Friday, March 25, 2011

Spring Awakenings

At this time of the year in New Hampshire, gardens are not the only things that are awakening.

In the most recent edition of our once-a-month village newspaper, a "public service" ad appeared that warned residents to bring all of their bird feeders inside by the end of this month.  Living here, surrounded by acres and acres of forest, we're all accustomed to this springtime ritual by now, and the photo below illustrates the major reason why people take these warnings seriously.  It's the end of hibernation season and certain mammals out there are plenty hungry.

photo by Tom Sears

You'll probably notice right off the bat that this is no ordinary photo of a few black bears.  Normally, Black Bears have two cubs; rarely one or three.  But, five?  Well, four years ago, in the northern part of New Hampshire, photographer Tom Sears heard of a Black Bear sow that had given birth to quintuplets and he was determined to get a photo of them.  So, after some investigation, he was able to discover the trail they used (usually at dusk) and for four hours every day he followed it.  He continued this, seven days a week for more than six weeks, until he finally captured this incredible image.

Sears stayed in touch with the people in the surrounding area where he had taken the photograph, and they reported seeing the family of six bears off and on throughout the summer months.  But as hibernation time approached, there were no further reports of sightings.  The long New Hampshire winter soon set in and no one could be sure if the cubs would survive.  Then, the following Spring, on April 25th, Sears again had an improbable second encounter and was able to capture this next amazing photograph of the entire family.  It's evident that all the cubs made it, but what's also pretty clear from this second photo is that bear cubs can grow faster than a professional wrestler on steroids!

photo by Tom Sears

Black Bears are not a rare occurrence here at Juniper Hill.  They once bent a one-and-a-half-inch thick solid iron pipe into the shape of a horseshoe trying to get at an attached empty bird feeder in our garden.  And Caleb, our little Corgi, who almost never thinks before he barks, has chased his share of Black Bear sows and cubs over the stone walls that form the boundary to our property.  Every time he dose this, I can't help but think what a thin line it is between bravery and stupidity. He has to be all of eleven inches tall!  But, then again, Caleb has never imagined himself that way.

photo of Caleb Corgi by Karl Smizer
Practically everyone around here has their bear story:  Our nearby neighbors have a video, that they shot through their living room window, of a huge Black Bear, not two feet away from them on their patio.  He is standing on his two rear legs, guzzling the contents of a tubular bird feeder like he's some college frat boy on Spring break in Ft. Lauderdale. 

illustration by Arthur Rackham
And then, there was the night that our next door neighbor was forced to sleep in his car.  He came home around 11:00 to find a Black Bear sow and her two cubs heading straight for his house, with a certain determination in their stride, as if they expected to kick down the front door and catch Goldilocks eating their bowls of porridge.  At the sight of the car's headlights coming up the drive, however, the two cubs quickly scurried up a tree right beside the house. Well, Momma was not about to leave the scene without the two cubs and so she stood guard between the car and the house all night, until the early dawn when the cubs felt safe enough to climb down.  All three then headed off into the forest--without Goldilocks, the porridge, or so much as a glance from our neighbor who was by then snoring contentedly in his car.

Thanks to Nick Reinhardt and Helen Bowdoin for sharing the photos of the bears and bringing this story to my attention.


  1. Ah, the April 1st edition of the local news! Do tell what the headline know, the front page that would always draw the gullible!

    As for bears, I remember one that wandered Poor Farm. I like to think that my vicious cat, Mr. B, kept him at bay!

  2. Lisa is referring to the April Fool's Day edition of our village newspaper which, every year, publishes a "fake" front page that looks exactly like the real thing except it has headlines something like..."local tax rates to increase by 30%!" And, even though they do this every year, it's so well done that it still catches almost everyone off guard. And, Lisa, didn't Mr. B also walk that same thin line between bravery and..well, you know?--Joe

  3. Wow Joe...I can not even begin to imagine! My father-in-law lived in the wilds of Minnesota for a few years and had a few run ins as well. The most I have to worry about is foxes the size of dogs. I think I will take those over bears any day!

    Thanks so much for your note today. I really appreciated your comments.
    PS...glad you like the idea of bringing back hats. I think we need a very chic gardening hat. Practical yet stylish...a Panama might work for that too....a fine weathered one..with a Juniper Hill logo discreetly placed somewhere :)


  4. Hi, Jeanne: The bears are actually magnificent and shy creatures and if you're careful about not making food too accessible for them, there is seldom any real danger.

    For you readers, Jeanne and I share a love for hats and you can take a look at some wonderful examples on a recent post she did for one of her great blogs at


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