By Dave Simpson, columnnist
The breaking news from my little patch of woods high in the Snowy Range of Wyoming is that a black bear made off with my neighbor’s six pack of Miller Lite beer last Friday.
We’re used to bears getting into garbage and coolers, foolishly left outside. (I keep everything inside.) But stealing a guy’s beer is a clear escalation of hostilities. A low blow.
Some black cherry sparkling water was also stolen. Cans punctured by bear teeth were found near my neighbor’s cabin. But there’s no sign of the missing beer.
We’re used to bears getting into stuff. Another neighbor found a punctured can of WD-40 lubricating spray a couple years ago, which was no doubt a disappointment to the scrounging bear. Another neighbor had to use bear spray on a persistent bruin trying to raid a bird feeder on her deck.
However, in my 40 years of summering up here, on private land surrounded by the Medicine Bow National Forest, I have seen precisely one bear. That was 10 years ago, when I spotted a smallish cinnamon-colored bear crossing the road ahead of me while hiking. And I once found a hummingbird feeder on the ground at my cabin, the base chewed up by a bear. But that occurred while I was away.
Figuring, incorrectly, that bears were becoming an increasing problem, I bought some bear spray in Saratoga, but the clerk who rang it up said she prefers a .44 under her bed. That was 10 years ago.
And I decided to buy a .44 Special pistol from an old friend in Illinois.
Getting a pistol from Illinois to Wyoming proved quite a task. Even the Illinois State Police couldn’t tell me, if I was stopped in that state, with the pistol in my pickup, without a valid Illinois Firearm Owner Identification card (impossible because I didn’t live in Illinois), if I could be charged with a felony. So we had the pistol shipped from one federally-licensed gun dealer in Illinois to one in Cheyenne, at a cost of about $100.
Since then, I’ve only shot the .44 at a shooting range. It’s kind of a cannon, not nearly as fun to shoot as my .22.
Other than the missing beer, and some strewn garbage and a few toppled coolers, we seem to be getting along pretty well with the bears – seldom requiring even warning shots.
Mosquitoes are a much bigger threat, but they weren’t as bad as usual this year. Some cold nights in late July must have killed them off, a couple weeks earlier than usual.
Worse than ever this year, however, were the little black flies, ankle-biting menaces that don’t give up without a fight. I finally resorted to flypaper strips, and snagged about 100 of the little devils in a weekend.
The hummingbird population is about normal this year, but far lower than we used to see in the 1990s. But a couple years ago I talked to a lady at Ten Mile who said she was just about going broke buying sugar for her swarms of hummingbirds. So I guess it’s a location deal, not climate change. (Whew.)
I notice that even with a half dozen feeders, one dominant hummingbird chases the others away. Greed and selfishness aren’t limited to humans, I guess, even when there’s plenty for everyone.
I’m seeing more deer than usual, all bucks to far, the biggest a four point. In previous years it was mostly does. And for the first time in about five years, I’ve twice spotted a fox lurking on the other side of my fire pit at dusk.
Best of all are the moose. Two cows walked past my cabin window a couple weeks ago, close enough and large enough to block the sunlight. And the next week a majestic bull crossed my place, so close that I had to back away. I couldn’t believe how quietly such a huge animal made his way through dense woods.
We’ve been blessed with some wonderful rainfall this summer, so the forest is lush and green. September promises to be spectacular.
The only bad news is my neighbor still hasn’t found that missing six-pack of Miller Lite.