Editorial: Awe at the park

by Andru McCracken, Editor


My family takes a canoe trip every couple years to Murtle Lake. It’s an adventure. It requires a lot of preparation, skill and finesse. It can’t be done without testing the bonds of family and marriage. For perhaps the sixth time our family bonds were tested and found to be true. But this year was really odd.

Odd that my wife and I had a two-year-old needing constant supervision. Odd that we didn’t see the sun once, except as a red ball of fire behind smokey skies. Odd that the scenery that we love wasn’t visible, and odd to find that the scenery isn’t the reason we go. At one point we had been so isolated (and without cell service) for so long we thought that something terrible might have happened to the outside world. But it was most odd for an encounter with wildlife: the spirit of our parks.

On the day we planned to leave, we had an unwelcome visitor.

I was awake at 5:45 am unable to sleep. I didn’t mind being awake and I was feeling deep gratitude for family around me.

That’s when I heard a branch break right by my head.

And then a snuffle. A snuffle from something like a big dog.

I woke up my wife calmly.

“Laura there is something very big by our tent,” I said. She groaned sleepily, “What?”

I did the mental math. “It is a bear,” I said with conviction.

It had to be a bear. The ranger who visited our remote camp two days before had enquired: “Are you having any trouble with bears?”

Laura asked about the bear spray. It was in a zippered pocket; I pulled it out and threw away the safety tab.

“Laura,” I said. “Please leave the tent.”

The tent faced the beach, while the bear was in thick brush behind us. We couldn’t hear anything at the moment.

I handed her the bear spray and encouraged her out through protests.

Baby was in a playpen fast asleep.

I put on my boots, grabbed the baby and we went to the water’s edge.

Baby didn’t cry. She just whimpered that it was bright, but seemed happy to be woken up by both mom and dad. We joined the main camp where the rest of our family was.

To our surprise my sister’s family was up dealing with a sick child.

We spread the word and woke the troops.

The commotion, I thought, would scare the bear off.

It didn’t.

That’s when I saw it. The bear was perhaps 50 feet from us browsing on berries. It was a juvenile black bear. Perhaps the size of a very big dog, but not an adult.

My sister in law wondered aloud whether a mother might be nearby.

The bear disappeared. Then keen eyes noticed the bear circling back to the cache where our food was kept.

My brother in law ran to scare it away, using loud noises and clapping. I asked my little brother and his teenage kids to back him up.

The bear slowly made its way up the drainage away from us.

Hours later we were en route back home.

As I related the story to people with years of backcountry experience, not one of them thought meeting a juvenile bear was trivial. Not one of them thought that bear spray was a cure all, or that the addition of a bear banger or even a gun would have necessarily made things better. I heard really good examples of when those tools didn’t work and caused things to get worse.

It is a point of pride that we have wild spaces: unlike other societies, we have been able to co-exist with bears.

It is a privilege that some of us get to enjoy these sacred places and, as a condition, our safety is not guaranteed.

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