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Sometimes the bear eats you

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An autopsy confirms that Donna Munson, 74, who loved feeding wildlife near her Ouray-area residence, was killed and partially eaten by a bear -- which takes the whole be-kind-to-animals thing just a leeetle too far. Then again, I understand why people like Munson often underestimate the lethality of these creatures from recent personal experience.

In late July, most of my clan spent the better part of a week at a cabin on the Grand Mesa that's been in my wife's family since the 1940s, and one day, we looked out a window to see a bear ambling down a trail that runs alongside the property. Yes, it was adorable -- and yes, I ran outside with my camera after it got what I thought was a safe distance away, hoping to capture a snapshot for our family album.

A snapshot that could have transformed me from happy vacationer to mid-morning snack.

No, I didn't get the photo. The bear had already rounded the bend and was in the overgrowth at least twenty yards away by the time I stepped onto the porch, old-fashioned 35-mm camera at the ready. However, more encounters were ahead of us.

We stopped by the lodge at Mesa Lakes Resort, where the cabin is located, either that afternoon or the next -- I can't remember for certain -- to rent a boat, so we could paddle around a nearby lake called Jumbo for an hour or so. There, we told the person at the counter about our encounter, and she was unsurprised. A number of guests had seen the bear lately, and resort personnel had done everything they could to shoo it out of the area, including macing it -- and a couple of dogs actually treed it at one point, she said. Nonetheless, the bear, which she guessed was probably a year and a half old, kept returning. She told us to keep our distance.

Good advice, which we took -- sort of. We drove over to Jumbo with the paddles we'd rented, clambered into the boat waiting there, and rowed toward the far side of the lake, where we saw the bear splashing and playing in the water. Awwww! I'd forgotten my camera, but I still pushed us in the bear's direction despite the anxiety of Lora, one of my sixteen-year-old daughters, who has a justifiable dislike of being digested. Due to her concerns, and mine, I stayed at least a hundred yards away, and ten minutes later, the bear, who we nicknamed Sandy Claws -- because of his light-brown face, prominent toenails and our love of The Nightmare Before Christmas -- pulled himself out of the water and ambled back into the woods.

His exit didn't mark his farewell. The next day, we were taking a hike near another lake, and as I posed Lora and her mother on a dock for a photo, Lora pointed behind me and said, "Bear." Sandy was back, walking through a thicket about fifty yards down a hill. This time I got photos, although the bear was too far away, and blended too perfectly into the scenery, for anyone to appreciate them other than us.

And off he went -- but he didn't vanish. My wife's sister accompanied her family to the cabin after we left, and they reported multiple Sandy sightings as well. He'd become part of the scenery, the equivalent of a local mascot.

Bet the late Ms. Munson felt the same way about the bear in her neighborhood. Until it sunk its teeth into her, that is.

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