Smokey in the boys' room

The bear crashed through the screen door and there, a mere five feet in front of me, was a jumbo-sized snout.

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    A black bear takes a break from the chase Monday, May 23, 2011 after being tracked for hours through subdivisions in Ashland, Kentucky. Local police and animal control officers called in a state wildlife biologist from the state.
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A little voice in my head told me to stop and check the clatter, which, it seemed, wasn't coming from outside, but rather from the boys' bedroom. This was the same voice that plays in your head during horror movies: "Yeah, right. Dumb girl. She has to do the stupidest things or there would be no movie. I'd never open the door."

My husband and four boys had gone camping for the weekend, and I had been tidying my bedroom. Something about a clean house made freedom sweeter. My first thought had been that a squirrel was making the racket. Previously, the varmint had gnawed through a mesh ventilation window, getting access to the crawl space below.

Unwilling to permit further destruction to our mountain home, I'd started down the hall to scare the critter away. Mid-hall, another sound came. The inventory of house noises fast-forwarded through my mind – squirrel scampering overhead, woodpecker desecrating shingles, pine cone bombing roof, squirrel in vent, chipmunk in water-heater cabinet, carpenter ants eating walls – turned up no matches. I soon learned that was because "bear through screen door" hadn't yet made the house-noise database.

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Showing uncharacteristic bravery, I opened the door to the boys' bedroom. Instinctively, I'd assumed a crouch, as if that would make the difference between safe and dead. I was acutely aware of a jumbo-sized snout and nostrils at eye level and a mere five feet away. They were an impressive replication of the stuffed bear's face on my youngest son's nearby bunk, though disconcertingly larger and lifelike. We held each other's gaze, me frozen with the sight of the front half of a furry beast piercing the screen door, and it not moving, likely wondering if I was responsible for the stuffed bear on the bed.

The animal's front feet were on the carpet and his back legs were still on the wood deck outside. I yelled, widening the door opening then slamming it shut. Scare the bear. That's what the Tahoe Bear League says. After the fourth "open door, scream, slam door" sequence I waited with the door closed. Had it left? I stood so still my tail would have been quivering if I'd had one. No sound. Still crouched down, one hand on the knob, I again opened the door and peered in. The bear's round brown furry behind was toddling off around the house.

I dashed down the hall to the kitchen to shut the other glass slider, grabbing the phone in one hand and a mop in the other. I'd put the mop out the day before to tempt myself to use it and was finally about to, just not for its intended purpose.

Through the back screen door I saw the bear in the yard. I flew outside shaking the mop, causing the metal sponge squeezer to clack against the wooden handle. Like my boys, the bear ran from the threat of housework, but not nearly as fast or as far. He'd moved only three feet. This wild animal needed to be more bothered than I was over our run-in or I'd be up all night worrying. My immediate problem was that I had inadvertently interrupted the bear's departure, and it had stopped to look at me. Now there was nothing between us.

I stood still, mop in one hand, phone in the other. Calling 911 could be the bear's death sentence, and where I live it's politically correct for a bear to kill you, but not for you to kill the bear – even if it's in your house. I stuck with the scare option, therefore, thinking it would work (and just in case anyone was filming and might be tempted to sue me). Besides, the only choice I had with guns was Nerf darts or caps. I'd call 911 only if the bear didn't cooperate.

Dropping the mop, I picked up a pine cone and chucked it at the bear. It hit the sapling to the bear's right. He trotted away, two steps. Not enough. As I wound up to throw another pine cone grenade – the deadly heavy green kind – the bear sank its teeth into a nearby kickball, dropped the deflated corpse, then paused to fix its beady black eyes on me. Then it walked off. Walked. No fear. Not in the bear. I bristled, fully appreciating the animal kingdom version of Arnold Schwarzenegger's "I'll be back!" scene from "The Terminator."

Fresh air is a key component now lacking in my life. Although I know I can stand up to a bear, especially since I've acquired pepper spray, I air the house less frequently because each cool breeze carries with it the possibility of unexpected company. But if a bear doesn't kill me, the smell coming from the boys' room will.

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