Karen Brown

Patrick Pezzati walks briskly through downtown Turners Falls in western Massachusetts with a hard plastic bottle in one pocket of his shorts and a pair of latex gloves in the other.

He stops to peer down steps leading to a basement. Later, he peers under a chunk of carpet lying outside.

The local record store owner is scouring the back alleys of this picturesque former mill town for used needles.

The mild New England winter means that more bears are up and about, looking for food — and not just in the woods. They're also exploring urban backyards and residential streets. The small town of Northampton, Mass., has more than its share of furry visitors.

In Northampton, a call on a neighborhood email list for tales of recent bear encounters netted about about a dozen responses in an hour. Almost everyone, it seems, has a bear story.