Bare encounters bear: An urban Truckee tale
I am taking my nightly soak in my hot tub down by the river. It’s just another winter night; cold, cloudy and lots of snow on the ground from that two-foot storm at the end of February.
All is well as I slip into a trance-like doze, relaxing at the end of another day of work, when suddenly I am aroused from by sounds nearby. I take stock of my surroundings: the deck where the hot tub is located and then the snow-covered garden area below and adjacent to the river. My first thought is that the raccoons are out and about, as they are pretty much nightly visitors. In fact they frequently have conversations with our cats from opposite sides of the glass living room door. They are such common visitors that we even recognize some of them and have given them names. I have also been startled out of my hot tub trance more than once by a raccoon looking at me from not more than two feet away (the hot tub is sunken into the deck). The result; two very startled beings, yelling and the splashing of water, and a raccoon scurrying very quickly away to a safer distance. I digress.
As I scan about for the source of the noise, I suddenly see a very large and very dark-colored bear climbing the tree where the bird feeders are hung, less than 10 feet from the deck and the hot tub. Now, this really gets my attention. I am very excited as this is my first bear encounter here on the river.
In my “bare”-ness, I slither from the hot tub into the house and yell for my spouse to come see the bear. She is, however, very soundly sleeping and apparently does not hear me. Too bad.
I turn on the deck lights to get a better look at the bear and walk back out on to the deck to get an even closer look. At this point, the bear is getting uncomfortable and climbs back down the tree and moves away toward the river where he hunkers down in the snow. In my bareness, I begin to notice the cold and slither back into the hot tub. The bear is very quietly making himself low profile, down by the river, and the “bare” is sitting in the hot tub watching him. Nothing further is happening, and after a time, the “bare” gets out of the tub again and walks to the other end of the deck closer to the bear, who again isn’t comfortable with the situation and gets up, stretching full height against a nearby tree, as if he is going to climb it. The “bare” is struck by the bear’s size. He must be a good seven feet tall standing there against the tree. Awesome! Apparently, the bear decides not to climb the tree and ambles off down the river and the “bare” ambles back to his hot tub to again get warm.
Dang! Where is a camera when you need one?
The “bare” is definitely running a full head of adrenaline at this point and relaxing in the hot tub is not happening. There is almost a sense of unreality to the experience. Did that really just happen? What a great video it would have made of bear and “bare” investigating one another. Sleep finally came. The next morning I awoke wondering if I had dreamt of the experience or it had happened in a waking state. In telling my spouse, Tanzy, about it, I found myself doubting the reality of the experience. So, we went out to the deck and looked for telltale marks in the snow. And yes, down by the river was a large roundish indentation in the snow right where I had seen the bear hunker down. And, there were large footprints leading from the tree by the deck to that round indentation. Whew, that really helped validate the experience.
In further reflection, I ponder why the bear was not hibernating and how he traveled from wherever he lives into the densely populated old downtown Truckee. I have heard that when there is an adequate food supply in the winter bears don’t necessarily hibernate. And “urban” bears, raccoons and coyotes seem to have a very adequate food supply here in town. You can imagine what wonderful edibles are there for our furry friends to feast upon.
Rolf M. Godon is a Truckee resident and regular contributor to the Sierra Sun.