Van Beek: Easier season still requires caution
We all look forward to this time of year with a sigh of relief and anticipation of some well-deserved rest and a little vacation time, even if it’s a staycation.
The town gets very quiet, and locals are grateful to have their space back. Winter toys get cleaned up and stored, as we trade in our ski jackets and boots for shorts and flip-flops, oftentimes wearing them both during a flash snowstorm.
Kids get excited as spring break leads to plans for summer and increased outdoor activities. Images of tents, hikes and playing with friends until late because of extended daylight, creating the memories of a lifetime.
Business owners make the transition, often closing up for a few weeks as they take a much-needed rest and redecorate in colorful spring and summer tones, shifting merchandise and enjoying the change of season that we all appreciate. Services also go from winter needs to summer and remodeling projects.
These changes are all positive, even though the transition may be a bit stressful. With this shift, we tend to develop a carefree attitude that can occasionally invite a little trouble.
One area that is natural, is the desire to air out our homes. It’s both functional, to cool off the house with open windows and doors, and eye-pleasing as we attempt to bring the outdoors inside. Gardening and planting, filling our space with the delights of nature, touching our very souls. We are reminded of why we live in the mountains.
With this carefree lifestyle, we must remember to maintain sensible caution.
First, we live in a rural area whose primary residents are wildlife. Nap time is over and they are awakening with a ravenous appetite. Apparently, hibernation is exhausting. Bears may look cute, but they are not your friends. They are awake, grumpy and hungry. Feeding them may seem humanitarian but it actually will encourage dangerous behavior; bears are quite capable of finding plenty of food on their own.
We must also remember that while they may look cuddly, bears are exceptionally strong. A window open, with a warm pie cooling in the kitchen, can entice a bear to put its paws through a window, taking along with it a huge section of the wall, as it attempts to savor a piece of that yummy dessert. While they are not generally aggressive, if you get between a mother bear and her cub, knowingly or not, one swipe of her paw can deliver a fatal blow.
Unlocked trash bins will release scents of tossed food that will encourage bears to get dangerously close to your home. The same holds true of barbeque grills. That steak’s aroma stays around long after you’ve digested it, and it will attract wildlife to your deck, thinking that where there is a scent, food is sure to be nearby, and they will be motivated to explore. And keep pet food indoors.
Mountain lions (cougars) are of the same mindset — on the prowl for food, but infinitely more aggressive. They require an even greater degree of caution, as they are more adept at concealment. They will more easily blend into the brush, under an overhang, or up a tree, observing with the quiet accuracy of a feline, and pounce on available prey at the first opportunity. Everything looks like a hearty meal to them, so be extra careful with pets, particularly around dusk.
When on the road, remember that wildlife is on the move. Some awakening, others migrating. Deer and elk are most common. Usually, if one is nearby, others are close. Proceed slowly, as one hit can totally destroy your car and if the animal is not dead, it will be very angry.
Since many of these animals are nocturnal, you will want to make sure to close things up at night. This might present a challenge, as summertime can get quite hot, and even in cooler evening temps, you may want to keep windows and screen doors open. Yet, especially in more rural areas, you may discover an uninvited critter inside your house. There is little that can be done, outside of bars on the windows and doors, to keep them out. It might be worth considering acquiring a portable air conditioning unit so that you can close up at night. It also helps protect against the other wildlife that may be prowling the area, criminals.
The other seasonal hazard is wildfires. We have already had one human-caused event and there is still snow on the mountains! Don’t let the white stuff fool you into thinking that we are not vulnerable to wildfire. This is especially true during windy conditions, frequent with spring weather changes.
Take the usual camping precautions when building a campfire. Aside from lightning, campfires are the number one cause of wildfires. Never leave a campfire unattended. Understand that it can easily reignite. Let the fire burn to a white ash. Flatten out the wood or coal to provide more even cooling. Pour water or dirt over the campfire to smother it. Feel it to make sure it is no longer hot. Stay nearby for about a half hour, just to make sure that nothing develops, perhaps by putting out the campfire before packing up the car.
At home, keep a go-bag with essentials in the car or by the front door in case a fire creeps near your home. With a shift or increase of wind, a fire can engulf the area quickly.
Stay safe and enjoy this incredible season in the mountains. There is nothing like it!