One evening a few weeks ago after the sun left for the day and night settled in, my wife and I were quietly reading in the living room by the fireplace when she remarked, "Did you hear that?"
Since my capacity for hearing anything above a drumbeat departed after years of abuse from lawn mowers, table saws and the occasional ZZ-Top concert, I said, "No," thinking she must be wrong.
"Listen. Hear that?" she said again.
This time I caught what sounded like a baby crying. Before I got out of the recliner I heard the bawling again. "You know, that kind of sounds like the squalling young bear cubs make," I said.
It was a sound I'd heard before. On a trip to Lake of the Woods several years ago, a friend and I stopped fishing to watch a mother bear and her two cubs swim across a small bay we were trolling for walleyes. Momma was making good progress across the 100-yard distance, and once in a while would stop, turn her head and wait for her pokey offspring. The little guys were putting out a good effort, but after a time, their mother forged ahead after seeming to lose patience with their slower pace and wailing protests.
After another howl came from outside my home, I started flipping on yard lights to reveal three young cubs chowing down on sunflower seeds on the lawn. They were below what was left of the bird feeder. In the process of getting at the kernels, they did a thorough job of bending the sturdy metal hook that held the seed canister. The little wired cage that held peanut butter suet was long gone.
"Well," I turned to my wife as she came into the kitchen, "guess I better put the feeders in the garage a little earlier in the evening."
These backyard invaders are no stranger to Duluth residents. Since moving here from Bemidji, which has fewer bruin invasions into town, we've witnessed quite a few black bear raiding parties. Our forests, intermingled with homes, provide ample opportunities for human and bear contact.
One bright spring morning our first year here, a neighbor down the street was heard shouting at a hefty black critter that meandered through his yard disturbing his rat terrier. Another time, after hearing splintering wood and crashing sounds outside in the middle of the night, our next-door neighbor discovered in daylight that he had another repair project to add to his list. This one called for a rebuild of his well-constructed fence after some hungry invaders did an excellent job of disassembling it to get at the bird feeder.
This momma bear and her hungry offspring outside our kitchen window did minimal damage to the wooden posts that hold our feeding station hooks in place. They could be straightened by a few solid whacks with a 16-pound sledge and put back in place.
The next time Sarah says, "Did you hear that?" I'll listen. Her hearing is just fine.