Fall and spring are my favourite seasons for hiking. They are so full of movement and change everywhere you look. Melting snow, roaring ditches, popping pussy willows. Brilliant yellow and red stains spreading through the forest, mornings licked with frost, dazzling blue afternoons. I can?t bear to be inside.
How ironic that the two seasons when I am most drawn to hiking in the woods, are also the two seasons when bears are most drawn to hikers in the woods. I pack an air horn and pepper spray, but these precautions are a joke. Something I do to fool myself into thinking I?m protected, because I am that desperate to be deeply outdoors. If I stumble upon a bruin with a severe case of the hibernation munchies, my spray and horn won?t help me. I am the kind of person who panics when there?s a blue light special in Zellers. There is no way I am going to stay calm enough to blow a horn or carefully aim spray into a charging bear?s face.
The best I can hope for is that it?s a grizzly, and I faint, which is the same as playing dead. Standard procedure when dealing with a grizzly. According to my bear book, a grizzly will drag you off and put you into storage. Thoughtfully covering you in branches and grass to keep the flies off until dinnertime. The trick is knowing when dinnertime is. What if it?s 10 minutes ago and you look like dessert? Or what if he?s on his way home for dinner right now, and decides on take out instead?
If it?s a black bear, there?s a chance that screaming and flapping my arms around in panic, might scare the bear off. More precisely, experts claim you should wave your arms over your head, speak calmly and avoid direct eye contact. With a black bear you want to establish from the get-go that you?re the relaxed, indifferent, predator and it?s the prey, and you want to do this with a straight face.
If it?s a polar bear, well, bon appetite. Polar Bears are the worlds largest carnivore. They have no enemies, so they have no fear. You don?t scare a polar bear away by waving your arms over your head and yelling, ?Shoo, bear, shoo.? And unlike a grizzly, supper time for a polar bear is always right now.
Fortunately, we have no polar bears in the Peace River Country. Unlike our poor fellow Canadians in Churchill, Manitoba. Churchill is, get this, The Polar Bear Capital of the world. They aren?t even trying to keep it a secret. It says so right on their sign, yet people continue to live there all the same. Stranger yet, tourists come to Churchill just to see the bears, knowing that the bears are going to see them right back.
In Churchill you?re not even safe from polar bear attacks downtown. You could be leaving a department store, carrying your bags and wham! Bear brunch. You and your blue light specials strewn all over the sidewalk.
One time a plane landed at the Churchill airport and was making its way towards the terminal, where the bored ground crew guy was waving his florescent wands, wondering what to have for supper that night, when all of sudden the plane veers and heads straight for him. The guy abruptly stops thinking about the merits of lemon chicken verus beef stew and waves his wands wider. The pilot ignores his frantic motions and keeps bearing down on him. Ground crew guy looks over his shoulder; a normal reaction when a pilot has apparently decided to run you over, and what does he see? He sees a polar bear. Worse, it?s on its hind legs and coming straight for him. The pilot revs his engines, distracting the bear long enough for the ground crew guy to run to safety. True story.
For those of us in northern BC and Alberta, I leave you with the following Canadian Wildlife Bulletin.
?When hiking in the woods wear noisy little bells to alert bears to your presence and carry pepper spray. Be on the look out for bear tracks and feces. Black bear feces are small, contain lots of berries, and, occasionally, squirrel fur. Grizzly bear droppings are large, have little bells in it, and smell like pepper.?
Shannon McKinnon is a self-syndicated humour columnist from the Peace River Country. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org