A PRIVATE SLEUTH OF BEARS
I have a modest cabin up in the wilder north, where I take my family when our frenetic megalopolis becomes too much to bear. There is no shower, so when we're there we stink.
We are friendly but distant with the handful of neighbours around the small lake, and they are friendly but distant with us -- the woods are a place people come to be alone. We allow each other to entertain the shared fantasy that we could wander our respective private hinterlands for hours without running into another soul, like the realms of richer folk, or norther folk, or Asimov's Solaria.
The older chap at the end of the dirt road has the biggest swath to call his own: a wide-ranging rectangle of personal estate encompassing most of the base of the large, forested hill that frames the lake on the west. Though affable in smalltalk -- leaning on his dusty ATV and squinting at nothing, predicting the weather -- he has always been somewhat peculiar in his adamance that his land never be trespassed.
Yesterday, I found out why.
He's growing a private sleuth of bears.
Spread throughout his land are three feeding areas, each identically set-up with a stainless steel basket on a pulley-system rigged into a nearby tall tree; the basket is steadily provisioned with food, and can be lowered for animal-access or raised up into a high cache by remote operation.
At the beginning of the season, my neighbour makes the food available by night in hopes of attracting local black bears. Once he has some takers, he reverses the schedule, keeping the food in the tree-top cache at night, and lowering it to the ground only during the day. By patient application, my neighbour thus develops groups of bears who are willing to prowl his woods in sunlight.
The bears tell each other. More of them come around. Some of them move in. It isn't like the dump, with its dangerous guards and traffic. It's a big party. The bears are well-fed, sluggish and lazy in the dog days' sun. Even when they fight amongst themselves they do so listlessly. It becomes a kind of ursine Woodstock -- a bears' summer-break picnic of unnatural proportions...
Come the end of summer, my neighbour invites a bunch of friends around. They all go out together and shoot the bears.
When there are no bears left, they go back to my neighbour's place for drinks. They use ATVs and trailers to haul the carcasses. The next day, my neighbour will dismantle the feeding contraptions, oil the moving parts, and stow them for winter.
"What do you do with the bears?" I ask.
"Pelts and meat, mostly," he says; "I'm retired, so it's a little extra income to supplement me, you know? And trophies, too, sometimes."
"Like, uh, taxidermy? Stuffing them?"
"Ayeah. I have a couple of bears, at my place. My buddies have some bears, have some trophies." Declaring the conversation over, he says, "The rain's coming now. Take care, Mr Brown."
Now, loath as I am to meddle in the affairs of my neighbours, I find myself somewhat unsettled by this strange annual death-farm taking place next door. For one thing: I'm retrospectively surprised my cat came back, after he was lost in the woods during a recent cottage holiday. For another thing: our mutual border is unfenced.
My father-in-law is researching the legality of the practise, but so far it all seems kosher. Besideswhich, I have a hard time imagining myself throwing the police at my neighbour when nothing horrible has happened yet.
(On the other hand, if the horrible thing that happened to happen was that my baby daughter was eaten by a bear, I may wish I'd been more proactive.)
Should I even be worried at all? My neighbour patrols his borders religiously, eyes sharp for any interloper. So far, nobody has been maimed. I am just being a Garp?
Beyond these safety concerns, I happen to like bears. In the woods, I respectfully avoid them, but still, I like 'em. I hate to think of them being tricked so cheaply. My neighbour is definitely tilting the odds in his favour by taking excessive advantage of his comparatively massive forebrain, and it's simply not just.
(Of course, lots of stuff isn't just. So what else is new?)
"Ja, it isn't a fair fight, no," my father-in-law says, shaking his head.
"Maybe it would be fair if he had a dagger, instead of gun," I suggest.
"Ach! Hand to hand combat, ja?"
"Exactly. Then, the more bears he attracts the fairer it gets."