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Bears shopping for mates at the Centre of town

June 21, 2005|by TIM ROWLAND

I'm sorry but, even if you're a bear, "mating season" is not an excuse for traipsing up and down the interstate in front of a strip shopping center.

What is it about the Centre at Hagerstown anyway? First it's a truck tire through the window at IHOP, then a streaker at Wal-Mart, now bears at Ryan's Steak House.

It's like the shopping center is haunted by the Marx Brothers. You want wacky, just hang out at Centre stage for a while.

Now, it's bears at the steakhouse. That'll have them rethinking that salmon special. DNR officials say it's "the peak of breeding season, so bears are roaming far and wide." Well maybe so, but if it's breeding season, why would they go to a shopping center, to register at Marshall's? What pattern do they go for, Noritake Bearmont?

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They say, "Male bears will spend more of their time looking for females than they will asleep."

I'll pause here for a moment while all you smart-aleck chickie-pies out there guffaw and make all your uproariously funny jokes about the similarities between bear and man. That's right, get it out of your systems while we guys just sit here with our lips pressed together into a thin line, slowly tapping our pencil erasers on our laptops. Finished yet? OK, good. Now let's move on.

Personally, I don't know why a male bear looking for a mate would go to a shopping center, unless maybe he figures she's buying shoes at Marshall's.

And didn't Maryland just legalize black bear hunting? Fat lot of good that did, apparently. Stupid hunters - they all took their guns and went into the woods, when they should have gone to The Home Depot.

I know there is a lot more chance of running into a bear these days, and I say this because I came snoot to snoot with one a couple of weeks ago. This bear was in the woods where he was supposed to be, in a Very Remote Section of the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York.

They always warn you about bears up there, but I always figured it was sort of an empty legal disclaimer for something that is unlikely to occur - like the gas pump warnings not to point the nozzle toward your face.

The only person I ever heard of who was attacked was a French Canadian who was carrying, no kidding, a salmon sandwich. Food is always way up there on any given bear's wish list, and so campers have to go to elaborate lengths to keep their suppers safe.

Until recently, this involved suspending bags of food in the trees from a rather ridiculous looking network of cables, ropes and wires.

But somewhere along the line, bears learned to untie knots, so now campers use rigid canisters that the bear can kick around, but can't break into.

But I didn't have to worry about this, since the closest thing I had to food was an energy bar, and if you've ever tasted one, you know that isn't very close at all. (In the end, it's the sugar that counts, which is why many experienced climbers don't carry energy bars, they carry Pop Tarts.)

When you're hiking, your mind is frequently a million miles away, and apparently when you are a bear, your mind is frequently a million miles away. Because both of us were daydreaming and neither one of us was anything close to being prepared for a confrontation.

We each wheeled around the same rock, him a northbound bear, me a southbound T-dog, about five feet apart, and suddenly - well, nothing. We just looked at each other.

I had plenty of time to think of plenty of things, but the only thought I can remember coursing through the old coconut was, "This certainly would appear to be a bear." It never crossed my mind to run, or conversely to get out my camera, or do anything.

All I learned from the encounter was that a bear's mind works faster than mine does, because at the end of about five seconds of mutual shock, he turned tail and thundered off into the hobblebrush, much like any other wild animal would have done - leaving me alone to fill out the paperwork.

Which is true. When you spot a bear in the 'daks these days, there's a form you have to fill out, which asks any number of bear-specific questions, such as - I am still not kidding - the color of its ears.

They could have been neon pink for all I knew. Two things were certain: 1.) It was a bear; 2.) I wasn't eaten. That was pretty much all the data I was capable of conveying to the government. And I don't feel too bad about it, because I doubt the bear remembered what color my ears were, either.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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