Down East 2013 ©
One evening last August, Nancy Potts, of Ellsworth, was cooking American chop suey for dinner when she heard a knock at the door. “I said, ‘Who’s there?’ " recalls the sixty-four-year-old grandmother, but there was no answer. “Then I heard another noise, and I turned around. That’s when I saw the big black bear leaning against the screen door. I just about fainted.”
Instead, Potts called the police. As she did, the hungry bear came around to the open kitchen window and stood on its hind legs. Unable to get into the house, the frustrated bruin then picked up a piece of exercise equipment known as a ThighMaster lying in the yard and began to toss it around with its teeth. “I kept thinking, ‘That ThighMaster could be me!’ ” remembers Potts. By the time the police arrived, the still-hungry (if well-aerobicized) bear had disappeared.
It turns out 1999 has been a big year for nuisance bear complaints Down East. The reason? The dry summer which devastated the berry crops bears normally feast on and forced them to look elsewhere for sustenance. “Bears are intelligent opportunists and can take advantage of food we’ve unwittingly left out for them,” explains state biologist Craig McLaughlin. Garbage, birdfeeders, even a greasy barbecue grill can lure a hungry bear close to a house. In a typical year biologists will trap and relocate twenty to twenty-five bears in Hancock and Washington counties. This year the number looks to be double that. In 1995, another dry year, the total reached sixty Down East.
Fortunately, says McLaughlin, autumn brings a decrease in bear complaints as the animals begin entering their dens for the winter. Still, Mainers in the woods should avoid putting out trash overnight — or cooking American chop suey near a window — if they want to prevent any close encounters of the ursine kind.
(Published November 1999)