Friday, July 23, 2010

Close Encounters of the Furry Kind

photo credits:

On the news yesterday: two campers, asleep in their sleeping bags some miles outside of my town on Vancouver Island, were attacked by a black bear and injured quite severely. This is rather amazing news. We hear now and then about grizzly attacks farther north, and more frequently cougars are spotted up and down the Island. But we often encounter black bears in the woods. I have a resident bear that has lived at the end of my street for the last ten years and aside from getting into our garbage every now and then, poses no threat, he keeps out of our way when we are walking our dogs through the trails.

When we come face to face or within sight of a black bear, what is usual is for the bear to turn and lumber away into the forest, giving us a wide berth. To hear that one has attacked PRONE sleeping non-threatening humans is extremely unusual. I have to believe that a combination of factors is at play and, while I feel for the humans, I am very worried about the bears, and other creatures on this planet, who are finding their survival threatened by the apparently insatiable demands of our species.

The bear attacked the more seriously injured camper first and that man would have been a goner, except that the second man managed to extricate himself from his sleeping bag, grab his knife, flailing at the bear's nose, slicing it. then he grabbed a big rock and hit the bear on the head. This caused the bear to get sidetracked, turn his energy towards the second man. This man fought hard enough that the bear retreated, allowing him to load his injured friend into the truck. That is when he discovered his keys were in his pants pocket at the campsite. He had to go back for them, and the bear seemed ready to attack again. However the man got his keys and made it back to the truck, speeding his friend and himself to the hospital here in Port.

A search party went out to find and destroy the bear and that is the end of this story. Both campers appear to be going to survive the attack, with deep lacerations on their backs, and some injury to their heads.

My concern is the bigger picture: the planet that all of these creatures find themselves living on, where their habitat has been so decreased and encroached upon and their food supplies so decimated, that they are forced further and further into "our" territory in a search for food and survival. Clearcutting has not only removed much of their habitat - in North America, the multinationals cant log fast enough, in the most wasteful possible manner, in an effort to make their billions before the last old growth tree falls - but has contributed so seriously to global warming that everything on earth and in the sea is feeling the effect.
When will legislators be brave enough - (more concerned about the planet than re-election) - to legislate the tough changes that should have come thirty years ago? When will what is right be more important than profit?
Tune in next century. Forgive me for feeling jaded. At the same time I have to HOPE that the transformation of human consciousness on this planet will happen in time. We dont have much of it left. And we have children and grandchildren who want and need to live. As do the bears and other creatures of the land and sea.
Bears I have come across? Many, down by the river where the goldens swim in summer. On one outing a few months back, my sister Lori knew from droppings, and the way the dogs were acting, that a bear was close by. There is a resident bear in that forest along the river; we see him often and he always lumbers away. So she carefully peeked around a bush, to find herself staring straight into the face of the bear, who was ALSO peeking around the same bush! "Woo!" they both said, or words to that effect, and each beat a hasty retreat.
Once I was biking into town from Chestermans Beach of an early morning, on my way to work, when a bear lumbered up the hill at the side of the road and scuttled in front of my bike. "Whoo!" we both huffed, and carried on along our perpendicular routes.
Another time Stephanie and I were taking our assorted dogs - three or four in number - to Wickanninish for a beach run. As we were about to let the dogs out of the car, someone rushed over and told us to keep them in, a bear was on his way to us through the bushes. We got back into the car and the bear came right past us, hustling quickly, bothered by the baying of our dogs inside the car. We sat and watched to see what he would do. He sniffed around the RV's and all the vehicles till he stopped beside a small red compact car. There must have been food inside, because the bear stood up on his hind legs and ROCKED the car a few times, until the window popped out. Then he climbed right inside the car. I had never seen a bear do that before. I would have liked to see the face of the owner of the car, who was sitting inside the restaurant eating his dinner all this while. Or the face of the ICBC insurance adjustor when the man submitted his claim for damage to a vehicle from a bear.
When my uncle was young, he sold bread for McGavins. In those days he drove a zooty salmon and cream colored convertible and he had the top down as he traveled through the Rocky Mountains. The back seat was full of sticky buns and bread. On one of the mountain passes, traffic was stopped and backed up due to some closure or other. While Don sat waiting, a bear came along, attracted by the lovely smells issuing from his car. My uncle started throwing the bear package after package, bun after bun, to keep him happy enough to not come closer. He was very exposed, and there was no where to go to get away. He started geting nervous as the pile of buns disappeared, hoping traffic would start up before he ran out. Thankfully it did.
But my favorite story is the time my daughter and her then husband and young children came to Tofino for a visit. On their way, before catching the ferry, they stopped at Stanley Park in Vancouver, and took the kids to the zoo. They went to the acquarium and saw the whales, to the penguin pen to see the penguins, seal pen to see the seals, and the monkey pen to see the monkeys.
When they got to my place, Lisa and Len took Ali and Tyler on a boat trip to see the whales, while I watched the younger ones who were too little. They saw whales, and penguins and seals. When they came back, we went to Green Point where they played on the shore for a while. As we were coming back up the trail to the car, people stopped us and said there was a mother bear and two cubs on the trail. Lisa and Ali and Tyler, who were ahead of us, actually had to run back to us, they came so close to the bears.
The path finally was clear, we went back to the van and as we drove away I saw Tyler, who was then five, looking very pensive. I thought he might have been traumatized by the close encounter, but I think he was just processing.
Gently, I said "It's been a big day, hasnt it, Tyler?"
He nodded. Then he said, "Can we go see the monkeys now?"
In his mind, he had been to an Indoor Zoo and now he had been to a gigantic Outdoor Zoo. All that had been missing were the monkeys! We cracked up.
My friend, Paul, lived in a yurt on the edge of a high cliff in Clayoquot Sound, looking out to sea. Bears often visited and helped themselves to his foodstuffs. He hiked a great deal, in some very wild places and once I asked him, "Have you ever come face to face with a bear on your hikes?"
"Yes, I have."
"What did you do?"
He looked at me, assessing whether to tell me or not. Deciding he could, he smiled and said, "I sang to the bear!"
I was delighted. "I love that! What did the bear do?"
"Well, I sang a bit, and then he'd move a bit, and then I'd sing a bit, and then he'd move a bit, and after a while he moved across the trail and away, and we both carried on."
But that was some years ago and the whole planet is hotting up, in every conceivable way. Who will speak for the animals, who cant speak for themselves? My heart hurts for them. I know there are millions of humans suffering too, for many of the very same reasons. I hurt for them as well. But it's Slumdog Days for animals these days, and today, I am thinking of one bear who, like a resident of the East Side in Vancouver, has found life such a struggle, such poverty, such hopelessness, such hunger, that he just couldnt take it any more.
And now he's gone.


  1. Them bears, they aspire to be humans, that's what I think!

    But left to themselves, they would be so delectably lazy ...

  2. My, the streams, picking blackberries, napping behind fallen logs......:)

  3. We've only seen bear here twice & it runs away when it hears our voices - but the people in town see them all the time.

  4. Great piece, Sherry..imagine having a whole series of bear stories to regale us with! I have only one: when first in Canada, we lived in a small town called Elliot Lake in Ontario. On summer evenings we'd drive to the dump and watch bears root through the garbage. I can still see the cars that ringed the site, headlights spotlighting the action and all of us watching enthralled. Thankfully, no bears were injured or seen as a threat.

    Like yours, my heart aches for them..we've left them so few options. Your analogy to the DTES was spot on. In both situations, our government has its priorities all wrong...


  5. You are all making me think of the great Canadian outdoors as probably one of the best places on earth to be! lol

    And as I write this, the rains have started again and I have second thoughts ...

  6. Yes, Canada is BEAUTIFUL. I feel very lucky. But I have seen films about India and there is great beauty there too - and SOUL - as everywhere on this magnificent planet. I would love some of your rain right now, we are TOO HOT!!!! Thankfully the nights cool down:)

  7. Someone I know went to the dump outside of Tofino and watched a bear TWISTING OFF THE LID of a peanut butter jar. Smart bear!

  8. I think of Alaska; We need to stop
    encroachment. These creatures deserve to have their territory left alone! It saddens me...


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