A faint trail led through the wetland grass, winding from the darker woods and out into the open edge of the meadow. I knew the bear frequented these lower woods, and the trail was big enough that it couldn’t have been anything else. My mom and I were exploring, looking for winter birds, but sign of bear would be a welcome treat for a visitor from Texas.
I started looking for big trees that would show claw marks, and sure enough, a cedar near the trail showed a multitude of scratches, the workings of a climbing black bear. So what was he climbing for? I began following the marks up the tree, looking for clues, and about twenty feet up there began a series of pileated woodpecker holes. These are large, rectangular holes that are unmistakable, giant cavities that bore deep into the trunk.
Did my eyes deceive me? I squinted and studied the shadowy hole. “Let me see those binos real quick,” I said. At ten power magnification, it became clear that there, within the cedar, hung our honeybees. You’ll recall that last spring we built a topbar hive, bought our first package of bees, and promptly watched them disappear into thin air.
And here they were. A few hundred yards downstream of their previous home, living the high life. All that delicious honey just barely out of reach, it beckoned to the bear, and it tempted us for a brief moment. Could we retrieve the bees and bring them back to the hive? No, it didn’t feel right. They chose to leave, and we chose to respect that decision. They’ll keep pollinating our flowers, and we’ll bring in a new colony this spring to skim honey from. We’ll watch from afar and I will cherish that afternoon of discovery with my mother.
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