I lived in the desert five decades before I saw my first rattlesnake not behind glass — one up close and all too personal.
We had recently moved to a newly built home in Oro Valley, and I was reaching to remove a pile of dried-up concrete the builder had left behind. Or so I thought it was dried-up concrete.
A faint rattle told me otherwise. Just 3 feet from my outreached hand was a diamondback, coiled, ready to strike. I quickly bolted up the hill and told my husband. Because it was quite a distance from the house, we decided to leave it alone.
Other rattlers were not so lucky, including one behind our low-lying patio wall, not far from where a neighbor’s girls liked to play. The Fire Department got called on that one and managed, after two attempts, to cage the rattler, rather angry and rather large.
At this place we called home for 15 years, we also encountered javelina herds sauntering past our windows, a bobcat loitering on a side patio, deer resting in the shade of our palo verde trees, and, on two separate occasions, a Gila monster.
The first appeared after a monsoon deluge — did you know they spend most of their lives underground? The second showed up one morning crawling across our cul-de-sac and trying to get a tiny leg up over the curbing. I can’t remember if we helped him along with a stick or just let him figure it out for himself. At any rate, he did breach the concrete.
Coyotes, of course, were a constant, as were scorpions and the occasional centipede. In 2011, we left this wild kingdom of sorts for a townhouse plopped on a golf course. There, we’ve spotted javelinas, coyotes and a bobcat or two — all attracted to the water and an overabundance of rabbits, quail and the occasional duck.
Summertime we now spend in the White Mountains, where we also see coyotes, javelinas, deer, elk, sometimes wild turkeys, an occasional fox and one raccoon. And while we’ve heard the stories and the warnings, we’ve never encountered the region’s numerous black bears — until recently.
When we returned in late April, my husband noticed a depression behind our house and said a bear had been there. I scoffed — until a few days later when I noticed two fresh piles the bear had left behind.
So yes, it is true. A bear does indeed defecate in the woods. Still, we had not seen it in person until one morning when I awoke early, opened the blinds and spotted behind our deck a large black form that shouldn’t have been there, sleeping.
After a few minutes, the bear awoke and ambled across our yard and through our neighbors’ yards. Before long, I was on the phone with Arizona Game and Fish, who seemed aware of this bear. Their advice: Make noise and throw a can of pennies at the bear should it return.
They also said if it returned to call them and they would set a trap. If it’s a female or a male under age 2, the bear would be relocated, I was told. If it’s an older male, it would be destroyed — something I did not want to hear. Hey, this was his forest long before it was ours, if ever. And yes, I am fully aware a bear killed a woman up here three years ago — the first documented fatal bear attack in Arizona since the late 1880s, according to Cronkite News.
So far, the bear has not returned. With luck, maybe it’s moved on to more natural surroundings. For now, our bird feeders remain empty. The Steller’s jay I saw this morning is going to have to wait a bit longer. Meanwhile, I still take my morning walks not far from where “our” bear recently strolled, though I keep a less casual eye out these days.
“Did you name the bear?” a friend recently asked. Yes, of course. Whatever could it be but “Charmin”?