One of the wonderful things about living in southern New Hampshire is the abundance of scenic drives. No matter what direction you point your car, it seems you can quickly and easily find a marvelous stretch of road offering refreshing vistas of mountains, woods, and rock-rimmed pastures. The above foggy, not-ideal view of Mount Monadnock, which I took back in July on my way to meet Kathleen for a cemetery stroll in Jaffrey, shows one version of a southern New Hampshire drive. I’ve seen prettier views of Monadnock and have in my mind’s eye prettier pictures of New Hampshire drives…but since taking photos while driving is both difficult and dangerous, I’ll have to rely on words and your imagination to illustrate the sort of ever-changing views that await drivers in my neck of the woods.

Last night before dark descended, I took your usual, run-of-the-mill Sunday drive. The sun was setting and I’d been out running errands; it was too late to go walking but too early to settle into nocturnal inwardness. I had a to-do list that I was in the mood to avoid waiting for me back at the apartment, so after running too many errands and spending too much money, I did what I should have done earlier in the day: I hit the road.

Now, when I say I hit the road, you have to understand that I didn’t venture past the outlying areas of Keene and her handful of contiguous towns: Marlborough, Troy, Chesterfield. Basically, there is a handful of tiny hamlets right around Keene, and these communities offer the things that downtown Keene lacks: cow-filled pastures, stone walls, barns and wood sheds. These are the kind of places where you can drive past houses with handpainted signs hawking bantam hens, fresh eggs, and tender piglets, homegrown. Within a stone’s throw of Keene, you can see grazing donkeys, goats, and horses, and yesterday was one of those days when the sight of such pastoral delights was more appealing than my waiting apartment, laptop, and lengthy to-do list.

One of my favorite local drives goes past Stonewall Farm. Yesterday, though, I took a wrong turn onto what I thought was Chesterfield Road, so instead of passing a familiar farm, I ended up exploring some new-to-me back country roads. When I say “country roads,” you need to picture winding byways that are shaded by forest, punctuated by rural mailboxes and long-wending driveways, and rent by bright-lit pastures that reveal the geologic structure of outlying mountain ridges. Criss-crossed by death-defying chipmunks and fringed with mossy stonewalls, these roads twist and turn unpredictably so the next vista always comes as a surprise no matter how familiar the drive. This catch-your-breath unpredictability is a large part of Sunday driving’s charm.

One of yesterday’s new-to-me roads offered a particularly special surprise. After just rounding a corner just past a handful of woodsy houses, I slowed to pass a couple out taking an evening stroll. On the quiet road ahead of me, what I took to be a large black dog–about the size and shagginess of a Newfoundland, but leggier–galloped across the road. Galloped? More like gallomped, a flat-footed, rolling, but impressively graceful gate…and entirely unlike any running dog I’ve ever seen. It was, I realized a split second after it vanished into the woods on a snowmobile trail, a black bear, one of Keene’s outlying, seldom-seen neighbors. Here in the heart of Keene, we worry about skunks trolling our trash; on the outskirts, though, the rubbish-raiders are larger and less malodorous.

During the four years we lived in Hillsborough, NH, our house was nestled in trees right across from a state forest…and only once did I see a bear “in the fur” even though there was ample sign of ursine presence in the woods where the dog and I walked most days. Sometimes animal-spotting is a matter of preparation and prowess: if you know the kind of habitat a particular animal prefers, you can plan to be in the right place at the right time. But the rest of the time, animal-spotting is largely fortuitous and even accidental: was that couple loaded or even looking for bear as they took a leisurely postprandial constitutional?

When Chris and I first visited Hillsborough with the thought of moving to New Hampshire from Massachusetts, we saw a moose cantering down a pastoral stretch of road, his loose-limbed gait as casual as an old shoe. “Cue the deer,” we joked in reference to a line from an old Chevy Chase movie where a couple tries to sell their disastrous country farmhouse by rigging wildlife spottings to charm prospective buyers. Was that years’ ago moose trying to lure us into moving to Hillsborough? Was yesterday’s bear trying to convince me to stay in Keene, as if I ever considered leaving? Whether there are accidents or not–and whether the passing of moose and bear, like the flight of crows, can sometimes carry oracular intent–is a question beyond my ken. In the meantime, it’s good to know that there are actual bears in them thar hills: it’s good to know that even Sunday drivers can take a wrong turn and motor onto happenstance.