It was a glorious spring day in the Catskills and we were walking at a leisurely pace on an old quarry road that runs along a wide ledge not too far up the side of Overlook Mountain. My clients — a young family with two small children, ages three and five — were fittingly bedazzled by the budding life around them and, but for bird-song, the relative quietude compared to their regular, bustling life. Except for the occasional “what’s that, Mommy?” we almost soundlessly trod the thick moss growing in the deep ruts of the old quarry-carts. The old road arced in its long corridor through Hemlock and Scrub-oak. It was indeed a beautiful late-April day as I led our small party on a basic nature walk. Mother Nature was being completely cooperative and obliging by providing all of the season-appropriate fauna and flora — chipmunks scurrying, mourning cloak butterflies dancing about, chickadees, sparrows, wrens, a few ruffed grouse among the mountain laurel and a pair of red-tail hawks circling high overhead. I was happy that there was so much to engage everyone, and I could hold forth with my (very) basic knowledge as a naturalist, pointing out how everything we were seeing was connected, like the pileated woodpecker observed drilling after grubs in a dead white pine tree, creating cavities that could be used by future generations of birds and squirrels for nesting.
We were about one mile into our stroll and just when I was thinking we had traveled far enough for little legs, what looked like a small, furry roundish black dog ambled playfully out of the nearby scrub and came within a few yards of us, looking at us curiously, blunt black nose to the air, smelling our scents.
All of my inner alarm bells went off and the older child says, “Dave, what kind of dog is that?”
Trying not to show my panic, knowing full well what else must be close by, I pointed out that it was not a dog but a very young black bear cub. The parents look at me nervously and (emanating as much confidence as I could muster) I shrugged it off. I told them it was not an uncommon occurrence, and pointed out that we had come as far as I had planned and that maybe we should go back to the car now.
Of course, as soon as we turned away from the cute little fur-ball, it tried to follow us. Fortunately for all involved it responded to shooing and scampered off. “My God, that was cute!” said the father and a young one asked, “why couldn’t we play with it?”
I pointed out that it is a wild animal and we shouldn’t interfere with them (not mentioning Momma Bear was probably nearby). We continued back to the car, happily distracted by more butterflies and a garter snake sunning on a warm rock, completing what was truly a magnificent introduction to our spring woods for my new friends. Everyone was happy and had so much to talk about.
What I never did mention, was that earlier there was a loud, deep “snort” from not far off in the brush as a (big) protective mother reined in her little one. Had they known, this would have explained why I glanced furtively (and subtly) over my shoulder, all the way back to the car.
Enjoy what promises to be another awesome Catskills Spring. Get outdoors, have fun, learn a lot and please be safe.