Louisville Magazine

SEP 2016

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

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48 LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 9.16 BEAR ANIMAL ENCOUNTER He was not looking for anything that day as he made his way down the path to the cypresses sticking up from the swamp like pikes. Certainly not attention from the media; he's as elusive as the creature he saw. I do not know his name, what he looks like, where he's from. I know only that he is, according to Bernheim officials, a longtime and trusted visitor, and that he walked across the little wooden bridge — the railing alive with spiders, the air alive with frog song and the murmurations of gnats and buzzing pairs of dragonflies — and peered down the stream still low and brown-green with summer and saw, for the first time in his life or anyone's not lost to anonymous history, a black bear in Bernheim forest. e bear looked up for a moment that must have felt long, long. And then it lifted its heavy paws from the water, turned its snout up toward the divine path of instinct, and bound- ed up the bank, ignoring its own bulk. An adult black bear weighs about 340 pounds, its haste hidden by its heft. ey scale trunks like big squirrels, lose their giant bodies among the trees with the same natural magic deer use to disappear. "Like a phantom," says Mark Wourms, executive director of Bernheim. He's as fluent with nature as his surname would suggest, leading me through the "terrestrial biodome" as if the little dirt paths — some no wider than my two feet and stippled with roots — are carved into the back of his hand. Almost. e forest is always in flux, he explains. e path- ways of the natural world change when it rains. Like with the bear. e perch of limestone it stood on, fishing, is now submerged beneath the brimming stream. Wourms figures the animal was displaced by the season, likely a young male driven up from eastern Kentucky, bested by bigger, older males during the mating months of May and June. Nature made the choice to leave for him. If he had stayed, he might have been killed by a stronger male. Wourms says black bears have likely been to Bernheim be- fore; we just haven't seen them. Just 25-some-odd miles south from Louisville, the canopy soars with maple and oak and trees I should remember from my Cub Scout days but don't. Wourms leads me to an over- look, a walkway extending high over a wooded valley. Green dips and climbs around us like a heliotropic blanket God shook out and left wrinkled, mid-air. Beyond the bountiful, blue mountains brood. I wonder aloud if the bear is still there, out there in the vastness. And so have several visitors, all of whom Wourms gives the same advice: Keep your dog on a leash, and, if you see the bear, give it plenty of room and respect, though the wary creature will almost definitely run rather than rush you. "And enjoy it," he says. To see a bear, or a bobcat, or a deer, or the turtles paddling happily in one of the many ponds at Bernheim, or, for Wourms, anything from the butterflies to the mushrooms — this is a gift. "Our mission is to connect people with nature," he tells me several times, holding a branch back from the path, or pointing out a species of tree by the leaf. But he doubts I'll be connected with the phantom. Probably the bear has already moved on, the season changing, competition for mates waning. Probably he has already begun the long journey back toward the blue mountains, home. — Dylon Jones

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