Tuesday, April 22, 2008

There's A Surprise In Them Thar Woods

Out of all my experiences with wildlife, one will forever remain etched in my memory. My first full day in Fort Smith, Northwest Territories was memorable not only as the start of my northern teaching but also for a chance encounter I had in the woods on the edge of the community. One of the first things I wanted to do in Fort Smith was to hike down to the Slave River to see the rapids there (interestingly known as the Rapids of the Drowned) as well as the pelicans. So with this in mind, I left the road at the top of the river valley and confidently strolled down a marked trail and into the woods. I could already hear the rushing river below me and was able to catch glimpses of both it the pelicans though breaks in the trees off to my left.

What I should have done was look to my right. Eventually, as I rounded a bend in the trail, I did. I saw a small bush about 30-40 feet away that looked a bit out of place. A few more paces on and I realized why. Poking around a shrub at the base of a small tree, was a brown bear. Like a deer in the headlights, I froze instantly.

I'm not sure how long I stood there. All sound around me seemed to die away and for a few moments, I was aware of only myself and this bear. The world fell silent for me. (Though I'm sure I may have uttered an expletive to myself under my breath.) I found myself thinking back on all the friendly advice I had been given prior to my arrival on what to do if you have a bear encounter. Advice I was now trying desperately to recall. What should I do? Wave my arms over my head? Stop, drop and roll?? Run around in a circle and scream in a girlish manner???

In the end I concluded that backing away slowly while avoiding direct eye contact was my best option to sustain my existence. So that is what I did. Now, backing up for 100 feet in the woods isn't an easy thing when you've spend the past several years a large Ontario city. But somehow, I managed.

The bear really seemed too distracted poking around in the brush to pay me much mind. Which was just fine with me. I don't think it even looked up at my once during the entire episode. At one point I do believe I detected a slight smirk on his face (as bears are wont to do). Doubtless, he was bemused by the sight of a gangly, bug-eyed newbie walking carefully backward along the trail.

Within a couple minutes, I was thankfully back to the safety of town. I was later told by a few folks that bear sightings were a pretty common occurrence along the river valley for that time of year. It was awhile though before I ventured down that trail again. When I did go the next time I was armed to the teeth with a camera. And even tough I never saw that bear again, every little rustle or snap of a branch filled me with a healthy respect for nature and an exhilarating rush.


Rob, Tina and the boys said...

Great story. I can picture the bear pointing and laughing at you with his bear friends as you are walking backwards. :)

Kennie said...

If you go out in the woods today
You're sure of a big surprise.
If you go out in the woods today
You'd better go in disguise.

jennifer of nunablog said...

Very funny...now!

Way Way Up said...

I'll never forget this incident. I'm going to file it under "What the heck were you thinking?"