Growing up in Iowa, the only bears I encountered were the Chicago-type on Sunday afternoon. Ditka, the Fridge, McMahon and Singletary. The two-legged kind who were much more approachable than the four-legged kind who reside here in the mountains.
Meet Ralph. Don’t ask me how I came up with that name, but 10 minutes into my up-close and in-person bear encounter a few weeks ago, Ralph just seemed to fit.
As I sat working at my dining room table I heard several noises outside. At first, I ignored them thinking our cat, K2, was outside getting into trouble of some sort. However, the third time raised the hair on the back of my neck. I turned in my chair to look out the window and found myself literally face to chest with Ralph who was standing on his back legs, holding my hummingbird feeder in both paws and euphorically pouring the sweet, wonderful syrup down this throat, while the rest splashed all over him and my deck.
With a start, I jumped up, fell back on the table and then stupidly (thinking back on it) pounded on the window and screamed at him. I’m not quite sure what I would have done if he had decided to pound and scream back at me. But Ralph was oblivious. He was completely focused on getting every last drop of sugar water out of the feeder and could have cared less about the screaming lady on the other side of the window.
I ran next to the sliding door and screamed and pounded again. No response, just more chugging. My next thought in looking closely at him was oh crap, where’s Mom? He was small and yes, cute, so I initially thought he was one or two years old. I closely scanned the yard around the house, but thankfully, no Mom.
I became enamored with the little guy and caught myself laughing as he would stand up, pour more juice, sit down, lick it off him and the deck and then start the process all over again.
It quickly became apparent Ralph was taking up residence and had no plans of leaving anytime soon. It was also concerning that he was not scared by my screaming, knocking and presence at the window and door. Time to call Game & Fish. Reinforcing the “small world” of society, it just so happens that the head of Game & Fish in Jackson Hole, is one of my high-school classmates from Iowa. Go figure. One quick call to Doug and a team was dispatched to check out my sticky, gooey, furry friend Ralph.
By now, Ralph had drained the feeder of every last drop of sugar water and was looking for more. He stands up, places his paws on my window, looking in as if to say, “Lady, this thing is empty! Would you please come out here and refill it?” I was laughing hysterically at this point.
Next, I learned that Ralph was a very considerate bear and he confirmed an old wive’s tale for me. He trotted off my deck and started sniffing around the yard. I was concerned he would disappear before the Game & Fish team arrived. But then he stopped at the edge of the woods that border our lawn, squatted and did his business. Yes, bears do @#$% in the woods! He then meandered back to the deck and proceeded to play with the wind chimes and lick up every last drop of syrup on the deck.
The Game & Fish team arrived and instead of running, Ralph was mesmerized. He literally sat on my deck and was intrigued by these three “creatures” who were loading up the tranquilizer gun and who were equally intrigued by him.
And then, it was nap time for little Ralph. He did a lap around the neighborhood before the tranquilizer took effect, and then was loaded into a trailer and moved south of Jackson into the mountains.
Upon further inspection by the Game & Fish team, it was determined Ralph was in fact, three years old, had probably just come out of hibernation and was starving. They too were concerned he showed no fear of humans and hence, relocation to a new home.
While I would rather watch bears from AFAR, it was a fascinating afternoon with my little buddy. The hummingbird feeders were hung higher, the deck was washed down, but I left the bear prints on the window for a few days just for fun.
I hope Ralph’s hangover wasn’t too bad and that he has found a big hive of honey somewhere in the Wyoming Range to satisfy his sweet tooth!
Life in the mountains is never dull, but when it comes to wildlife, keep your distance and always, always, have your bear spray handy.
JuliAnne H. Forrest