Getting there

Getting there

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


For the past fifteen years I have lived in parts of Canada where wildlife is a very real presence. Prior to the northern Alberta city where I now reside I lived in northwestern Ontario. It was a very small and isolated town, and while we had a great deal of wildlife the most visible and most worrisome were black bears. I grew up in Saskatoon and had spent most of my twenties in Toronto, so my experience with bears was limited to stories of Winnie the Pooh and Paddington. The first time I was confronted (in my back yard) with a living, breathing, snorting bear I was pretty much terrified. Bears are big. Bears smell bad. Bears like to eat your garbage and leave the remnants all over your yard.

After living there for several years, though, I started to see bears as part of the landscape, and not terribly worrisome. They came out every spring, emerging hungry from their dens. They would disappear for the summer when berries were plentiful, and return in fall to fatten up for hibernation (and how better to fatten up than tasty garbage?). I became rather used to the bears. I would go out the back door, see one was in the back yard, and turn around and use the front door instead. The presence of bears didn't deter me from living my life.

When we moved to northern Alberta I knew we would likely continue to encounter bears. We had purchased a home on the edge of the boreal forest that surrounds our city, and as such I knew we would find wildlife there. This seemed especially certain when I discovered that the forest near us was also considered a wildlife corridor and that local animals used it as a way to travel through the city.  I welcomed the prospect, and was delighted when we would find a herd of deer in our yard eating from our bird feeders, or a red fox prowling around. One day last spring, though, we had a close encounter of the bear kind.

It was a beautiful hot spring day, and my daughter had been complaining about the heat inside the house. I was headed upstairs to do some chores and she informed me that she was going to sit out on our front porch to cool off as it was shady there. I was upstairs when I heard the screaming. There is a certain note in a child's voice that every parent recognizes. It's a tone of sheer panic, and it's enough to strike fear in the heart of every single parent. All I heard was the door slamming and a tiny voice shrieking:


I whipped down the stairs to find my daughter huddled by the front door, beginning to cry and almost unable to speak.

Finally she choked out the words "There.Is.A.Bear.Outside.". I peeked out the window, and yes, indeed, there was a bear. The bear was, in fact, about twelve feet from where she had just stepped out the front door. He was quite busy eating peanuts from the bird feeder in the tree in the front yard. I suspect he never even noticed my daughter when she stepped outside, but she certainly noticed him.

I opened our front door a crack and took several photos. While bears can move quickly I also knew that his first priority was food, and I felt comfortable snapping some pics. I noticed several of our neighbours doing the same thing. My daughter and I admired his glossy black fur and his little brown snout. She decided she would name him "Peanut", due to the adorable little nose and his apparent fondness for that nut. After about 10 minutes I decided it was time for Peanut to leave, and I grabbed my car keys and set off my car alarm. He was indeed startled and trundled off into the forest. Once I knew he was gone I went out and took down all my bird feeders. While I didn't mind attracting the occasional deer and loved the birds I knew that habituating the bear to the feeders was a very bad idea for the bear. He came back a couple more times that day, and we eventually called the local fish and wildlife officers so they knew he was in the area. They said he would likely move on in a few days, and as we didn't see him again I guess he did.

We moved to a different area a few months ago. It's one where we aren't likely to find bears in our yard as it's a bit further away from the forest. While some people might find that comforting I'm a bit sad. Those wildlife encounters provided a way to teach my daughter about respecting our animal neighbours. It showed her that while we may live here that they were here first, and that they will likely be here long after we have departed. And, to be honest, all lessons aside I just enjoyed those occasional brushes with these wonderful creatures. It was just a bit of magic in the midst of everyday life. It was a glimpse of another facet of this great big world that made me realize that we are surrounded by nature every day, no matter where we are. It might not be as large or as visible as a bear in our front yard - but it's there, dear friends. Just look around you.

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