BEAR CARNIVAL IN CONNELLSVILLE, PA.
I wish I’d thought about selling balloons and popcorn. The atmosphere that day was extremely carnival-like, the streets in the city neighborhood lined with people and children, watching, staring, cheering, intrigued. Balloons, popcorn and cotton candy were the only missing things. Had I had them, I would have made a great profit.
My granddaughter Jordan, then age three, was “helping” me cut off old stems and retrieve the best petals from a desperately neglected rose bush in a neighbor’s yard.
“You’d better get her out of here!!!”
These stunning words were yelled by a police officer running through my yard, startling me. I hesitated, since I hadn’t realized trimming rose bushes to be illegal.
“Get her out of here and get inside!” the police officer barked. “There’s a bear running loose.”
Was the officer nuts? We were in the city, in our own territory, not in the wilds of Pennsylvania. Certainly, I would not be surprised to find a bear on the run at our Laurel Mountain Borough retirement home, which is at the bottom of wooded Laurel Mountain, and surrounded by conservation lands. But in Connellsville?
A young man came dashing through my neighbor’s yard, and I yelled out: WHAT is going on?
“I heard a bear ran through here,” he said. “I heard it’s up a tree!”
Ignoring the safety aspect, I yelled to my husband, Monte, to come and take care of Jordan. As he appeared I grabbed my camera, and took off in the direction this young man, and now others, had gone. I joined a growing crowd on the adjacent street, Green Street, where, sure enough, there was a bear two-thirds of the way up in a huge chestnut tree.
I spent the next hour shooting the bear (photographs—-remember, I had my camera!) and observing the black bear, which appeared to be having a good time watching his audience and wrapping his black paw around the tree limbs to grab leaf-filled branches, which he contentedly and casually chomped on as if the green “salad” were the best-tasting meal. Occasionally, he adjust his position in the crook of the tree, sometimes sitting, sometimes standing on his back paws, and at other times laying on his back, all the while staying alert to the eyes below, focused on him. There was no indication he was in a hurry to leave his five-star restaurant. Although word going through the crowd was that he was afraid, he certainly seemed content.
Because I was a freelance reporter, the police officials allowed me closer to the tree (for photographs) than most of the persons in the crowd. I was hoping my 300-millimeter lens would help me capture some pretty good pictures.
When city personnel drove a fire truck into position to direct hose spray onto him, hoping to chase him out of the tree, the bear watched disinterestedly. The emergency persons plan was to direct the hose at him, encouraging him to run down from the tree, after which he would, hopefully, run into the woods beyond Isabella Street. However, there was no guarantee which direction the bear would flee, or how dangerous he would be to the crowd. The police attempted to get the crowd moved out of the way, but even those parents with children who were at their apartment entrances did not remove themselves of their children, which I felt was pretty irresponsible.
The firemen moved into position and turned the hose onto the bear. He didn’t run immediately, but when he did it was with spitfire speed. Fortunately he ran down the street, and not through the crowd. He crossed Pittsburgh Street and climbed another deciduous tree in a Pittsburgh Street resident’s fenced-in back yard.
Again, I was allowed to move in close to take photographs, and allowed to move close to the yard, standing against the fence. Since it was getting dark, the camera was flashing, and I was told to stop because the bear was getting antsy from the bright light flashes. At this point, I left the scene, needing to be back at the house to care for Jordan.
As Jordan and I were sitting on the swing in front of the police station the next morning, having a breakfast picnic and watching the trains pass by, the police chief stopped by. He told me the bear was chased out of the second tree and ran off.
While we chatted, a call came in on his phone. There was a bear on a porch on Young Road. The police chief ran off to take care of the problem, but I didn’t follow. I couldn’t put Jordan in danger.
Later, I ran into the owner of the house where the bear was reported. The man said he suspected that, after the bear ate the granulated ant-killer it found on the porch, it must have had a stomachache.
The following morning I took Jordan back to the police station for our typical morning outing. I visited with a police sergeant who was passing by the swing.
“I chased the bear out of the residential area of Wills Road and Isabella Road into the woods along McCoy Hollow,” he said. “It looked like the same bear. It was cute but it was no monster. It was no bigger than 200 pounds.”
I lived in Laurel Mountain Borough part time for two years, and full time for five years, before seeing a bear there. One morning, at about 5:30 a.m., Monte woke me, telling me to quietly get my camera and go to the living room. The camera was not handy, but I sleepily went into the living room to see a bear full-face in my living room window. He was standing upright, with his left paw on the window frame. His right paw was gently batting at the birdfeeder stuck to the window by suction cups. As his paw worked, its claws made noise on the window glass. After he managed to knock it down, he disappeared beneath the window ledger, where we could not see him enjoy his feast. Shortly, he lumbered off through our driveway, between our cars and into the neighbor’s yard.
It wasn’t long afterwards, when a black bear spent the day in another neighbor’s tree, offering me the opportunity for more photographs (without a 300 millimeter lens) and another news story.
I’m reminded of these things when I look at my house siding by my back door. There, for all the world to see, is a bear paw print.