Ollie has never seen a bear. Bears no longer exist in Norfolk. According to Wikipedia, the last wild bear ever seen in Britain was in 1000 AD. So apart from a few escaped captive bears since, there are no wild bears in our homeland. Ollie doesn’t know this of course, and he doesn’t even know what a bear is. He understands the word ‘ducks’, and will leap into the river if I say it, searching for the wildfowl. He certainly knows ‘squirrels’, and will immediately look upwards if he hears that word, scanning the branches of trees for long furry tails. Any mention of ‘bunnies’ will have him investigating burrows and warrens, or anywhere that he has ever seen a rabbit. The same applies to ‘deer’, which will have him scurrying off to the last place he ever chased one. If he is at home, and hears ‘cats’ he will rush out of the back door, looking for any cat that might have ventured into our garden. But we have never had a bear in the garden, or seen one in Beetley Meadows, or over at Hoe Rough.
At weekends, we rarely have company on our walks. The usual canine companions that join us during the week are off with their owners, doing other things. They are visiting relatives, enjoying excursions to the coast, or just changing their regular walking times, to accommodate different activities. For Ollie, this means a lonely couple of hours, with no dogs to scamper around with, and only me for company. He can seem fed up, often crying, and he is always searching for his friends, unable to understand why they are absent. To make his walk more enjoyable, I have to use my imagination. I try to change the normal routes, or walk in an area we have not been to for a while. This doesn’t always help though, so I try my best to simulate what dog-walking really feels like to a dog. A hunt. As far as most dogs are concerned, the daily routine of their walk is just hunting. They are looking for their pack, leaving scents, and searching for something, not always sure what that something is. As the notional ‘pack-leader’, it is up to me to lead the hunt, and to provide direction and leadership during it. The outcome is food, replicated by Ollie receiving his dinner not long after we return. He may not have caught it, but it is undoubtedly his reward for participation.
Over at Hoe Rough, there is a nice little dell. I have mentioned this before, the place where birds will come close, if you sit quietly on a fallen branch. In an unusually large dip in the ground, the shade from the group of trees, and availability of branches to use as seating, makes this a nice place to rest, and I use it a lot. It looks like the kind of place where a bear might choose to live, if bears lived in Beetley. Resting from the unaccustomed heat yesterday, I noticed that Ollie was bored. He was nibbling grass, and wandering back and forth aimlessly. I had an idea. ‘Find the bear’, I suddenly exclaimed. His head snapped up, and he started to investigate the area, nose hard to the ground. Moments later he rushed off into the long grass, showing such purpose, I was sure that he had discovered something. He had, but it was a pheasant.
Ollie seemed to know that the game bird was not the target of his quest, and returned to my branch, looking intently at me. I stood up and asked him ‘Where’s that bear?’ He took off in a circular pattern, sniffing the grass in detail, returning to the dell to investigate the leaf-litter and fallen twigs. He soon started along the path, heading for the south side of Hoe Rough, before rushing into the central scrub-land area, no doubt certain he had found a good scent. I didn’t have the heart to tell him how large bears are, and that they couldn’t conceal themselves in coarse grass. The quest kept him busy for at least forty minutes. He didn’t look into the river, or up at the trees, and he avoided all known areas where he had seen a deer. He seemed to realise that he was looking for something very different, even if he had no idea what it was.
If bears ever return to Norfolk, they had better watch out.