The Blackberry Thicket Encounter
and other stories from Merrimack County New Hampshire
Late August (circa) 1992 –
After she'd been there a few years, she asked if I'd till up an area for a small garden. I was employed at the time so it was only after 6:00PM that I could work on it. While doing it, I always had the feeling I was being watched from the direction of the setting sun. It made me so uncomfortable that I finally quit only to work on it on weekend mornings when the sun was in the east and southeast.
A few years later was my first "encounter". It was late summer or early fall. The blackberries were just ripening. I was riding my ATV back into an area where I knew there was a massive blackberry thicket to do some collecting. The thicket was about 3 or 4 acres and deep, deep in the outback. No one knew about it but me (I thought anyway). I figured it was cultivated at one time but long forgotten since all the dwellings in the area had been abandoned once the government classified it a flood plane back in the '40's.
I had been there about 45 minutes to an hour and I'd picked about all I could carry back. I mounted up and pulled out my canteen. I was taking my second mouthful when I simultaneously smelled something like a garbage truck of the '50's combined with raw sulfur and heard a rustle not far away and to my left (I was facing about due south). I looked towards the noise still with the canteen at my mouth. I saw a black shape about 20 to 30 yards away moving so fast away from me I couldn't believe it.
At first I thought it to be a bear but almost immediately discounted that. More likely, I wanted it to be a bear. Nope, not likely a bear. It was on two feet and it had a head and shoulders and the gait was like something I had seen somewhere before. That's about all the detail I could see. I started up my ATV and took off in the opposite direction as my big friend had gone and just about as fast. Later on, I thought I should go back and look for and photograph foot prints but not alone - not me. I decided to leave well enough alone. I figure he and I were collecting at opposite ends of the thicket, working towards each other and unaware we had company. He must have heard me opening my canteen.
Early March (circa) 1995
That summer I had sold some selective timber off mother's land just to thin things out a bit. After the skidder had finished, I took my woodsy wagon ('76 Toyota 4WD) out and collected as much of the debris as I could and stacked it in various clearings to burn when there was a snow cover.
We had a horrendous winter that year. There was 3 to 4 feet of snow in the woods all winter long. I had to wait until early spring before the snow level was thin enough to walk back out there. The first pile was about 1/4 mile into the woods. It was about 60 degrees and the snow was melting fast. I knew I'd only be able to do one brush pile.
As I was about 100 feet or so from pile #1, I saw a set of tracks coming from the south, up to the pile, walking around the pile and then proceeding on towards the north, across the frozen pond in full view of the back of the house. Although the tracks were only a week so old, with the warm weather, they'd be gone by the next day. It was so warm that day there was no detail left to see except that the stride was about twice mine. I pondered whether to go back to the house and get my camera or just burn the pile and forget about it. I went back and got my camera and a yardstick.
While I was photographing, my friend Bob walked up behind me and I nearly jumper out of my skin. I'd completely forgotten he'd offered to help with the burn. We followed the tracks up to the edge of the pond and we could see where the "animal" had walked out the where he could get a full view of the house and stood there. He then proceeded off at a bit of an angle towards the west and off into the woods. All in all, the trail we had a clear view of was over a quarter of a mile long. No telling where it began or where it ended. Bob insisted it was a moose. I pointed out that this animal had only two legs. He said that sometimes moose walk in their own footprints.
"For 1/4 of a mile, up and down rises and across a pond?" I asked him.
Further to Early March (circa) 1995
I had a brief encounter with an unfamiliar animal about ten years ago. I reported it to my state's Fish and Game people and was somewhat humiliated by my treatment. I vowed I'd not ever bother with wildlife authorities again on this or any other related subject.
April 14, 2005
My mother, Helen, 93-½ years of age and she's pretty much self-sufficient. She lives by herself on the edge of the Blackwater River Reserve in Salisbury, New Hampshire. Physically, she's in good shape but her mind does occasionally wander so I visit every day from 12:30 or so until she goes to bed (around 7:00PM).
Last fall, about 8:30PM, she called me at home to tell me there was a “black” man on her deck trying to get the bird feeder down. I was able to calm her down by convincing her it was probably just a raccoon or something. When I went over the next day, I realized there was, in fact, a visitor but that it was no raccoon.
I bought that particular bird feeder because it was advertised as “squirrel-proof”. It's made almost entirely of heavy gauge steel and 1/8” diameter wire with a tight fitting, screw-on cover. Mother insists I fill it with shelled sunflower seeds. It's attached to a 6' long vertical steel pole with a 4' steel cantilever arm extending at a right angle to the pole. The pole base is mounted on the deck rail, which is about 40” above the deck surface. The deck itself is about 7' above ground level. All told, the actual feeder hangs out over the deck by 4' and is about 12' above ground level. I designed it that way so as to be bear proof.
When I checked it out that morning I found the vertical to have been bent slightly outward and the line suspending the feeder snapped off. The feeder was on the ground, just about directly under the now empty hanger with the top off, empty of seed. I didn't want to alarm mother with my suspicions and it was unlikely she'd remember back to the night before anyway so I didn't ask for any details about the “black” man.
We've had bear problems here in the past but this is not the way a New Hampshire black bear operates. Here's why I don't think it was a bear:
· A bear would have had major difficulty even reaching the feeder. NH black bears can stand on their hind legs for only a short time and their reach is only 6' to 7' for an adult male.
· Even if he did decide not to take it away with him, he would have bit it until her crushed it. I have saved a feeder from two years ago and that's exactly the way it was opened. This one was UNSCREWED! The cover is very tight fitting and the only way to get it open is if you happen to be equipped with an opposable thumb. This time the feeder was not damaged in any way. Not even a scratch on the paint.
Well, I guess I was out smarted. Today I found the post & arm, feeder and the deck rail on the ground below with the rope still intact. The feeder top was unscrewed again and the feeder was, of course, empty.
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