No Teddy Bear Picnic
It was a warning.
But the difficulty with warnings is recognizing them for what they are.
“It was hard and black – not soft and full of berries like you’d see when they’re eating well,” said a shaken Phil Clarke on Tuesday.
“He was hungry and likely cranky.”
Last Friday was stinking hot – 30 degrees for the beginning of the great May 2-4 Weekend.
Phil Clarke figured it’d be cool in the forest he’s worked as a harvester and sawmiller since moving to the Brophy Road in Lakevale with his wife Sally over three decades ago.
So he cut cross country and ambled under spruce, yellow birch, maple and pine. He contemplated the forest’s slow growth on the mile’s walk to where his truck was parked in a patch he’d been cutting near the Big Marsh Road.
Then there was the hard, black poop of a malnourished bear still groggy from its long winter’s slumber.
He examined it, as he has many a pile of shit belonging to the creatures sharing the forest from which he makes his living, and moved on.
Then there was the growl.
Right beside him – not ten feet away.
It might have been sleeping below some undergrowth when he disturbed it.
“I thought ‘this is it, I’m finished’,” remembered Phil.
The bear, so black it’s not so much a colour as an absence of light, charged.
All he could do was stare.
It stopped maybe four feet in front of him.
What to do?
He had nothing to defend himself with.
Nothing to scare it with.
And it was big and angry.
“When it stood, it was as tall as me – like 6 foot 8.”
No one has ever invited Phil to play on their basketball team … so the bear evidently didn’t get his sense of humour.
What to do?
Phil kept walking.
He watched the bear as it circled him and picked paths through the trees that would keep him moving away from it and limit his chance of falling.
“I figured if I tripped and fell, he would be on top me.”
The bear would stand at trees and rip and claw at their bark.
Phil kept walking.
Picking the safest routes.
Staying away from ravines or areas that would require him to scramble on all fours.
It was hot.
After an hour of this he realized he was lost.
The bear was still there.
Each time he’d bend down to pick up a stick to defend himself with, it would charge.
He tried to look as big as possible – which wasn’t easy.
He tried not to think about what those claws would do to him each time the bear stopped to thrash a softwood.
He thought about his own heart – he’d had stents put in a few years ago and still doesn’t know the limits of its endurance.
He felt the heat beating down as he entered a recently cut over stand he didn’t recognize and pushed through young hardwood saplings as the bear did the same.
“It got to the point that I didn’t even look back at him – I thought if he’s going to take me down, he’s going to take me down.”
Then there was a bank – he scrambled up it and suddenly he was on the road again.
He started down it.
The bear didn’t follow.
“looking back I think I startled it and it was chasing me out of its territory,” said Phil.
“They’re like that, territorial. I think I'll invest in some bear spray, just the same.”
On Tuesday Phil Clarke drank coffee in the kitchen of the house he built for his family from lumber he’d cut and milled and thought about how good it is to be alive.
Somewhere within a mile of his home, on the land he’ll being returning to with a powersaw, that bear is still there.
He’s hoping next time he comes across its scat, he sees signs that the bear has found something to eat.
They are neighbours, after all.