Bear Spirits

Bricks were piled on my chest, or at least ir felt that way as my breath came hard laboured and stripped from my lungs in abject irrational panic. The tent walls usually a cheery yellow and blue from the diamond pattern of the fly that made my Snowfield tent appear to be inspired by the Swedish flag, now was dour and muted in the early morning half-light. I panted unable to move, my arms still one over my chest and one seemingly strapped down to the ground with invisible restraints. My legs were still and made of concrete of cold chewing gum. I tried in vain to move, to leap from my sleeping bag and fight the monster outside.

Taken on the side of the Klondike Highway this black bear had little care for me and my camera.

Taken on the side of the Klondike Highway this black bear had little care for me and my camera.

The ominous shadow that brushed the nylon and plucked at the flexible aluminium poles of my flimsy fort circled, grunted and at any moment I expected the tent to collapse over me from the weight of the black bear investigating my camp. I was aware of the flare gun beside my head. My knife too at the ready, but my body unable to fire or stab at the monster. I lay in a panic waiting for the inevitable death by bear attack. The lines pulling at the tent fly plucked like stings on a guitar making an awful sound that I attributed to the dampness and they being soaked through by the rain and morning dew. Another brush of animal fur against the tent and I flinched, and woke from my lucid dream still feeling the paralysis in my limp limbs. Breathing harder than at any time before in my life I slowly recovered my senses, realizing where it was that I had set up my tent and scolded myself for the weakness of spirit.

I rose, dressed and tentatively unzipped the tent flap and that of the outer vestibule. The fresh sea air met my face washing the claustrophobic tightness away. The view from my tent door was directly down the fiord-like bay facing a mist shrouded mountain. The largest off-shore on the coast with the exception of those on Vancouver Island. I was camping in Roscoe Bay a boaters’ hideaway at the entrance to the channel dividing East and West Redonda Islands. The mist was rising after a damp few days and the water was alive, moving with common jelly fish. The bay filled shore to shore with cabin cruisers and sailboats of all makes and sizes. It was a noisy bay in the morning. Generators hummed and rumbled as they powered breakfasts and entertainments to distract one from the nature outside the porthole. I stood in wet sandals and prepared a mug of coffee. Shaken still from the images in my mind’s eye and as I sat at the picnic table looking at the half-dozen rubber dinghy that had come ashore with boating dogs busting at the seams, I felt a fool. Sipping the hot coffee I punished myself thinking that I was made of tougher stuff than that.

I later learned that my paralyzed state was nothing unusual for that level of sleep, and Redonda Islands both of them are teaming with black bears, save a heavily populated bay of loud humans with dogs. My primal trigger to sharing an island with bears got the better of me. As I sat with a second cup warming my hands until the sun reluctantly rose and over-powered the morning mist to dry my soggy gear that I had just spread on the dry grass, something occurred to me. Perhaps it was not a weak moment of human fragility in the face of unknown dangers of the wild but instead a message being sent from beyond.

Had I had a shaman to share my coffee pot with I am sure he would agree that rather than monstrous foe, the bear in my waking nightmare was only that of a spirit. A guide who was in his own clumsy bruin way attempting to introduce himself to me as my own animal spirit. He had been looking for me but as I travel so fast by kayak he would inevitably arrive too late to greet me at any of my other camps. This one however, I had stayed longer so he was able to lumber down the sloping path from the warmest lake I had found that summer to my tent early in the morning. Not wanting to wake me from my beautiful slumber in the great outdoors he quietly rooted for nibbles in my camp until I got up and we could shake hands, or hug or whatever it is one does with a first encounter with an animal spirit.

I packed my gear and kayak that morning and once the sun had risen shining on the jelly fish I paddled out of the bay and down the shore of the island to my next camp on the Martin Islets. I would have happily spent time with my new bear spirit friend, eating snacks and sipping wine until the sun went down, and maybe he would have inspired something in the large, rather unfriendly group that was camping there.


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  1. #1 by Vladimir Brezina on February 24, 2013 - 10:38 pm

    Very evocative post! 😉

    • #2 by paddlinboy on February 24, 2013 - 11:03 pm

      Thanks, it took me some time to really process that experience. One of the phrases that I carry with me when solo kayaking is, ‘there is nothing in the dark that is not there in the light.’ Bears?

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