Tom Ross: Locks were meant to keep bears out of dumpsters, not keep them in
July 7, 2014
Steamboat Springs — Everyone who lives in a townhome or condo complex in Steamboat knows that the locking bar on a trash dumpster is meant to keep the bears out. Everyone except for me.
It was just before midnight Thursday when I drove home from work after filing my story about the Ranch Rodeo. I had left home for the arena at 5:30 p.m. and didn't think to lock the dumpster at our townhome project. But I remembered that little chore on the drive home.
I've been religious about tucking in the dumpster for the night after seeing evidence that a bear had visited our smorgasbord. I didn't actually see the bear, but there was shredded trash on the ground outside the dumpster one morning, which is atypical of raccoons. And another morning, there was a narrow gash in the heavy vinyl lid of the dumpster. It looked to me like a bear had left its signature.
In the past, we've had a large bear actually bend the steel supports in the dumpster lid, so I have great respect for their physical strength. But as I drove home Thursday, I thought I had made it in time to lock up before any bears arrived. I pulled up to the dumpster and left the headlights on and the engine running.
I listened for a few moments and didn't hear anything alarming, so I walked over and swung the steel locking bar over the top edges of the lids and secured it in place by snapping a heavy metal clip attached to a chain onto the bar.
That's when I heard a hoarse exhalation that sounded like "whoooof!" Whatever was inside the dumpster attempted to thrust the lid open, failed and whoofed again. I was pretty certain it wasn't any of my neighbors indulging in midnight dumpster diving, so that left only one answer. Goldilocks unintentionally had locked a bear in the dumpster.
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My first thought was to leave him in there until daylight, when I would be thinking more clearly and I could call for backup. But I quickly realized that if one of my neighbors rose early to drive to Denver for a Rockies game and stopped to drop off the household trash, they could be in for a rude surprise.
I needed to solve my own problem, and sooner rather than later.
In an effort to gather some intelligence on my adversary, I scooped up a handful of gravel, flinging some against the side of the dumpster and tossing some more through the crack between the lids. I repeated that little drill twice more, giving the dumpster a good kick. The unseen bear did not roar like a grizzly, nor did it have the power to rock and roll the dumpster itself.
Shining my backpacker's headlamp into the crack between the dumpster lids, I saw a really big pair of nostrils. "Whoof!"
Reassured that my bear was kind of a pussy cat, I walked up to the dumpster, unhooked the locking bar, returned to the car, put it in reverse and backed off about 10 feet to give it some room.
Sure enough, in less than 60 seconds, the lid lifted and a black bear, which I guess-timated to be a 2-year-old, dropped to the ground and ran into the seasonal stream bed behind the dumpster. He shook the bushes for about 20 seconds, and when the commotion subsided, I returned and locked the dumpster. Who's afraid of baby bear?
What I didn't know was that my neighbors were watching all of this unfold from their second-story deck.
My wife was out watering the flowers the next morning when that same couple strolled by on the way to deliver another bag of bear chow to the dumpster. She described my bear encounter to the neighbors and enlisted their help in keeping the dumpster locked overnight.
"That was your husband?" they exclaimed. "We were watching that whole thing through binoculars. We thought he was some crazy drunk! Then we saw the bear!"
For the record, I was stone-cold sober when I locked the bear in the dumpster. But I might have poured myself a wee shot of special tequila soon after I locked myself in the house.