Thursday, April 6, 2017

What Lurks Below?

I can’t delay any longer. It is April and it has to get done, so I’ll just have to screw up my nerve and get on with it - the hated spring crawl.

Every April I must enter the dark and dreaded crawl space under the cottage to convert the water system from winter to summer operation. It is a hateful job. The area is cramped and dark. The perfect nestling place for something that you never want meet.

It is a reasonably well sealed area. Concrete block walls with screened air vents. But there is a doorway and I always worry that it was left ajar last autumn just long enough for something to sneak in for the winter.

On one spring crawl I heard a low growl and shone my light into a corner, revealing the cute face of a pine marten. Cute except for the two front fangs that could turn my face to hamburger in a matter of seconds. I backed out rather quickly, leaving the door open for the marten to exit at his leisure.

I am especially nervous about this spring’s crawl because of a couple stories I heard on a recent trip to California. I accompanied my California family up into ski country near Tahoe where people have cottages like we do in Haliburton, but call them chalets.

During a social gathering one chalet owner told me he was having trouble with heating ducts that run through the chalet’s crawl space. A heating guy came and very cautiously began to check the crawl space, looking into the dark corners before fully entering.

The heating guy explained that he had gone into a similar chalet crawl space and had awakened a large black bear, which somehow had crawled in to hibernate. Terrified humans tend to move much more quickly than sleepy bears, so the heating guy escaped without harm.

Then someone else told me about being at her chalet in summer and hearing some banging and crashing in the kitchen. She assumed it was her husband and went to the kitchen to see what he was doing. He actually was outside and the noise was coming from a mama black bear going through the cupboards.

The woman ran from the kitchen only to encounter three cubs coming down a staircase from the second floor.

Getting between a mama bear and her cubs can cause some really bad scenes. Fortunately, the woman got out of the chalet without incident and the bears found their way outside.

I had a similar experience many years ago when I was a lot younger, and a lot more foolish. I came across two cubs on a bush trail and decided it would be neat to pick one up and cuddle it. The mother, who exploded from the bush with a roar, did not agree. Fortunately, fear and youth gave me the super speed needed to escape.

I had never thought of California as a place for bears, even though the state flag is known as the Bear Flag and features an image of a grizzly.

There are no grizzlies or brown bears left in California but there are an estimated 30,000 black bears. They are not always black. California black bears have fur colours that can be chocolate brown, red, blonde or cinnamon.

Interestingly, California’s black bears, almost one-half of which live in the Sierra Nevada mountains, don’t all hibernate for the entire winter. Because temperatures and snow levels vary at different altitudes, bears come and go during winter hibernation according to how weather changes affect food sources.

Ontario has an estimated 85,000 to 105,000 black bears, some of which shorten their hibernation because of warmer winters. The Orillia Packet and Times reported that a young bear emerged from its den during this January’s mild spell and was attacked on a lake and eaten by coyotes.

Most of our bears are emerging now from their winter sleeping spots. Hopefully, one of those spots was not my cottage crawl space.

I’ll soon find out. And after I check out the dreaded crawl space I’ll set to work figuring out a system to keep hungry bears out of the spring bird feeders.


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