Bear Attacks Side of House in Mammoth Lakes, California

Scene: a dark, frigid night on the outskirts of Mammoth Lakes, a town in the Eastern Sierra. A young mother, scratch that, a late-30-something mother is home alone with her two daughters while her husband is out of town.

Time: 10:45 at night.

DRAMATIS PERSONAE (Cast of Characters:) one adorable 6 year old girl, we’ll call her ‘C,’ and one darling 4 year old girl, we’ll call her, ‘L,’ are both sound asleep in their bunk beds.

Charlotte, the mother (that's me) – 5’4”, 133lbs. Can do lots of push-ups. Has strong mama-bear instincts.

MISSING:  Eric, the husband, is out of town. Eric is strong and brave and as far as I’m concerned, he is our body guard.

He has muscles too. You can see them here.

They’re peeking out of his sleeves, see?

Muscles. He has them.

What was I talking about? I got distracted. Oh yes, bears. Mammoth. Right. So Eric wasn’t in town. Got it?

Other characters:
1.    the 911 operator
2.    the police officer
3.    and the BEAR.

Scene 1: The mother is in her bed about to fall asleep for the evening.

::::::::::::::::::::   A   C   T   I   O   N      ::::::::::::::::::  

I had been sick as a dog for the last five days. I’m talking the kind of sick that nobody likes to talk or read about. Coughing, hacking, sputum, and mounds of tissues were left in my wake. My throat was still raw and my voice was froggy. While I normally describe myself as a strong person, I was physically weak and fatigued. Eric had gone out of town for work so I soldiered on, parenting while sick, which always blows. 

After getting the girls to sleep, then doing the dishes, and preparing for the next day of parenting and life, I had finally gotten into bed. It was the first night in four nights that I thought I could sleep without Nyquil, so I turned out the lights, put on my sleep mask and popped in my ear plugs (I sleep best when I can deaden out my senses.) I was just on the precipice of a delicious slumber when I heard a loud bang. It was muffled through the ear plugs, but it was a sound I couldn’t ignore. If Eric had been home, I would have assumed he was upstairs causing a racket, but alas, I was the only adult in the house, and both of my kids were snoring in their bedroom. It was the kind of sound that one knew immediately they would have to go investigate.

Deep down, I knew it was a bear. I jumped from bed, whipped off my eye mask and tried to think of other rational reasons for the sound. Perhaps it had gotten windy outside and something had been knocked down. A quick glance out my window showed the trees still and un-moving. No wind.

Bam, Bam, Bam. 

Someone or something was banging on the house. A pure surge of adrenaline coursed through my body starting from my stomach and bursting up my spine, past my heart, and into my mouth. I could taste the adrenaline on my tongue and had an immediate urge to vomit. 

It’s a bear. Where are the kids? You know where the kids are. Get the bear spray. Get the phone. Go.

But where the fuck was the bear? It was making a huge racket and I was scared it was upstairs in the house. 

Earlier that day I had picked up the mail and in it, I kid you not, were two cans of bear spray I had ordered for the upstairs and downstairs and two holders for the canisters. Of course, I hadn’t unwrapped the cans. They were both upstairs tightly wrapped in bubble wrap on the kitchen counter. 

Fuck, fuck, fuck. 

I ran upstairs and quickly glanced to the front door and patio door. Nothing open or broken. I poked my head around to see if it had come in the kitchen window, no. Good. I quickly grabbed a pair of scissors and sliced up the bubble wrap and grabbed one of the cans. Then I ran back downstairs and planted myself in the hallway in front of the girls’ bedroom door. I could see the downstairs entrance at the other end of the hallway. 

The banging continued. It sounded like it was trying to get IN to something. I couldn’t pinpoint its exact location but it was loud and forceful and either the dumbest fucking robber in the world, or a bear.

“911, what is your emergency?”

“There’s a bear outside my house. I’m home alone with two small children.” My voice was shaky and gravely from the chest cold.

“A bear? What’s it doing? Just walking around?” She seemed nonchalant.

“NO! It’s banging!”

“Like on the door?” her voice grew more interested, but still not that concerned.

“YES! I mean it’s banging on something. I don’t know what it’s trying to do. I’m home alone!”

“Okay, we’ll send an officer right out.” And then she hung up.

WTF? Aren’t they supposed to stay on the line with you and tell you it will all be okay? OMG, I need comfort here, lady!  My back was wet with a cold sweat.  

I stood shaking at the end of that hallway with the can of bear spray just pointed forward in the general direction of the sound. 

I called Eric. I cannot believe he picked up. He usually goes to bed really early when he is out traveling but he answered and my words spilled out over themselves, “There’s a bear, there’s a bear, I called 911, the police are coming, please stay on the phone with me.”

He immediately began assessing the situation and trying to get me to answer questions. I knew it was his way of getting me to calm down. Are the girls safe? Yes. Are the doors locked? YES (lol). He kept asking questions and then I heard C’s voice, she was crying. 

Unsurprisingly, my panicked phone calls to 911 and then to Eric had woken her up. L, our 4 year old, slept through the ENTIRE event. Kids amaze me. C was scared because I was scared. She had heard the banging too. It stopped while I was on the phone call with Eric but we all waited, expecting for it to start up again. 

“Stay in your bed so I know you and L are in the same room. I’m going to go wait for the police to come, ok?”

I ventured upstairs and scanned all the windows for any movement. From the top stair I could see our driveway and our cars. This reminded me that this wasn’t our first encounter with a bear. No, last November, a black bear got into my Subaru and the door shut behind him. He couldn’t get out and he destroyed the car trying to escape. You can read about that little escapade here. As a quick visual reminder of what a bear can do, here are just a few photos of my now defunct vehicle.

Scene 2: The police officer arrives

I saw his headlights and a very bright spotlight bouncing up the road and felt instant relief. Thank god there was a responsible adult headed my way. What would we do without brave-ass first-responders? Seriously? So thankful for them. I hung up with Eric but did not go out to meet him. Instead I waited until he cased the driveway and I heard him walk up the front steps. What if the bear is on the front porch? But the officer had a gun so I waited for him to knock on the door which told me that at least the front porch was clear.

I can only imagine how I looked when I opened the door. Small, in fuzzy pajamas, hair askew, soaked in sweat, and clutching a can of bear spray, my finger firmly on the nozzle top. I explained what had happened and almost burst into tears from relief at seeing him. 

“Will you check the back porch too?” my voice croaked.

“Take deep breaths. You’re going to be okay.” He was reassuring and in charge of the situation and it was exactly the attitude I needed at that second. “Are there any fire arms in the house?” (Translation, are you going to shoot me while I’m walking around inspecting your house outside?) Smart man.

“No.” I quivered in response. 

“Okay, I’m going to walk around the perimeter and see if it’s gone. I’ll come back to this door and knock again.” 

The level of relief I had now that he was there was palpable. His flashlight was unbelievably bright, so I surveyed the property with him, but from inside the house, moving from window to window and following his light as he flashed it all around outside. He came back and knocked.

“Where does that downstairs door lead to?” 

“To our house!”

“Oh, is it okay if I come in and inspect it?”

All I could think was, are you kidding? Can you come in? How about can you STAY tonight? I will make you cookies and coffee and let you play the PS4 to your heart’s content, just stay here and keep watch while we sleep!!!!

But I didn’t say that. That would have been inappropriate and police officers have to police stuff and protect the rest of the town from these crazy ass bears. 

I just said, ‘yes, of course!’ and showed him downstairs. He opened the door and stepped out onto the porch. In a second I heard him say, ‘ah!’ and then he poked his head around and gestured to me.

“Do you have food stored down there?” We were both outside looking at the side of the house. The bear had ripped off a bunch of wood paneling from the side of the house. It looked like he was trying to get IN to the unfinished crawl space under the house. We had nothing stored under there.  We could also see the bear’s tracks walking away from the house which gave me some measure of relief.

I asked the officer if he would say hello to C and tell her everything was okay and he agreed. We went into her room and at first I thought she had fallen back asleep. 

“C, are you awake?”

She shot up to a seated position, throwing the covers off from over her head. This flashed me back to childhood and times when I had been scared and the only thing I could do was put the blankets over my head too. 

The Sergeant was super kind and he spoke to her in a calm voice talking about his two children. He told her it would be okay and she could go back to sleep and then he and I went upstairs.

His presence had been supremely reassuring but I knew he needed to go and I hated the thought of trying to sleep the rest of the night not knowing if the bear was going to come back and do more Ursid home décor.

“I don’t know your personal views on fire arms, but living in an area like this, you might want to consider getting some guns. I’d suggest a 12 gauge shotgun, nothing less than 12 gauge.” 

I nodded. We weren’t opposed to guns, but it wasn’t something we had yet looked into for the house up here.  “Or consider getting a revolver. This is a semi-automatic,” he motioned to the fire arm on his waist. “But I practice with it all the time. If you needed to grab a gun and you were shaking or upset, you might drop the clip. If you get a revolver, you could just bang, bang, bang, but you’d need to get a big enough one to take down a bear.”

I kept nodding and the adrenaline that that finally started to ease began to ball up again my stomach. 

“If we had been stalled getting here and the bear had broken down the door, you’d need something to stop it. I don’t think that bear spray would do much good. Consider barricading yourself in a room with the girls. Move a bed in front of the door.”

Now he was freaking me out. I mean, these are the kind of scenarios I play out in my head. This is why I had bought the two bear spray canisters to have on the top and bottom levels of the house. Here he was literally playing out my worst fears blow by blow. 

“Okay, thank you officer. I’ll talk to my husband about it.”

“If the bear comes back, just call 911 again and we’ll be back here.”

The rest of the night was hard. C couldn’t get to sleep and I was wired. I called Eric back to let him know it had indeed been a bear and to tell him about the damage to the house. 

“Take a sleeping pill,” he urged. “You need to get some sleep.”

“ARE YOU CRAZY? I HAVE TO PROTECT MY FAMILY.” I felt like I was literally saying what my adrenaline was thinking. “I'll have to sleep with one eye open!”  : cue Metallica :

“The bear isn’t coming back. It’s probably halfway down Old Mammoth road and getting into the dumpsters down there.”

C slept in bed with me but try as I might, I couldn’t sleep. Around 2am I finally decided to take a half dose of Nyquil. I figured it would tranquilize me enough to maybe, possibly, sleep, but I wouldn’t be too groggy if I had to spring up and go into action. I slept fitfully for a few hours, coughing and hacking, and generally bemoaning the entire evening’s events.

Scene 3: In the Light of Day

This morning I woke up and after getting the girls ready for the day and imbibing coffee, I headed out to see the damage.

Dang, bear. Why are you so angry?

This was at least confirmation as to what had sounded like the bear ripping into something. He was. He was ripping into the side of my house!

You can see a couple scratches on the top left of this photo below. That is the door to the crawl space. The bear didn’t seem to know where the actual entrance was. And to think it is just held in place with one loose screw...

I decided to follow his tracks and see where he went after our place.

He headed down the slope and I followed. I made sure to look up into the trees as I walked because black bears can climb trees like they’re freaking super heroes.

: shudder :

I found this tree with all the bark pulled off it, but there were no bear tracks nearby, so perhaps that just happened naturally? It was twinning with the side of my house.

The dude apparently sauntered away to my neighbor’s yard and then circled back to the other side of the street. See his tracks in this photo?

Here, let me zoom in. The tracks are above the yellow line.

The girls and I headed into town and sure enough, Eric was right. The bear had hit the first dumpster we encountered. Trash was everywhere.

I talked to my friend, Rosanne, about what had happened and she suggested I call Steve Searles. Steve is called ‘The Bear Whisperer.’ There’s even a show about him and his work with bears in Mammoth on YouTube.

I left him a voicemail, introduced myself, and asked if he would be willing to come see why he thought the bear was attacking the side of the house and if there was anything we could do to bear-proof our house further. A little while later he called me back. He had laryngitis but he briefly croaked out that I should get some moth balls and place them by where the bear had tried to dig. 

Right. So, mothballs as a rec from the bear expert.

A 12 gauge as a rec from the police officer.

And every study I had ever read said that bear spray was extremely effective as a last ditch deterrent. 

::::::::::::::::::::   CURTAIN      ::::::::::::::::::  

Post script: for as much comedy as I used in this writing, I will tell you that I don’t take any of last night’s events lightly. I was really fucking scared, and sometimes using humor can help you work through fear and get you back to a rational mindset. 

For anyone who is going to say that they wouldn’t be scared being alone, with two small kids, while a bear was doing who knows what to the exterior of their house, I will respond simply with ‘you literally have no idea what you are talking about.’ So zip it.

For anyone who is going to suggest that we ‘just get a dog.’ No. The answer is no. We don’t want a dog. You go get a dog and pet it and give it a treat for me.

For anyone who is going to suggest we don’t get guns, zip it. If we get guns, we’ll do it responsibly.

For anyone who is going to yell at the people telling us not to get guns, zip it. We’re grown ass adults and there’s no need to berate anyone about their choice to not use fire arms.

We are really glad we moved here. I get it that bears come with living in the Sierras.

I still wish they wouldn’t attack my car and my house. 

Me + a can of bear spray didn’t feel like much protection when it came down to it, but them’s the breaks. We’re all safe which is what matters.

 I did go and buy some moth balls. And yes, I know they are dangerous for children, and no, my children don't go by that part of the of the house, and yes, we talked about why they are dangerous, and yes, I know these could hurt little critters. The Bear Whisperer himself suggested this. Sooooooo zip it.

For good measure, I also bought a sturdy dowel and cut it to size to fit in the sliding glass doors of the house. I should have done that sooner, so now that's taken care of too.

Here's hoping my bear stories have come to a forever end.

::::::::::::::::::::  FIN    ::::::::::::::::::  

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A Very Kaufman Thanksgiving 2016

It was a pretty good week, when I didn't allow myself to think about all the batshit insanity in the world right now.

Leading up to Thanksgiving C dug into some in-home science experiments.

She is reading The Curious Kid's Science Book, by Asia Citro and she can't get enough of it. And those are kid-sized goggles too.

We found out last minute that Mele was going to come up and visit for the holiday which pretty much made our first Thanksgiving in our new home perfect.

Eric hit up the mountain the day before Thanksgiving. Here are pics he sent while up there. Epic, no?

I've never been one to do a super fancy meal, so we kept this one simple.  Mele is a vegetarian so we made sure to have awesome food for her and Eric cooked a turkey. I repeat, Eric.cooked.a.turkey. In all fairness, Mele (yes, the vegetarian) helped him out quite a bit. Because the oven was going to be taken by the turkey, we started food prep the day before.

I've also been working on teacher gifts for the holidays. This is my prototype for a cinnamon stick Christmas tree ornament. 

In between food prep and hanging out, Mele and the girls helped me make 48 of the little trees. (Tutorial AND PATTERN coming soon!)

The morning of Thanksgiving I slept in and woke up to a breakfast of pancakes made by Eric. I love it when he does that.

The rest of the day was spent preparing food, working on the little Christmas tree ornaments, and doing some brainstorming for a list of people we want to do acts of kindness for during the upcoming holidays.

Our meal was simple and delicious and I'm incredibly grateful for the life Eric and I have built together.

Also, you should make this dessert. Mele and I used coconut sugar for the shortcake and sugar-free Jello and Coolwhip for the mousse portion. You can think me later. (Pro-tip, it's amazing the day after and served room temp.)

The weekend wasn't over yet! There was the tree lighting ceremony to attend on Friday at the village. Lyra skipped her nap so we stayed home last minute but Eric and C went to check it out. 

The next day we drove to Bishop to get a tree. 

A place about 18 miles west of Bishop, called Cardinal Village Resort, had a whole Christmas village thing going on. 

We saw Santa, had some lunch, and checked out their not-quite-frozen-solid ice skating pond. Lyra picked out our tree and we headed home as an incoming storm approached over the horizon.

It was JUST starting to snow as we got home. Setting up a Christmas tree while it's snowing outside is awesome.

This will be our first Christmas with a real tree in over a decade. There was, obviously, never room on our boat, but remember this darling felt Christmas tree I made? And when we were sent back to go, in San Diego, the first year we did a ladder tree and the second year we had a small, rotating, artificial tree loaned from my brother, Rich. All the decorations in those posts were also loaned from my brother, so this year, in this home, we are totally starting from scratch.

I thought ahead, though. I realized in October that this would be the case and tucked away in my mind to have things ordered for the tree when it showed up. I got a tree stand, and LED lights, and just a few packages of these. I thought I'd go sparse on ordering decoration because a) budget and b) I wanted us to slowly build our style over the years.

Since I haven't decorated a real tree in over a decade, you might have surmised that the 4 strands of lights I ordered were woefully inadequate. After discussing this online with friends, someone mentioned that Target had a tremendous deal that very day so I was able to get more ordered but they won't show up until Dec. 7th. Until then, our tree will look like this.

Sunday. The last day of a long week/weekend. Eric got up way before any of us because all that fresh powder was calling to him. Here's what he saw when he went outside. Beautiful, no?

When I woke up I found he had shoveled the stairs and a neat path to his car. The tire tracks are him beating feet up to the slopes.

I texted him a thank you and he sent me back this. Dude was in his happy place. Also, doesn't that look like something from Star Wars?

After breakfast the girls and I headed outside. I had more shoveling I wanted to do (paths to the wood pellet pile and the propane tank.)

Lyra is such as stickler for doing whatever we are doing that sometimes I forget just how little 3-years-old is.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. I hope you had a great holiday too.

Black Bear Destroys My Car

It was the night before the election and all through the house,

not a creature was stirring, not even a...

Actually, the only part that's correct is that this did happen the night before the election. And a creature most definitely WAS stirring. A giant, brown-haired, black bear that is.

The girls were finally asleep and Eric and I were watching the Walking Dead. Our street has no street lights and the few neighbors we do have live far enough away from us so that we don't see their house lights or really even them for the most part. This is to tell you that when the sun goes down each evening, it's dark outside. Only the moon and stars illuminate anything, and we love it that way.

So we're watching the embodiment of Trump (Negan) torture everyone around him, when we hear someone honk their horn a few times out on the street. Neither of us even blinked. I chalk this up to city living. In cities, horns are often being honked. People wait outside in their cars for someone and honk to let them know they are there. Or they honk because they're mad. Or they tap their horn to say hello. A horn honking out on the street is not something that registers.

At first. 

At this point I think Negan had Daryl surrounded by his henchmen after Daryl's escape attempt (spoiler alert? sorry) and then the honking happened again. Short, short, long, short. And I finally perked up and did some mental calculations.

We have no neighbors around us. If someone was honking outside, they must be honking for us.

I hopped up and ran to the window looking out the street and to my horror saw that the emergency lights were flashing on my car. 

Now remember, it's pitch black outside, so the only thing I can see are my blinking emergency lights. I can't see the car itself or the street. But my stomach sank. Someone is trying to steal my car and apparently doing a piss poor job at that, was immediately what I figured.

Eric must have heard my intake of breath because he jumped up as I was sputtering, 'my emergency lights are on. They're in my car!' He slipped on his boots, flipped on the porch and driveway lights, and grabbed a torch. (That's British English for flashlight, come on people, you really think he'd grab an actual torch? lol)

From the top of the stairs he shined the flashlight (okay, I'll stop using torch) at the car and I peeked around the corner and saw my car bouncing. The windshield was fogged up and I had two simultaneous thoughts: either two people were going at it like crazy in my car or it was a bear. Considering how cold it was outside, I knew no two people would want to have sex in my car, nor would they thus be able to so vigorously move it to and fro. 

Eric confirmed my fears with a scowl on his face. "It's a fucking bear. Dammit. Call 911."

At this point adrenaline kicked in. A fucking bear? In my car? There is a bear mere feet from the entrance of my home. Where are the kids? Are they safe? OMG. OMG! 

Eric and I freaked for different reasons. I went into primal mode and was concerned for everyone's safety. Eric was just super pissed about the car. He already knew the car was going to be fucked just by the way it was rocking and bouncing. 

"Hello 911, what is your emergency?"

"There is a bear in my car."

"A bear.

A bear in your car?"

"YES. There is a" I was shocked the operator sounded so disbelieving. This was Mammoth. I had heard story after story of bears doing this. Where was this operator from, Kansas?!

But she got it together and began asking where I lived, etc. and I went back out to the front porch to watch the bear show.

Eventually the bear popped the driver's side window out (seriously, popped it out whole) and climbed out that way. As he emerged (I'm calling a male on this) we both banged loudly against the porch railing and yelled at him to hopefully get it moving. You never want bears to associate good things with humans. Bears staying away from humans (and vice versa) keeps everybody safe.

Unbelievably, Eric took a video of this. I was not in any frame of mind to think 'I should get this on tape,' but Eric wasn't in primal mode like me, he was in, get out of my property mode, FFS.

The cops arrived a few minutes after the bear sauntered off. During those minutes Eric and I argued vehemently about his going down to look at the damage. I cut that part from the end of the video because the last thing I want immortalized is Eric and I arguing. I wanted him to at least wait until the cops showed up. Safety in numbers and all that. Plus also, guns. He wanted to go down immediately. I kept trying to explain that the bear could still be extremely close and those suckers charge like lightening. At least grizzlies do, and I grew up in Alaska. He eventually went down while I seethed about it at the top of the stairs. "This is a stupid idea!" I really don't talk to Eric like that, but I'll let this one time slide. Once in 11 years I figure gives me a pass. 

I finally shouted, 'fine, I'm waiting inside. And I'm closing this door!' He was unswayed. When I heard the cop cars pull up I donned a jacket and cautiously inched down the stairs toward my car. They were non-plussed. This was literally old hat to them.

"Did you have any food in the car?" No. 

"Any trash?" No. 

My car was clean. I had forgot to lock it. Now you can tut-tut about this, but locals around here are split pretty much 50/50 about the efficacy of locking your doors to prevent bears from getting in. If a bear wants to get in your car, they will get in. Some residents even leave a window open so the bear can get in and get out, quick like, no damage done. Eric didn't have his car locked either, so again, take your possible judgement on that and shove it. After asking a few questions and shining their lights around and saying, 'yeah, this sucks,' they started asking Eric about his Land Cruiser because apparently they were fans.

I took pictures of the damage.

Unreal, right?

After the cops left and I poured a glass of wine as big as my face, Eric called our insurance to make a claim. Thankfully, we had comprehensive coverage on the Subaru, which meant that they'd cover the damage after our $500 deductible.

I eventually was able to go to sleep that night and when I woke up and came upstairs the girls were bubbling with excitement. "MOM A BEAR WAS IN YOUR CAR AND IT BROKE IT AND IT IS A BIG MESS AND IT WAS A REAL BEAR. A BEAR, A REAL ONE IN YOUR CAR. OH MY GOSH!!!!!"

Sure enough, it was not a bad dream, though I realize now that the bear's destruction was presaging the election results that coming evening.

Lyra was in awe of the bear claw marks in her car seat.

This is me, not amused. Boooooo. Hissssss!

Seven business days after filing the claim, we finally heard from insurance that they're calling the car a total loss. And we had JUST put some kick ass snow tires on her too. 

: shakes her fist at that bear :

Last night we were driving to a Thanksgiving party and Eric swerved over to the side of the road, "did you see that? I think it's a bear."

In broad daylight. In the middle of a residential neighborhood. Just kicking it in the golf course, between all the houses.

We watched as something out of our line of sight spooked it and it ran, extremely fast, towards our car (not at us) but over to some giant drainage pipes. "Apparently they hang out in those," Eric informed me.

The moral of the story is two-fold:

1. Maybe you should lock your car in bear country. Or maybe it wouldn't matter anyways.

2. NEVER go exploring drainage pipes in the Eastern Sierras. If they are big enough for you to go exploring, or even crawl in, they are big enough for a black bear to feel cozy in too.