All Photographs + Text Copyright 2013 Christopher Keeley

The Bear

All summer I had been feeding sunflower seeds to the chipmunks. The chipmunks squeal with joy and run around, as if to show off at all the fun they are having. This weekend I decided to bring along the whole 25-pound bag of the CockatooÕs - MerleÕs - rejected sunflower seeds, and to spread the seeds around the property for all the wild birds too. After throwing around quite a few handfuls, I poured out the remainder of the bag near some blueberry bushes and also near the stumps of some trees we had cut down. We removed those trees because of the danger of the trees falling on the house during a fierce winter storm. I got lazy and emptied the entire contents of the bag, truly believing that all the wild birds and chipmunks would consume all of the sunflower seeds in no time, as I had previously witnessed with the chipmunks. Not that I have ever done anything in moderation in the past. ThatÕs my problem most of the time. I go overboard. An advertisement on the bag of birdseed makes the claim that this specific sunflower seed is the favorite seed of all wild birds. I was hoping to be like Johnny Appleseed and imagined that maybe some of these seeds would end up creating fields of sunflowers in the Catskill Mountains.

Now my mother had specifically warned me not to leave any food around outside and especially not birdseed. If I did, this would attract wild animals like black bears. In the morning I awoke to some loud groans. I looked out the window to catch the beautiful mist rising up the mountains behind the barn and I looked down by the blueberry bushes. I see a large black mound near the tree stumps. To my amazement itÕs a large black bear licking the ground in pure pleasure. At first I thought it couldnÕt be, but of course it is a huge wild black bear, and I am a total idiot for throwing a whole bag of sunflower seeds right where the bear is sitting, fifty feet from the house. Just out of The Sopranos. Except I am not in New Jersey, but in New York.

Exit 170, BearÕs Creek in Pennsylvania, gives it a new and different meaning as I drive past. I laugh when I see the Claws and Paws Park. ItÕs such a surreal feeling, right out of Twin Peaks. ItÕs a dream thinking about this bear in my front yard. I am looking right at this glorious creature. I am in complete awe of this beastÕs sudden miraculous appearance. It reminds me of a large fat raccoon with his very sinister snout. I am in total amazement when I see the black bearÕs huge front paw with large claws. A medicine man would go crazy. I can see that the bear has gray cheeks. ItÕs as if he is laughing with his eyes, as he looks around playfully, content after completely gorging himself, oblivious of my presence.

My God, what a magnificent creature. I have no film left and no digital camera! Do I watch the bear or do I scare him off? Will he attack? I grab two pots to bang together and go out to give him a good scare. Now that bear is not going to leave all those wonderful sunflower seeds that easily. The bear stands up and looks at me. I bang the pots continuously and the bear turns around and walks up the mountain. He is moving slowly and really isnÕt that concerned with all the noise IÕm making, and heÕs not one bit scared. IÕm just a nuisance. I run half way up the mountain and the bear is slowly walking up, turning around looking at me as if I am truly being annoying.

Ten minutes later I look back and the black bear is back in the stumps with the sunflower seeds. He sees me and saunters off toward the barn, across the field and toward the spring that feeds the stream. It is as if he was planning on traveling this direction anyway all along. My noise making has nothing to do with his plans for the day. This is one big lazy bear with absolutely no fear. He obviously owns the mountains and probably had planned to go in the opposite direction from where I tried to scare him toward. I could have watched this bear for hours, but I know that I am in big trouble for causing this bear to find food near our house. He is going to return and I have spread so many sunflower seeds around that there is no way the birds and chipmunks are going to eat all the seeds before the black bear returns.

As I am writing this story, I look up from the picnic table on our front porch and shockingly, to my horror, or blessing, the black bear is back finishing his breakfast. He is going to do what his ferocious appetite and his stomach desire. The bear is oblivious of my presence. Occasionally he looks up and around but is more interested in licking and eating the feast of sunflower seeds he has discovered. All I can do at this point is watch and enjoy the bear feasting on the sunflower seeds.

When I saw the bear I thought of Jerry Garcia. I thought what a magnificent lazy creature. Or could this bear be the reincarnation of Greg Pierce, a deceased friend of mine who gave most people in his presence the impression that they were being hugged by a big cuddly Buddha bear. The bear could possibly also be the reincarnation of my friend Bud, who ran off the road accidentally in Michigan and tragically killed himself on the way to a service meeting, helping others selflessly. This black bear is one cool, harmless, and adorable creature. But this perception is a fantasy: the Black Bear is wild, dangerous, and unpredictable. In total amazement I watched the bear meander around. Just yesterday I was sunbathing by the stream, listening to the rush of the water with my eyes closed. Am I going to look up one day and see the huge black bear hovering over me? I have never had much fear up here, except for the general spooky haunted feeling the woods give you when you are completely alone. Now I can only imagine that one day, around the corner, or behind my back, or just near me, there is going to be this black bear lurking, because of my spreading sunflower seeds all over the place.

My guard is up and I keep thinking that I am going to see that bear munching around the corner. Any movement of any kind puts me in an adrenaline rush of is that bear going to appear again? How can I swim in the stream and shut my eyes sunbathing on the bank? Am I going to feel that black bearÕs hot breath on my shoulder? What have I done? I have to warn all of my family members that whenever they come up to the house they have to be aware of the possibility of a black bear being in our midst.

I have this forever-haunting feeling of this bearÕs continual presence lingering on. I look again around the corner of the house to see if he is going to appear again. In my mind I have this vision of the bear swaggering on up towards the mountaintop with the smile of an irresistible sunflower grin.

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