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Here in the region where the two Virginias meet, everyone has a chance for close range encounters with wildlife. Seeing a deer or two isn’t unusual when I go for walk. When I was taking classes at Concord University I could see whole herds of them at night. Seeing wild turkeys wasn’t unusual, either. One time I was getting ready to leave for Thanksgiving with my family when a whole flock of them strutted past my window.

One local animal I haven’t witnessed up close and personal in a wild setting is a bear. Here my mom beats me. Several years ago she was standing on her front porch when she noticed what she first thought was a big dog standing in the bushes. This identification changed when the animal moved its head and she saw that distinctive bear profile.

Mom said the sight didn’t scare her; in fact, it was pretty fascinating.

This particular bear was about the size of a German Shepherd, so the hunters among my uncles told her it was probably a maturing cub that had recently been chased off by its mother. When cubs are big enough to feed themselves, their moms tell them to hit the road. The one Mom saw was probably scouting out a territory of its own.

That situation wouldn’t have been bad, but a larger bear was later seen wandering the neighborhood. Eventually, wildlife officials trapped both bears and released them in a new area.

We periodically have a series of bear stories at the Bluefield Daily Telegraph.

There was one instance when bears were seen crossing downtown Bluefield and raiding the dumpsters along Cumberland Road. The mast, that’s the term for acorns, berries and other wild food, had fallen short that year, so hungry bears were having to work harder.

Bears are brazen when they’re hungry, and they’ll shed the fear of humans when they’re very hungry.

I still remember a case several years ago when a black bear found an open basement door. Smelling food, he boldly entered where no bear had entered before and raided the refrigerator.

I think he found assorted goodies including a chocolate cake and fishing worms.

Several years ago, there was a more serious bear clash in Pocahontas, Va. A man came home, turned a sharp corner and found a bear standing on his porch.

And I mean standing on its hind legs. He said that it screamed only a few inches from his face and hurled him to the ground before running away. I know wildlife officials said that it was after some cat food on the porch and it had been surprised, but he said the meeting felt more like an ambush. I’m sure if a bear had roared in my face, I would have interpreted that close encounter the same way. A few days earlier, some dogs and a bear clashed at a nearby home. Bears usually avoid dogs, but not that time.

Sometimes we feed bear without meaning to do so. We’re advised to keep our trash sealed up in trash cans. I know on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the trash cans at overlooks are designed to withstand bear assaults. Homes often have chainlink cages to keep bears and other animals out of the trash.

Unfortunately, there have been cases when people who decided that bears are cute deliberately feed them. To say that’s a bad idea is putting it very mildly. I still remember one story about an elderly woman who fed cookies to a bear. Well, she ran out of cookies and the bear gave her a bone-breaking slap. Why did the bear do that to the nice lady? What do you do when the potato chips in the vending machine get stuck? Yes, you shake it.

That bear was trying to knock some more cookies loose. I don’t want to be treated like a vending machine, so I don’t feed the bears. I also always take my trash directly to the dumpster rather than leave it out where raccoons, crows and bears can tear it open and make a mess.

We can’t always avoid the bears and other animals sharing the landscape with us, but with a few precautions, we can reduce the chances for dangerous encounters and continue being good neighbors with the nature that’s all around us.

Greg Jordan is senior reporter at the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at

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