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Go, and be prepared for the unexpected

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Faith & Inspiration

By Charles Towne

My first great love was a river.

From wading and swimming in the Fox River of Illinois in my childhood I learned her surprises, her secrets, her dangers, and her charms. Yes, I was exposed to her unpredictable, intimate persona, and I learned that she, like a lover, was always changing, never the same.

Here in Apopka, I have discovered another river - the Wekiva.

What marvels, what mysteries, what beauty awaits us as we explore the Wekiva! This riverine habitat is home to a broad spectrum of wildlife. Here dwells the large, as well as the small. From tiny rodents that make up the bottom of the food chain, to deer and bear. I so appreciate that old man of the forest, the black bear. As a naturalist observing the wildlife on the Wekiva River I have been rewarded so often by the bear's capricious nature. I have learned by direct observation that bears are highly intelligent.

One of the indicators of intelligence in any creature is its ability and willingness to play, and that is what I want to share with you today. Black bears might appear clumsy, clownish, but they are never dull. And cute? Yeah, adorably cute when they are cubs. As they age they tend to lose that early playfulness for the most part, but I have seen fully grown bears of both sexes play with other bears. Once I watched a big male playing with of all things, a turtle.

I am certain the turtle was an unwilling participant.

The bear was slapping the turtle around something fierce. The turtle would roll several feet and the bear would chase it, pounce on it, grab it in both front paws, then, clutch it to himself he would mouth it, slobbering and drooling on the poor turtle as if he were trying to turn it into a big wet spitball. The turtle was slapped again to go rolling a score of paces only to be pounced on again. The reptile, a gopher tortoise common to Florida, was next clutched tightly to bruin’s chest, the bear rolled onto his back, juggling the toy, and then there was some more mouthing and slobbering.

At any time the bear could have closed powerful jaws on his unwilling toy, killing it, but it was obvious that was not his intent. The worst thing that could have happened to that poor turtle was he could possibly drown in all of that foamy bear slobber. Finally the bear dropped the turtle and walked off swinging his big bear behind in that humorous way of his kind.

Another time I watched a large male sitting on the bank of the Wekiva. The bear was sitting on his broad rump on the riverbank. At first I was puzzled. What was the creature doing? Then it struck me, the bear seemed to be enjoying the sunset. Ever so quietly I let the canoe drift to within twenty feet of the bear where it washed up against a large raft of water hyacinth and stopped. The bear, sitting there swaying forward and backward, was unaware of me, and not wanting to break the spell of the moment I sat still and watched and enjoyed, listening to the water murmur under the canoe.

Truly it was one of those magical moments that you learn to look forward to if you spend enough time in wild places. Then it was that I heard something else. At first I was uncertain as to just what I was hearing, a low murmuring; moaning sound. And when I realized what was making the sound I was almost shocked, for that bear was crooning, singing a bear song if you will. I sat there until the sunset was almost gone, and then, dark shadows finally swallowed the bear.

I have seen black bears play with a twig in the water. I have filmed another bear push and pull at a log, lifting it, for no more reason than it was there, and needed to be pushed and pulled and lifted. I have watched adults go into mock wrestling bouts, only to break off the contest after a short time, to go their separate ways. After witnessing these periods of whimsy, I can only conclude that though bears spend much time alone, they certainly like to play, and they enjoy the occasional company of another bear.

I will never forget the time I was videotaping a young bear. I had laid my notepad down on the ground and was following the little guy as he led me in a huge circle through the woods adjacent to the Wekiva, and would you believe it, he ended up back at my notepad where he turned, looked at me, and I swear that little demon was grinning as he squatted and pooped on my notepad! I got it on film folks.

Go to the Wekiva, but go quietly. Wet a line, catch a fish or three, and be prepared for the unexpected.

Charles Towne is first and foremost a Christian. An octogenarian, author, journalist, wildlife photographer, naturalist, caregiver, and survivor, his life has been and continues to be, a never-ending adventure filled with possibilities never imagined. He has adopted the philosophy that to Live fully, laugh uproariously, love passionately, and learn like there is no tomorrow, is a formula for a long and joy-filled life.

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