Rhymes, Rants & Accolades from North Central BC

THE BEARS AND ME

circa 1990 Sense and Nonsense

My first unhappy experience with a bear happened one dark night during the early nineteen-sixties when I was employed as company cook at an isolated sawmill camp. A section of the cookhouse had been partitioned off to make sleeping quarters for our family.

In those days I did not have a problem with insomnia. Except for an occasional breeze in the nearby pines, the world outside my bedtime window was usually as still as death. But this night my husband and I were awakened by a crashing cacophony of sound that cut through the silence like a jagged knife. My heart beat so fast it almost popped my pajamas. The hush that followed was even more disquieting.

We fumbled around for matches to light the gasoline lamp and discovered that the lower pane of the bedroom window, the base of which was at least six feet above the ground, had been shattered. Splinters and shards of glass lay everywhere–on the floor and on the double bed where our two small daughters still managed to sleep soundly.

It was several long minutes before we comprehended what had happened. The faint rattle of clattering cans outside in the darkness clued us in. We surmised that a tall black bear (or perhaps a short grizzly) had planned to climb through the broken window and feast upon cookhouse goodies. Our presence had put a damper on his appetite and he was scrounging in the cook house dump instead.

But Mr. Bear was able to exercise his climbing muscles that night. The following morning we learned that our brand new Volkswagon car had been used as a stepping stool for our visitor to launch himself up and onto the flat roof of a nearby shed. And then crawl back down again. Numerous dents and claw-marks marred the shiny new paint job.

I guess some bears are like teenage girls–they just want to have fun. When our children were small we used to camp out a lot. We always made sure no food was left in or around our tent that would attract bears. One day after returning to camp from a boating expedition to the other end of the lake, we found our canvas home-away-from-home in shreds.

The tracks of a sow bear and her cubs in the sand along the shore led to a disheartening disarray of torn pieces of fabric and metal poles that had been our almost-new tent. Claw imprints deeply embedded in foam plastic mattresses, and the illusive trail of our gasoline lantern which had been playfully rolled into the bushes, told the story of a fun-filled afternoon.

They say the biggest part of prejudice is fear. We once lived where there were a great many saskatoon bushes and every year the bears would come to camp on our lawn. Our dog got so bored with chasing them, she decided that they belonged there. She saved her warning barks for invading squirrels and the neighbor’s cat. When it was saskatoon season, I seldom ventured outside the house.

But bears were around at other times of the year too. One spring day I loaded the camera and pedaled my bicycle a few kilometers down the road from our place. I stashed the bike alongside an old logging trail. The dog and I proceeded happily through the bush in search of interesting camera shots. It wasn’t until after we were back on the road again that we saw the bear.

The large black blob was in the middle of the road about 100 feet away. It seemed to be intent on moving a piece of road kill and did not see us. For a minute or two I stood absolutely still, rigidly clutching the handlebars of my bicycle and hoping desperately for a car or anything with four wheels and an engine to come along and clear the way.

My bicycle, even propelled by high-octane adrenalin (produced from fear) would not be fast enough to dodge an aggressive bear. The dog stood still too. She looked at mewith a puzzled expression on her face. I knew she was thinking, “What’s with this cowardly woman, anyway? It’s just a bear!”

The bear looked up from whatever he was chewing on. Bears are supposed to be short-sighted, but so am I. And even without my glasses I would have no problem spotting him. Flinging my bicycle into the ditch, I proceeded to wallow, burrow and straddle my way through a thick forest of rose bushes, briars and brambles to my neighbor Sindee’s house. Our dog ambled disgustedly behind. But she quickly forgave my cowardly transgressions when Sindee offered us both a ride home in her truck!

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