Monday, May 28, 2018

Whose Ground Do I Stand On?

Sacchi Green

This topic made me consider standing one’s ground in some alternate contexts, since I don’t have many occasions to stand my ground in a personal way these days. Not old enough to be feeble or young enough to attract most kinds of harassment, even my occasional outbursts of outrage in adolescence are pretty fuzzy now in my memory. Just as well. As a small business owner for many years (two college-town stores) and a writer and occasional anthology editor, I’ve learned that the old catching-more flies-with-honey thing does work, and taking a diplomatic approach has usually served me well. So I’ve been searching my mind for some good example of actual ground-standing, and coming up with nothing, except...just yesterday…well, there was the matter of the bear.

I know that one isn’t supposed to set out bird feeders around here in the months between when bears come out of hibernation and when they go back into that semi-sleep. But I love to watch the birds up close, so in spring through autumn I take the bird feeders inside at dusk and back outside in the morning, which works most of the time. But a every year the time comes when a bear will stroll through in daylight with the intent to tear down the pole with the sunflower seed container on top, as well as the suet holder dangling from another pole next to a tree where the woodpeckers gather. This year, yesterday, in the late afternoon, was that time.

It was medium-sized bear, possibly one that had come by last year when it wasn’t quite as big and could resort to climbing trees. I saw it this time it when it had just reached the seed feeder and was tensing to rise up and topple it. I banged on the window and yelled, and the bear, startled, moved back a few steps. I charged out onto the porch and yelled more, and the bear loped away out of sight into the close row of dense shrubbery and trees bordering a stone wall. I marched out into the yard while a family member backed me up from the porch, retrieved my feeders, and that was that. It will happen again, and if no one sees him, the poles will be pulled down. If I see him, I’ll shout and scare him off, and if it appears to be needed a family member will chuck small stones at him, not enough for injury but enough for a warning. (Note that I say “he.” If it were a female with cubs, I wouldn’t challenge her, or any large bear that couldn’t be driven off by my yelling. I wouldn’t stand my ground.)

Now that I reflect on the episode, though, whose ground was it? Was it the bear that didn’t stand its own ground? Bears have a sense of territory, I think, but only in terms of where they can hunt for food. And extending that line of thought, were early settlers standing their ground with guns against indigenous natives also trying to stand their ground? Whose ground it was certainly varied according to separate perspectives, especially when the indigenous side had a far different view of whether land could actually be owned. I’ve thought of this a good deal with regard to land I theoretically own, my home, and my father’s home where I grew up but must now sell since he’s in a nursing home at 98, and my beloved riverside retreat in the mountains of NH which I’ll need to sell fairly soon. I’ve come to feel that the land endures (we hope) but all we own is its use for a certain span of time, and the memories we have of that time.

We of course want to protect that land and our families and other possessions during that time. We want to stand our ground against threats. But that attitude seems sometimes to expand to a dangerous extent. You know where I’m going, right? Here’s part of a Wikipedia explanation of “stand your ground” laws: “A stand-your-ground law (sometimes called "line in the sand" or "no duty to retreat" law) is a justification in a criminal case, whereby defendants can ‘stand their ground’ and use force without retreating, in order to protect and defend themselves or others against threats or perceived threats.” In some states this covers being in any place one has a right to be, not just on one’s own ground. The obvious rub here is the “perceived threats” part. Our society right now is in a dangerous state of perceiving anyone not just like ourselves to be a threat. You know the cases we’ve seen in the news.

Often, of course, the threats are real. Looking back through colonial history across the world, the threats have been real, not just perceived, on all sides. Ground can seem to be gained, or lost, in all sorts of ways, and standing one’s ground has always felt imperative, and honorable, to both sides. It is, in fact, imperative and honorable, but not always a clear-cut cause for deadly force.

All of which has nothing to do with our individual and personal cases of standing our ground, so I’ve clearly been punting here, although I’ve found the thought-exercise interesting just the same.

But I’ll still chase off any bears (with the previous exceptions of mothers/cubs and really big, unchasable ones) even though the whole situation is my fault for setting out bird feeders in the summer. Mea culpa.  



  1. A bear! The burning question in my mind is how do you know if the beast that wants to take down your bird feeder is male or female, let alone whether she is a new mother of cubs?? Your solution of scaring the bear away until you can move the bird feeder seems sensible. Re whether you or the bear have better rights to the spot where you've put up the bird feeder, that could probably be settled by law. If it's legally your land, you probably have the right to drive off all wildlife. If the bears live on federally-protected land (part of the national forest system), they probably have the right to be undisturbed. (Fun fact: did you know that the state of Idaho, where I grew up, only has 5 fairly large towns, all around the Snake River, and 2/3 of the land is federally-owned? Or at least it was in my youth.)

  2. So often your posts make me nostalgic for the wilder countryside of New England.

    I don't know why you feel you have to apologize, since this post provides at a new and valuable perspective on the topic.

    We never had bears, but our attempt at putting up a bird feeder ran afoul of the raccoons. We hung the feeder from a tree branch; the raccoons immediately figured out how to climb the tree and steal the birdseed. For our next attempt, we strung a rope between two trees, about twenty feet apart, with the rope about six feet above the ground, and hung the feeder from the rope, in the middle. We thought we were so clever.

    One evening not long after we installed our innovation, we heard a noise. We looked out the front window, toward the supporting trees. A raccoon was hanging from the rope by its back feet, upside down, gorging on the seed it was scooping out with its front paws. Amazingly athletic!

    We banged on the window and shone a flashlight in its eyes.

    It looked up briefly, then went back to its midnight snack.

    Never underestimate nature.

  3. We have a hummingbird feeder in the backyard, and during the winter, on the hanging plant pole in the front yard, I hang a square of suet with seeds in it. So far the raccoons and squirrels haven't figured out how to get up to the top of it...too slippery, I hope.

    We've seen bears when we were camping. They usually shy away, but that's up north. In the Smokies, they are more of a problem. And if you are ever in northern Minnesota, there is a black bear place, The Vince Shute Bear Sanctuary, in Orr, MN. He was a logger many years ago, and was told to just shoot any bears he saw. He started to think that was wrong...what harm was the bear doing? It was just doing its bear thing. So he bought up a bunch of logged land, and let the forest return. Now scientists from all around the world come to live for a time in one of the trailers on the land, and study the bears in their habitat. There are no fences, so the bears view his sanctuary as a sort of "vacation place," since they don't have to forage for food there. They visit for a while, then go back to foraging on the acreage around it. The scientists and docents put out fruit and nuts and stuff, on logs around the viewing area. The visitors are up in a "blind" which is not camouflaged at all, but which gives you an excellent view of the grounds, where the bears hang out, doing bear things, like wrestling with each other, eating, resting, etc.

    It's a pretty sophisticated operation now, and you are shuttled from the distant parking lot to a covered walkway, totally protected at all times. But when we went there many years ago, when the kids were young, it was very primitive. There were no bathrooms in the blind then, and the parking lot was a short walk away from it. Of course after a little more than an hour, at least one of our small boys needed to pee. But we were told that a mama bear and a couple of cubs had plopped themselves down very near to the parking lot, so they didn't want to chance upsetting her by walking any visitors near her. Our boys got antsier and antsier, because when you're told you can't pee, it becomes all you think about. Finally they said that since the mama bear seemed content, that they would take groups of six out to the parking lot. We had 4 kids, so we jumped at the chance to go first. Crazy? Probably. But the boys were getting totally anxious. So we followed the docent, walking slowly and quietly, and we passed within a few feet of the huge mama bear and her two cubs, who were playing nearby as she watched. When we got back to the car, husband and I could finally breathe again. I teased him, asking why he didn't try to get a picture of the mama and the cubs. He said, "Click and flash, duh!"

  4. Wow, Sacchi. The episode with the bear is wild!


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