In the meantime, when she isn't writing fabulous novels... Tiffany is den mother.
Here she is, to tell you all about it.
My Other Life
The popular perception of author as hermit—solitary cave-worm emerging to blink at the frightful sun—is often not far from the truth. But many of us also have other lives, other selves, that are just as important as our author-self. Here’s a bit about mine.
My husband Andrew and I share a love of nature and wildlife that’s at the core of our marriage. Finding opportunities for both of us in environmental work was difficult, so Andrew was overjoyed at an opportunity to work with black bears. He worked with the Center for Ursid Research (CUR) at Virginia Tech, studying populations of Virginia’s bears by trapping and radio-collaring the animals and following their movements. In the winter, Andrew and other researchers located the mothers in their dens and took data on the cubs (always, of course, returning them to their mothers afterwards). Usually, my husband was the one to crawl headfirst into the mother’s den to dart her. If you think writing a novel is difficult, try crawling into a dark den with a sleeping mother bear and darting her well enough to keep her asleep so that she doesn’t make you into a bear snack!
I often followed on these den journeys through the snow or early spring, following the ridges, waiting while Andrew or others climbed between boulders, into a hollow tree, or wherever the mother had decided to make her den. I helped measure and weigh the cubs as they were brought blinking out into the light.
CUR, however, had (and still has) another function—dealing with “nuisance” bears, animals that have been disturbing people’s homes, trash, campsites or that seem threatening in some way to humans. Often, these bears are female and are brought to the center in late summer. They’re kept there for research (and hopefully to make them NEVER want to bother with humans again) and then released in April or May.
Many of these females have mated prior to their capture and become pregnant (due to the wonders of delayed implantation) in late fall. After a couple months, their cubs are born and are studied just as they would be in the wild—weighed, measured, etc.
Sometimes, orphans are brought to the center. This often happens in early spring—someone disturbs a den (bears den in thickets as well as caves or trees) and the mother runs off, leaving the cubs. Occasionally, the mother will return, but most times she won’t. Once, we had a pair of twin brothers orphaned in this way. Andrew and I fostered them, feeding them bottles every few hours. Our boys had voices like banshees and claws to match. They squalled and screamed every time they heard us warming up a bottle, and when we let them out of their pen, they’d climb up our legs as though we were tree trunks. Suckling until their tummies were tight as drums, they’d collapse on us, exhausted. We were lucky that we were able to foster them out not long after that to a wild mother who accepted them. Bears are quite willing foster-mothers, generally, and are obviously better at doing it than we humans. I don’t know what happened to the twins, but I hope that they’re somewhere out in the Blue Ridge Mountains, still sleeping, dreaming of squaw root and berries to come.
We haven’t had orphans* in quite a while—thank goodness!—but I still help out at the bear center when I can. This year we’ve got eight cubs who will go out into the wild with their mothers at the end of April or May. I’m looking forward to their release almost as much I’ve been anticipating the next novel.
*Update: After I typed this, of course, I found out we’re getting two orphaned cubs this Saturday—their mother was scared away when a farmer tried to bush-hog a brush pile. Hopefully, their new mothers will accept them just fine!