where the writers are
the bear tree
two birches

Jerry claims there's a big boar hanging  around his house, a bear that's not afraid of anyone or anything.  He's called Merritt, a trapper from out on the reservation, who says he'll get rid of it for Jerry, no problem.  I told Jerry that even if this guy's an Indian it's still illegal for him to shoot a bear out of season, but Jerry really wants the thing dead.  Ever since his diagnosis, Jerry's developed a sort of bunker mentality: it's him against nature.  He plunks every chipmunk that he sees, and now he's sworn out a vendetta against porcupines, about the most innocuous creatures you could ever imagine.

Predators, though, are what really sets Jerry off.  Last winter when an ermine got into his chicken house and tore the heads off a half dozen laying hens, I had to make a special trip to town for rat traps, and then I ended up setting them too: with the ALS, Jerry doesn't have enough strength in his hands to pull back the heavy wire of the spring mechanism.

The last time I visited Jerry, he showed me an owl that he'd shot the day before -- he thought it was a barred owl but as soon as I saw that plate-sized, flat face, I recognized it as a great gray.  For some reason, he froze the dead bird -- put it in the freezer on top of the stacked, butcher paper-wrapped packages of chops and steaks from last fall's spike buck.  I told him, "Jerry, if the game warden ever finds that owl in your freezer, you're gonna be toast."  He just sputtered that a man's got the right to defend what's his.

Which brings me to the bear.  I've seen him -- at least I've seen a boar bear around here but it's not the vicious, five-hundred pound killer that Jerry claims has been challenging him.  The bear that I saw was a black bear like any of the others you find in this area: the only part of him you're likely to see is his rear end as he's running away from you.  At least that's the only view I've ever had of him.

He did leave a message for me last night, right next to the trail where I walk in the morning.  There's a grove of five or six white birch trees, each about as big around as my thigh.  The bear chose the most prominent birch, the one closest to my trail, and then he raked his claws up and down the main trunk of that tree until the bark was shredded.  He must have shimmied part way up it (so much for him weighing in at a quarter of a ton) because the scars extend almost eleven feet above the ground.  On one whole side of the tree, the paper-thin, white bark is torn completely off.  The exposed inner bark is pink and inflamed, like skin with a turf burn.  In several places, the bear's claws gored so deep that they penetrated the bark and got down into the living wood.  The sap around these wounds oozed out red at first, then dried as brown as old blood.

I didn't tell Jerry about the tree.  It's on my land, not his, and I don't want Merritt nosing around looking for other signs.  I'm hoping that the bear will move on when the whitetail fawn start dropping and the lakeshore greens up in a week or so.  That is, unless Merritt decides to bait him again with stale penny candy, the stuff that he used to entice the bear onto Jerry's land in the first place, right before the beginning of bear season last fall.