Friendly Black Bear Puts “Arm” Around Lovell Teacher To See What She Was Reading

in Bears/Good news/News

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By David Peck, Lovell Chronicle

Ilene Henley was enjoying a good book at her family campsite on the Big Horn Mountains on July 12 when she saw something out of the corner of her eye. 

It was a black bear – and, fortunately, a friendly one – with an apparent interest in what Henley was reading. 

“It was a little before 8 p.m. and my father and husband had left to get water at the ranger station off (Forest) Road 14,” said Henley, a Title I reading and math teacher at Rocky Mountain Middle/ High School who resides in Lovell. 

“I’d just settled into reading in my lounge chair behind our camper. In my peripheral vision I saw movement, but by the time I looked up, I’d started a new book club with a yearling black bear,” she said. “He was very friendly as he loped over to the chair, placed his paws on the wooden armrest (from which I slowly moved my arm).

“The black bear leaned in closer to check out the book I was reading (Clive Cussler) and decided he liked it, so he placed his paws on my thigh and seemed to be reading along.”

So what do you do in a situation like that? In her case, Henley decided that less was more. 

“About this time, my husband (Bob) called out to me. I was still fully reclined, just staying as still as I could trying to remember what I was supposed to do with my fuzzy buddy,” she said. “The second time he called me, I hollered back, ‘There’s a bear! Come here!’ The sound of my voice interrupted the bear’s reading and he quickly lumbered off the way that he came. My husband didn’t even see him.” 

As a frequent visitor to the Bighorn National Forest with her family, Henley warned them about the young bruin. 

“I did warn my sisters and parents, so we left young children and little dogs home the next weekend. Sure enough, the yearling came to check things out several times that weekend,” Henley said. “Between my husband and my brother-in-law (Brad Trowell), the bear was scared up a tree where he stayed for quite some time, shimmying higher and higher and making random noises, though surprisingly, never a growl. 

“The family took a little ride toward evening. When we returned, we found a number of things torn and on the ground. There were also muddy paw prints where the bear had checked out a camper, a truck and a solar panel.”

Word got out to the forest rangers, who stopped by for a report.

The family’s two weeks at one site were up the following weekend, but before moving to a new site, they saw no sign of the bear that weekend. 

“Perhaps he found a different book to read,” Henley said. “I hope all the students returning to school this week find some great books and adventures this academic year.”

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