B is for Black Bears

B is for Black Bears and though I treasure the ones we have at our farm in Bland, Virginia, these are not the first bears that I have had experience with.

When I was a child, we often spent time in the Great Smoky Mountains, Cherokee, and Linville Falls.  Back in those days, these areas were full of black bears.  It was rare to take a trip there and not see some, as opposed to today when it is rare to see them at all. 

The Cherokee natives often trapped them and it wasn’t uncommon to see them in cages at gas stations.  A full tank would get you admission to see the bear.  A very wizened large Native with gnarled hands scarred from years of capturing these bears, once approached me with a pack of cheese crackers and a soda.  He told me to hold the cracker in the open palm of my hand and stick it into the cage to feed the bear. 

I thought he was crazy.  I looked at his mangled hands and imagined my own torn and ravaged.  He saw my eyes follow his hands and told me that I shouldn’t worry.  He said the bear would always take the food before it would take the hand that offerred it.  For some reason I believed him and offered the cracker as directed.  It took it gently, but quickly, from my palm.  Then he told me to take the soda and hold it up to the bear.  Again, I did as he said, and began to pour the sweet drink straight into the mouth of the bear who lapped it up. 

Of course, he also cautioned that I should never, ever try this in the wild as it took a lot to fill a bear, and I would likely run out of food before it ran out of hunger.  Meaning – I would then be the bear snack.

This is all long in the past.  Bears are no longer allowed to be kept in cages as attractions – thankfully.  I do not think they are allowed to be taken live either, but there are different laws that pertain to Reservations than for the rest of the country, so I cannot be certain about this. 

I do know that the native tribe of Cherokee have found a new draw for visitors and tourists.  Casinos and gambling houses line the streets now. 

But I learned a considerable amount from this experience.  I would never hunt the great black bear.  I also am very careful to keep all trash inside until we depart with it – another remembrance of the cubs getting into the trash cans at night around the camping sites – and I keep dog food in plastic containers in the storage room. 

They are curious creatures though and sometimes leave their paw prints on the deck or window sills where they pull themselves up to peek inside. 

My husband once asked me if I didn’t think a bear rug would look good in our living room.  I replied that I thought it would look better still on the bear.  And that was that.  He hasn’t tried to hunt our bear and I believe that is why they have blessed us with their appearances from time to time.



  1. You are a more trusting woman than I am, Renee. Let a bear eat cheese crackers off your hand? You must be joking. Whatever next? Piece of chocolate for a lion?

    I love bears; black, white, brown. Not least on account of my name. But, by god, I wouldn’t want to meet one in the flesh (or rather in its fur). Dear dog in heaven. And, contrary to our perception, they are bloody fast runners, they even climb trees. Yes, where to go when faced with a (hungry) bear. No idea. Evaporate? Fly? By chance watched a film yesterday featuring Ted Roosevelt who was inordinately fond of bears, and after whom, as you know, our childhood teddies were called.

    Little bear greetings,

    PS What will tomorrow’s C bring? Claws?

    1. Ursula, I need to get you out to the country. They call it ‘wildlife’ for a reason. I once met the bear in Maggie Valley that played ‘Gentle Ben’. I have a picture around here somewhere with my arms around this enormous creature and it followed me out of the viewing area and into the parking lot with its handler chasing it. For the record, they have a very strong aroma and my clothes had to be put in a bag and stored in the trunk until we got home. Now Grizzlies are a different story. I don’t want to be anywhere near those fellows.

      I’ll try to think of something ‘calmer’ for C.

  2. Interesting post, Renee! I’ve never seen a bear, other than at the zoo and the circus.
    Sounds like that was a very wise Indian that you met years ago; even though you were leery, it was an experience you’ll always remember.

    1. I guess I’ve been fortunate in that area of my life. We’ve watched the bears from the cabin. A mama used to come through often with four cubs. Last year a young male hung around the rhododendrons in the back of our VA property. We’ve seen several so often that I can tell the difference between their faces and started naming them.

  3. Yes, I don’t think I’m interested in letting a bear eat out of my hand. Unless it’s a roly poly little bear cub that I can carry around like a baby. Good for you having courage!

    1. Hi Devin. Thanks for visiting. I wouldn’t have done these things had it not been for the encouragement and direction of the man who seemed to know what he was doing.

  4. Hi,
    Casino’s and Gambling Houses is much better than having bears in cages, I was very happy to read that, besides they would definitely make a lot more money now, and the bears would definitely be thankful. 🙂

    I am so glad we don’t have bears, I have seen plenty in zoo’s and I don’t think I would like to be surprised by one in the yard, I just can’t imagine what that would be like.

    1. Hi Mags,
      Black bears aren’t like grizzly bears. They are more likely to be afraid of you. It is very important not to feed them or encourage them to come close to the house. But they are curious about us. I love watching them.

  5. Wow! You’re brave. I’m terrified of bears. A bunch of black bears live up in northern NJ where relatives of mine live, and they see them in their yard all the time. I’d be too scared to leave the house!

    1. Hi Shelley. I suppose you relatives are used to the bears by now. Once you get used to them, the fear subsides – respect doesn’t and that is the key.

  6. I love Cherokee.. I used to go there when I’d visit my grandparents. I loved living in Alaska too seeing all the wildlife was amazing.

  7. I have never seen a bear in the wild or in a cage (except at a zoo). I would rather the first .. but from a safe distance, of course!

    What a mesmerizing memory 🙂

  8. It’s amazing that you got to be so close to such a wonderful animal . . . but probably not so great for the bear. Great post!

    Aurora Celeste

    1. Hi Aurora. Yes, that’s the rub isn’t it? What’s good for the animals and what encourages people to care about them? Thank you for visiting and I’m glad you enjoyed this post.

  9. This is oddly disturbing to me. I hate the idea of a caged animal, but understand how poverty makes people do things that are repugnant to most people. My husband is full-blooded Navajo and he hates the Casinos with the same passion that I hate wild animals in cages. The Casinos may improve a Indian Nation’s economy, but they don’t do much uplifting for anyone’s soul.

    1. Hi Linda. Don’t be disturbed. This was thirty+ years ago. No bears in cages now. And the experience probably connected me to them in such a way as to feel protective of the ones that pass through our property. (It joins the Jefferson National Forest so is close to thousands of acres of protected forest.) I too am sensitive to the plight of the Native Americans. I wonder what the right answer is.

  10. Good response to your husband about the bear rug.

    Yosemite (almost my back yard) abounds with bears, so you get warnings about not leaving anything scented in your car (even toothpaste) or you’re liable to have a mangled car. There are “bear boxes” in the campgrounds to stow your ice chest, greasy BBQ grill, etc. And if you’re sitting around a campfire of a summer’s eve, munching on watermelon, you can pretty well count on an invasion. And don’t leave that steak on the BBQ untended . . . although they are not beyond snatching the meat off the BBQ fork. People behave in very dangerous fashion, chasing after them with cameras, especially bad if it’s a mom with a cub(s).

    Bears come through our yards, but I’ve never personally seen one, just paw prints in the snow, and friends and neighbors have caught them with photos. (And then shall we talk about mountain lions?)

    1. Mountain lions frighten me a little. I have never seen one of them in the wild – bobcats yes, mountain lions – no. The only thing that scares me about the bears is the possiblity of getting accidentally between a mother and her cub(s). And I’m definitely not wresttling one for the steak. LOL.

  11. I used to know a blogger from Wisconsin that post photos of Bears on her porch and her yard. In her region they have to hunt the Bears to keep them to a safe number.
    Other than population control or self defense, I can’t see any reason to kill these majestic beasts.
    These are wonderful memories and thoughts that you’ve shared with us. Perfect subject for B. Keep up the great work. 🙂

  12. Really nice post Renee. Even I thought the bear rug would look better on the bear. I have seen bear inside zoo only. My parents say, before I was born seeing bear was a common thing; as my hometown is near to a forest which is now a world famous for the tiger & elephant reserve project.
    So each time you write about these animals; it is very easy for me to get connected with your posts. 🙂

    1. Wow Arindam – tigers and elephants! How spectacular! I bet you look forward to going home and visiting with your parents and the surrounding forest. What kind of bears do you have there?

  13. I have a friend in NY that has a bear visit from time to time. Not something I would want to run into in the backyard! Thanks for sharing this interesting story.

  14. How awesome to see a bear wandering by! Here in Australia people tourists have been known to think kangaroos hop around & about the streets, but I’m way inner city and that just isn’t so. I think it would be just amazing see such huge life living so close by.

    Tell your husband thanks he isn’t going to make a bear rug!

    1. I saw a few kangaroos when I was in Australia. They were in a field outside of Brisbane. Interesting creatures – but I was warned not to get close to them either. I suppose we need to encourage all of the wildlife to stay a little wild.

  15. I remember the Smoky Mountains, and the Cherokees and those black bears.
    Bears peering in your windows? Bears are thought to be very powerful spirits. It sounds like a bond was formed between you and the bear when you were a child. It understood you – you understand it. The bear spirit remembers and is just checking on you. Powerful.

  16. I have never seen a bear in the wild. We don’t get them in Australia, but my sister, who lives in Alaska frequently comes in contact with grizzlies. She sent me footage of one that was in her veggie garden and I nearly had a heart attack when I saw how big it was. They are beautiful animals and even though they are intimidating, I wouldn’t mind seeing one for real!

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