Lavena Sargent doesn't doubt the identity of the thief that stole her apples and, in the process, tore apart the tree her family had nurtured for 20 years.
"There is a bear out there that will rip a tree down," she said Tuesday morning, a day after returning from a caribou hunting trip.
"It wasn't the world's best apple tree," she said. But at the end of a warm and sun-filled summer, it was bearing full-size apples for the first time and she was looking forward to picking them.
And it was "the family tree" in the literal sense, she said. She and her mother, Evelyn Reeves, who lives next door on Mendenhall Peninsula Road, disagree about which of them actually planted it.
Reeves said there were enough apples that she envisioned an autumn of baked apples and pie.
"It was heavy with apples," said Reeves. "We waited and waited and waited."
Then something "tore the tree all to heck," she said.
She believes the culprit was one large brown bear she's seen in the area. In previous years, black bears have been frequent visitors to her yard, she said, but this year the neighborhood appears to be a brown bear's turf.
"We don't do anything to attract bears because we live in bear country," she said, noting they secure trash and don't have any bird feeders.
Neil Barten, area wildlife biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said he feels bad for Sargent, but added that growing apples will attract bears.
Joe Orsi, who has grown apples for about 10 years, said he feels bad enough for Sargent that he offered her some of his. He said it didn't take long to learn that if you grow them, the bears will come.
"I've got an electric fence," said Orsi, who lives near Point Louisa. "It works."
He has about 25 trees bearing fruit this fall and finds an electrified wire at nose level sends a clear message to leave the apples alone.
Porcupines will climb trees for apples and deer may nibble, but bears will break off branches, he said. He has seen evidence of bears eating them directly off of the tree, leaving only the stem on the top.
Sargent said there was no trace of the apples that had been so plentiful on her tree, except for one she later found under a log in a brook. There aren't any kids in the neighborhood, and large fresh bear droppings were in her yard, leaving little doubt about the culprit.
Electric fences around trees are effective, Barten said.
"Other than that, people can beat the bears to the apples," he said. "That's a chance you take. In Juneau, it's a toss-up."
Sargent said she will talk to people about saving the tree's life, but she doesn't expect it will ever again bear fruit.
Tony Carroll can be reached at email@example.com.
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