Grafton, New Hampshire libertarians had serious bear problems and may have dealt with them privately, Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling suspects.
Tracey Colburn lived in a little yellow house in the middle of the woods. She was used to seeing bears in her yard, up in her trees, and raiding her compost pile, where they chucked aside cabbage in what she could only interpret as disgust. Colburn was in her forties, with long brown hair and a youthful face. Sheâ€™d had a tough go of it; a breast-cancer diagnosis cut her college career short, and a long string of clerical and municipal jobs were unfulfilling. In 2012, she was in and out of work, but she had enough savings to care for her dog, Kai, a Husky-Labrador mix sheâ€™d rescued from a shelter. Kai had developed allergies to wheat and corn, two of the main ingredients in cheap dog food, so she was trying not to give him the stuff.
One muggy weekend, the kind where you leave the windows open to welcome even the slightest breeze, Colburn sliced up a cold pot roast and fed it to Kai. Then she let him out to pee. She was startled to see that her small porch, eight by ten feet, was â€œjust full of bear.â€ Two of the animals, young ones, were down on all fours sniffing the deck. A bigger, older bear stood right in front of Colburn. Kai rocketed at it, and Colburn screamed. The bear lunged at the sound. â€œThey move like lightning,â€ she told me.
The bear raked Colburnâ€™s face and torso with its left paw. Its claws dug into one forearm, thrown up in self-defense, and then the other. Colburn, whoâ€™d fallen onto her back, tried to push herself inside but realized sheâ€™d accidentally closed the door when her head thumped glass. â€œShe was going to frickinâ€™ kill me, I just knew it, because her face was right here,â€ Tracey said, holding her hand about eight inches in front of her nose. â€œI was looking right into her eyes.â€
Kai must have bitten the bearâ€™s rear legs then, because it jerked away from Colburn. The two animals started snarling and fighting in the yard. Colburn regained her feet and scrambled inside the house, shaking from adrenaline. She looked at her right hand. It didnâ€™t hurt, but it made her stomach turn. The bear had unwrapped the skin from the back of her hand like it was a Christmas present. The gaping hole showed ligaments, muscles, and blood. Colburn looked around her kitchen and picked up a clean dishcloth to wrap the wound.
Kai, only slightly injured, came trotting back toward the house; the bear was nowhere in sight. â€œHuskies prance. He come prancing out of the shadows, big grin on his face,â€ Colburn recalled. â€œLike it was the most wonderful thing heâ€™d ever done.â€ But she was worried that the bear and its cubs were still out there, waiting for her. It was a terrifying prospect, because she needed to go outside. She didnâ€™t get cell reception in her house, and she couldnâ€™t afford a landline, so there was no way to get in touch with anyone to help her stanch the blood pouring from her injuries.
Carrying a lead pipe to defend herself, Colburn made a desperate run for her white Subaru, only to realize, once she was safely inside, that her mangled right hand couldnâ€™t move the stick shift. Reaching across her body with her left hand, she got the car into gear and puttered down the driveway. She rolled along until she got to the home of a neighbor named Bob. When she rang his doorbell, he stuck his head out an upstairs window.
â€œIâ€™ve just been attacked by a bear,â€ Colburn said, breathing heavily.
â€œHold on,â€ Bob replied, and he ducked back inside. A few seconds later, his head popped back out.
â€œUh, youâ€™re kidding, right?â€ he asked.
Colburn conveyed, in painful shouts, that she was most certainly not kidding, and Bob quickly gave her a ride to the fire station. John Babiarz happened to be on duty. â€œThose goddamn bears!â€ he kept repeating. He called emergency responders, who whisked Colburn in an ambulance to the nearest hospital, then he phoned the Fish and Game Department. The person on the line was incredulous, like Bob before him. â€œItâ€™s been a century since weâ€™ve had a bear attack on a person,â€ the man said, referring to the whole of New Hampshire.
â€œIâ€™m here!â€ Babiarz yelled back. â€œI see the blood!â€
Doctors told Colburn that her body would heal. When she was released from the hospital, a warden from Fish and Game showed up at her house to erect a box trap in her yard. After he left, Colburn peeked at the single pink doughnut resting inside. That night she heard a bear banging on the side of the trap, but the next day the doughnut was still there. A few days later, the warden decided that the trap was useless, packed it up, and took it away.
Colburn thought about the bear all the time. She wondered how often it had ventured into her yard, onto her porch, and up to her windows without her knowing. Not like a Peeping Tom. Peeping Toms were people, and bears, she now knew for sure, were nothing like people. â€œIf you look at their eyes,â€ she told me, â€œyou understand that they are completely alien to us.â€