Thoughts & Views: Refreshing paws on a summer day

8-26 Op_web
Tim Basso/YouTube

If you don’t recognize the photo accompanying this column, you must have neither television nor Internet access. It’s a still from a video that made national if not international news and went viral on YouTube last week.

Filmed by the Basso family of Rockaway, it shows a mother bear and her five cubs frolicking in the family’s backyard pool last Tuesday when the heat wave was broiling the state.

Safe in their home, the Bassos recorded the ursine antics from a second-floor window. The bears spent nearly an hour in the yard — splashing in the water, chasing a beach ball, chewing up floaties, playing on the slide, etc.

Then they left, headed where no one knows. (Perhaps by press time they will have been spotted again.) Apparently, this ursine brood is fairly well-known in the Morris County town, having been there frequently all summer. But this seems to be the first time they’ve taken over a pool.

Newscasters reporting on the incident expressed surprise at the number of cubs, but Observer readers would have known that this is not unusual in New Jersey. As noted last week in a story on state Conservation Officer Joe Kuechler’s visit to the Kearny Junior Police Academy, “N.J. mama bears have the biggest litters in the U.S. — four to five cubs, compared with the average two or three in other states.”

While the pool party is amusing, it’s a good thing no one entered that yard. Getting between a bear and her cubs can be fatal. It’s an extremely dangerous and entirely different situation from an encounter with a solo bear. Although these have also been known to attack.

Visit the state Division of Fish & Wildlife’s website,, for information on how to behave if you cross paths with a bear. Some of the advice:

• Remain calm. Do not run from a bear. Instead, slowly back away.

• Make the bear aware of your presence by speaking in an assertive voice, singing, clapping your hands, or making other noises.

• Make sure the bear has an escape route.

• Avoid direct eye contact, which may be perceived by a bear as a challenge.

• The bear may utter a series of huffs, make popping sounds by snapping its jaws and swat the ground. These are warning signs that you are too close.

• Black bears will sometimes “bluff charge” when cornered, threatened or attempting to steal food. Stand your ground, avoid direct eye contact, then slowly back away and do not run.

There are many more tips. I suggest you read them. Why? Because, N.J. Fish & Wildlife also reports: “Black bears have been sighted in all 21 counties.”

Repeat: ALL. Including Hudson, although not West Hudson. Yet. As far as we know.

Readers of my column know I am paranoid about bears, convinced that I will die at the paws of one eventually. I have joked about this, but humor can have basis in factual fear. As New Jersey’s woodlands are increasingly lost to development, the bears are seeking new territory. I have been told they come down from the northern forests by travelling along power-line cuts and abandoned railroad tracks. Both of which can be found in Observer towns.

Just three months ago, a black bear was spotted hiding in a tree in the Bloomfield Cemetery on Belleville Ave. It was trapped and relocated to a more bear-friendly location.

Repeat: A bear was in Bloomfield.

You have been warned.

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