The story of me and the three bears

Bears come in threes, I think, but perhaps this is just the conditioning of folklore. Nonetheless, I know that my third bear is in the area and will visit soon.

I was not expecting my first bear. In fact, it seems to be a rule of bears that they will appear when you least expect it. They are just suddenly, sublimely, there. So when my first bear loped across the road in front of my truck one Maine spring morning as I drove to work, I had to pinch myself to be sure I realized that there was a bear there.

No doubt, he was the real McCoy: a black bear, in a hurry and not too concerned with the guy behind the wheel of the blue pickup truck. Bears may be shy, but they are not terribly subtle. He, or she, was beautiful, however, with a coat like a black silk suit, shimmering in the early light, and melting into the dark hilltop grove of fir trees on the south side of the Dunbar road.

I presumed he was on a jaunt to the Narrows searching for food, since it was early spring and the pickings for bears in the fields and forest were still slim. The shores of the Bagaduce River, however, might yield some interesting snacks, and the Narrows was a fast-flowing spot between two bays rich in fish and mussels.

Several years after bear No. 1, my neighbor, Paul Cyr, mentioned seeing a bear at the same exact spot, leading us to wonder just how habitual bears might be in their roamings.

My second bear showed up at 6 in the morning one day last May. We had been living in our new house only about a month, and my wife and I were having breakfast in the den. Something dark caught my eye. It was moving. Sure enough, a black bear was walking leisurely through the cedars and across our leach field not 20 feet from the house. He was not the least bit concerned about stealth or disguise.

"Bear!" I exclaimed, and jumped for the camera. Alas, no film. Binoculars were handy. So we contented ourselves with observing - and being observed. Bear No. 2 sniffed around the wood pile out back, lifting his head over the top log to peer at his audience. Then he decided to saunter down toward my son's smaller cabin, 50 yards away.

Spencer, too, is a bear at 6 in the morning and isn't open to communication until closer to noon. But he happened to have a cellphone with him, so we gave him a call.

"Spencer, wake up," I said. "There's a bear coming your way." I could see the bear moving through the alders, nearing the rear of the cabin.

An 18-year-old male is not usually terribly lucid at the crack of dawn. Today, though, the approach of the bear proved an effective wake-up call, and Spencer descended from the cabin's sleeping loft and peered out the enormous picture window - into the big face of the bear.

The bear was less impressed by this guy in the cabin than with the scent of leftover marshmallows and hamburger grease on the ground surrounding Spencer's campfire, and so he busied himself for several minutes sniffing out morsels. Then he trundled up the hill and melted nonchalantly into the woods.

The encounter lasted all of five minutes, but we were thrilled for days. Every glance out the window became a bear watch; every stump, shadow, or dark log in the woods a potential bruin.

Currently, I am between bears, though I have good reason to feel that the arrival of bear No. 3 is imminent. Laurie, one of our neighbors up the road, called the other night. A bear that had visited her a couple of times in recent days - and trashed her bird feeders - had just made his third appearance.

"I almost got a photograph of him tonight," she said. "But he slipped away too fast."

Laurie lives a quarter mile away - the bear would be at our place shortly, I hoped, feeling certain that we would be on his itinerary tonight. Perhaps, if the Cyr-Nelson theory is correct, this was last year's bear retracing his steps? I got the dogs into the house, put the trash on the bulkhead stairs, and considered walking down to the cabin to alert Spencer. Then I checked the camera for film. All set.

Alas, no bear. The next morning, however, we were awakened at 5 a.m. by the sound of one of the cats clawing outside our bedroom window - on the second floor. Mila had climbed the side of our log house. We found Lily, the other cat, perched in the rafters of the front porch. Evidently they knew that something wilder than they was lurking nearby.

After a few more days of bearless waiting, I decided to go out and explore the woods for a sign: footprints, or foraging, or something. I spent hours slogging through the underbrush with nothing to show for it but mosquito bites and plenty of deer print sightings, but no bear.

And then this morning, as I drove down the dirt road to my office, I had my bear sighting, only it was bear No. 3 sighting me. How could he miss me? I'd passed within six feet of him, according to Jon, who had pulled in right behind me.

"Did you see that bear right behind your car?" Jon said. "I thought it was a dog at first. He must have been about a year old. He waited until you passed by and then crossed the road behind you." No, I had not seen the bear. He was shy, but not subtle. They appear when, and where, you least expect it.

This means, of course, that I am still between bears, awaiting No. 4.

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