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Roger Barbee: Birds, bears, bees and other wonders of summer

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By Roger Barbee

Several weeks ago we awoke to find that a bear had visited during the night. No, the two beagles and hound had not alerted us during the night, but the crushed bird feeder, overturned can of bird seed, and trampled compost bin were enough evidence.

We repaired the compost bin, bird feeder, and removed the can of seed to my workshop. Mary Ann also removed all feeders at dusk, putting them back out each morning. This system worked well for weeks, and we saw no evidence of the bear returning. It took me a few days, but I convinced Mary Ann that the bear was probably just passing through and it was safe to leave everything out. Wrong again.

Last night the repaired bird feeder was torn from the bent shepherd's hook, the can of seed was overturned, and this time the bear had ripped apart a hummingbird feeder in one of the raised flower beds and had managed to trample a lavender plant. Again, not a sound from the dogs.

Before we could let the well-rested dogs out for their morning run, we took pictures of the damage, removed the broken feeders, and put the can of seed back into my shop for safe keeping. When we let the dogs out, they were rather late, but still excited about the smell around the corn crib and gardens.

Having lived at Red Hill for 13 years, we have heard bear stories from neighbors and friends. Twice I have seen bears in the distance near here, but this is our first encounter with a bear so close to home. However, we will not leave bird seed out during the night, and we will be more vigilant about any outside potential food source such as the compost bin. The two visits are, in some way, exciting but dangerous for the bear and us, so we need to stop this creature's habit by removing any food. It is not welcome here like some other creatures that visit or take up temporary residence for a season.

Over the years our gardens have been planted in order to offer visual beauty but also to attract animals such as butterflies, bees, song birds, toads, spiders, and any creature that finds our outside space of benefit. We have had black snakes, and last week as I was getting on my mower, I had to move one that was about 6 feet long. He is welcome since he will kill venomous snakes, and I have named him Ben after the black snake that Jesse Stuart wrote about in a fine short story.

For the past two summers we have had a toad, named Steve for whatever reason, who took up residence on the screened porch, but so far he has not been seen. Our fat cat, Miss Sookie, looks for him each morning when she goes onto the porch. We hope that he is just late in coming out and has not encountered Ben.

The songbird population thrives at Red Hill, and this season we have a gathering of grackles and they have claimed one feeder. They also make a mess of the fountain as they preen in its water, but their rich, dark purple sheen sparkling in the morning light makes up for their mess and piggish way. Two seasonal birds we hear but seldom see are the eastern meadowlark in the pasture across the road, and the reclusive-like rufous-sided towhee that calls from the woods as it scratches for food.

As a boy in rural North Carolina during the 1950s, I never encountered a bear while running summer barefoot with other kids. We would spot an occasional snake and spiders and birds and other wild things, but we learned to watch out for honeybees, a threat to our freed feet of summer. Yet, the honeybee of my youth seems to have vanished. Seldom while mowing our three acres do I see more than four or five, all of which reminds me of the wonders of nature and the possibilities of summer for children of all ages who remove their shoes and run through summer grass. Yes, the grass may hide a bee, or Ben, or some other natural citizen, but it also offers much to be explored and discovered.

The mother who said, "The child you let out in June is not the child you let in in September," knew of what she spoke.

Roger Barbee is a retired educator who lives in Edinburg with his wife Mary Ann, four dogs and five cats. Email him at redhill@shentel.net.



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