rub-a-dub-dub: bear in the frogpond

bear in water gardenWATER-GARDEN EXPERTS recommend adding plants, fish, and perhaps tadpoles, to an aquatic backyard habitat, but here’s a bolder idea: Add a black bear. That’s the little duckweed-covered frogpond (and sedum in the foreground, covering most of the stones) situated barely 15 feet from my door, with its latest part-time resident. No kidding. Rub-a-dub-dub, Ursus americanus. Be sure to wash behind your ears.

bear closeup in poolWhen I voiced my objection loudly, the bear simply scrambled up the hill, ripped some twigs off a crabapple for a snack (below), then lumbered across the yard to one of my century-old apples. (By the way: The pool without the bear in it, an older photo, is at the bottom of the page for perspective.)

bear eating crabappleIn about 4 seconds it had climbed 25 feet high into the uppermost crown of the tallest tree. (That’s it on the way back down, below, from a distance–I had gone back inside after the first verbal scolding.)

Next was an attempted nap on the grass, in the tree’s shade—but I interrupted that plan with more negative verbal feedback, and it ambled off, presumably to climb a tree trunk beside my 8-foot fence and drop down to the other side, away from the aggravation of my voice for the moment.

bear halfway down apple treeI don’t mean to be flip about living in bear country, which requires vigilant attention and respect for these animals as for all wildlife. In a typical year, bears visit here at night a couple or few times a season, knocking down a piece of fence on the way in and tossing things about in search of food, leaving big pawprints in the garden (and sometimes on the porch, too, if the ground was wet with rain or dew).

This year, bolder encounters by a number of different individuals have been happening locally by day along our road, meaning these bears have grown habituated to us humans and our home environments–not ideal. I’d prefer they go back on the night shift, but I’m not sure I’m the boss.


  1. Choral Eddie says:

    Great photos and you have a good attitude re the bears in our locale. As you know they are basically harmless and will turn away given reason. The young are searching out new territory and it was interesting to learn how this one got out of the garden.

  2. Johanna says:

    Yikes, Margaret! You’ll have to go out to garden shaking your keys in front of you! (Isn’t that what they used to tell you at Yellowstone?!)

  3. Elaine L. says:

    Wow! Join the bear club! We had one on back deck 6 feet from kitchen door last April and he damaged my Subaru ($3,000) . This year 3 feet from my pond. I bring in my bird feeders nightly…! Almost every year we have a visit from bears. One year we had mama, papa & baby bear!! We are about 18 miles from the Catskills. el

  4. Saiisha says:

    Oh wow – I wasn’t sure if the picture was real when I saw it in your newsletter email, so I had to follow the link – and the bear IS real! And big! Cute in the pictures, but I’m sure scary 15 feet away!

  5. Susan S. says:

    YIKES!! That’s a heck of a sight! Can only imagine the destruction a bear could wreak in a garden. Yelling at it from a safe distance seems like a good strategy. Here in Maryland, about 30 miles north of Baltimore, there are bears about, I’m told, but we have never seen (or heard, or smelled) one. Our neighbor across the field saw a coyote in their driveway a few weeks ago.

    1. margaret says:

      Funny, right, Susan? Usually they only visit at night, but this summer several individuals have decided that daytime visits in my neighborhood are far more exciting.

  6. Laurie Lewis says:

    Oh my–when I looked at your photo prior to reading the text I thought I was looking at an amazing wood carving!!! Wow.

  7. Lynn says:

    I too live in bear country in southern NH, have seen them on occasion but this year-2 sightings in less then a week both around 4PM, the last one was a yearling that had been tagged he was standing at my back garage door when I discovered him/fortunately the door was closed and then he lumbered on my deck to take a look in my kitchen window-then off to the woods he went. Am really careful about not having anything out to attract then-like bird feeders etc but not thinking my neighbors in town are doing the same.

  8. Lorie says:

    He’s got a mind of his own, for sure. Might consider trading him for our flock of wild turkeys…one constantly displaying male, his harem and the kids from last year. They never leave…just keep walking around looking for insects, I guess, and leaving lovely gifts behind.

  9. Jayne says:

    JEEZ Louise! Or JEEZ Margaret! I thought I had to be vigilant in my NEW garden with snakes and alligators, but that takes the cake!! That bear is healthy looking and has a very nice face. I didnt know they could climb trees like that! What would Jack have said about that intruder?

  10. Dahlink says:

    This reminds me of when I was growing up in California and we sometimes vacationed in Yosemite National Park with our travel trailer. When my sister was three she was sitting outside the trailer while Mom was inside. Mom heard my sister say in a casual tone of voice, “Mommy, there’s a bear out here.” Mom was shocked to look out and see that the bear was only about three feet away from my sister. Fortunately, it just kept on going!

  11. Linda Hall says:

    Just be careful when taking evening walks! They are more likely to be skulking around after the sun goes down!

  12. Jane says:

    You’re great Margaret. What a wonderful experience…despite any damage done to the frog pond, frogs, apple tree, etc… it was another adventure you have shared with us.

    thank you.

  13. Margit Van Schaick says:

    Margaret, do you have another cat? If so, please be sure to get him in-doors at dusk. Bears kill cats. In an especially unpleasant way. When I lived in bear country (Weston, Vt.), I was always especially aware after dusk, going from the car to my door. There were numerous times when I’d hear a bear whistle, sounding so very close. No I do not see them as dangerous to humans (black bears here in the Northeast), but we need to be very careful to not attract them with bird-feeders. Garbage has to be very well secured.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Margit; no new cat, no. My Jack hated bears–when they would come at night onto the back porch and examine things here, he would be frantic indoors, sometimes under the table even. Jack was afraid of very little (he was a weasel hunter with many trophies, for instance) but he feared bear.

  14. Rosita Trinca says:

    Puts my war with a snapping turtle which has been snapping off my water lilies into perspective. And eating frogs.

    We caught him and deposited him in a creek a mile away. Five days later he was back. I knew when there was an ominous silence around the pond. The saga continues ….

    1. margaret says:

      Oh, Rosita, it’s endless at the moment — so many animals at the moment! I haven’t had a turtle in many years; not the right habitat here, but one would occasionally take a wrong turn. And yes: the saga continues!

  15. Liz says:

    WOW! It is lovely to encounter a bear once in a great while. They are startlingly bigger than they look in photos, tho. They may be cute but have to be handled with respect, as you say.

    I giggled at your “negative verbal feedback”! We had a cabin in Northern Wyoming for many years and as kids, bears were a little frightening to us. Bears would amble up onto the deck to look in the windows, trying to see what the “bareskins” had cooked on the bbq that smelled so good. We usually scared them off by banging pot lids together, but my grandmother was more like you–she would just holler at them, “go away, bear”, and they would amble off.

  16. Linda says:

    I feel your aggravation, Margaret! We have had bear problems here in central NJ for the past few years. This year’s visitor seems to only work the night shift, for which I am thankful. 2 years ago we had one that enjoyed using my planters as toys and knocking hanging baskets off the trees. He even stood up at our kitchen window one afternoon and scared the wits out of my poor husband. More than once he surprised me by coming around the corner of our barn as I was approaching. They are young and looking for new territory and of course food. By December that 160 lb. young bear will be over 300 lbs and huge. I am saddened that they are driven into more populated areas looking for food. They are beautiful creatures, but I just don’t need one as my star boarder!

  17. naomi d. says:

    Showed that picture to my husband, and he exclaimed, “Bear bidet!” We just deal with too many cats and neighbors laughing into the night – along with a “large” garden here: 30×30 feet. I need to ponder that trade-off: bears or my small garden.

  18. Bridget says:

    I admire and applaud your perspective on things. And envy the life you have created for yourself. Keep up the good works.

  19. Sharon says:

    Oh no, what happened to Jack? How did I not know? I get regular emails but somehow missed that. So sorry if Jack is truly gone.

  20. Patricia says:

    I used to live out in the boonies in a bear area. Wildlife control told me the best and safest thing to do was to scare the bears away from the homes. Lots of loud noise, whistles, bang pots and pans. If you annoy them enough hopefully they will stay clear of the house.
    The one time one was on the deck my dogs (safe in the house) made such a racket it ran away.
    When we would be outside I always keeps a whistle with me. Also large bells (and leashes) on the dogs collars.
    No bird feeders!!!

    1. margaret says:

      Thanks, Patricia, for your bear tips! Even EMPTY trash cans are a visual cue — so everything, everything has to be locked inside a strong building.

  21. Carole Clarin says:

    Bear sittings along with other animals like moose and coyotes are often mentioned in our town newsletter here in southern Massachusetts but recently all I’ve seen on my property is a bunny. The local game warden had warned against putting out bird feeders this time of the year-they attract bears who remember where they are located and it is better for the birds to enjoy the food that nature provides.

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