Since sometime in mid-summer we've known that things were a bit different this year on Belcher Mountain. We had some photographic evidence from our friends the McCraws, a family of hunters from Mt. Airy who have been coming up here for years to hunt deer during the seasons and to scout for wildlife during the off-season. They keep three deerstands up here, and use an automatic wildlife camera to see what's shaking.
Here's a picture of a critter they call "Mr. Grumpy," taken on Aug. 15 from a camera mounted on a tree a couple hundred feet west of my woodworking shop.
A few days ago Martha B. and our aging French Brittany Spaniel were walking across one of our fields and ran into one of the McCraws, sitting with his rifle by the old corncrib on a warm fall afternoon. She heard that "Mr. Grumpy" might in fact be a "Ms. Grumpy" -- one of four bears they have identified occupying the woods of our property, that of our out-of-town neighbor to our north and probably also that of the our old friends, the late Burke Davis and Judy Halliburton Burnett Davis, who had a lovely home constructed from old hand-hewn barn timbers across the road to our northwest. We suspect it was one of these bears who tore up part of Burke's prized blueberry patch enclosure of chicken wire stretched on a steel frame last summer. Might have been the same bear that got into one of our blueberry patches in late summer and laid waste to parts of two old but productive blueberry bushes.
One of the McCraws said that in addition to the four bears there are innumerable deer, four coyotes and, in one eyepopping incident, a bobcat who plopped down in the grass within his view from one of the deerstands. He said birds were flitting about, and when one of them made the mistake of lighting in the grass within reach of the bobcat, a paw whipped out, snatched the bird and became a quick snack for the cat. These woods, they say, are getting to be something of "The Wild Kingdom."
A fellow who helps a lot of folks up here keep their plumbing in working order, dropped by the other evening to pass along that some creature had torn off the crawl-space access door to a house down the road, as well as raked his claws on some nearby pine trees. He was giving that crawlspace a pretty wide berth for a little while, he said, just in case an impatient bear with a bad attitude had moved in and was looking for something else to claw to ribbons.
Saturday night we had finished burning a pile of brush and were making a final run to make sure the fire was out. As we drove the pickup along our driveway our headlights flashed on something we hadn't seen before -- two bucks with impressive racks fighting, or at least locking horns while a group of three does a hundred feet or so away watched in our hayfield. I hated that we spoiled the show for the deer -- or interfered with whatever entertainment the deer had planned for that night. But it was riveting to watch in the few moments before all five deer took off for the nearby woods. Looked to me like those boys were having a fine old time, showing off for the girls and maybe hoping to get lucky. It was, after all, Saturday night in the Blue Ridge.