Where Bear?

In over thirty years of camping and otherwise spending time out of doors, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen an animal in the wild bigger than, say, the raccoons and porcupines which infest Frontenac Provincial Park.


Index Finger: And this one’s set at a garbage dump, which stretches “in the wild” past credibility really. But I’m desperate. Dad and his girlfriend had rented a cottage for the summer near Huntsville, Ontario. One night we followed local tradition and drove out to the dump to watch the local black bears. Ten or so cars lined up, headlights reflecting on a small mountain of black and green plastic garbage bags while a trio of black bears made a mountain out of a molehill. One dude, a tourist, likely, same as us, had to get out of his car for a closer photo. One of the bears sped straight at him ’til the man locked himself back in his car. The bear, point made, returned immediately to eating. Clearly, this had not been an emotional event for him.

Middle Finger: Once, on an early spring hiking trip in Frontenac, my buddy Tom and I came into a meadow where a fawn was drinking water from a puddle. The fawn, surprised, bolted in one direction. And from an explosion in the undergrowth nearby, whatever had been stalking that fawn – a wolf, perhaps – took off in the other, leaving Tom and I to wonder at just what goes on in nature when no-one’s looking.

Ring Finger: One morning on a canoeing trip in Algonquin Provincial Park, Derek and I followed a great blue heron as it kept one bend ahead of us along a river that snaked its way through mile after mile of tall grass. We came around a bend to discover a moose cow standing ankle deep in the water. She watched us warily as she continued to eat, and our awe turned to consternation as we realized that she had no intention of moving for us, which meant we would have to paddle our suddenly vulnerable-seeming canoe within range of her hoofs on this narrow river. Of course, we made it safely past.

Pinkie: Again not exactly a wildlife story, but once again with Derek, while still hallucinating from the jet lag of a flight from Seoul, Korea to San Francisco, we through our sleeping bags down next to the car in a national forest and tried to sleep as cowbells circled our impromptu camp in the dark, mist-filled forest.

Thumb: This summer, heck just last week, while driving on the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, my wife Rumi and I spotted first, a herd of elk eating along a distant treeline, and second,  a mother black bear and cub before they disappeared into the roadside bush.

There have been near-misses, such as the LP-sized pawprint of a higuma Hokkaido brown bear (a kind of grizzly), still crumbling from freshness, on a trail through head-high bamboo grass in a remote, mist-shrouded wetland in Hokkaido’s Daisetsuzan National Park…

And oh yeah: a chamois on a grassy meadow in Murren, Switzerland, apparently startled that anyone would venture outside in a snowfall. in July.

But you get the idea. Despite years of camping, hiking, canoeing, kayaking, and otherwise spending time out of doors, I have had very few large game encounters.

All of which is a lead-up to this video, shot by remote camera in Alberta, which shows what I’ve been missing:

Good Reads: “Trudeau: PM, Patriot, Paddler”

Love him or hate him, many Canadians still have strong opinions about Pierre Trudeau, Canada’s 15th Prime Minister from the late 1960s to the mid 1980s.

Personally, I don’t remember much about his politics as leader of the Liberal party. What made Trudeau memorable for me was his larger-than-life public persona, his fusing of the sophisticated city slicker (dayjob: lawyer in Montreal) with an adventurous spirit (pastimes: skier, scuba diver, judo expert; motorcyclist; canoeist).

As Stephen Marche notes in his essay “The Meaning of Hockey,” published in the Summer, 2011 edition of The Walrus and online here,

It was Champlain’s dream to be French and worldly and a humanist, and also to belong to the wilds of North America, to be as like an Indian as possible. The power of this dream runs throughout Canadian history. Trudeau became an icon, despite his obvious failures as a policy-maker, because he captured this spirit more completely than any other figure in history, a citizen of the world and of the river.

Apparently, Trudeau was also something of a scribbler. In 1944, at the age of 25, this “citizen of the river” penned the essay “Exhaustion and Fulfillment: The Ascetic in a Canoe,” since republished on http://www.canoe.ca.

The prose may be somewhat stilted, and the packing list rather anachronistic, but the spirit of the essay still strikes a chord in a sympathetic reader, even in the 21st century:

For it is a condition of such a [canoe] trip that you entrust yourself, stripped of your worldly goods, to nature. Canoe and paddle, blanket and knife, salt pork and flour, fishing rod and rifle; that is about the extent of your wealth. To remove all the useless material baggage from a man’s heritage is, at the same time, to free his mind from petty preoccupations, calculations and memories.

Substitute vacuum-packed dal curry and oatmeal for salt pork and flour,  and a digital camera for fishing rod and rifle, and you’re all set!