Charles Kocher, Pilot staff writer

There's a bear living in our corner of the forest.

(Cue music: "If you go down in the woods today, you're sure of a big surprise. ...")

In fact, it's no surprise that there are bear in our woods. We live adjacent to a large undeveloped parcel. All the neighbors have spotted occasional bears over the years - except us.

That is ironic, given that bears are a totem in our household. Bear sculptures, bear print pillows and plates, bear coffee mugs and Christmas decorations, and bear paw prints over the front door.

It's the paw prints on the trash can that have me concerned. Our friendly neighborhood bear (cue the Yogi Bear cartoon clip) has knocked it over a few times during the past few weeks.

This made me thankful that we keep the garbage can at the end of the road, away from the house, and that we've insisted CTR provide us with a can that has a hasp (albeit a teensy one) to keep out the usual garbage-seeking critters. (Never mind that they ding me two bucks in a separate billing if I forget to undo the hasp on garbage night.) These precautions are made more necessary by the every-other-week pick-up schedule on our road; the garbage gets pretty ripe this time of year.

This bear, however, is bigger and smarter than the hasp, and managed to pull the trash can open this week. That midnight picnic (cue Yogi again, saying "pic-a-nic basket") added 20 minutes to my morning while I cleaned up the mess.

I wasn't surprised. From our summer suite on an outdoor deck, our dog and others on the hill had made us more than aware of nocturnal activities several times overnight. (Cue the scene from "One Hundred and One Dalmatians.")

The dog, by the way, is an expert at recognizing overnight garbage can raids, since he leaves evidence in our house all the time.

Nearby was another obvious clue to the species and size of this critter: A fascinating quart-size mound of scat filled with cherry pits and other less identifiable materials. (Cue a comedian telling the old joke about where a bear goes in the woods.)

Bear sightings are not uncommon here - even around Azalea Park - as they search for food while waiting for blackberries to ripen. As I picked up the trash, I was thankful that the "point berries" on the nearby brambles were turning dark.

And I was not surprised when the trash can was still standing on the following two mornings, a hopeful sign that our furry friend has found better food elsewhere. (Cue music: "The bear went over the mountain. ...")