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The Last Windrow: A run-in with wildlife

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That was one, big, black bear!

I came from a time and a place where wild animals were to be scorned, hated, destroyed and just plain done away with. It was a time not too distant from the days of the homesteaders, where everything wild was perceived as a threat. And, indeed, some of those threats were warranted.

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My homesteading great-great-grandparents needed every kernel of corn, every grain of wheat, every egg from a chicken, every pound of meat from a critter and every jug of milk from a cow to live. Anything wild or imagined that got in the way of that procurement was pronounced unfit to live beside and they were dispatched with vigor.

My ancestors and others became very good at eliminating anything wild and untamed. They shot hawks, coyotes, fox, raccoons, skunks and other “vermin” that crossed their path. Most of the deer, elk and buffalo had already been eliminated from the landscape and would not see a comeback for a hundred years.

It was a rare sight in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s to see a white-tailed deer in our neck of the woods. There were no deer fences erected around gardens and flower beds went untouched. To even see a deer in the wild was thought as rather exotic.

Nothing would bring the shotgun out of the house faster in my young years than seeing a “chicken hawk” circling above the hen house. It was about the only time I ever saw my dad wield a shotgun in defense of the Leghorns. Lucky for the hawk, the shells were usually wet and never sent lead more than a few dozen feet above the roof.

A weasel in the vicinity was also dealt with using deadly force. My mother caught a weasel hanging on the neck of a chicken one sunny Iowa afternoon and proceeded to deal a lethal blow with a 2x4. Unfortunately, she hit the chicken and not the weasel and it escaped unharmed followed by her unsympathetic epithets. We had chicken soup that night for supper as I remember.

Today it’s a different landscape. No longer do homesteaders struggle to feed themselves off the land. Today it’s a simple trip to a nearby grocery store and nary a wild animal will ambush the cart on the way to the parking lot. We have become a safe and soft lot.

Wildlife is moving closer to us. Now we have all kinds of deer deterrents, bird deterrents, bug deterrents and other things to keep wildlife at bay. Coyotes are seen running through urban streets, cougars are hanging out in backyard trees, raccoons have become adept at robbing trash cans and deer eat everything a greenhouse can sell.

Things have changed.

So they have at our home at the edge of the woods.

After drifting off to an early REM sleep last Wednesday night, I was awakened by the sound of some shuffling, thumping outside our bedroom window. My wife was dutifully reading her computer book with the TV news coming across the airwaves. The indoor lights were on.

I called out to her to turn on the outdoor lights. In a hushed voice she called to me, “Come here, John, look at this!” There on our back deck lay a giant, fully furred black bear. He was busily slurping up the sunflower seeds from a feeder he had pulled off its moorings.

As I gazed across the driveway, I could see he had also leveled every birdfeeder we had in place. This was a prize, heavyweight, 500- to 600-pound bruin. The epitomy of bear-dom!

He left after several urgings from me and a lit string of Black Cat firecrackers. I’m hoping he got the message.

In the land where I grew up, he would have been turned into bear sausage. No doubt about it. That was one, big, black bear!

See you next time. Okay?

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