Ursa Major

I grumbled as I pulled on my shoes to go for one last walk before dark. I’d rather have stayed at the computer to finish what I was working on, but she insisted, and I relented “if you’ll keep the danged dog on the leash this time.”

She agreed, because earlier in the day, he’d already been on two “adventures” (she calls them)–we found him off in the woods digging for moles and later, a quarter mile up the road following his nose to something dead and stinky.

Even at 8:00, the east ridge this time of year is still pierced by slanting golden sun that peeks here and there deep into the dense woods. Ann went first, holding up her ever-present hiking stick to clear away the invisible spider webs that span the path this time of year.

We’d reached the level part of our “middle path” logging road that follows the line of the pasture, running back away from the creek and 40 feet or so higher. The rhododendrons this year are in full bloom, dropping their blossoms across the way, but still holding enough that they were abuzz with activity.

“He’s on high alert” she said, and walked on. I stopped to listen to the bumble of bees in the flowers overhead while the dog pulled at his leash, bristling with the adrenalin of anticipation. Deer, most likely, I thought little of it.

Ann said at first she couldn’t remember whether you were supposed to stay quiet or make noise.

So she hesitated at first to call out. The dog never barked, but by the time Ann hollered, he was puffed up like a hyena, high on his front legs and using all his considerable strength to pull free of her restraint.

“Fred, help me. It’s a bear!”

A full-grown black bear was coming our way, maybe 50 yards down the road, not in a hurry. He stopped when I arrived as Ann and dog were disagreeing about the direction to take. I began shouting and waving my arms like a wild man. The two of us pulled the dog back in the direction of the house until we gained some momentum. Then I stood firm to see if the bear was following (which I thought unlikely.) He’d disappeared into the dappled light, preferring berries to battle.

But he’s still around, that’s certain, and will be until the berries are gone. And my guess is, the Ruger .44 will be going for a lot of short hikes in the coming six weeks, more a noise maker and badge of confidence and mock courage than lethal weapon.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Fred, I talked to John, our friend who lives close to Mabry Mill and they had a bear visit them yesterday afternoon. The mighty Willow, their Beagle, chased it away. The bear in his haste to leave took the hummingbird feeder with him to snack on later. how scary for ya’ll.

  2. I am glad that you all are ok.
    Now all you need are some lions and tigers…………..oh my.
    Guilford county, and our surrounding counties are seeing a increase in bear sightings.
    Take care……………maybe, you can shoot a photo of a bear, for us……what do you think???


  3. Wow! I’ve heard of a couple other bear sightings this year so far. Bears don’t see well but they can see that people are too big to eat and not as sweet as berries. 🙂 What an adrenalin rush eh?

  4. There are plenty of bear in my neighborhood, too, but I haven’t seen one yet. I also haven’t seen the mountain lion that a neighbor spotted crossing the road less than a mile from where I live.

  5. I have wondered when I will run into one our large hairy denizens; I see signs of their presence in the blueberry patch “up top” and in the blackberries in the pasture… The pepper spray I carry while jogging in Richmond seems so inadequate for this situation. Do I spray it at the bear or on myself??

  6. As I was driving up Bent Mountain around 7pm recently had a bear cub run across the road & jump over the guard rail right in front of me. Was grateful I was the only one on the road & bear had successful crossing but absolutely taken off guard by this citing.

    Will stay aware as we hike in Copper Hill now. Glad your experience was only citing not contact… keep a keen eye peeled!

  7. It’s great to hear of bear sightings in Floyd. The habitat should be perfect for them. There’s almost no chance of being attacked, but he/she may seriously hurt your dog if it gets too close. Have you thought of putting a trail cam out to see what and how many are around your place?

  8. On the way back into Floyd from my property one day, I saw a bear cross 221 and amble into the tiny little cemetery that is just past Protocol Automotive right at the edge of town. The driver of the car behind me was so startled that he/she stopped in the middle of the road in astonishment!