Close En­coun­ters

Three hun­gry bears gave these campers a morn­ing wake-up call to re­mem­ber!

More of Our Canada - - Contents - By Edna Well­man, Cam­rose, Alta.

A mama bear and her hun­gry cubs gave these campers one mem­o­rable wake-up call!

This is a story of three bears. It is not a fairy tale; it is true, as true as the words on this page. It was a long time ago, but I still re­call it clearly. It was late spring in north­ern Al­berta and the rivers, lakes and sloughs were free of win­ter’s ice. My par­ents were fur trap­pers, as were most peo­ple in the area, and it was near­ing the end of the year’s trap­ping sea­son.

We were camped in the lovely sand hills, about four miles from our line cabin on the river, on the banks of a large slough where muskrats were plen­ti­ful. Here, we would fin­ish up our trap­ping, as the fur sea­son would close in a mat­ter of days. Our camp was as small as ne­ces­sity could make it: light blan­kets, two flour sacks of uten­sils and food, and lastly a small tent for the three of us to sleep in.

The weather was sunny and warm, with long days and only a few hours of dark­ness. Very early one morn­ing, we were awak­ened by the only alarm sys­tem we had: my best friend and con­stant com­pan­ion, Chippy, a black- and- white spaniel. She had been asleep at my feet when sud­denly her head popped up with a low “woof.” My mom quickly said, “Ge­orge, it must be a bear! Chippy knows bears!” Dad hastily pulled on his trousers and, tak­ing his ri­fle, crawled to the tent open­ing and stuck his head out to have a look around. Chippy didn’t cre­ate a fuss, but she was growl­ing deep in her throat, hack­les up, and on guard. Brave lit­tle thing she was! Dad spoke softly, say­ing, “Tie up Chippy; don’t let her out.”

He then mo­tioned me to come for­ward and look out. Just at the edge of the camp clear­ing, in and out among some low shrubs, paced a big mama bear with two small black fur­balls bounc­ing along be­hind her. She could see us watch­ing her and hear the dog growl­ing. It was ob­vi­ous that she wasn’t look­ing for trou­ble, only food for her and her ba­bies. We had a small rack of meat dry­ing to be used later as

food for our dogs, and this was what she had her nose and eye on. Dad spoke softly again: “If she gets a taste of food, she won’t leave and we may have a real prob­lem.” The bear would pause now and then with her nose test­ing the air, alert for any sign of dan­ger.

We must have made a move­ment or noise, be­cause she sud­denly stopped and let out a deep “whuff.” The two balls of fur raced for the only two trees in their im­me­di­ate vicin­ity, which were two fair- sizes poplars, about 12 or 15 feet apart, and they scooted! The prob­lem was, the trees were young poplars with few sturdy branches. One cub was lucky: He had a good branch to perch his fuzzy lit­tle bot­tom on. With one paw hug­ging the tree trunk, he was com­fort­able enough. How­ever, his sib­ling was not so lucky—he had no sturdy branch to sit on and he had to cling to the tree trunk with all four feet. Like all ba­bies, they kept up a steady cry of “Maa-maa,” “Maa-maa,” just like any scared lit­tle tykes.

Mean­while, mama bear, know­ing her ba­bies were rea­son­ably safe, ig­nored their piti­ful cries and con­cen­trated on try­ing to get to the food. When she headed for the meat rack, Dad said, “It’s time to change her mind.” Rais­ing the ri­fle, he fired a shot well over her head to warn her off. She ran off a ways, grunt­ing and snuf­fling, then she tried from an­other an­gle. This time, Dad fired sev­eral more shots in the air to de­ter her. With the sounds of bul­lets zing­ing far over­head and her ba­bies bawl­ing their lit­tle heads off, mama bear de­cided dis­cre­tion was def­i­nitely the bet­ter part of val­our. Dis­ap­pear­ing be­hind a bush, she gave a cou­ple of deep-throated “whuffs” and, quick as a wink, the lit­tle cubs slid down those trees as if they were greased! Off they ran af­ter their mama.

It was an awe­some and de­light­ful sce­nario, but as my mother later said, “It might have had a dif­fer­ent end­ing if that mama bear had been in a real grouchy mood.” How true! ■

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