Eleven years ago I was at work as copy editor at the Adirondack Daily Enterprise when terrible events unfolded in New York City. Just days before, we had been in the city and dropped our son Colin off to attend Marymount Manhattan College. The newsroom was going full tilt to capture the horrific news as it unfolded. The United States was being attacked. Life as we knew it was changing before our eyes. It was difficult to breathe for several hours until I finally heard my son's voice. But even then, working at a newspaper reporting on these events was not only electrifying, but also emotionally draining.
We heard stories of folks who lost family members at the World Trade Center. We heard from folks who had friends and family members survive the WTC destruction, from folks who lost family members in the airplanes that were used by the terrorists as bombs. We watched our friends volunteer to help search the wreckage for survivors, folks who offered help to the rescue personnel, who dropped everything to be of help to others at a critical time in our nation's history. We epitomized being united, as in the United States of America. We raised the American flag over our homes and on flagpoles and even here in the woods, off telephone poles and treetops. We vowed never to forget. This year September 11 again falls on a Tuesday, and history will flash by once more. Take time to give a thought to those people we lost 11 years ago, to those who went down to help, to those whose lives were forever changed by events on that single day. When we vow never to forget, let's keep that vow.
Even as significant global anniversaries arrive, we also continue to live in the cycles of forests and small communities in the Adirondacks. And in my neck of these woods, a semi-predictable chain of natural events is occurring. In the past week we have been visited by a family of bears every night. One is large and two are small. Generally noisy in the woods due to their weight, you can often smell them before you hear or see them. They smell musty, like a lot of wet fur. Once you smell bear, you don't forget it.
Bears don't always make a big stink in our neighborhood. Summer conditions usually dictate whether or not it'll be a "bear" year. If they have a hard time finding food to store up for their hibernation, they make their way to our neighborhood. This area becomes a classroom for cub-raising. Why? Because we have nine apple trees surrounding our home, and bears love apples.
We love apples, too, so when the bear clan does show up, we feel helpless as we listen and watch while our fruit goes into their bellies. The parent bear teaches the cubs to climb up, then out on the limbs to harvest their meal. The cubs grab, clutch, tumble and break limbs. Momma bear is often too heavy for the limbs she climbs out on, and her tree limbs crack and break as well.
It's been happening every night, and in the morning we go out to see their pruning, all the broken branches and leaves and twigs on the ground under the trees. And all around, lots of bear poop decorates the scene. This is just what happens here sometimes.
But it's the bears themselves that draw our attention. They are big like we are, and they know this place we live better than we do. This wild Ursidae family does not fear us, and if we go out to scare away their furry black bodies and long snouts by banging pots and pans together, for example, they raise their heads, but do not leave. Talk about an awkward moment, returning to the kitchen with loud ringing still echoing in our ears, bears still hanging out nearby.
The bears look right at us, and keep on eating, undeterred. Once the apple trees have been cleared out, they move on, foraging in other people's neighborhoods, looking for apple trees and garbage cans. Momma bear shows the cubs where the trees are, how to climb and harvest, and clearly, how to ignore the hairless mammals who bang loud metal objects under those trees.
Bear encounters are not safe, as we know. Never approach a bear cub. This is an example of what we teach our own children as we help them learn the ropes of successful Adirondack living. Don't leave your garbage out in traditional garbage cans. Don't leave your car windows open when you are not in the car, (especially if you've just been to the feed store to buy birdseed). Never get between a mother bear and her mammalian's life mission, which is to raise her cub to adulthood. And do not be oblivious to these rules, especially in late summer and early autumn.
If you're lucky enough to see these amazing creatures, remember to appreciate our experience of living so close to Mother Nature's wildest gifts. Remember, bears lived here long before we settled in the forest. We must show the wisdom of being human and respect that fact.
Randy Lewis lives in Paul Smiths, and is the author of "Actively Adirondack: Reflections of Mountain Life in the 21st Century," Adirondack Center for Writing's People's Choice Award for Best Book 2007.