A Bear Out There

There’s a bear out there.  Not far from my home.  Somewhere.  Drinking from the creek that cuts through our neighbourhood.  Eating the berries along the trails that connect our community.  Foraging through bins on garbage day.

Signs at trailheads warn of recent sightings. It’s a black bear, not a grizzly.  While black bears are unlikely to attack humans there are no guarantees.  Google “Black Bear Attack – British Columbia” and you will get multiple hits – news stories that are weeks or months, but not years old.

It still feels very foreign to me, a relative newcomer to BC.  I grew up in Southern Ontario and the closest I came to a bear was at the Toronto Zoo.  A bear was as foreign and exotic as a hippo or elephant.

Not on Vancouver Island which has one of the densest populations of black bears in the world.  I step outside the house, scan the forests that surround our small town, and know that there is likely not one bear out there, but dozens.

That knowledge affects every trail run.  I do not obsess about it, but I am more than conscious that around every sharp corner, or in the deep brush beside me, a bear may lurk.  That invisible bear may not be poised to attack and is likely more scared of me, than I am of it.  However, more than once I have imagined rounding a bend and encountering a mother bear and her cubs.  Whenever that scenario plays out in my mind, it does not end well for me.

I take some precautions.  Or one precaution at least.  Jammed into the front pocket of my running vest is a large can of bear spray.  On most runs, I practice pulling it out so that doing so becomes as instinctive as a gunslinger sliding a pistol from his holster.  I visualize an encounter I hope never happens.  I startle a bear. We both freeze.  I hold my ground hoping it will just amble away.  It does not.  I yell, hoping to frighten it off. I fight my body’s instinct to turn and run.  I stare at the bear, continuing to yell.  The bear spray is in my hand now.  I back up slowly.  The bear is still.  Do I wait for it to pounce?  Or do I attack first, shooting a stream of thousands of distilled hot peppers into the bear’s face?  Causing it real agony to prevent my own potential agony?  What if I unload the cannister of spray at the bear – and miss – creating a very angry bear, and a very unarmed me?

Questions which I hope are never answered.  A scenario which I hope never plays out.

A chance I am willing to take every day I run in the woods.  Because of the beauty that surrounds me everywhere.  Mountains and forests.  Grueling inclines and distant vistas. Silence and serenity.

Something rustles in the underbrush.

Did I mention the cougars?

Cougar sign

Watermelon in the Rain

It’s raining again. On Vancouver Island. Which as newsflashes go is right up there with “Trump Says Something Stupid.

On a walk this morning my daughter, cold, wet and shivering, asked when the rain would stop.

I answered honestly. “Never.”

She knew I was teasing.

So I told her the real truth. “In forty years.”

That’s how it feels anyway.

I have no right to complain. I choose to move here. To an island. With rainforests on it.

There are positives. Like between November and March it rarely snows. And you can count on seeing the sun. At least once a month.

We had a glorious April. Sun almost daily. Light and heat. At a time when the darkness of COVID was shattering the lives of so many people, we walked in magnificent forests with sunshine streaming through, creating a mosaic of sparkling shadows to rival anything the finest art gallery in the world could offer.

In April I ran in shorts and a t-shirt. I needed sunscreen.

Today we’re drinking hot chocolate. It’s drizzling between rainstorms and the clouds look like they’ve captured the sun and banished it forever on this Victoria Day long weekend. The unofficial start of summer.

Some people embrace this weather. Our neighbour loaded up his paddleboard and headed down to the ocean.

I’ve tried. But I can’t. Not when the grey and rain and blah seem to never go away. When the 7-day forecast on the nightly news shows: rain, showers, cloudy, rain, rain, showers, rain.

But when the sun does come, it is glorious. Like the best of everything distilled into golden rays. Everything is better in the sun. Running, sweating, cutting the lawn, flying kites. Working from home and looking out the window at a yellow world. Everything.

And just like everything is better in the sun, everything is worse when it rains. Stress weighs heavier, the blues are darker, injuries hurt even more.

But sometimes a little light bursts through. I started writing this post sitting on the couch. Alone.  Miserable.  Now sitting beside me are my girls. Eating watermelon. Watermelon! The quintessential summer fruit on a hot chocolate day.

I could learn a lot from my girls. Injecting a slice of summer into an entirely miserable day.

Although truth be told, instead of eating watermelon in the rain, I’d rather be drinking hot chocolate in the sun.

A Little Bit of Sunshine