At first light the four cats come onto my bed. They spent the night in my reading chair which they found again after I had moved it and used it for sorting piles of winter clothes. Another hour and the half-pints had begun wrestlng and the two bigs had made the cat flap creak when they went out to reconnoitre. I got up to take off night messages from the computer and start my day's blog. All four cats came to pile on top of each in the newly warming sun streaming through the window by the computer. One hasn't quite conquered lung infection and snores desperately.
By seven AM I was ready for a couple more hours of sleep and the cats had gone out to enjoy the tall grass. Then the phone rang. It was the grizzly notification network. Two griz had been spotted at the north side of Lake Frances not far from where the campground is beginning to be used and not far from The Lighthouse, the now closed-down dinner club. There are big signs warning that this is griz country. The young travel in pairs to reassure each other and develop bright ideas about what can be eaten, like offal from fishing.
The road out to the campground is paralleled by high, thick caraghana walls but I'm not sure why or how long they've been there. Some of it is Russian Olive bushes. I presume they were meant to collect snow so it wouldn't pile up on the road, but they make excellent bear cover. A big field there was no-till, death-gray stubble from being dosed with Roundup. Just north is a big "gravel field", meant to be a supply for road-building, and not far from that part of town is blocks and blocks of grain storage bins. There is always enough spillage from loading and unloading to attract pigeons, which is why there is often poison bait, but not enough to affect a young bear licking the ground to scoop up kernels. No one mentions this.
Wheat is sacred here. If you went into the Catholic church you would see much grain imagery in the stained glass windows and so on. Plant agriculture is linked with Christianity in its turning away from flesh sacrifice to bread as flesh of God in the ceremony of Communion.
The phone message is an automated bear monitoring strategy to try to abate encounters before there is tragedy. Some forces are intent on promoting and protecting bears, but others -- especially ranchers of animals, the old flesh merchants -- are equally determined to eliminate carnivores. When griz come into town, they are helping the ranchers to win against bears, wolves and coyotes by making the issue highly emotional, more than usual.
The townies don't like predatory canids, not even domestic dogs, so all dogs are behind fences. They bark constantly all over town, so they aren't much use for alarm. But if they were loose, they would probably run off bears. Also scaring off cougars as well, but killing cats, which might knock back the feral population, which is dense enough to start disease waves. Many domestic dogs will kill cats, but the warden tells me bears don't eat cats -- just compete for bird seed.
After listening to the phone warning, I realized that what I had thought was very early noise from the tire shop probably really was shots fired, which was my first impulse at the time. The bears were hazed away from town to the north, towards Cut Bank. They'll follow the irrigation canals until they find something to eat. We'll hear about field sighting by those ranchers not working in town.
This town was once too busy for a bear to nap undisturbed, but now it has become a bedroom community because there are so few businesses in town that everyone works in the county seats thirty miles away: Pondera, Glacier, Teton. Trucking industries need drivers and mechanics. We've got 'em. But no bars, unless you count pizza-and-beer at Froggies.
Now the half-pint cats are back to use the litter box (a kitten is embarrassed to poop where they might be seen) and start a morning nap after a quick march in front of my computer in case I'm eating something. So now I'll grab a couple of hours snoozing and half-dreaming of bears.