Hairy, Huge & Unhappy: the Nature of the Beast

Nature is full of surprises.

There’s the kind of surprise where you trip over a small nest that the wind inadvertently tossed out of a tree and discover it’s full of bluebird eggs. Love that one.

You might also experience the wonderment of learning that the deer and bunnies have a finely tuned vegetable patch timer that coincides with your garden’s peak completion—except they receive a notice about three hours before you. This is another type of surprise. Not nearly as keen on this one.

And one can’t forget the bombshell astonishment of the occasional black bear chase surprise. Not looking forward to repeating this one at all.

Nature especially loves that last one as I’m pretty sure I’ve heard her laughing her tuchus off while it was happening.

And I took it personally. So Nature and I are not really on speaking terms this week.

I’m holding an especially big grudge as a couple of weeks ago I saved one of her tiny bunnies from drowning in my pool and I’ve spent weeks on my hands and knees freeing the garden of the less tasty varieties of weeds so that the hordes of woodland creatures can easily spot the juicy blueberries, the antioxidant jam-packed tomatoes and the clusters of sweet as sugar lettuce leaves.

Not a thank you in sight.

I’m not surprised.

But the day I took on the ‘mother of all grudges’ against Mother Nature unfolded on one of those swampy, thick as molasses afternoons Virginia forgets to advertise in the brochures that highlight the hay bale dotted farms, the winding mountain roads and more Civil War re-enactors than were probably involved within the original cast.

The hound always takes the lead on our daily hike as if he’s the canine equivalent of Ernest Shackleton and we’re racing to plant the flag at the bottom of the mountain. I’m guessing he picked up this idea from the many times he’s seen me bring letters down to the mailbox and raise the little red standard to shout out to ol’ Earl that he needs to stop and pick up some post.

010815shakleton (2)

I can see how it could be confusing.

But this time we hadn’t made it quite halfway down the hill when I see the dog running back up with a giant smile on his face, as happy as if he’d just discovered that his vet wrote a prescription for one jar of peanut butter per day for optimal health.

Yeah, that would be a total daymaker for him.

I followed him down the hill to see what all the fuss was about, and turning the corner we come upon—not the vet with his prescription pad in hand—but rather the largest bear I’ve come to see up on this little mountain of mine.


WHOA! Big Bear! my super sharp instincts reported. Now you need to …

Yep. My super sharp instincts went blank.

This is soooo not a good feeling when you know at that very moment you really should be on your game.

I scrambled through the cluttered files in my head. What to do, what to do, where the hell did we put that bit of info!

I wondered, do I run? Play dead? Run? Climb? Run? Charge? Ha! Charge. What an idiot for thinking ‘charge.’

RUN was definitely flashing up on the screen more than anything else, but I remembered something from my several years ago ‘what happens when you spot a cougar?’ training I had to do after I’d spotted a cougar on the mountain.

Okay, we’ll go with the rusty cobwebbed cougar manual.

  1. Make yourself BIG.

I did. I raised my arms above my head. The bear—maybe 50 feet in front of me was not impressed. He started walking toward me.

  1. Make noise like you’re in charge.

Seriously? Like I’m in charge of the bear? I did. I roared and waved my hands around above my head.

It did not have the desired effect.


HE charged.

That whole RUN! piece of advice leapt in front of everything else again, but so did the tiny piece of info that I recall reading from my brother’s boy scout handbook that said, You can’t outrun a bear.

But another thought kept screaming, CAN’T WE EVEN TRY??!


I scrambled for a big stick on the ground.

He stopped and then made a wide circle around me. It was a bluff. Or maybe my stick was super impressive as far as weaponry is concerned.

I started walking away sideways, watching this big hunk of fur and claws and teeth keep pace with me.


My next thoughts were: Shoot, I did not finish my new last will and testament. And Damn, there are dishes in the sink and I forgot to make my bed this morning. Whoever comes to search for me will rethink my cleanliness benchmark. And lastly, I wonder if he will kill me and THEN eat me, or if he’ll start the eating part first. But hey, on the bright side, I will now finally see a turkey vulture up close.

It’s amazing and alarming to discover what your “last thoughts” truly are. I’m hoping I can rectify mine for my next near death encounter—should there be one.

Thankfully, the big bully lost interest and wombled the other way. It may be due to the fact that I reeked of DEET, and that is a marinade he found unpalatable.

Or it could be the fact that he bumped into a tree and inadvertently knocked over a bird’s nest and discovered it was full of bluebird eggs.




Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.


98 thoughts on “Hairy, Huge & Unhappy: the Nature of the Beast

  1. So of course you’re okay because you wrote this down, but I held my breath anyway, in case you were dashing this off from the ER while they reattached a limb. (Moms are tough as nails, and writers never miss deadlines). Good grief, Shelley, what a scary encounter. And why did your hound trot back with such glee? Was he momentarily too stunned to make a full break for it? I’m so, so, so glad you’re okay and could make it to your incredibly successful book launch today. I’ve just read your comments and I’m excited as all get out to hear your well deserved news. xox

  2. Oh No!! But isn’t ‘wombled’ a wonderful verb! I use it to describe Siddy’s walk all the time – though obviously his is a MUCH smaller womble than the one you observed. So glad this wasn’t the apocalyptic event it might have been – and where was the hound this whole time? Back at the house? And yes, the final thoughts are, it appears, not what we might wish they would be 🙂

    • I love how much you appreciate the underappreciated word, Pauline. I had to fight all my American dictionaries in an attempt to convince them that this word was legit and I was gonna keep it. As an aside, I can totally see Siddy as a wombler. *squish*
      And as far as Haggis goes, that guy actually saw my extra pointy finger point back up toward the house and must have tasted fear in the air as he made for the hills. Or, the top of the hill as the case may be.

  3. Holy crap! I have been scared by a pack of dingoes but a black bear, wow, that is a whole different size of predator! So glad you did not get that close up view of the turkey vulture! Exciting tale, well told, Shelley!

    • One big black bear or a pack of dingoes … I’m going to say that it’s basically just death by teeth, right, Ardys? Still alive, still kickin’ it. And definitely still making that daily walk!

  4. Oh my, I have the same questions everyone else does. The dog, the bear, the singular lack of baseball bat in your hand. Yipes. Glad you’re okay, but even those little black bears are BIG. Be careful with your garbage from now on. Whew.

    • Garbage is always inside. That bin never sees the light of day. Rule number one in Virginia, right, Lisa?
      And yes, I’m now making my walk an auditory one in order to give those creatures time to pick up their picnic and head out before I round the bend, and I’m walking with a long and sharp bamboo stick. Warrior woman, hear me roar!
      (well, actually now I’m just whistling a lot. it’s a good heads-up that I’m coming.)

  5. Oh my gosh! He was probably a girl bear who wanted a signed copy of Dear Opl. Poor thing. Next time be sure to carry signed copies of your book! Congrats on the release! I’ll get my review posted soon!

  6. Shelley, it would have been a colossal tragedy if the bear ate you just as you were becoming a world-famous author! Clearly he had good taste in books and left you alone so we could keep your precious words with us. 🙂

    I have now noted I need to visit Virginia and see how many Civil War re-enactors I accidentally run over. (And visit you, of course.)

    I have met a few bears, but at a safe distance. My family was driving into a campground once when we saw a small bear running the other way along the road. Following that poor thing was a herd of crazed campers desperately trying to capture it on film. All I could think was, “Sure, it’s all fun and games until Mama Bear shows up…” This is surely why we have the Darwin Awards. Glad to see you remained unscathed!

    • World-famous author. *snort*
      And ugh–campers. I’ve seen enough YouTube vids where things did not end well for the camera crew. I’ve always felt that a little bit of knowledge was probably the best form of defense I could offer myself when it comes to choosing the most effective protection. Running after the baby bear? I’m just hearing one, heart-racing snare drum roll growing louder.
      Love the Darwin books.
      And I promise to have the tea kettle ready and waiting.

  7. I lived for years about an hour from Yosemite. I used to regularly hear about tourists there who would get all excited about seeing a bear cub. I never heard any horror stories such as yours, but I do know if you see a cub look around quickly for its mother! I’m glad you’re safe and sound. – Marty

    • What I keep (or rather kept) forgetting to do was look up. I have to remind myself how much the cubs like to play in the trees. Apparently, I’ve got heavy eyeballs as they usually seem to be scanning the ground and not so much the sky.
      Cheers, Marty!

  8. Shelley, I am a sucker for dark comedy, so please don’t be offended if I laughed at your situation. Naturally, after-the-fact is always funny. I had a bob cat on the deck about three weeks ago and I was shocked but my only thought was to run for the camera. Of course, I was inside. My heart goes out to you. I’m so glad the bear thought better. Thank goodness there wasn’t a cub next to her or your story might have ended differently! So, taking a billy-club with you on your next walk?

    • Yep, billy-club in the form of a long and pointy bamboo stick. A friend of mine was saying she thought it would snap like a toothpick if I was ever desperate enough to use it like a sword, but those guys are super strong, wonderfully durable, and incredibly light. Plus it makes a lovely loud thwack when I smack it against the occasional tree to announce my arrival.

  9. Wow Shelley! what a shocking experience! I am glad you are ok, you told this story wonderfully thank you!!! Now I have to plan my last thoughts so I don´t have the problem of planning them and fleeing ( if this is possible) at the same time! Thanks!

  10. Bloody Hell! That’s one scary encounter with Mother Nature. I’m so glad to be reading about your ‘adventure’ knowing you are in one piece.
    People often talk about the scary animals we have in Australia but most of them don’t eat you. It was certainly a different experience for me hiking around The Rockies being on the look out for Pumas, wolves and bears. Stay safe.

    • Oh, Yikes–that’s a lethal combo right there.
      And having visited your beautiful country for a spell, although I didn’t run across anything larger than a cassowary, I do believe I’ve come face to face with a few of your impressive insects who would be more than happy to end your life one painful bite at a time. Brave folk you are.

  11. I thought the brave Shackleton Hound might have come to your rescue with a few timely barks rather than sit there waiting to vote on the Come Dancing Tarantella you and the bear were doing. So, after the event I am guilty of smiling at your story (which is really your fault for the way you wrote it) but I’m oh so glad it ended without physical damage to you or mental trauma for the bear from the severe tongue lashing it could have got.
    Congratulations on the new book.
    xxx Massive Hugs Shelley xxx

    • Yeah, so much for coming to my aid and laying down his life for the one who nearly fulfils his dream day doctor prescription of a pound of peanut butter a day. Such devotion, eh? Ah well, can’t fight instincts.
      Regardless, David, I’m so glad you did smile at the story. Tis my goal. Which now lives companionably alongside my other goal of surviving each day when trying to retrieve the post.
      Big hugs from not quite the “polar” opposite side of the earth.

  12. Your telling of this story had me laughing and gasping in fear simultaneously. You have made our snakes, crocs and deadly spiders pale into insignificance. (Well, maybe not the crocodiles.) I think I will look at your lovely mountain view with a little less envy from here on. (I have also just reminded myself that nature has one helluva sense of humour. You and she must be related.) The Blackbeard cartoon is killer.

    • I once heard someone tell a story about a trip he’d taken to the beach when visiting Australia. Apparently, he’d come upon a local and asked if it was safe to swim in the water because of the sharks. And the local responded with, “Sharks? Ah, you don’t have to worry about any sharks here. The crocodiles have eaten all the sharks.”
      When I last visited your beautiful country (which by the way was the catalyst for writing this kids’ book) I kept looking at all the lovely water opportunities – the rivers, the lakes, the ocean, and feeling so sad at the thought that I’d have to choose either cooling off, or keeping my legs. I’m thinking the friends we were with were having a bit of a go with me. 😛

  13. You had me until your last thoughts were of the unwashed dishes. Really? If so, you do need a rethink on priorities. I liked the image of you flailing your arms and wielding a big stick. I defy that bear to dare! 🙂

  14. Sacre Bleu Shelley! That is one not to repeat, although I’m glad you did for the benefit of your spellbound audience 😦 🙂 Scariest thing I’ve encountered here – apart from the very creepy newt population in the pond – was a large, angry dog charge out of the cornfield (disturbed his rabbit lunch I think) I was amazed at how calm I was, I turned round and walked very slowly away pretending I hadn’t noticed him. Can’t imagine that working with a bear though! So glad you’re OK and made it home to do the dishes 😀 Hope the book launch went well?

    • Didn’t you–maybe a couple of years ago–reveal an impressive picture of the local neighboring bull, Jane?
      I did find out–after the fact that I should NOT do many of the things I did. Looking him in the eye – nope, threatening. Acting aggressively – uh oh – threatening. Growling like a crazy woman – ugh – everything wrong.
      But I know better now. For next time. *gulp*
      And yes! It was a blockbuster, fabulous day with a wondrous turnout. Truly one of the best days of my life. A million thanks for asking! 😀

      • I wish I could lay claim to staring down the local bull but it was actually just a cow attached to a tractor – a very big cow mind you 🙂 So pleased to hear your launch went so well – as if it could possibly have been otherwise – you deserve a huge success Shelley 🙂

  15. All I could think about was my mother always telling me to make sure I had on clean underwear in case something awful happened. Glad to hear you are O.K. BTW, I am ready to call the local animal trapper to take away the rabbits who have decimated several nice plants right down to the ground.

    • Good grief, the bunnies. I have never seen as many as I have this year. I’ve given up on the rabbit war. They win. There’s a white flag planted on a small mound in the vegetable patch where all the vegetables used to live.
      Chances are they’ll eat that too.

  16. Holy hell, Shelley! I am concerned about bears when I go hiking, but you have to worry about them when you leave your front door. My anxiety level would be off the charts.

    I bought bear spray for my summit of Mt. San Jacinto two years ago. Luckily did not encounter a bear then (or ever). Stay safe, woman!!

    • It’s funny you bring this up, Nancy, as my mom’s first response was, “Please don’t leave the house anymore,” and a friend of mine immediately bought me a canister of bear spray. There are a couple of glitches with both solutions. Shortly, I would run out of food, and the spray really requires a couple of things working in your favor: appropriate footage between you and Ol Smokey, and WIND DIRECTION. Nothing like disabling oneself in the name of self-protection, right?
      Noise seems to be my best friend at the moment. Give them a heads up that I’m coming.
      So much for that zen walk toward mental clarity.

      • I can’t even imagine yelling at a bear. Seems so counterintuitive to draw attention to yourself. I know that’s the recommended approach. I just hope I never have to test it out.

        • Okay, for future use SHOULD YOU HOPEFULLY NEVER NEED IT, all the bear intel I’ve gathered during the last two months is that you don’t want to make eye contact, and you want to speak in a gentle, mid to low level soothing volume and voice and keep your eyes somewhere around their chin level – facing forward and backing up slowly.
          I’ll let you know if it works.
          Or not.

  17. If this is an indication of your writing style, I’m hooked. I know it wasn’t funny, but your wrote it funny. I’m jealous. 🙂 Wanted to thank you for following and know I’ll be stalking you as well. We had bear in the Arizona mountains where I lived for 12 years with my little dog. She was no help either but seemed quite ambivalent to the bear. Thank goodness we didn’t come across the mama bear. They are indeed scary enough to disengage the brain.

    • Aw shucks, Marlene, what a compliment. Thanks. And I so look forward to reading your words too!
      (and I’d have to add that my brain needs precious little help with the whole ‘disengaging’ exercise.) o_O

  18. OMG! OMG! OMG!

    Like Nancy said, this is the kind of thing I worry about when hiking. I DO NOT WANT TO ENCOUNTER A BEAR. EVER.
    … but only you could turn it into a funny exchange. Can I suggest you carry bear bells? … just to give him advance notice you’re coming?

  19. Oh my gosh, how scary! (And the way you managed to make it into a simultaneously hilarious and terrifying situation while writing about it is just fantastic. “You can’t outrun a bear. But another thought kept screaming, CAN’T WE EVEN TRY??!” had me gasping.)

    The only other bear advice I’ve heard is to drop whatever food you’re carrying, but in this case it sounds like you didn’t have any. So glad it had a happy ending!

    • Apparently, we’re pretty much out of luck when it comes to us against them skills. From what I’ve come to discover, if they’re angry, hungry or feeling a bit puckish, you’re toast.
      But I’m glad I lived to tell the tale too, Linda. Cheers!

  20. Good grief! What an encounter – it puts my worries about encountering wild boar in the forest in perspective! Keeping the humour and tension going is quite a talent, and yes, I also loved Rob’s Blackbeard cartoon! Brilliant all round 🙂

    • Wild boar? Are they still roaming about your neck of the woods? Oh, yikes, that’s super scary.
      And yes, a teaspoon of humor helps the perspective come out in a lovely soft-focus pastel lens.
      I prefer to remember things that way. 😛

      • Not sure about super scary compared to massive bears, but yes there are wild boar around here. They were farmed near here and some escaped many generations ago and set up house in the woods. There are deer running around wild too.

  21. Repeat after me. Put the ice cream cone (or whatever food item might be in your hand) down, say “Hello Mr. Bear” and slowly walk away. What did your pup do??? No matter. You both lived to tell the tale, you and Mr. Shackleton. P.S. From now on, you are also to carry bear bells and pepper spray when you get your mail. Okey dokey? Yikes.

    • Yep–got the bear bells, the pepper spray and I’m rolling down the hill in a large metal shark cage just to be on the safe side.
      And old Shaggy Shackleton? I do believe he recognized that it was the same bear that took a large chunk out of one of his hind legs a couple of months ago and made for the top of the mountain.
      Smart dog.
      Total deserter.

  22. Yikes!! You could have pretended to play dead you know 😉 Apparently works in comic books – if you are lucky you can even get a “bear” hug! That said, you need to sort out your priorities 😛

    • Ah yes, the playing dead routine. I did a little bit of research on that. Occasionally that has produced some positive results for people and at other times it has made it easier for the bear to save some energy from the whole ‘must chase the slow, clueless human’ routine.
      It’s a tough call. The jury is still out. But I’ll keep on top of the ongoing studies, Prajakta!

  23. O

    Shelley, you are now not only my blogging hero, but a legend wildlife defeater! I held my breath the whole time I was reading this (okay, right after I picked my mouth up off the floor as soon as you met the BEAR). Dear God. What an experience and you make this into funny blog fodder?

    Hero. Defeater. Bear Warrior!

    Thankful for your happy ending.
    Have you stopped shaking yet?

    • Yep, the shaking has stopped, the all-consuming fear has dissipated, and the general mindset of GET ON WITH LIFE, GIRL! has resurfaced.
      I oftentimes remind myself about the dangers of becoming too complacent living here and need the occasionally (hopefully not life and limb threatening) notification that it is not just ME up here, but US. And they were here long before I was so I need to “bear” that in mind.
      I’m glad you got a good giggle out of it though, Torrie. In the end (but thankfully not my ultimate end), humor is the lens through which I interpret this beautiful life. I’m so grateful for that.
      Cheers to you!

  24. Whew! There seem to be several bear encounters happening throughout the United States. Recently read of one in Yellowstone NP and one in northern California. So…the last thing you want to see is the close-up of a turkey vulture? You really do desire living on the edge. Perhaps this is what the bear sensed about you.

  25. the vagareez ‘n sutch uv da naycher thing… no bear encounters for years now. memorable was over 20 years ago i turned a corner of Land’s End Road and there was a couple copulating in the middull of the road. “WHAT THE HECK ARE THEY DOING?!” unanimously shouted the other 5 occupants of the car — 10-year-old boys i was driving home from my son’s birthday-with-friends-campout.

  26. Oh Shelley,

    Not funny! Not funny at all. So glad you encountered a passive bear who was more interested in wobbling the other way as opposed to wobbling your way. My biggest fear is encountering ‘something’ untoward when out walking, like poisonous snakes or funnel web spiders or any number of other deadly creatures that are found in Australia. But at least, and thankfully, I don’t have to worry about encountering a bear. Love Rob’s cartoon of Yogi chasing you.


    • I wish it had been Yogi chasing me – what a hoot that would have been! It’s amazing how fast those fellas can move too. I was astonished at how sluggish my “response speed” was as well, for I’m pretty sure I just looked at him dumbfounded as he rushed me head on.
      I’ve got to make the hound practice with me. We’ll set up some weekly drills.
      I just have to remind him that he has to catch me unawares.

  27. You’re not alone. I don’t think my brain would be particularly on the ball with suggestions if I came across a black bear. Fortunately the worst of my nature foes to date has been a zebra.

    • I’m trying not to be churlish and keep score because I think we’ve all seen how she can just come to the end of her tether and wipe us all away like some benighted blight. So, head down, soldier on. 😉

  28. Isn’t it funny how one story inspires so many others? We lived in bear country in the Arizona mountains. Mom, next door walks out to let her tiny puppy out and sees a bear. She waves it off with a “shoo bear, shoo” We called for a fence that afternoon for some tiny measure of protection and gave mom the heads up about bears. She had not been there long nor had the puppy. Animals can be pretty wise when it comes to wildlife. I found that out when we had baby skunk in the yard on another nightly constitutional. The dog backed up faster than I did. :))) You did get quite lucky with that encounter but I’m sure the bear just wanted to be famous and not fed that day.

    • Oh, yes, Marlene, luck was totally on my side that day, and I’m counting my favors–hoping they don’t run out too soon.

      I have this marvelous image in my head of your mom shooing away a bear, and seeing the bear scratch the side of his head with confusion. Did you ever see Out of Africa? There’s a scene where Meryl Streep is trying to shoo away water buffalo – or some similar animal. Makes me cackle every time.

      Here’s to keeping the bears at bay. Cheers!

      • I didn’t see that movie but my mother could have done the job quite well. She was quite the character and a force to be reckoned with . Even the bear knew it. 🙂 Glad you were around to tell the story.

  29. Shelley, you never fail to make me laugh. Statistically, we are allowed just one near death experience. The next time is for keeps, which is sad because no one writes much after they’ve died, and I’d really need you to report back with specifics.

    • I suppose if there is a next time with a similar scenario, I really do deserve a page in the next Darwin Awards book. So I won’t fight it much.

      Love your last line. Talk about making people laugh. 😛

  30. OK, so now I know who the hell is ‘Sir Ernest Shackleton’ (Thank you Google)

    Oh MY Gawd!

    Shelley, if there is a ‘more perfect’ post, I have yet to read it. Everything works, yogi bear, yoga bear, Black Beard…. are you kidding? (Still laughing out loud…)

    I have tarried for so long and have been remiss and did not write… on my blog and certainly I have not spent enuff time here!
    I remember your Rocket Scientist / Science Project Post…. (See? That is how far too long it has been).
    OK, I will stop ‘sycophanting’ and just say
    You, My Friend, are a Marvelous Writer!
    And please pass along my compliments to the ‘Doodling Dad’

    • Sir Shackleton is–er, was–an amazing human, wasn’t he? And he drank some damn good whisky too, Lance.

      And what an incredible comment to receive from someone who’s words I’ve not come across in donkey’s years. It’s lovely to have you back!

      Thanks a million for all your lovely praise. Cheers!

    • Oooh, the midges will eat a person down to the bone and suck their marrow dry for dessert.
      Yeah, I’d say they’re on par with a black bear. It’s such a slow, miserable death versus one giant clubbing swipe across the head.
      Yep. Good to be here. Safe and sound. (Well, safe anyway, Anne! o_O )

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