Sunday, August 22, 2010

Flashback Sunday: Lions & Bears (but no tigers)

The only way this flashback thing is going to continue is if we do it on Sundays. I realize that kills the alliteration but it simply must be done. I started doing Flashback Fridays in Egypt where Friday happens to be the day reserved for worship and I got so used to drumming up a flashback in the quiet afternoon after we’d come home from church. For the life of me, I can’t remember to do a flashback on Fridays in America. Flashbacks are too deeply associated with the Sabbath for me, I guess.

We went to Bear World yesterday and it was really bear-ish. I mean, seriously. We were just driving along and then we saw this big, black blob in the grass stand up and morph into a full-grown black bear. It was crazy huge and it brought me back to my childhood days of life in the wild, untamed Canadian landscape of Vancouver, British Columbia. Vancouver is actually a huge city—the third largest metropolitan area in Canada and the largest city in Western Canada. However, there are lots of wooded areas sprinkled throughout the city and it isn’t uncommon for wildlife to be spotted here and there every now and again.

It’s so blasé, actually, to see wild cats that newspapers come up with headlines like “Another day, another cougar sighting in Metro Vancouver.” Ho-hum, several goats and other household pets have been killed. No big deal, just lock up your small children.

The Ministry of Environment in British Columbia suggests several ways to keep children safe from cougar attacks—and these are some of the rules that I grew up with:

Cougars seem to be attracted to children, possibly because their high-pitched voices, small size, and erratic movements make it difficult for cougars to identify them as human and not prey.

  • Talk to children about what to do if they encounter a cougar.
  • Encourage children to play outdoors in groups, and supervise children playing outdoors.
  • Make sure children are home before dusk and stay inside until after dawn.
  • If there have been cougar sightings, escort children to the bus stop in the early morning.

As a child I knew what to do if I encountered a cougar, of course. We talked about it at home and we learned about it at school. When we would go on fieldtrips in the woods we received long, precautionary lectures about how to stay safe.

  • Stay with the group
  • Make lots of noise, all the time, to avoid startling animals
  • If you see a cougar, make yourself big (stay in a tight group, wave your arms, etc.)
  • Fight back with sticks and rocks
  • Never turn your back on a cougar

We all knew the routine but when something actually happens I find that it always seems to catch people by surprise, especially because cougars are so sneaky…ergo I’ve never actually seen one. But this one time—not in Vancouver but in the middle-of-no-where Alberta—my cousin Heather and I had a sleepover at her family farm. We tried sleeping out on the trampoline in Grandma Torrie’s backyard and even with all the blankets that we had with us just couldn’t keep warm enough. In the wee hours of the morning we gave up and went back inside to our nice, warm beds.

When we got up the next morning we found cougar tracks in the dirt all around the farmyard. That was really weird because cougars don’t usually go that far away from the mountains, but they were just following the deer, I suppose. Lucky for us it didn’t decide that a couple of youngsters would have made a good meal.

Besides the cougar that ate my kitty Tango, that has been my only personal encounter with a cougar. And I was asleep for most of it so it doesn’t really count.

 Bears, on the other hand, are a bit less sneaky than cougars and are just about as problematic in Vancouver.

I can’t quite remember what grade I was in now but I went on a school field trip to Minnekhada Regional Park for a nature walk or something like that. We were, of course, given the lecture about what to do for cougar and/or bear encounters before heading out and I was with our parent-volunteer and the other kids in my group. While we discussed trees and birds and moss and ferns and flowers we followed the trail which lead to a little pond. And I mean little. It really wasn’t a very big pond—not very deep, not very wide. And on the other side was a big, mean, mad mother bear.

We all froze in her tracks while she reared up on her hind legs.

She could have easily crossed the pond and slaughtered us all but her two little cubs wandered off into the forest and she gave up on us and lazily ambled after them. It was kind of scary but not as eerie as another experience I had with a bear.

My brother’s cub scout group met at a local elementary school and I would often go with my mom to wait for him to finish up when it was her turn to drive the carpool. There was a playground in the schoolyard that was near a chain link fence, behind which lay a stretch of forest.

The forest in British Columbia is breathtakingly beautiful and quite untamable so the forest is always creeping up on the city, swallowing buildings with its moss and vines and magically sprouting trees where once there was pavement. What else can you expect from a rainforest? I always loved saying that I lived in a rainforest—a temperate rainforest, yes, and beautiful, but not tame. I love the forests in British Columbia so much that I could cry. Seriously. But I won’t.

Instead I will tell you that once when we were waiting for my brother I played on that playground by the forest all by myself while my mother read (because unlike some other little children that I know *cough*Rachel*cough* I was willing to let my mother read to herself every now and again).

So there I was, happily playing by myself, when I got that chilly feeling of being watched. I looked up to make sure my mom was still there—and she was, but she wasn’t watching me right then—and then looked out at the woods.

A huge, round mound of dark fur was hidden among the trees. It was kind of dusky outside and I couldn’t tell for sure what it was but when it moved my suspicions were confirmed.

I ran to my mom and told her that I saw a bear. She calmly dismissed my fears with a sigh and an “Oh, no you didn’t,” before telling me to go play some more (so perhaps I was prone to interrupting her personal reading time more often than I recall). I couldn’t go play at the playground, though, because I was still sure that I had seen a bear right behind me and was too scared to go back over there. Instead I lingered around my mom until it was time to go home.

I’ve since wondered if I really did see a bear out there. For a while I convinced myself that maybe it was a person lurking around the woods in a large black cape, but that’s equally creepy. There was something there, though, and I saw it.

Then yesterday when we were driving through Bear World I saw a massive black lump in the grass…and then I saw that that lump was actually a bear. I couldn’t help but think back on that memory from nearly two decades ago when I saw a similar-looking black lump in the forest and was told that it wasn’t a bear.

Now I can swear that it was a bear, though that will mean little to my mother who sometimes still swears that she saw Santa’s sleigh flying through the sky one Christmas Eve so many years ago.

1 comment:

  1. The field trip to Minnekhada? I am pretty sure it was when you were in Mrs. Matsumoto's class. I was there, and so was Patrick. It was your friend Michelle who first saw the bear.

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