Met up with a friend who was in the city from Fort Smith, NT this past weekend. We got talking about bears and I remembered a story I wrote when I was in Smith and it’s about coming nose-to-snout with a bruin in 2007.
I went out to the river, alone, last night for an evening photo shoot. I drove to Mountain Portage, which is about ten minutes out of town, into the wilderness and down by the roaring Slave River rapids. I went because I was sad and thought a walk by the water would make me feel better.
When I got to the trail head there was still some fall sunshine but it was slowly being pulled towards the Earth. I put on my headphones and walked down the very steep hill to the beach. I walked along the racing river practicing my sunset shots while listening to opera. Examining everything around me to find the right photos. At one point I glanced at a few dips and ripples in the sand. Notice some marks deep in the mud.
“Are those bear prints?” I wondered for an instant. Then dismiss the thought. Nah.
After about a half an hour of shooting, I turned to go back home. And I’m face-to-snout with a bear. A black bear. It’s only a few metres away and cutting off my route home. I don’t know what to do. It stares at me. Stares and stares.
I’m scared. I’m frightened. I don’t move. I wait for it to leave so I can hike back up the trail, which is in sight. So close. Too close to the animal.
The bear breaks off his or her stare and takes a couple of steps away from me to nibble on some rose hips. I don’t move yet. It’s still too close. Then it walks back to the same spot where I had first met it and stares at me again. Agonizingly, it repeats this pattern of walking to and from me while nibbling a few appetizers and perhaps considering me as the main course.
I’m stuck. I have no where to go. The bear is blocking my path to freedom. I review my other options. I could get in the water that’s on my right and try to swim away – down the rapids. Probably not a good idea. Bears can swim. I could climb the cliff to my left. Probably not a good idea because bears can run. Fast. Probably faster than me uphill. Should I throw rocks at it? Then that might really get the bear’s attention.
Finally, before a better plan than just standing motionless suggests itself, the bear turns and walks further down the beach. And then further and further. And then it’s far away from me. This frees the path up the steep hill. I frantically scramble up the trail – every couple of seconds looking over my shoulder for the bear. It had seen me leave and I’m worried it’s not going to let me go and is chasing me.
I run up the hill as fast as I can and climb into the safety of my vehicle. I’m shaking. I have allowed myself to be scared at this point. When there are steel doors around me. I turn on the van and start the drive home. Towards the safety of pavement and the many people in town.
A summer snow storm hit Calgary this past week. It wasn’t the pretty pre-Christmas snow that covers up all the dead leaves on the ground and causes kids to rush out to play. No, this was an ugly, messy, very, very cold and very unwanted first week of September snow. Not good at all.
Since all the leaves are still on the trees, the falling snow took many branches along for the ride to the ground. The heavy, wet snow piled up and up and up amongst the green foliage until they went down. All night and day the snap and crackle of the trees could be heard, along with the eventual whoosh of an avalanche of snow and leaves hitting the earth. Now in the sunny aftermath days later, it’s the chainsaws that are making the noise.
City crews and private companies are clearing away the hundreds of pieces of debris strewn across power lines, streets, sidewalks and countless yards. The jagged-edge whir of the chainsaw can be heard just about everywhere above the din of the vehicles and sirens that are usually part of the inner-city babble. The chainsaw sound is more at home in rural areas and I remember it well.
My parents used and still use, wood to heat their large two-storey house in Nova Scotia. Evenings were always comfy and cozy beside the wood stove but mornings were another matter. They were cold. On weekdays dad would get up first and get the stove going. On weekends it was us kids who were up first. And freezing. We learned at a young age how to coax the embers of the fire back into a flame strong enough to burn the logs.
In the middle of summer cords of wood would be delivered to our home in the country and stacked on our front lawn. Dad would get out his chainsaw and cut the logs up and throw them into a pile. A pile to be chopped and then in the fall, trucked into our two-car garage. (The garage has never been used for vehicles. Only wood.) When I write “trucked” I actually mean wheel-barrowed in by me and my family: my dad, mom and two sisters.
From ages nine though to 15 I really, really, really, really hated this chore. It wasn’t hard but it was monotonous. Go to the big wood pile, load up the wheel-barrow, walk about 12 metres to the garage, dump the wood, put it on the stack – neatly – pick up the wheel-barrow, walk back and repeat. It was maddening when there were so many other things to do like talk to my friends on the phone.
Later in my teen years I started really liking piling wood. It was exercise and something to do outside when the weather was too chilly for a bicycle ride. As well, teenage years are full of change and piling wood was one thing that always stayed the same. Plus, it didn’t call for a fashion-forward wardrobe.
Thanksgiving Day was always the best day for wood piling. Usually this would be the last push to get all the logs needed for winter under the shelter of a roof. We’d start in the morning in the weak sunshine. It was cold but there would be no snow on the ground yet. By mid-afternoon the smell of turkey and pumpkin pie cooking in the oven would waft through the garage door from the kitchen. That would be our reward after a satisfying and good day’s work.
Thanksgiving is several weeks away and winter is supposed to be months away. Since it’s still summer, we’re supposed to be eating ice cream and watermelon and enjoying the last of this season’s rays. Not eating pumpkin pie and shovelling snow. Oh well. Has anyone found any pumpkin ice cream?
Grocery shopping in the late 70s for my family meant going to the Dominion store. I could never understand why it was called “Dominion” when the D was clearly a G: as in Gominion. Don’t you see it?
One of my clients is from Germany and grew up in Hamburg during World War II. She said no one spoke much English in that country then but products being exported from there had ‘Made in Germany’ written on them in English. In German, a ‘made’ is a type of worm found in cheese. My client couldn’t understand why items had ‘The worm in Germany’ stamped on them.
What signs or labels have you mixed up as a child?