One of my favorite childhood books was Richard Adams’ Watership Down. His follow-up novel, Shardik, was very different (and less popular; I can’t remember if I finished it, to be honest). It was set in a fantasy world where the central figure of worship was a giant bear, whose mysterious appearance and journey across the earth set many human events in motion. For a day here on the west side of Syracuse, we had our own little version of the story. Wildlife experts suggested the bear was just passing through to new territory, as young bears do. At one point during the day there was an unconfirmed report that the bear had traveled a couple of miles up toward the undeveloped woods just south of my neighborhood. There wasn’t any hysteria, but people were still alarmed enough to keep kids indoors, and intrigued enough to imagine the otherworldly spectacle of a big black bear crossing busy roads nonchalantly and padding silently through suburban streets.
But that wasn’t our bear. This bear was captured in the same neighborhood it had appeared, and was found to have a transmitter that revealed it came from Waterloo. It probably groped its way along Route 5 eating from bird feeders and trash cans, until it missed the 695 cutoff and was trapped near the Phantom Bypass across from Wegmans. Hard to imagine that as the supernatural journey of a god-bear — just a lost creature that had lost its wild soul, too. The DEC determined it was a known repeat backyard offender already under sentence, and euthanized it. A sad story.
The DEC did the right thing — although just as we have to get used to more encounters with wildlife here in suburbia, the DEC is may have to get used to more scrutiny by cityfolk and the media, and be prepared for questions. One hopes that the sacrifice of this unfortunate animal will resonate in people’s minds when they are asked to make better efforts to properly pick up and store their garbage, and make them think harder about the ways we’ve confounded the earth with our highways and other car-oriented developments, blocking the paths of traveling bears and other spirits.