Bear With Me

I have an unhealthy fascination with bears. We live in Central Florida, practically spitting distance from the dreaded Interstate 4, so you wouldn’t think we’d get much interaction with them; but we do.

Florida black bear (Ursus americanus floridanus) sightings have ramped up in the last 12 or 15 years. The cuddly-looking creatures are being squeezed out of their habitat. I understand how that works, but I don’t understand what is so great about my backyard. For some reason they like to stop by here and destroy my bird feeding station. It wouldn’t be so bad if they did it when I could observe them and maybe even give them a wink as they tear things up, but they wait until I’m asleep and then – BAM! Birdseed and feeders go flying all over the place. Sometimes they knock over the birdbath. They are none too careful.

We have replaced the station several times and it is now outfitted with a stand which they can simply knock over instead of breaking the metal pole in two like a toothpick. They’ve knocked it over twice in the last few months, so I think we’ve got that angle figured out. Knock on wood.

Even with all the expense and clean-up they have caused us to undertake, I really want to see the bears. I have a high-powered flashlight to aid in my pursuit of even a glimpse. We have dubbed it the bear flashlight and it has been used to spot raccoons and opossums, but so far, no luck in the bear department. I have seen bears in our former neighborhood and in my son’s neighborhood, but here on the home front, I just see their path of destruction.

All that to say, when David Martin of our local Fox 35 news reported on Bearadise Ranch in Myakka City, which is just east of Sarasota, I knew I had to check it out. Here was a family who had dedicated their lives to bears and transformed the property which their home sits on into a bear preserve – truly a bear paradise.

Can you say day trip? Bob and I headed over there with visions of bear cuddling dancing through our heads. Alright, Bob had no such vision, but a girl can dream!

Monica runs Bearadise Ranch and gives close-up tours – not so close that you can get a bear hug or even touch one, but a good tour, nonetheless. The bears live on her property in several habitats, and they are clearly in love with her – and not like one loves apple pie. I can tell the feeling is mutual. She is so good with them and cool as a cucumber while interacting with these big fellows. She married into this job. Her husband’s family has been caring for bears since 1926. His grandfather was with Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus in the late 1940s.

These bears are famous. They have been in movies and on TV shows as well as commercials. They aren’t just ordinary black bears either, there are also brown bears, aka, grizzlies. It surprised me to see Monica interact with them in their own habitats. She has no fear. They clearly have a rapport with each other.

During our tour, she told us how the bears grieved when her husband died unexpectedly in 2017. It took months for them to get past that grief. She stayed right with them through her own grief, wearing her husband’s shirts as a means of comfort. They had to be cared for and she did just that. When she told her stories, I couldn’t help but feel admiration at what she does day in and day out. Monica is one amazing, hard-working lady, and she is dedicated to the wellbeing of each of her bears. It is worth the trip to Myakka to see her interact with her grizzly and brown bears. I highly recommend it but make a reservation first.

We’ve all had those time when we’ve taken a bath and the towel was just out of reach.

One potato, two potato. If you don’t eat it fast, you get no potato.

If you want to take a tour, contact Monica on her Facebook page, Bearadise Bear Ranch Preserve, or her website. You can also book lunch on the ranch. She has a cute gift shop as well as a pictorial history of their bears since their early days.

Monica is a wonderful hostess/tour guide/educator.

Land Shark – Another Florida Reality

Coming to Florida soon?  I’m sure you’ll remember your sunscreen; but you might want to pack mosquito repellant, bear pepper spray and shark repellant, too.  Why?  Because it’s a jungle down here.  And a swamp.  And sharks turn up in the oddest places.

Mosquitoes:  The county in which I reside, Orange County, was formerly named Mosquito County.  The name change was made in 1845 when Florida became a state – probably a good idea promoted by whatever was the equivalent of a chamber of commerce back then.  Everyone loves those Florida oranges, but due to a couple of severe winters in the 1980s that destroyed many of our lovely orange groves, you are more likely to be bitten by a mosquito than find an orange to bite into down here.

Bears:  Recently I was driving through a residential neighborhood on a late afternoon and a Florida black bear crossed the street in front of me.  He acted like he owned the place and I guess he kind of does.  We have had them visit our yard on a few occasions.  Raccoons and opossums also frequent our area.  And I don’t even want to talk about snakes (so I won’t).

Alligators:  For me the scariest things in the wildlife realm down here are alligators and sharks.  According to The Defenders of Wildlife’s website, there are approximately 1.25 million alligators in Florida.  Considering our population of nearly 20 million people, that means that there is about one alligator for every 16 Floridians.  That being said, I stay out of our lakes.

Sharks:  I can’t make myself stay out of the ocean, even though I know what lies beneath is pretty scary.  I also can’t bring myself to stay off the highways, which are far more dangerous than our swamps, rivers, lakes and oceans.  Just last week, there was an accident on I-95 in Volusia County (Daytona area) that illustrates this point perfectly.  In that accident, thankfully, there were no people injured, but one shark lost its life.

Yes, I said a shark was in an accident on I-95.  A semi-truck was transporting sharks to an aquarium in New York when a tire separated causing the driver to lose control of the truck.  In the tradition of every fish story you have ever heard, this story has grown a bit.  At first I heard there were three sandbar sharks in the accident.  Then I heard that there were four hammerheads.  The last count is five great whites, but one of them may have been a lawyer who showed up at the scene when he heard sirens.

So there you go, you aren’t truly safe anywhere, so why not enjoy that trip to the beach and take a dip in the ocean.  Be cautious.  Stay close to a lifeguard and be very careful as you drive there.  But, please, stay out of the lakes.  Don’t go crazy on me.


The famous Land Shark from Saturday Night Live