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MOOWEEN THE BEAR
VER since nursery times Bruin has been largely a
creature of imagination. He dwells there a ferocious
beast, prowling about gloomy woods, red eyed and
dangerous, ready to rush upon the unwary traverler and
eat him on the spot.
Sometimes, indeed, we have seen him out of imagination.
There he is a poor, tired, clumsy creature, footsore
and dusty, with a halter round his neck, and a swarthy
foreigner to make his life miserable. At the word he
rises to his hind legs, hunches his shoulders, and
lunges awkwardly round in a circle, while the foreigner
sings Horry, horry, dum-dum, and his wife passes the
 We children pity the bear, as we watch, and
forget the other animal that frightens us when near the
woods at night. But he passes on at last, with a troop
of boys following to the town limits. Next day Bruin
comes back, and lives in imagination as ugly and
frightful as ever.
But Mooween the Bear, as the northern Indians call him,
the animal that lives up in the woods of Maine and
Canada, is a very different kind of creature. He is big
and glossy black, with long white teeth and sharp black
claws, like the imagination bear. Unlike him, however,
he is shy and wild, and timid as any rabbit. When you
camp in the wilderness at night, the rabbit will come
out of his form in the ferns to pull at your shoe, or
nibble a hole in the salt bag, while you sleep. He will
play twenty pranks under your very eyes. But if you
would see Mooween, you must camp many summers, and
tramp many a weary mile through the big forests before
catching a glimpse of him, or seeing any trace save the
deep tracks, like a barefoot boy's, left in some soft
bit of earth in his hurried flight.
Mooween's ears are quick, and his nose very keen. The
slightest warning from either will generally send him
off to the densest cover or the roughest hillside in
the neighborhood. Silently as a black shadow he glides
away, if he has detected your approach from a
 distance. But if surprised and frightened, he dashes
headlong through the brush with crash of branches, and
bump of fallen logs, and volleys of dirt and dead wood
flung out behind him as he digs his toes into the
hillside in his frantic haste to be away.
In the first startled instant of such an encounter, one
thinks there must be twenty bears scrambling up the
hill. And if you should perchance get a glimpse of the
game, you will be conscious chiefly of a funny little
pair of wrinkled black feet, turned up at you so
rapidly that they actually seem to twinkle through a
cloud of flying loose stuff.
That was the way in which I first met Mooween. He was
feeding peaceably on blueberries, just stuffing himself
with the ripe fruit that tinged with blue a burned
hillside, when I came round the turn of a deer path.
There he was, the mighty, ferocious beast—and my only
weapon a trout-rod!
We discovered each other at the same instant. Words can
hardly measure the mutual consternation. I felt scared;
and in a moment it flashed upon me that he looked so.
This last observation was like a breath of inspiration.
It led me to make a demonstration before he should
regain his wits. I jumped forward with a flourish, and
threw my hat at him.—
Boo! said I.
Hoof, woof! said Mooween. And away he went
 up the
hill in a desperate scramble, with loose stones
rattling and the bottoms of his feet showing constantly
through the volley of dirt and chips flung out behind
That killed the fierce imagination bear of childhood
days deader than any bullet could have done, and
convinced me that Mooween is at heart a timid creature.
Still, this was a young bear, as was also one other
upon whom I tried the same experiment, with the same
result. Had he been older and bigger, it might have
been different. In that case I have found that a good
rule is to go your own way unobtrusively leaving
Mooween to his devices. All animals, whether wild or
domestic, respect a man who neither fears nor disturbs
Mooween's eyes are his weak point. They are close
together, and seem to focus on the ground a few feet in
front of his nose. At twenty yards to leeward he can
never tell you from a stump or a caribou, should you
chance to be standing still.
If fortunate enough to find the ridge where he sleeps
away the long summer days, one is almost sure to get a
glimpse of him by watching on the lake below. It is
necessary only to sit perfectly still in your canoe
among the water-grasses near shore When near a lake, a
bear will almost invariably come down about noontime to
sniff carefully all about, and
 lap the water, and
perhaps find a dead fish before going back for his
Four or five times I have sat thus in my canoe while
Mooween passed close by, and never suspected my
presence till a chirp drew his attention. It is curious
at such times, when there is no wind to bring the scent
to his keen nose, to see him turn his head to one side,
and wrinkle his forehead in the vain endeavor to make
out the curious object there in the grass. At last he
rises on his hind legs, and stares long and intently.
It seems as if he must recognize you, with his nose
pointing straight at you, his eyes looking straight
into yours. But he drops on all fours again, and glides
silently into the thick bushes that fringe the shore.
Don't stir now, nor make the least sound. He is in
there, just out of sight, sitting on his haunches,
using nose and ears to catch your slightest message.
Ten minutes pass by in intense silence. Down on the
shore, fifty yards below, a slight swaying of the
bilberry bushes catches your eye. That surely is not
the bear! There has not been a sound since he
disappeared. A squirrel could hardly creep through that
underbrush without noise enough to tell where he was.
But the bushes sway again, and Mooween reappears
suddenly for another long look at the suspicious
object. Then he turns and plods his way along
 shore, rolling his head from side to side as if
Now swing your canoe well out into the lake, and head
him off on the point, a quarter of a mile below Hold
the canoe quiet just outside the lily pads by grasping
a few tough stems, and sit low. This time the big
object catches Mooween's eye as he rounds the point;
and you have only to sit still to see him go through
the same maneuvers with greater mystification than
Once, however, he varied his program, and gave me a
terrible start, letting me know for a moment just how
it feels to be hunted, at the same time showing with
what marvelous stillness he can glide through the
thickest cover when he chooses.
It was early evening on a forest lake. The water lay
like a great mirror, with the sunset splendor still
upon it. The hush of twilight was over the wilderness.
Only the hermit-thrushes sang wild and sweet from a
hundred dead spruce tops.
I was drifting about, partly in the hope to meet
Mooween, whose tracks were very numerous at the lower
end of the lake, when I heard him walking in the
shallow water. Through the glass I made him out against
the shore, as he plodded along in my direction.
I had long been curious to know how near a bear
 would come to a man without discovering him Here was an
opportunity. The wind at sunset had been in my favor;
now there was not the faintest breath stirring.
Hiding the canoe, I sat down in the sand on a little
point, where dense bushes grew down to within a few
feet of the waters edge. Head and shoulders were in
plain sight above the water-grass. My intentions were
wholly peaceable, notwithstanding the rifle that lay
across my knees. It was near the matins season, when
Mooween's temper is often dangerous and one felt much
more comfortable with the chill of the cold iron in his
Mooween came rapidly along the shore meanwhile
evidently anxious to reach the other end of the lake.
In the mating season bears use the margins of lakes and
streams as natural highways. As he drew nearer and
nearer I gazed with a kind of fascination at the big
unconscious brute. He carried his head low and dropped
his feet with a heavy splash into the shallow water.
At twenty yards he stopped as if struck, with head up
and one paw lifted, sniffing suspiciously. Even then he
did not see me, though only the open shore lay between
us. He did not use his eyes at all, but laid his great
head back on his shoulders and sniffed in every
direction, rocking his brown muzzle up and
the while, so as to take in every atom from the tainted
A few slow careful steps forward, and he stopped again,
looked straight into my eyes, then beyond me towards
the lake, all the while sniffing. I was still only part
of the shore. Yet he was so near that I caught the
gleam of his eyes, and saw the nostrils swell and the
muzzle twitch nervously.
Another step or two, and he planted his fore feet
firmly. The long hairs began to rise along his spine,
and under his wrinkled chops was a flash of white
teeth. Still he had no suspicion of the motionless
object there in the grass. He looked rather out on the
lake. Then he glided into the brush and was lost to
sight and hearing.
He was so close, that I scarcely dared breathe as I
waited, expecting him to come out farther down the
shore. . Five minutes passed without the slightest
sound to indicate his whereabouts, though I was
listening intently in the dead hush that was on the
lake. All the while I smelled him strongly. One can
smell a bear almost as far as he can a deer, though the
scent does not cling so long to the underbrush.
A bush swayed slightly below where he had disappeared.
I was watching it closely when some sudden warning—I
know not what, for I did not hear but only felt it—
made me turn my head quickly.
 There, not six feet away, a huge head and
shoulders were thrust out of the bushes on the bank,
and a pair of gleaming eyes were peering intently down
upon me in the grass. He had been watching me at arm's
length probably two or three minutes. Had a muscle
moved in all that time, I have no doubt that he would
have sprung upon me. As it was, who can say what was
passing behind that curious, half-puzzled, half-savage
gleam in his eyes?
He drew quickly back as a sudden movement on my part
threw the rifle into position. A few minutes later I
heard the snap of a rotten twig some distance away. Not
another sound told of his presence till he broke out
onto the shore, fifty yards above, and went steadily on
his way up the lake.
Mooween is something of a humorist in his own way. When
not hungry he will go out of his way to frighten a
bullfrog away from his sun-bath on the shore, for no
other purpose, evidently, than just to see him jump.
Watching him thus amusing himself one afternoon, I was
immensely entertained by seeing him turn his head to
one side, and wrinkle his eyebrows, as each successive
frog said ke'dunk, and went splashing away over the lily
A pair of cubs are playful as young foxes, while their
extreme awkwardness makes them a dozen times
comical. Simmo, my Indian guide, tells me that the cubs
will sometimes—run away and hide when they hear the
mother bear returning. No amount of coaxing or of
anxious fear on her part will bring them back, till she
searches diligently to find them.
Once only have I had opportunity to see the young at
play. There were two of them, nearly full-grown, with
the mother. The most curious thing was to see them
stand up on their hind legs and cuff each other
soundly, striking and warding like trained boxers. Then
they would lock arms and wrestle desperately till one
was thrown, when the other promptly seized him by
throat or paw, and pretended to growl frightfully.
They were well fed, evidently, and full of good spirits
as two boys. But the mother was cross and out of sorts.
She kept moving about uneasily, as if the rough play
irritated her nerves. Occasionally, as she sat for a
moment with hind legs stretched out flat and fore paws
planted between them, one of the cubs would approach
and attempt some monkey play. A sound cuff on the ear
invariably sent him whimpering back to his companion,
who looked droll enough the while, sitting with his
tongue out and his head wagging humorously as he
watched the experiment. It was getting toward the time
of year when she would mate again, and send them off
into the world
 to shift for themselves. And this
was perhaps their first hard discipline.
Once also I caught an old bear enjoying himself in a
curious way. It was one intensely hot day, in the heart
of a New Brunswick wilderness. Mooween came out onto
the lake shore and lumbered along, twisting uneasily
and rolling his head as if very much distressed by the
heat. I followed silently close behind in my canoe.
Soon he came to a cool spot under the alders, which was
probably what he was looking for. A small brook made an
eddy there, and a lot of driftweed had collected over a
bed of soft black mud. The stump of a huge cedar leaned
out over it, some four or five feet above the water.
First he waded in to try the temperature. Then he came
out and climbed the cedar stump, where he sniffed in
every direction, as is his wont before lying down.
Satisfied at last, he balanced himself carefully and
gave a big jump— Oh, so awkwardly!—with legs out
flat, and paws up, and mouth open as if he were
laughing at himself. Down he came, souse, with a
tremendous splash that sent mud and water flying in
every direction. And with a deep uff-guff of pure
delight, he settled himself in his cool bed for a
In his fondness for fish, Mooween has discovered an
 interesting way of catching them. In June and
July immense numbers of trout and salmon run up the
wilderness rivers on their way to the spawning grounds.
Here and there, on small streams, are shallow riffles,
where large fish are often half out of water as they
struggle up. On one of these riffles Mooween stations
himself during the first bright moonlight nights of
June, when the run of fish is largest on account of the
higher tides at the river mouth. And Mooween knows, as
well as any other fisherman, the kind of night on which
to go' fishing. He knows also the virtue of keeping
still. As a big salmon struggles by, Mooween slips a
paw under him, tosses him to the shore by a dexterous
flip, and springs after him before he can flounder
When hungry, Mooween has as many devices as a fox for
getting a meal. He tries flipping frogs from among the
lily pads in the same way that he catches salmon. That
failing, he takes to creeping through the water-grass,
like a mink, and striking his game dead with a blow of
Or he finds a porcupine loafing through the woods, and
follows him about to throw dirt and stones at him,
carefully refraining from touching him the while, till
the porcupine rolls himself into a ball of bristling
quills,—his usual method of defense. Mooween slips a
paw under him, flips him against a tree to stun
 him, and bites him in the belly, where there are no
quills. If he spies the porcupine in a tree, he will
climb up, if he is a young bear, and try to shake him
off. But he soon learns better, and saves his strength
for more fruitful exertions.
Mooween goes to the lumber camps regularly after his
winter sleep and, breaking in through door or roof,
helps himself to what he finds. If there happens to be
a barrel of pork there, he will roll it into the open
air, if the door is wide enough, before breaking in the
head with a blow of his paw.
Should he find a barrel of molasses among the stores,
his joy is unbounded. The head is broken in on the
instant and Mooween eats till he. is surfeited. Then he
lies down and rolls in the sticky sweet, to prolong the
pleasure; and stays in the neighborhood till every drop
has been lapped up.
Lumbermen have long since learned of his strength and
cunning in breaking into their strong camps. When
valuable stores are left in the woods, they are put
into special camps, called bear camps, where doors and
roofs are fastened with chains and ingenious log locks
to keep Mooween out.
Near the settlements Mooween speedily locates the sweet
apple trees among the orchards. These he climbs by
night, and shakes off enough apples to last him for
several visits. Every kind of domestic animal
game for him. He will lie at the edge of a clearing for
hours, with the patience of a cat, waiting for turkey
or sheep or pig to come within range of his swift rush.
His fondness for honey is well known. When he has
discovered a rotten tree in which wild bees have hidden
their store, he will claw at the bottom till it falls.
Curling one paw under the log he sinks the claws deep
into the wood. The other paw grips the log opposite the
first, and a single wrench lays it open. The clouds of
angry insects about his head meanwhile are as little
regarded as so many flies. He knows the thickness of
his skin, and they know it. When the honey is at last
exposed, and begins to disappear in great hungry
mouthfuls, the bees also fall upon it, to gorge
themselves with the fruit of their hard labor before
Mooween shall have eaten it all.
Everything eatable in the woods ministers at times to
Mooween's need. Nuts and berries are favorite dishes in
their season. When these and other delicacies fail, he
knows where to dig for edible roots. A big caribou,
wandering near his hiding place, is pulled down and
stunned by a blow on the head. Then, when the meat has
lost its freshness, he will hunt for an hour after a
wood-mouse he has seen run under a stone, or pull a
rotten log to pieces for the ants and larvae concealed
These last are favorite dishes with him. In a
 burned district, where ants and berries abound, one is
continually finding charred logs, in which the ants
nest by thousands, split open from end to end. A few
strong claw marks, and the lick of a moist tongue here
and there, explain the matter. It shows the extremes of
Mooween's taste. Next to honey he prefers red ants,
which are sour as pickles.
Mooween is even more expert as a boxer than as a
fisherman. When the skin is stripped from his fore
arms, they are seen to be of great size, with muscles
as firm to the touch as so much rubber. Long practice
has made him immensely strong, and quick as a flash to
ward and strike. Woe be to the luckless dog, however
large, that ventures in the excitement of the hunt
within reach of his paw. A single swift stroke will
generally put the poor brute out of the hunt forever.
Once Simmo caught a bear by the hind leg in a steel
trap. It was a young bear, a two-year-old; and Simmo
thought to save his precious powder by killing it with
a club. He cut a heavy maple stick and, swinging it
high above his head, advanced to the trap. Mooween rose
to his hind legs, and looked him steadily in the eye,
like the trained boxer that he is. Down came the club
with a sweep to have felled an ox. There was a flash
from Mooween's paw; the club spun away into the woods;
and Simmo just escaped
 a fearful return blow by
dropping to the ground and rolling out of reach,
leaving his cap in Mooween's claws. A wink later, and
his scalp would have hung there instead.
In the mating season, when three or four bears often
roam the woods together in fighting humor, Mooween uses
a curious kind of challenge. Rising on his hind legs
against a big fir or spruce, he tears the bark with his
claws as high as he can reach on either side. Then
placing his back against the trunk, he turns his head
and bites into the tree with his long canine teeth,
tearing out a mouthful of the wood. That is to let all
rivals know just how big a bear he is.
The next bear that comes along, seeking perhaps to win
the mate of his rival and following her trail, sees the
challenge and measures his height and reach in the same
way, against the same tree. If he can bite as high, or
higher, he keeps on, and a terrible fight is sure to
follow. But if, with his best endeavors, his marks fall
short of the deep scars above, he prudently withdraws,
and leaves it to a bigger bear to
risk an encounter.
In the wilderness one occasionally finds a tree on
which three or four bears have thus left their
challenge. Sometimes all the bears in a neighborhood
seem to have left their records in the same place. I
remember well one such tree, a big fir, by a lonely
 little beaver pond, where the separate challenges
had become indistinguishable on the torn bark. The
freshest marks here were those of a long-limbed old
ranger— a monster he must have been— with a clear reach
of a foot above his nearest rival. Evidently no other
bear had cared to try after such a record.
Once, in the mating season, I discovered quite by
accident that Mooween can be called, like a hawk or a
moose, or indeed any other wild creature, if one but
knows how. It was in New Brunswick, where I was camped
on a wild forest river. At midnight I was back at a
little opening in the woods, watching some hares at
play in the bright moonlight. When they had run away, I
called a wood-mouse out from his den under a stump; and
then a big brown owl from across the river— which almost
scared the life out of my poor little wood-mouse.
Suddenly a strange cry sounded far back on the
mountain. I listened curiously, then imitated the cry,
in the hope of hearing it again and of remembering it;
for I had never before heard anything like the sound,
and had no idea what creature produced it. There was no
response, however, and I speedily grew interested in
the owls; for by this time two or three more were
hooting about me, all called in by the first comer.
When they had gone I tried the strange call again.
Instantly it was answered close at hand. The creature
 I stole out into the middle of the opening, and
sat very still on a fallen log. Ten minutes passed in
intense silence. Then a twig snapped behind me. I
turned— and there was Mooween, just coming into the
opening. I shall not soon forget how he looked,
standing there big and black in the moonlight; nor the
growl deep down in his throat, that grew deeper as he
watched me. We looked straight into each other's eyes a
brief, uncertain moment. Then he drew back silently
into the dense shadow.
There is another side to Mooween's character,
fortunately a rare one, which is sometimes evident in
the mating season, when his temper leads him to attack
instead of running away, as usual; or when wounded, or
cornered, or roused to frenzy in defense of the young.
Mooween is then a beast to be dreaded, a great savage
brute, possessed of enormous strength and of a fiend's
cunning. I have followed him wounded through the
wilderness, when his every resting place was scarred
with deep gashes, and where broken saplings testified
mutely to the force of his blow. Yet even here his
natural timidity lies close to the surface, and his
ferocity has been greatly exaggerated by hunters.
Altogether, Mooween the Bear is a peaceable fellow, and
an interesting one, well worth studying. His extreme
wariness, however, enables him generally to
 escape observation; and there are undoubtedly many
queer ways of his yet to be discovered by some one who,
instead of trying to scare the life out of him by a
shout or a rifle-shot in the rare moments when he shows
himself, will have the patience to creep near, and find
out just what he is doing. Only in the deepest
wilderness is he natural and unconscious. There he
roams about, entirely alone for the most part,
supplying his numerous wants, and performing droll
capers with all the gravity of an owl, when he thinks
that not even Tookhees, the wood-mouse, is looking.