The Bear Facts
By Maria Johnson
You’d be amazed at the walk-ins we get here at the O.Henry office on Banking Street. We get people wanting to talk to Astrid Stellanova about her horoscopes; people wanting to see the editor of Our State magazine (?!); people wanting to mail a first-class package (we’re next to The Pack-N-Post). Mostly, we get people who want to pitch story ideas, which is great. Recently, there was a thud at the door, followed by a low rumble. We figured it was someone wanting to know if he could park in our lot while he ate at the hot new burger joint around the corner. But when we opened the door, there was a black bear.
Here is a transcript of the conversation:
OH: Can I help you?
B: Do you mind if I come in? It’s getting a little hot out here, if you know what I mean.
B: (Looking over shoulder): Animal control. They’ve been tailing me all day.
OH: Sure, come in. Can I get you something?
B: I know it’s trite, but do you have any honey?
OH: I don’t think so. How about some agave syrup?
B: Sure. I like to try new things. I ate at a Thai dumpster last night. Tore me up. The sriracha, I guess.
OH: (Handing over syrup) Here you go. How can we help you?
B: I want you to write a story.
OH: About . . . ?
B: People. Every year, when my bros and I ramble through here, we see more people. Where do all of these people come from?
OH: Oh, they migrate here from all over.
B: That’s what I hear — they follow the highways into town.
OH: Is that a problem?
B: It didn’t used to be, but this is getting crazy. This time of year, we see people all the time. Take this morning — I was nibbling berries by a creek. I looked up, and there was a pack of people. A den, whatever you call them.
OH: What were they doing?
B: Just staring at me. It was unnerving. I thought they might attack.
OH: What did you do?
B: Whaddya, nuts? I froze. I thought about running, but then I remember that you humans love to chase things. So I walked away very slowly. No disrespect, but you never know what humans are going to do.
OH: Have you ever tried scaring people off by making some kind of noise? Maybe standing up to make yourself look bigger?
B: Are you kidding? You know what happens when young black males like me get assertive.
OH: Hmm. By the way, what are y’all doing in these parts?
B: (Winking). Oh, you know. Looking for honey. No luck so far.
OH: Guess not. The state wildlife people say that breeding females have been confirmed as close by as Forsyth and Stokes counties, but not in Guilford County. Not yet, anyway. If anyone has photos of a mama bear and cubs in the Piedmont, they’d like to see it.
B: Me, too.
OH: . . . Because if we have breeding females around here, we’re going to be seeing a lot more of you guys from May through July.
B: Got that right. But look, we don’t enjoy urban life. Here’s what happens: We young bears get driven out of our home ranges by the older, dominant males. We go looking for new ranges and new females, so naturally we cruise the creeks and rivers at night. We have a few too many acorns, lap up a little too much branch water, and boom! Come sunup, we’re in the city. Suddenly, we’re on TV. Whoa! And I’ll tell you something else, it’s happening more often.
OH: Yeah, well, the number of people in this area is growing, and your populations to the east and west of the Piedmont are growing, so we’re bound to intersect more often.
B: Makes me want to build a damn wall.
OH: You could try it, but I doubt it would work. Besides, you admit that once you’re in the city, you raid trash cans and birdfeeders. Heck, you even eat pet food.
B: Have you ever tried gluten-free dog food?
B: It’s not bad. Hey, if you don’t want me on your porch, don’t keep kibble or hot young sows there. Seriously, though, I don’t want to get all up in your grill . . . mmmm . . . grillll . . . Where was I? Oh, yeah, I don’t want to get all up in your business anymore than you want me to. This morning, before I left my thicket, I actually looked around for people. Can you imagine?
OH: So what made you think you’d be safe at O.Henry?
B: Didn’t you dress up like a bear to promote A Walk in the Woods for the library’s One City, One Book campaign last year?
OH: Uh, yeah.
B: (Pounds his heart with his paw).
OH: OK, here’s my advice. Mind your own business. Generally speaking, humans won’t bother you if you don’t bother them. Sooner or later, they’ll move on. Just be patient.
B: You sounds like a Berenstain.
OH: Sorry for moralizing. Just be cool.
B: Whatever. Can I ask you something?
B: Which way to that burger joint dumpster?
OH: You like cheeseburgers?
B: Do I go in the woods? OH
O.Henry maintains an open-door policy, just BYO honey. To learn more about bears, go to ncwildlife.org/bears. If you have a picture of a female bear with cubs in the Piedmont, contact the district wildlife biologist at email@example.com.