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Some years back, I was driving through Igo late one night. I slammed on my brakes as I rounded a corner. There, in the middle of the road, staring at me through the windshield, was a huge mountain lion. It turned its head, and continued walking across the road. I later learned that cat had a bounty on its head. It was suspected of hauling live calves, goats and even sheep over fences, before dragging them away. We’re talking one huge, powerful cat.
Many people who’ve spent their lives in the great outdoors have told me how rare it is to see a mountain lion of that size and obvious age, that close up, in the wild, let alone in the middle of a road.
When I stopped shaking, I considered myself lucky. I never expected to see that magnificent mountain lion then, just down the road from the Igo post office, no more than I expected to have a bear on my roof Sunday, where I live in downtown Redding’s Garden Tract. This neighborhood is not near a green belt. My house is in the middle of a neighborhood.
I now think of all the times I’ve been out in nature when I’ve wished I could see a bear, from a safe distance. The time I was with some women friends in a boat on Shasta Lake, eating KFC and drinking wine, does not count. That bear was on the shore, reaching into the water through berry vines for surprised fish. The bear was exactly where it was supposed to be. The boat of women? We were the intruders.
Sunday morning, I got closer to a black bear than I ever wanted, although, granted, I was safely (I thought) behind my bedroom window.
It was a few minutes before 7 a.m. when I was awakened by an incredible noise on my roof.
Let me stop here and explain that I live in a 58-year-old house that has vaulted, beamed ceilings. There’s no insulation there, which allows people inside to hear every single raindrop, every fallen acorn, every squirrel stomp. Loudly.
So when I woke – heart pounding – to the racket above my bedroom, I knew it was something big, alive and on the move. For a fleeting second, before fully awake, I wondered if some good Samaritan was removing leaves from my gutters. My second thought was that there were burglars on my roof. That thought made about as much sense as guessing a bear was on my roof.
I ran to my bedroom window.
In this view of the tree through the window, all we see now is bark. But use your imagination for a moment and imagine seeing a black bear framed in that window, before it scampered down the tree and out of view.
My guess is that the bear was in my neighbor’s yard first. She and I share that oak, a “line tree” that straddles each of our properties. I think the bear climbed up her side of the tree and came over to my side, and onto my roof, where it’s only about an 18-inch gap between the tree and the house, a thought that horrifies me during every storm.
Please God, do not let that giant oak tree fall on my house.
I could kick myself now for using my phone to call 911 to report the bear. I could have used that precious time to snap a photo, or get some video of the bear as it climbed down the tree, ran around my pool, stepped up and onto my wooden planter box, grabbed the fence (broke a piece), and hoisted itself up, over and down into the alley.
Your address? Your name? Which direction did the bear go?
How could I have known that since before Sunday’s dawn, other frantic people had placed 911 calls about that same rambling bear?
I got dressed, grabbed my camera, jumped in my car and went on a bear hunt. I first checked the alley where I’d seen the bear disappear. Bingo! No bear, but I did find a huge pile of bear scat. I posted a photo of it on Facebook, but I’ll spare you the sight here. Trust me when I say it’s impressive.
On East Street, I stopped and chatted with a Redding Police officer, where she was parked kitty corner from the old R&R Meats. The officer said she actually saw the bear — “a big boy” — cross East Street and then run up the hill toward Pine Street, which is where it was at that moment. I spoke with a couple of more RPD officers on Pine Street, and saw yet another RPD vehicle on South Street.
They had the area nicely covered. The bear was supposedly hanging out in the middle of that sliver of brushy, undeveloped space. RPD was just waiting for someone from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to show up and take care of the bear situation.
Some time later the bear somehow escaped the East, Pine, South area, and made its way to Market and California streets, where it sat in a tree. A DFW officer arrived and “darted” it with a tranquilizer. The bear fell from the tree and was taken away.
I am waiting for a call back from the DFW officer who actually shot the bear with the dart, but in the meantime I was told that the bear was tagged and released away from civilization, unharmed.
Oh, that’s sweet.
But then I saw the video on KRCR of the bear falling from the tree to the ground. I couldn’t imagine it surviving that drop. I worried that the bear was injured. I wondered if the story of the bear’s “relocation” was similar to stories parents tell their kids after they’ve taken the aging family pet to be put down, but instead tell the kids they took the dog to the “farm”.
I want to know how the bear really is.
But for now, there’s hope. I hope our downtown Redding bear is alive, and contented, like the bear in this photo.
I hope our downtown Redding bear is just lounging in the sunshine, dreaming of the Garden Tract … and what might have been.
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Prior to 2007 Chamberlain was an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, CA.