My hand jerked back as if it were burning. There was some kind of goo on the carabiner that holds my garbage can closed these days. Maybe it was jam, but more likely it was the garbage juice that got on someone's hand as they set their bag down to wrestle with a series of lid locks.
It took me a minute, standing there in my alley, confronting a newly installed series of eyehooks, metal wire and carabiners before I would make a second attempt.
I'm sure I'll get better at it, but for now, it takes a good five minutes of biner turning and yanking to get the lid of my garbage can open. And it takes another five minutes of women's professional tennis grunting to get it closed again.
The bears have made a monkey of me.
And, to think, I used to like bears.
Years ago, I took a job as a baker/barmaid/token woman at a fly-fishing camp in Katmai National Park in Alaska.
It was the kind of place where oil deals were made between casts, where you could be fishing next to the CEO of ATT, the owner of Rolling Stone magazine or someone like me.
When I first arrived, I took to the old airplane mechanic who had lived in that remote corner of Alaska for decades. He taught me how to smoke and store fresh-caught salmon. He taught me which plants could be collected out on the tundra for tea.
And he reminded me regularly that I was in a very special corner of the world, surrounded on all sides by grizzly bears. This was the only time in my life I would be able to watch them in the wild without being afraid.
Because there were so many bears and so many salmon for them to eat, they barely noticed if you walked down to the bank of the river after dinner as they fished.
I would sit there for hours as the sun never set, like some Carhartt-ed Dian Fossey.
Mothers taught their cubs how to fish, and the bears with bad habits passed them on to their children. I learned: Bad fishermen beget bad fishermen -- even in nature.
It took me awhile to be that comfortable around bears. Before Alaska, the only grizzly bears I'd seen up close were the taxidermied ones that stood over you with bared teeth at natural history museums.
I saw my first real bear on my way to work -- walking down a dirt path at 4 a.m. to make biscuits, bread and pie crusts. I turned a corner and almost walked into the backside of a grizzly.
I think I made a leaking sound, such as "eeeeeee," and started walking backward.
The bear turned toward me, and for some stupid reason, I started whistling. (I later learned that you should never whistle at a bear. Among the many reasons -- it makes you sound like a wounded animal.)
The bear cocked his head at me, and I took the long way around him to get to work. I arrived at the door of the kitchen and turned back to where the bear had been standing when I last took a breath. It was still there, watching me.
After a few weeks, I got used to those encounters.
This was the kind of place where you strung an electric fence at night to keep the bears out of your trash and your fresh baked, wild blueberry pies.
Every once in a while, they would paw at the pontoons of the floatplanes in the lake, trying to get at the smell of food, but usually they would just fish and ignore us.
I liked them then. I admired them then.
On my last day in Alaska, before my plane arrived, I waded into the river and started casting. On three sides, bears were fishing with their cubs. The alders were turning the shades of fall, and the light was cooperating to create one of those perfect shining moments that you promise you'll never forget.
But you do forget the moment eventually and the way you felt at the time. And years later, when you live in a place with street signs and cars and a new bear container ordinance, you look down the alley at sunset and see a black bear waddling away in search of pizza crusts and meat scraps.
And instead of sitting down to watch and admire him, you sneer and give him the bird.