Earlier this week I was out in the yard weeding at about 9:30 in the morning, when a black bear ambled through the yard in front of the hedge of bottlebrush buckeyes. He went right out into the lawn, not 50 feet from where I was.
As I quietly backed away toward the house he walked between the gravel garden and the birch garden and then over to the new crabapples the neighbors planted between our two yards.
I was inside by now, and watched him stand up and shake a tree. He shook it hard, sniffed the leaves, then dropped back down and lumbered over to the neighbor's patio out of sight.
I think it was a juvenile. There were no ear tags and no collar, and although he seemed smaller than the average bear, he looked immense and black and glossy so close up. And standing up shaking the tree he (she?) looked powerful.
This encounter was too close.
Black bears are not aggressive. There have been no reports of human-bear mishaps around here. But a juvenile or a startled bear might react unpredictably coming so close to to a gardener with her rump in the air and her nose in the dirt.
I'm not frightened, but I am now hyper aware of everything around me outside. No more zen hours of weeding, which is a favorite thing to do on a cool morning after a rain has softened the earth. Just kneel and tug, step and pull, tuned out to everything but breeze and birdsong.
When I weed I don't look around me, I simply laser in on the next weed, the errant leaf and the out of place stalk, until the moment when I gently rip out a tall leafy thing only to find out it is the spicebush seedling I just paid a fortune for and planted this spring. Argh. I'm an idiot.
When I am not ripping out cherished seedlings, though, I drift off thinking of nothing and unaware of anything as I pull up weed after weed.
Not any more. Now I am acutely aware of everything around me. When I walk out to the meadow or the woods with brush to dispose of, I clap and whistle (not really, I can't whistle. But I make squeaky noises). I don't want to catch a bear unaware.
Jim wants me to carry an air horn to scare a bear if I come upon one, but it would only wind up lying in the dirt someplace where the trowel and the pruners and all good garden tools end up when I am outside working. I would never have it at hand when needed.
I am not scared. But I am edgily aware and unable to enjoy the long periods of zoned out calm I used to have in my garden.
I miss those zen weeding moments.