June 16, 2019

Fond memories of Oscar help soften blow of his death

What a contrast in departures! One was tiny and happy — the other huge and heartbreaking.

Hmmmm, the hummingbird who wintered healthily on ripe fruits and protein-laced formula, whirled through an open window and into a world of lilacs and cherry blossoms. It was one of those joyful releases which made the investment of time and money so worthwhile. We don’t know whether hummers have a homing instinct or not, but Hmmmm headed across the valley to the area where she was rescued that cold Labor Day last year.

The identity of the other dearly departed will sadden the hearts of many. Over a weekend, when veterinarians are as unavailable as appliance repairmen, Oscar-the-bear blew up like the Goodyear blimp. If he rolled onto his back, he had to fight like an overturned turtle to right himself. He refused food but drank gallons of water. Unable to learn what his problem was or what to give him for medication, all I could do was knead his gas-filled belly. The pressure began to affect his breathing and, a week ago yesterday, he kicked the bear bucket with all four of his great paws.

Brought in by a game warden just nine years ago today, Oscar was “different” right from the beginning. Unlike the other nine cubs we rehabilitated for release, he was as relaxed as a chunk of raw liver. While the fiesty — normal — cubs were striking out with lightning swiftness — slashing with claws and teeth — Oscar would be sucking one of his paws while feeling his ear with the other. Cubs much smaller than he would grab him by the nape of his neck and mop up the floor with him. Instead of growling, snarling and snapping his teeth, he made soft mmmmmum-mmmmmum sounds, sighed, snored and burped.

Oscar’s inability to climb trees and run, his out-of-sync hips and pigeon-toed paws, his abruptly-tapered back quarters and dum-dum-durr-dum attitude marked him unfit for release by the bear research boys, who also predicted he would have a short life span. But, on a diet of TLC, grains, dog food, apples, carrots, berries, dark breads moistened with light beer — and a few sweet treats — he developed into a magnificent animal who more than qualified for the prestigious Boone & Crockett Club. Although his record size head was pronounced “short on contents” by those who didn’t know him, he displayed remarkable intelligence. He never exhibited any aggressiveness, irritability or impatience. He moved in slow motion and his mild manner endeared him to all who met him.

Few, if any, black bears can boast of Oscar’s accomplishments. Through this column, tales of his offbeat behavior have brought chuckles and smiles to many. He starred in a TV commercial for a Bangor station. School children have done reports on him and his picture has graced many bulletin boards. Bear hunters have religiously trekked here to gaze at him in awe and admiration. His likeness is on countless video tapes and films throughout this country as well as in countries overseas. A visitor from Colorado reported that, after he struck up an impromptu conversation with a stranger in that state and mentioned the big bear he’d seen in Maine, the stranger commented, “You must mean Oscar!”

As usual, when one loses a pet or special creature such as Oscar, there’s that nagging question, “Where do they go from here?” We all have our personal beliefs, but I like to think that, as Oscar’s wild, but gentle, spirit left his body, my late Husband-John was exclaiming, “Well — hello, Oscar!”

Jerry Elwell is a free-lance nature writer who lives in Sherman Station.

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