We have left the city behind. Hundreds of kilometres of rivers and mountains lie between me and the nearest cafe. That the coffee in Canada is a national tragedy is neither here nor there. The distance and therefore my separation anxiety exists.
Yet I have fetched up on a civilised shore indeed. The Great Bear Lodge, floating on the Nekite River that runs through the Great Bear Rainforest in western Canada, is a haven of comfort in the midst of perilous Nature.
Though, it turns out, nature is less perilous than I’d imagined. Some of it is playful. Some of it downright judgemental.
We are guests at the Great Bear Lodge and last night (after an excellent repast prepared by the gifted Glen the Chef) we drove the rough terrain to a hide by the river. From there, ten of us sat in the shade, listening to the river, the sporadic splash of a leaping salmon, and the passing gulls, waiting to see a bear.
And see one we did, stepping quietly out from the forest some hundred metres distant, to look hopefully upon the river. Perhaps no fish were near; perhaps someone softly coughing in the hide disturbed it, but the bear moved on sans fish.
Bears, it turns out, may be large but they are more timid than you’d think. They would rather amble away than pick a fight, though they’ll respond robustly if they feel threatened. The cardinal rule is Do Not Surprise a Bear.
(Take note, this includes springing out with birthday cake and a party hat. It also precludes donning, say, a regency frock and bonnet before going out to bear-watch, because that would certainly come under the heading of ‘surprising’.)
In a further aside, I did risk surprising a bear, and possibly the rare hiker, by needing to answer nature’s call without the protection of sturdy plumbing. Preceded by a guide who called out ‘hey, bear!’ in warm and friendly tones – no need to surprise bears or hikers any more than necessary – I was required to bare my all on the far side of our little bus. Let me tell you that there is nothing quite like a cool Canadian forest breeze on your arse and the nascent possibility of unwelcome surprises to let you know you’re alive.
On my return (unmolested by bears) to the hide, a flash of white on the river bank in the other direction proved to be a bald eagle. We saw several flying along the river. As I inspected this one through my binoculars, it turned its head in my direction and looked at me. Disapprovingly. Judgementally, in fact. It made me fear I had underdressed for the occasion, or possibly had forgotten to comb my hair.
But the inadequacy I felt under that gimlet stare vanished as another bear emerged from the trees and proceeded to pounce on the water, galloping upstream in a frolicsome manner before halting, triumphant, with a large salmon in its jaws.
I guess it’s not much fun for salmon to be surprised either.
It was a little odd, silently cheering on the bear’s successful hunting foray (loudly cheering would come under the heading of ‘surprising a bear’ which, as has been discussed, is viewed with alarm). Not ten minutes earlier, I had been silently applauding the progress of a salmon as it leapt out of the water to get further upstream. For all I know the bear ate that very same fish, which would be a harsh irony indeed.
Here I sit, contemplating yesterday’s encounters with bear and bird. On the patio of this floating lodge, swallows dart about, one coming in to feed chicks in a nest under the eaves while tiny hummingbirds – itty bitty birdy helicopters – dart and hover, their wings an almost invisible blur that make an audible whirr as they pass. Splashes from the river indicate salmon, sometimes seals from the colony at the nearby island. It’s calm and fresh and simply lovely.
I’ve stated before that I don’t trust nature but I find this Canadian wilderness growing on me.
A little footage for you:
(My thanks to Great Bear Nature Tours and Canadian Tourism for hosting us.)