As Old Trees Fall, New Life Begins

Once so thick only a snake or rabbit could squeeze between the trees and shrubs, the wooded property beside mine fell prey to bulldozers in June 2022. In 12 days, it went from heavily forested to bare land, exposing my house and leaving robins, garter snakes, and white-tailed rabbits to find other homes. The new owner plans to build a house and eventually plant some new non-native trees.

For every tree that fell, I ached. It was a life ending. At the same time, I marveled at the increasing view of the sky and the sunset, of the moon and stars. I felt a warm comfort that my new neighbors arrived just a few days after I told God how worried I was about aging alone in my isolated house and put my future in His hands. Instead of being hidden away where no one could hear me if I called for help, I can now be seen by anyone coming down my street. When I walk on my deck now, instead of a wall of trees, I see my neighbors’ houses and all the way to the next road. I am exposed. No more naked hot-tubbing. When I wander out in my nightgown, people can see me. It’s a trade-off. The animals are adapting, and so will I. After all, someone cleared my property back in 1967 to build my house, and someone razed the orchards to build the neighborhood where I grew up. It’s what happens.

Yesterday, a big truck took the bulldozers away. The workers were gone. No more noise. In this lull before construction on the new neighbors’ house begins, Annie and I walked the cleared property, adding our footprints to the tracks of the heavy equipment. We found remnants of past lives: beer and soda bottles, pieces of shingles, a bit of rope, a flat football. We found the lid that blew off my compost bin in a storm years ago. We found a garter snake curled in the leaves that remain on my side of the property line. A gray and white bird I had never seen before sang from a tree in my yard, and a turkey vulture circled lazily in the warm air.

There was a particular alder tree I had asked the neighbor to save. No, he said. It has to go. The trunk remains, reddish gold. I counted the rings. About 35. It was a young tree, but as the neighbor said and as I could see from the fallen branches, it was rotten inside and would not have stood much longer. Its sister tree on my side of the property line reaches slim and leafy into the June sky. A yellow warbler darts between branches. So be it. Life is a book with many chapters. You can’t know the whole story unless you turn the page.

I still startle at the sight when I drive into my neighborhood. I will miss the blackberries I picked and baked into cobblers and muffins in past years. I will miss the rabbit that snuck out of the bushes for brief visits, but I also love the late-day sun that pours into parts of my house that have ever seen the sun before. Life goes on.

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There is No Bear There

black_bear_mammal_221850I was walking the dog recently when a car pulled up beside us. Luckily Annie was neither pooping nor jumping up on the car. The young woman driver rolled down her window. “I wanted to warn you that we’ve got a bear around here.”

Oh.

She went on to tell me how something had been knocking over trash at the end of the street that crosses mine. The homeowner set up a camera one night and sure enough, there was a black bear.

A couple weeks ago, a friend who lives up Thiel Creek Road emailed me a video he had taken of a black bear eating apples off his trees. As he watched, it stood up on its back legs. It was TALL.

This weekend, my across-the-street neighbor hailed me over to tell me a bear had knocked over his garbage can. His wife had been cleaning out old spices and the bear was intrigued by the interesting smells. He didn’t touch my garbage. Apparently he prefers curry and oregano to grapefruit rinds and apple cores.

In my 17 years living here in the coastal forest, I have heard a lot about bears, but I have actually seen one only once. It crossed Thiel Creek Road in front of my car one afternoon. Since then, no bear. I have seen footprints, berry-laden droppings and flattened bushes where a bear might have slept, but no bears. So far.

Bears are definitely around. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife says we have 25,000 to 30,000 black bears, the largest extant carnivores in Oregon. Despite their name, they aren’t always black. They can also be brown, blond or cinnamon. For food, they prefer berries, fruit, grasses and plants, but they will also eat small mammals, insects and amphibians. And they’ll adapt to human food if it’s offered.

Annie and I are always looking out for bears, as well as the cougars said to be in the area. I sing to let the bears know I’m there. If either one of us gets spooked, we abort our walk and go home.We stay out of the wilderness near dawn or dusk. Black bears are said to be naturally shy, but some have gotten used to finding food in people’s yards and gotten kind of pushy about it. Over the years, they have come after people and their animals. One even broke into a kitchen east of Yachats, a little south of here. So we’re not taking any chances.

Here at the house, a combination of chain link fence, barking dogs, and nothing worth eating keeps most furry animals out. We do have birds, newts, salamanders, garter snakes, mice and the occasional black rat. Moles have been actively tunneling under my lawn. But no bears. Maybe I need to put out better garbage.

Maybe not.

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