(By Jason Schoonover)
The bear decided we’d had enough of lazing in the tent. After all, we’d spent the last 20 hours warmly, dryly, happily hunkered down reading and napping while a continuous Hiroshima-class thunderstorm raged overhead, raising the already swollen Churchill River another six inches. After all, it was 6:00am. Not having an alarm clock, it instead made rummaging noises in our camp kitchen 12 feet away.
We were instantly awake. Hoping it was the weasel I spotted two days earlier which probably was responsible for chewing the corner off our Styrofoam cooler, I grabbed my bear spray in one hand and my buck knife in the other and unzipped my tent door. Dammit. It WAS a bear. But a smaller one, perhaps 2-3 years old, maybe 200 pounds. It looked up at me momentarily, saw it was just a geezer with rumpled hair in silly red checkered PJs, then resumed nosing through the remains of our veggie cooler at the foot a skinny pine tree in the middle of camp.
I shouted at the bear, waved my arms. It looked up again, then continued ignoring me. I gave it two blast of the bear spray. Lesson One: gauge the wind first. The pretty red plume didn’t quite reach the bear…before blowing back on me. I learned what it does to your eyes, though I could still see through the burning and blinking. “Su, blow your whistle. Hard.” She blew it three times with all her strength.
Safe, for now…
The bear ambled off into the pine woods. I snapped pictures of the mess, then walked to the trail the bear had disappeared down. Only 30 feet down the path the bear stood sideways, looking back at me.
That’s when I heard a helpless mewing. Behind me. Above. Turning and looking up the skinny pine tree I saw. Fifteen feet up. A tiny cub.
Su and I retreated down the opposite path 40 feet to our brand new, fabulous, sexy, 17′, carbon-Innegra, 38-pound, Swift canoe, with gorgeous rosewood thwarts and seats. Lesson two: always leave paddles beneath the unturned canoe. We were in our pajamas. The 20 hour storm had broken but it was still grey, the water choppy. It began to drizzle. Momma bear returned to camp and continued rooting. It was, thankfully, a vegan, because it concentrated on our tomato and lettuce cooler. From behind the underbrush where we hid on shore we could see the cute, little, helpless cub up the tree and momma. Seemingly unconcerned.
All we could do was wait her out. Hope to wait her out.
Where was the .12 gauge bear spray? For the first time we were in the north without having one. My possession/acquisition license (to own or use a gun) had expired and my replacement hadn’t arrived. I no longer owned rifles or shotguns. If momma decided to attack she was going to get a long blast of bear spray and hopefully I’d be able to plunge the buck knife into her before she killed and/or mauled me and/or Su. We weren’t going down without a fight.
Momma began padding directly towards us, through the underbrush. When she was a dozen feet away, I let her have it with the bear spray. This time the wind was on MY side. She retreated and returned to rummaging.
Dodging a bullet
Sooner than expected the cub worked its way down and once she had done so, momma said, let’s split this scene — and they ambled off.
Before they changed their minds, we gathered our gear together expeditiously. Fortunately, nothing of value was damaged. I flagged down a boat and hired the guide, Tom Charles, to shoot us back to Stanley Mission, a two day hard paddle into the wind but a half hour by boat. We drove home. And that’s Jason and Su’s little adventure.
I had to convince The Dragon Lady that it was safe to BBQ our chops outside tonight. She wanted to cook and eat inside.
Read more from the author here: www.jasonschoonover.com