The last remaining snow patches had melted from White Oak Ridge, and balmy south winds promised warmer weather. At the bottom of the slope called Rock Run, a stream filled to capacity with melted snow made sweet music as it became a waterfall and splashed against the rocks below. Overhead a vulture made effortless circles in the blue sky. In the distance the drumming of a ruffed grouse could be heard. Spring had come to Rock Run.
In his snug den beneath an overhanging boulder, Ursus, the black bear, slowly awakened. Rising to his feet, he remained motionless for several moments, blinking at the bright sunlight that entered the cave. The great bear had lost weight during his winter sleep, but he was still in very good condition.
The bear left his den and strolled toward Rock Run. Stopping at the water’s edge, he drank deeply of the cold liquid. After crossing the stream, Ursus ambled toward a nearby marsh where some tender green shoots of grass and skunk cabbage had already pushed through the soft moist earth. He ate the young sprouts and several skunk cabbages. Food, however, would be scarce for Ursus during the early spring days, and he would have to rely on his body fat as a source of sustenance until warmer weather produced food in abundance.
By early July Ursus became strangely restless; it was mating season for his kind. One evening he and his mate were hunting grubs in a meadow. A challenging growl broke the solitude, and Ursus looked up from his feeding to face an aggressive male. He returned the threat with a roar and charged, hitting the interloper with the full force of his five hundred pounds. The stranger gave ground but recovered quickly. The battle raged on, and the roaring and bellowing could be heard the length of the valley. Ursus’s superior fighting skill gave him an edge over his foe. Finding an opening, he bit deeply into his opponent’s shoulder. The stranger, now wounded, turned and fled. Then Ursus and the female continued their stroll. Mating season soon passed, and Ursus and his companion went their separate ways. She would give birth to his cubs during midwinter.
One day while searching for food on White Oak Ridge, Ursus stopped short when a breeze brought the scent of honey to his nostrils. His black nose quivered with excitement. He followed the scent to a large tree. Several feet above the ground was an opening in the tree trunk.
With his powerful claws, Ursus enlarged the hole until he was able to reach the sweet substance inside. The angry bees swarmed around the bear, but his thick fur protected him from the stings. Gorging himself with honey, bee grubs, and bees, he fed until most of the honey was gone. Then, with the bee tree and its contents in ruins, the black bear ambled away. The surviving bees angrily continued to attack him as he walked away, and long after Ursus disappeared, bees still buzzed around their destroyed home.
Summer passed and October arrived. The forest was aglow with the brilliant colors of hardwood trees. As the month advanced, songbirds left the ridge, and squirrels and chipmunks gathered large amounts of food to store in their favorite hiding places. Ursus, too, felt the urgency of the season, and he fed heavily, for he needed a thick layer of fat to supply his body for the lean winter months ahead.
By November the trees had lost their colorful leaves and stood bare against the sky; the forest had an empty, lifeless look.
One crisp morning Ursus discovered a stump containing ants. With his huge forepaws he tore the wood apart. His pink tongue lapped up the milling insects with deadly accuracy.
That day at twilight Ursus stood at the edge of an apple orchard in Big Valley. He knew the place well from previous visits. The bear tested the air, which brought no hint of danger to him. Quietly he entered the orchard and climbed a fruit-ladened tree. Advancing on one of the larger limbs, he ate the fruit. When all the apples within his reach were eaten, Ursus shook the limb violently, and the remaining apples plummeted to the ground. The bear then climbed down from the tree and devoured the fallen fruit.
December came. High on Hunter’s Mountain Ursus found a huge tree partially upended by a windstorm. In the roomlike opening beneath its large roots he would spend the winter. In preparation for his sleep, Ursus gathered leaves and sticks and lined the den’s floor.
Outside the shelter, angry gray storm clouds approached. Snow mixed with sleet made slight noises as it fell on the leaves. The storm raged throughout the night. Daybreak was cloudless and radiant. A deep snow covered Hunter’s Mountain. Beneath this winter blanket Ursus slept.