Back in 2017 my wife and I purchased 12 acres of woodland in Northern New York state’s Adirondack mountains. The area is surrounded by woodland and state nature preserves, so the risk of encountering wild animals was definitely present and known.
We, of course, researched, (or at least I did, I am not sure about my wife), what to do in the event of a bear or coyote encounter. We recognized that a risk existed and did what we could to prepare for and mitigate the occurrence of that risk.
Over the past year, we spent many weekends cleaning up a spot in the woods and making some trails, with the eventual goal of building a small cabin. I would tell people that I am going out into the woods to pretend I am a lumberjack, and we did cut down several trees. Most of our huge pile of cut up wood though actually came from already downed trees.
We amassed a huge wall of cut up wood logs, the below pictures really do not show the size and scope of the wall of wood. The dog in the photos is our Boxer, Roxy.
During our time there we never encountered much in the way of wildlife. An occasional deer maybe, birds, chipmunks, and I am pretty sure a fox came through one night while we were camping out there in our tents, so perhaps we let our guard down some. We still remained cautious, ensuring no food was left out and always bringing food home with us… until the weekend before the Fourth of July 2018.
I thought I had gotten all the food picked up, turns out I left a bag of barbecue chips in a screen tent we had set up out there. The results of that mistake are shown in the images below.
That is what I encountered Tuesday night on July 3rd after getting out of work. We didn’t know what animal caused it, coyote (or the coyote-dog hybrid – coydog) was brought up and so was a bear. Never having noticed any sign of bears, and looking around after this incident, we kind of dismissed the bear idea – but not completely as it became a subject of jokes about being eaten by a bear while out there.
I had the rest of the week off from work, so my daughter and I planned on camping out there on the Fourth of July. My brother and his family were up visiting from Baltimore, Maryland and planned on joining us, with our father also present on the camping excursion.
One of our family traditions is to stay up late playing the board game “Risk” and that is what we were doing in our now duct taped up screened tent until 2:00 AM on the night of July Fourth (or early morning July 5th if you prefer). I am a very vindictive “Risk” player, so is my father – which resulted in my brother winning all three games played because my Dad and I couldn’t let incursions into our territory go long enough to build up our troops, causing us to do nothing but attack each other while my brother stayed out of the way.
At shortly after 2:00 AM, I wander out of the screen tent to use the bathroom (we were in the woods, by “use the bathroom,” I mean tree). The kids are all asleep in their tents, it is dark and quiet. I heard an owl hooting in the distance.
Now, for most people, camping in the woods usually means getting drunk. I am not really much of an alcohol drinker, and you are probably going to laugh at this…. but all I had to drink during our “Risk” game was two glasses of Moscato. Yes, I was drinking wine while camping in the woods. I like a glass or two of wine on occasion, and I cannot stand the taste of beer. My favorite wine is either a Moscato or a dark rich red Massaro Del Fondo Appassimento from the Puglia region in Italy. (*my favorite Moscato is actually from Sam’s Club. I was drinking Sam’s Club Wine in the middle of the woods.)
It is probably a good thing I don’t drink much because while I was “using the bathroom,” I hear rustling out in the woods. I shine my flashlight in the direction of the sound, thinking it was a deer. I see eyes in the distance between some trees. The behavior was a little off for a deer. Usually, deer, when they think something is nearby they make an almost hooting/honking sound (They sound almost exactly like the velociraptors in Jurassic Park; because the sound effect used in Jurassic Park for the raptors was actually a deer). Deer won’t make a lot of movements and they perk their heads right up. When they decide danger is near, they run far away.
What I saw were two eyes looking right at me in between some trees and underbrush, low to the ground, and it was weaving its head back and forth like it was looking around trying to decide what to do. Then it ran off rather slowly for a deer. I didn’t get a clear look at what it was, but I was fairly sure it wasn’t a deer.
By this time I had alerted my Dad and brother to the presence of an animal in the woods when it came back in a different location. For about 20 minutes, the three of us chased this sound around the edges of the clearing of the camp – not having actually seen the animal, just knowing it was fairly large and seemed to want to get into our camp. A bear was strongly suspected and pretty much assured.
This was a sudden change to our merry camping adventure. We didn’t know if we persisted to chase the sounds around if the bear would go away, or just come charging in. We didn’t know if the bear would come back after we went to sleep. More importantly, we didn’t know if it would hurt anyone.
This was my first experience being this close to a bear without a fence separating us, my brother equally unqualified. What I know, I know from other people’s stories and from educating myself on bears because I knew the risk existed. It was at this point though that I realized I was very unqualified to be dealing with bears in the woods and this bear did not appear to want to leave.
We had to make a choice. We had to actively make a choice based on knowing very little and having very little practical experience dealing with bears in the woods. We had to consider the kids we had sleeping in the tents. We had to consider that the bear kept circling around us and was showing some persistence at trying to get past us. We also, couldn’t see. It was the middle of the night and we only had flashlights and some low wattage solar lights stationed around the edge of the camp.
After a brief discussion, we decided to concede to the bear for now. We woke the kids up and packed a few things quickly. We evacuated to our vehicles and left in the middle of the night, I didn’t even grab the rest of my Moscato.
We later made the decision to not camp out there in tents any longer. We won’t go back camping until we build a permanent structure that can withstand a bear if it does attack. I will also educate myself even more and place more lights out around the area to help (particularly motion activated lights).
Just prior to our exit from the woods, my father did finally get a quick glimpse of the animal and it was indeed a black bear.
Dealing with “Unexpected Bears”
So what is the point of this story and what does it have to do with the general theme of the blog? Well, nothing, and everything; if you consider “unexpected bears” to be an analogy for the sudden and unexpected actualization of a possibly high impact risk or a high impact choice that requires immediate action.
In life, work, and business, you sometimes have to make urgent decisions with potentially large adverse impacts that you weren’t expecting to face (or you thought the possibility was so remote that the end result is you weren’t expecting it). Without knowing all the facts, these “unexpected bears” may leave clues that they could crop up. You just may not always catch the clues or place a lot of weight on them until hindsight tells you that you should have.
You may ultimately be responsible for the “unexpected bear” through a mistake you made. You have to deal with that and work through it, recognize and own the mistake. I left barbecue chips out, in woods that were sold to me with the advertisement: “Hunt bears on your own private land!” (*In my defense, the ad also said it was “near a beautiful lake” that is a 25-minute drive away – my house is closer to that lake – and my daughter calls it the “poop and pee lake,” for a reason.)
You may choose the cautious road like we did with our unexpected bear, or perhaps you choose the higher risk road embracing the unknown in hopes of greater reward (in our case it would have been more sleep and more family time around a campfire in the morning. There is also nothing like percolated campfire coffee).
You may find that you are suddenly placed in a situation with an “unexpected bear” and are just not equipped to handle it, and it may be that your only solution is to cede the ground and come back another day better prepared. It is sometimes best to leave and prepare more for a situation. It may prolong the actualization of rewards and require more investment (time and/or money), but hopefully, you can better navigate the situation after that investment. These are decisions we need to make and have to live with (or die with, in our worst imagined scenario with our unexpected bear).
Some tips for dealing with “unexpected bears”
- Be Decisive: Don’t flounder around making a choice, changing your mind back and forth. Action is needed, ideally well-thought-out action, but in the absence of time to think things through you have to do the best you can and commit.
- Consider the Best and Worst Possible Outcomes: You have to make choices fast and with limited information, you may not have the time to sit down and calculate the likelihood of the worst possible outcome as small as it may be. You can compare extremes quickly; if the best case is gaining $1,000, and worst case is losing 1 million dollars, logical thinking is all that is needed. How important is getting that $1,000 and is it worth the larger risk?
- Recognize Your Limitations: You may walk in feeling fully confident, looking the “unexpected bear” in the eye may make you realize where you are lacking in your abilities. Do you believe you can tackle the urgent actualized risk?
- Defer to the Most Experienced: Even if you wouldn’t normally defer to that person in any other situation. In our case, my father has encountered bears in the wild before (I come from a family of hunters who love spending time in the woods). Do you have someone with more knowledge about the situation to go to?
- Reflect After the Fact: Look for mistakes you made that caused the potential actualization of the high impact risk, and work to prevent those mistakes in the future.
I haven’t given up on our woods, in fact, the day I wrote this I was out there cleaning up after the bear trip; it doesn’t appear as if the bear entered the camp after we left. We just won’t sleep there until we have a better structure to sleep in.
There was some talk of going out to kill the bear, but without it attacking us I am pretty sure that is called poaching (it isn’t hunting season). I also have never hunted in New York State (I would have to take a hunter safety class) and I haven’t hunted since I was 15 years old in Michigan… in the 1990’s… hunting animals that were not bears… in an area that was not known for having bears.
Now, it is unlikely that the bear would have killed us (maybe one of us), but we came to the conclusion that the reward (sleep, family time, and campfire percolated coffee) was not worth the risk of injury or even death of one of us until we can do something to reduce the likelihood of a bear ending up in our beds in the middle of the night. It was an unfortunate choice we had to make, and we made it with limited information, but we made the best choice we could at the time with the information we had.
Hopefully, your “unexpected bears” are a little less dangerous than mine. If my advice here fails you, you can always follow the advice of the old joke: you don’t have to outrun the bear, you just have to outrun the people with you.
*I actually intended to be writing a post about the benefits of taking time to relax. I was going to discuss camping out in the woods, and our hammocks out there, where I like to kick back and read a book or have an afternoon nap. I even took some video from the hammock while it was swaying back and forth and all you can hear is the sounds of the woods. Then the bear incident happened. I may write that post still, someday; until then, here are some photos of our woods that we named “Ginger Forest.”
Black Bear Image: http://www.pixabay.com