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Bear Sightings….and racoons too

Bear Sighting …and racoons too

We live in a world of animals. Our Inn is located on 57 wooded acres, just a mile and a half from the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.  So, we are surrounded by animals and were not surprised when our neighbor informed us last week that there was a small family of bear living along the ridge above our inn.  We were not surprised because they lived up there last year too.  Two days later, we discovered one in our backyard.  He stayed around for a couple of hours, getting into mischief before leaving. 

Black Bear sightings always attract interest.  Elk have now been reintroduced into the park and herds are beginning to spread throughout the whole area. But there are many other species to be found including deer, raccoons, opossums, fox, coyotes, many species of birds and even more species of insects.   They are just part of our environment. It’s the nature of the mountains and our inn.   

But when we get a bear sighting on the property, it is a big event.  Black Bears are usually non-threatening and if we leave them alone, they will eventually meander away.  But not always.  Sometimes a bear will decide to stay awhile like our friend a few days ago.   

A few years ago, a good size adult black bear wandered our property, probably lured by the aroma from our trash cans. The nuts and berries in the park were not plentiful yet and she was out foraging for food.  Once she discovered our trash cans, she became a regular visitor once or twice a day.  She would first come just after dinner when she could smell the aroma of food in the air.  She would creep up to the back of the kitchen area and make her way the garbage cans.  If we were lucky, someone would spot her, and we could shoo her away.   But she would return in the darkness of night, get to the cans, and make a terrible racket and mess.  The next morning, we had to clean up not only around the cans, but also in the surrounding woods where she had dragged bags of leftover food.  She became so regular that we started taking guests to the deck to watch her approach. She was a beautiful animal.  However, I once tried to shoo her away from the cans and without thinking took an apparently threatening step towards her.  Well, she didn’t like that at all.  She stared me down and her ears stood straight up.  I know better than to turn my back on her or run away, so I just yelled for a cook to come help.  He showed up with a pot and a large spoon, clanging away and eventually the bear left.  It was then I realized she was more than an attraction; she was a nuisance and we needed to discourage her from coming back.

I asked a neighbor for advice, and he suggested I electrify a metal trash can so when the bear tried to get in it, she would get a small jolt of electricity, not enough to hurt her, but enough to keep her from returning.  So that afternoon, I found a metal can and connected some live wires to it.   I was careful to tell everyone around what I did so they would not fall prey to my little surprise…except the morning cook. I went into the kitchen the following morning and was immediately confronted by a clearly shocked cook asking what was going on.  He got a little jolt, but the bear didn’t.  I decided it was time to move on to plan B.  We started hauling off all the garbage every night, especially the food.  It was time consuming, but finally worked.  Once the food source disappeared, so did the bear.

Getting rid of a pesky raccoon was not so easy.   One raccoon was especially difficult.  At the time we had a dog and cat that stayed outdoors all the time, so that is where we fed them.  The raccoon discovered this and started to feast on their food.  We tried changing food locations and the time we fed the pets, but nothing worked.  So, I set a trap.  I had bought a live trap sometime earlier for the purpose of catching smaller animals so I could relocate them without harm.  I went to the place where we fed the cat and set up the trap.  I set the entire bowl of cat food inside the trap. When the racoon would come in the trap after the food, he would trip the cage door.  I was about halfway through the set up when I turned around and saw the raccoon watching the whole process.  In my heart, I knew my plan was doomed right then, but undaunted I completed setting the trap.  I didn’t hear anything all night and the next morning checked the trap.  It was exactly like I left it the night before except all the food was gone.  I still don’t know how that raccoon got in the cage, ate the food without tripping the trap door.  But I realized I had three options.  I could shoot the raccoon (which I didn’t want to do), I could continue to try and catch it (that didn’t seem to be working), or I could just name it.  So Rocky and I had a relationship for a while until he finally found someone else to bother.  I suspect he got tired of my brand of cat food.

I have successfully caught a few opossums over the years in my live trap.  These are ugly looking critters that also like any kind of pet food left out.  They can also get into any trash can you have.  It is always a startling sight, to open a can to throw out some garbage and see an opossum sitting at the bottom staring up at you.  I once caught one in my live trap just before it was time to leave for one of my sons’ little league games.  I put the trap, opossum and all, in the back of the van and went to the game.  I figured I would find some secluded spot along the way and release it.  But it was still in the van when we reached the game and word got out that I had it.  It stopped the whole game, while all the players ran over to see the varmint.  The coaches weren’t too happy with me, but I have seen a butterfly or helicopter stop a game too, so I didn’t feel too guilty.

Deer are fairly regular visitors to our field and our guest love to watch them.  Fortunately, there is plenty of grass for them in the field and they have never wanted to eat our plants or shrubs.  We watched an entire family of turkeys grow up on the property. We even had a family of fox take up residence under one of cottages for a short while.  But all in all, we love the wild animals of the area, and we let them be.  They are God’s beautiful creatures.

All these animals are native and wild to our surroundings. But there are two other types of animals that have provided us with some tales, adventures, and even entertainment. These are our pets and strays. I’ll deal with them in the next post.