“You just take a cup full of piss,” he says, “And then you throw it up high – like, splash it around
on your roof, up in the trees, as high up as you can get it. Then, when the bear comes by, he’ll smell it way, way up and be like ‘holy crap, that girl is huge – I better not screw with her,’ and mind his own business. They’re always gunna be around, but you really just want ’em to mind themselves polite-like.”
The man giving me this advice is Little Joe; he is approximately five feet tall with a bristly, untrimmed moustache and a ragged-rimmed, oil-smeared ball cap. He has been working in the bush all his life and is giving me this tip based on the fact that there is a monstrous, steaming, berry-filled bear crap about 10 feet from the door of my camper.
A long workday and a sunburn later, after a dinner of bannock and tuna, I am laying in my bunk on my back with a can of Lucky Lager and Hemingway’s Winner Take Nothing when my dog suddenly lunges up from his place on the couch and flies into a frenzy. I take the flashlight and shine it through the window, where it illuminates the clearing like a streetlamp.
And there’s the bear. He is standing on all fours, head cocked slightly to the side, telltale hump like a half-folded jack knife marking him a grizzly. This close – perhaps eight feet, with the screen of the window between us – he looks impossibly large, out of proportion to the real world.
He listens to my dog Herman – a 65 pound pit bull mix. Herman has his face right up against the window and is barking so fiercely that spittle flies out from between his black lips and clings to the screen in white flecks.
The bear considers this for a moment before turning his head and ambling idly off into the bushes again with a slow deliberateness that denotes boredom. I can hear him crashing through the undergrowth for a moment and then silence. He hasn’t gone far; I can feel him out there in the darkness, watching. My mouth is dry and I find my own fear curious, because when I’ve seen bears in the bush before, I’ve never been afraid. It’s just that he’s so close.
I light a candle and set it on the table. The flame is much more soothing than the flashlight, so I shut the latter off. My dog has calmed down and I motion to him to sit. I am trying to think, but nothing is coming and so after a moment – and I don’t know why I do it – I carefully open my door a hands width. The candle casts a ring of soft light across the scrub grass.
“I beg your pardon,” I say, loudly but calmly. “But I would like it very much if you would not scare me like that.”
There’s no sound in the bush, but I have the distinctive feeling the bear is listening, which makes me feel moderately better, because at least I’m talking to the bear and not just to myself in the middle of the night with no pants on.
“It’s just that I’m out here all by myself and it’s very frightening to have you crashing around back there at this hour.”
There’s the sound of sticks snapping, something moving; it might be the bear, or it might just be a porcupine. My dog lets out a popping, warning bark and I hold up a hand to shush him.
“I’m going to bed now. If you could just not come around like that, I’ll make sure my dog doesn’t bother you. Thanks.”
I quietly shut the door; as a gesture of good faith I don’t lock it. I feed my dog a cookie, for being such a good boy, and crawl into bed. I finish my beer and my story, blow my candle out and go to sleep.
A few days pass, other people report seeing the bear – a large, older male – nosing through their camps, but he never comes back to mine. It might be that he didn’t like my dog, but it would be nice to think he responded to good manners; I was polite enough not to go throwing my own urine around, so that has to count for something.