wager we’re in the top five. As part of the Endless Mountains region, we have dense woodlands and a fair share of farmland pastures. Before the natural gas industry invaded our tranquil part of the world, most dirt roads saw very little traffic—a few locals commuting to and from work, maybe a school van picking up or dropping off students too far out for a bus to get them, and an afternoon cruise by the local postal carrier. This is rush hour country-style. Our county has a wide assortment of wildlife: oodles and oodles of whitetail deer, a huge resurgence of birds of prey from bald eagles to red-tailed hawks, Eastern coyotes, bobcats, and black bears. I don’t care who you are, the first time you see one of those last three in your yard, your adrenaline level raises a tad. My parents live further out than I do. There’s nothing like having a relaxing evening out on their deck, chatting, taking in the sunset, when the coyotes start howling and yipping from the mountain gorge behind their house. I swear to God, every hair stands on end—even though you are completely safe. It’s chilling. A bobcat’s screech has got to be one of the most blood-curdling sounds of the wild. Another hair-raising event beyond compare is when you have your house windows open to catch a summer night’s breeze, when all of a sudden, it 
Bobcat trail camera photo in East Smithfield, PA.
(Photo by Bruce Learn)

sounds like a woman is being brutally attacked nearby. That's what a bobcat sounds like. No lie, the first time that happened two summers ago, I couldn’t get our windows closed fast enough…and I may have peed myself a little. Just a little. It was really freaky. Another time, my husband and I had just put the garbage out after dinner. We’d dined on Bernie Murray’s regionally famous Buffalo chicken wings. Something truly odiferous. Any animal with a strong olfactory lobe in a ten-mile-radius could probably smell them. We went to bed that night only to be woken up at 11PM to a scratching noise from outside. 

A bald eagle eating carrion. (Photo by Andrea Shaul)
The Husband told me it was probably a raccoon or opossum. He got up to chase them off. Upon turning on the back door porch light, he was greeted by the biggest black bear we’d ever seen in person. His head seemed to fill up the half-window of the door. The scene from John Candy’s film The Great Outdoors played out in my mind. Granted it wasn’t a bald-headed grizzly bear like in the movie, it was still incredibly unsettling. Seriously, the only thing between us and Smokey Bear was a piece of glass. Thankfully, we were able to chase him off and avoided further repeats by not putting garbage out at night.

                            Remember this scene from The Great Outdoors?
Bear about town in Troy, PA. "May I borrow a cup of sugar please?" (Photos by Cheri Thomas)
Running into THIS isn't an option!
But would I hide behind my duaghter?
(Image from internet search)
Getting back to my brother’s comment, the thought of running into a bear never crossed my mind. At least with walking and making noise (because the ladies and I are known to chat during our walks,) bears will usually try to avoid humans and scamper away. Running alone leaves too much opportunity for a surprise approach. Here it is spring and the bears will be waking up after their winter-long siestas. That also means momma bears are waking up with their new cubs or yearling cubs. The idea of crossing a momma bear kinda scares me beyond belief. I’m not good in emergency situations. I’d never be able to remember to drop and play dead—well, unless I died of an actual bear confrontation-related heart attack. And then it wouldn’t matter. Or worse yet. What if I turned into the worst sort of coward and hid behind my seventeen year-old daughter?! Some mother! That night, I had this realistic nightmare where such a confrontation occurred. Needless to say, running ahead is no longer part of my exercise routine. Instead, Paralegal Jenn and I have increased our distance from 2.5 miles a day to five by adding an extra lap. It’s all good. My hearts happy, my skinny-ass doctor will be happy, and, most importantly, Momma Bear will be happy.
Needless to say, living up in Bradford County means we have our fair share of sportsmen. A time honored rite of passage through the generations, hunting season is a time for hunting camps, camaraderie, and respect for the animals they hunt. Many of the locals are quick to share their bounty with neighbors helping to make sure no one goes hungry.  Here are a few great shots my friends supplied me with for today's blog:

Bill Thomas shot this glorious 10-point trophy buck with a 19 7/8" spread in Springfield Township, PA.
(Photo by Cheri Thomas) 


  1. My parents-in-law own about half a mountain outside of Monroeton and they have all sorts of critters in their woods...they have pics of bear, fox, coyotes...etc...No big surprise they're both avid hunters!

  2. I sometimes forget how incredibly lucky we are to have all of this fabulous nature and wildlife around us. (CPS)