We were out searching for Barred Owl, our eyes trained on perches where we’d seen them before, ears straining for any squawking sounds. About fifteen metres up an old cottonwood tree, I spied a perfectly owl-sized hole and we stopped to check it out with our binoculars. The hole was spectacularly vacant and remained that way for the fifteen minutes that we sat there watching it. Such is the life of those who search for owls. So we drove on, hoping to see a moose or deer or even a rabbit – anything to let us know that spring had indeed arrived.
Spirits drooping, we turned around and headed home, stopping again to observe the hole that seemed such a likely spot. Once again I had a feeling that if I just concentrated hard enough, an owl would manifest itself in that dark cavity.
Suddenly, Gary started taking photos and I craned my neck to see what he’d seen.
“There’s something in there,” he whispered, and scrolled through the images he’d captured. It was a dark blur of brown fur – decidedly unowl-like, yet unidentifiable.
“It’s Bigfoot!” I exclaimed, because my eyes had been so attuned to seeing feathers that no feasible explanation occurred to me and because the hole, which was about half a meter in diameter, had been filled by the mass of brown fur.
It was something much bigger than an owl.
Then Gary started taking more photos and we realized the fur belonged to a bear.
Neither of us had imagined a bear that high up in a tree but the pictures didn’t lie. We watched awhile longer, then the head disappeared and didn’t reappear.
We went home but I was still curious about this sighting. Gary had to leave for a job so I returned to the spot alone and trained my camera on the hole and waited. Occasionally, the dog would flop around in the back seat and sigh but there were no other sounds and no vehicles passed.
The afternoon sun lit up the hole and then I glimpsed movement and out popped a brown head. There was such a look of contentment on that face as she dangled a paw out the hole and rested her chin on the edge, drinking in the sun.
Eventually, she emerged and crawled over to a branch about two meters from the hole where she comically draped her body from her belly so that front and back legs were just dangling. She seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the opportunity to be out of those close confines.
Several minutes later, she scrambled back to the hole and popped her head in then re-emerged to crawl around to the back of the tree. I could hear her descending, then she reappeared with, unbelievably, a stick in her mouth.
She descended the tree, still carrying the branch and my mind raced. Was it a tool? Had she ripped something apart at the back of the tree and neglected to spit it out? Why would a bear carry a stick? She crawled to the back of the tree and then I couldn’t hear her anymore, nor did I know if she still had that stick in her mouth.
It was silent for several minutes so I brought my focus back to the hole and there was a tiny nose poking over the edge. I was flooded with gratitude to witness what might have been that bear cub’s first investigation of the outside world, then I began to fret about how the mother would ever get her cub over to the branch when the time came for them both to crawl out.
It was a very long way down and the branch was not close to the hole. Suddenly, the cub began to cry out, sounding much like one of the calls of a Stellar’s Jay. Just as suddenly, I could hear mom scrabbling up the back of the tree. She scooted round to the front and popped herself into the hole in a blur of brown and then the hole resumed its empty stare and the sun sank below the mountain and I put my camera away.
We’ve returned to that spot several times and have never seen a bear there again.