I was 23. A fresh-faced stockbroker right out of journalism school. (Well, what else do photojournalists do to make a living? Don't you judge me.) And I was purchasing my first home. A condo, to be exact.
It was perfect. Located in my favorite little mountain town, right off the Blue Ridge Parkway, with a network of hiking and biking trails -- literally -- right out of my back door. An end unit. Without anyone above or below me. A pool. Best of all: mine, aaaaaall mine.
Having come straight from college, I wasn't prepared for the typical neighbors that exist everywhere. I was used to the late night, heavily drinking, no one above the age of 30 neighbors. Not the "a bit past middle aged librarian/rasta band manager" neighbor, the grown mother and daughter sharing a one bedroom with 10 cats neighbor, or the "crazy camouflage wearing dog hating" neighbor.
Now, I was born and raised in the South, honey. I'm no stranger to animals. My grandparents raised horses, cows, and chickens. I learned how to train horses with my grandpa. I know all about weeks-long hunting trips for deer, turkey, or bears. And I actually know a lot about the habits of the aforementioned animals, not from hunting them, but from listening to my uncles and cousins talk around my grandparent's dinner table on Sunday nights. And no animal elicited more awe amongst these seasoned hunters than bears.
I grew up watching the "urban wildlife" develop around me. In my little mountain town, urban spread encroached on the habitats of local wildlife, forcing them to search elsewhere for food and the means to survive. It was commonplace to see wild turkeys strutting down my street or to upset a group of pheasants in the underbrush on a hike. I remember being so excited at age 8, seeing a bear for the first time, digging through the trash bins outside of a McDooms. I begged my mom to get closer, but she absolutely refused, and with good reason. Shortly after we left, the bear attacked a mother and her two children in the parking lot. (Apparently small humans look strangely like bear food.) I've been a lover of nature and animal behavior ever since.
When I moved into my First Home as a bonafide owner, I was anxious to discover what the surrounding woods held. Trekking down a trail for my first official hike, I came across one of my neighbors. She was the neighborhood Sweetheart, probably in her late 70s, wielding a machete to clear the trails, and had the most divine garden I had ever seen: basically she was a bad ass. As we spoke, she mentioned the nightly -- that's right folks, nightly -- visits of bears to our communal trash bins that were a mere 10 feet from the buildings. It seems that the condo association, a.k.a. the Neighborhood Nazis, didn't want to spend the measly $1000 to purchase bear-proof receptacles, so we had to resort to buying rubber bungee cords to keep the bears from opening the bins and feasting on our trash.
I was never brave enough to venture out and take a look when the bears were in mid gorge because that would mean walking the length of my building in the dark, and there were bears out there, dammit! But every morning, the evidence of their nightly feast was spread around the grass.
A few months after I moved in, I was returning home late one evening, after the sun had set, and saw a small cluster of people gathered at the end of the building where the trash cans lived. Intrigued and always curious, I tottered over on my 4-inch heels (hey, I was still single then) to see what was happening.
What was to come is probably the biggest piece of idiocy I have EVER SEEN (and this is including a neighbor I had in Charlotte that a) used a fucking power drill to aerate his yard, b) went swimming in his pool in a thunderstorm, and c) put his gate spring on the wrong side so that it didn't swing shut, but sprung open and into your face when you opened the latch).
Once I peered past the small gathering of people, which included children and elderly, I saw a mother bear and her two cubs pawing through the garbage. Despite the fact that there is almost nothing more dangerous than a mother bear with a cub, much less two, they seemed completely unperturbed by our presence, and so we all watched them in wary delight. We all watched in wary delight, that is, until Big Tough Camo-Wearing Dog Hater came out of his condo. His unit was closest to the trash bins, so he must have heard the gathering group. (If only we had known, we would have shut up so as not to disturb him from his den.) Camo-Idiot comes out of his house, wearing full hunting regalia, and carrying a high-powered spotlight. Well, okay, sure -- a spotlight. Not so crazy, right? I didn't think so either, until he positioned the spotlight right on the cubs, picked up a hand-full of rocks, and started throwing them. I was already placing my hand on my neighbor-children's shoulders and moving them back from the impending atrocity, when the moron actually hit one of the cubs. The mother bear's head whipped around and stared him straight in the face, she got down on all fours with head lowered, and I don't know exactly what happened next because I had already grabbed the kids and 4-inch hoofed it into my place. I didn't know what happened, that is, until about 2 seconds later when I heard his terrified howl.
Everyone scattered. Everyone but Camo-Douche. What was he thinking, throwing rocks at bear cubs with this group of people standing around looking like future bear jerky? I suppose we will never know, because the bear attacked him, put him in the hospital, and I never spoke to him again.
Every time I think about this little nugget, I can't help but shake my head at nature. If evolution had a consciousness, the bear would have killed him. Hell, I wanted to kill him.
Thank god the man never reproduced.