What You Can See on March 16

From Audubon’s Earth Almanac by Ted Williams and compiled in “Wild Moments,” edited by Connie Isbell, Illustrations by John Burgoyne, Storey Publishing, 174 pages. Teddy Bears’ Picnic Black-bear cubs -- as many as four to a litter and usually born in early February -- emerge from their dens in spring, but unlike their mothers, they have not been hibernating. Instead, they have been nursing as she slept. Now the size of small tabby cats, they are in fine flesh and frolicking in a new universe of sights, smells, sounds, and tastes. Their mother will tend them for almost a year and a half, then drive them away. If you encounter a black-bear family in the wild, keep your distance but consider yourself blessed, not threatened. Because black bears evolved in forested habitats, they almost always react to danger by running away or climbing a tree. Our other two bear species -- grizzlies and polar bears -- evolved on open ground and therefore are more likely to stand and fight. Land clearing and unrestricted hunting in the late 1800s devastated black-bear populations over most of the United States. But under modern wildlife management and with the regrowth of their forest habitat, the species is making a dramatic comeback. How the West Got Gold The California poppy has been widely transplanted around the nation, but only in its native range -- California and thin slices of western Oregon, Washington, Nevada, and the Baja Peninsula -- does it gild entire valleys and foothills to elevations of 7,000 feet. “To one who loves them in their glorious native hues, the white [cultivated] varieties seem almost repulsive,” writes Timothy Coffee in The History and Folklore of North American Wildflowers. “Compare one of these small, pale flowers with the great, rich, orange ones that glorify some favored regions in the Mojave Desert, and we feel the enervating and decadent influence of civilization.” When the first Spanish explorers beheld the massive, almost fluorescent spring blooms sweeping across rich alluvial soils, they called the land the “Golden West.” In fact, legend has it that California’s real gold was created by the falling petals. The flowers close in late afternoon, providing snug refuge for insect pollinators that fly by day. California poppies do not stupefy in the fashion of Old-World opium poppies, but they contain a pain killer that Indians found useful for relieving toothaches.