Ursine break-ins an unwelcome threat to bush cabin dwellers
Living on the far side of three bridgeless rivers, we are less concerned about human intruders than ursine ones. In fact, we don’t even have locks on our cabin. This reflects one aspect of “bush protocol,” which is that if an honest person needs to get into your cabin while you are gone it might be for a really serious reason. A friend with a remote cabin taped to the inside of her door a note with her name and home phone number, saying that a lost or endangered wanderer is welcome to use supplies in the building but when home, safe and sound, please let her know what has been used up.
An alert visitor to our home might notice that our entrances are constructed differently than city ones. In town, home and hotel door hinges are attached inside the door, away from the prying tools of bad guys. By contrast, our hinges hang on the exterior because we aren’t worried about visitors with opposable thumbs. Rather, we are trying to deter 300- to 700-pound hairy guys and gals more inclined to shove in a weak door. With 4-inch thick doors that open outward, and a sturdy doorstop inside the doorjamb, we hope to retard the forward momentum of a foraging bear.
Windows are obviously more fragile than doors. Next to each of our entrances is a double-sheeted plate glass window. I don’t kid myself — the big 4-foot-by-5-foot picture window in front is vulnerable. I just hope that its position, up eight steps and eight feet above ground level, evades detection. Besides, neither porch window opens, and therefore emit no beckoning scents. One time, a bear did indeed lumber up onto my back porch, bump against the door, stand up and look in the high window above my stove, eye level with me (inside).
However, it was my banging on the window that attracted her curiosity, rather than encouraging her departure, as intended. My bad.
Another friend described a sight I would have loved to see (from a distance.) He was inside his cabin when a bear ambled up to a low window and peeked in. The light was such that instead of seeing the interior, the bruin viewed the reflection of a very close bear looking right back! Outta there!
Open slider windows are open invitations to bears with their fantastic sense of smell, climbing ability and curiosity. The photos of one particular bear intrusion made a lasting impression on me.
A friend had flown several companions out to his cabin for a collegial weekend. When it was time to depart, he went down to the lake to preflight the plane while his suburban buddies closed up. One who cleaned up inside left a window ajar. Another straightening up outside left a marine cooler below that window. Oops. On a subsequent trip, as our friend walked up the path to his cabin, he was astonished to see a bear looking OUT the window at him. He quickly retreated to his plane for a gun, but in the meantime, the bear skedaddled. As you can imagine, the interior of the cabin was absolutely trashed. Every cabinet and bag of dried beans, pasta and cereal had been ripped open. Dollops of scat and ribbons of urine decorated the scene. What a compelling lesson about doublechecking after delegating.
In most years and months, we don’t encounter many bears on our property. They prefer the fish runs in nearby streams to our pike-only lake location. But starting in July and lasting until hibernation, we startle each other as we go about our respective activities. I’ve gone to retrieve laundry only to find a bear has pulled down a sheet and is playing with it. I’ve walked out of the food shed with a tray full of dinner supplies to discover a bear move from behind a tree to check me out. I found a bear cub inside the chicken run, waiting for the birds to come home. To give us some warning, we keep the sweet grass and ferns cut down to thigh height, but bears can be incredibly silent. The plywood lids of the burn barrels are affixed with bells, and, despite burning trash thoroughly, we invariably hear them ring occasionally in August, September, and even warm Octobers as a bear opportunistically rummages through the ash. Perhaps most disconcerting has been finding a handful of bear hair on the corner of the cabin directly below our bed, where they have silently rubbed themselves, presumably to scratch an itch, and left an aromatic pile of scat.
During these months, we are particularly vigilant about potential bear attractions, but I admit that mostly we have learned through mistakes. One urban soil tester advised me to pour bone meal in the gardens. Yikes! That served as a dinner bell for bears. The place looked like a community potlatch. Another lesson learned the hard way was the importance of finding all of our ducks’ hidden nests of eggs. The bears thought they’d found a free buffet. Given the burn barrel bells, we don’t even burn the feathers, skin and carcasses of animals we butcher in fall. We haul them in our kayak to a remote spot in a bog.
During the year when we take an extended vacation, we install bear shutters. These are plywood panels that fit snugly within the window frames, screwed to L brackets. In front of each entrance, we install a bear mat, which is a plywood panel with screws sticking up.
Finally, we slide a metal bar across the exterior of each door. To date, we have detected no evidence of attempted intrusion.
Our bear neighbors and we are both quiet, so we enjoy a congenial neighborhood. They don’t want us invading their caches or beds, and we feel the same. Public areas? We learn to share.