O tranquil summer, where art thou?

INKSHED I love Yukon summers — so peaceful and light out here in the spruce forest on Pine Creek.


I love Yukon summers — so peaceful and light out here in the spruce forest on Pine Creek.

(Where are all my old school teachers who, every September, insisted on the writing assignment, How I Spent My Summer Holidays?

Summer 2007. Hmm. I am ironing beside the window in my laundry room.

I catch movement in the periphery.

My head jerks left with whip-lash velocity, and I watch a scruffy black bear claw his way up a tree six metres from my window.

He turns and looks at me as I pound on the window.

Does he scramble down and run away? Absolutely not!

After a bit, he brashly ambles across the yard a few feet to sit down and eat soap berries on the creek bank.

Every scruffy hair on his mangy, black body is saying, “Ha, ha, you’re more afraid of me than I am of you.”

A few days later, I am up in my loft (on my exercise machine because who can go walking in the woods?) and I catch a glimpse of feet below me outside my living room window.

From my vantage point, that is all I see at first.

Now, Trenton Graves of Yukon Electrical reads our meter back there, so that was my first thought.


It was a different bear this time, but just as brazen and in no hurry to vacate the premises. (These critters seem to sense that I am bearanoid — bear-annoyed?)

No worries. I will just take my boat (a 5.4-metre Lund) down the creek into Pine Lake.

At least there I can relax, drink my coffee, and marvel at God’s creation of the St. Elias Mountains.

On this certain day, my husband, Glen, is with me.

For 25 years, we have been doing this, and I am so at ease out here on the water, away from all those bears.

 “What’s that swimming down the middle of the lake?”

It looks pretty small from a distance. A couple of big birds? We motor closer. A log? It’s quite a hairy log. Oh, a baby moose. No, moose don’t have ears like that.

I cannot believe it — a huge brown bear is swimming smack-dab down the middle of Pine Lake in 24 metres of water! O, tranquil summer, where art thou?

As we idle closer, Mr. Bear veers off, makes it to the shore, and splashes out right beside Stinson’s house. We hurry home to phone them a warning, but they do not answer.

I suspect they have seen the bear, and are up on their roof hoping to escape. Trust me — there is no escape.

OK, so a bear in the lake once in 25 years, is not so bad; when Husband goes hunting, I go out again.

On our glorious-weather Labour Day, I gather up a picnic, books, water, coffee, life jackets, sunglasses, and my friend, Sharon Holloway.

We untie and get into the boat.

Tweak the gas tank lid, squeeze the rubber ball on the hose, put the motor down, turn the key, do a smooth reverse away from the dock.

I smell something gross.

Omigosh! A river otter in the boat — a black, hairy, oily, slithery, stinky river otter. He’s here, right in my boat, scurrying over (and likely peeing on) the extra life jackets and down between the raised floor and the boat bottom.

We pull back in, get out, kick the aluminum, rock the boat, start it up again. Wait. Repeat all manoeuvres. Sharon jabs around with the fishing net, hoping to aggravate a hasty departure without getting bitten. All the while, we choke on the gross odour.

OK, we can wait. We haul our picnic away from the boat, farther down the dock, and enjoy our Greek salad and tuna sandwiches.

By situating ourselves strategically, we can watch and listen for the otter’s slithery retreat back into water.

It doesn’t happen. We are wasting time and getting antsy. There is sun to soak up, table-flat water to boat in and fish to catch.

Then along comes our knight in shining armour — an unsuspecting Andy Hall, just happening by on an errand.

To no avail, Andy repeats all former procedures to scare out the otter; he then proceeds to remove the false floor.

I recoil in horror as he removes the remains of a putrid otter’s nest from under the boat’s storage area.

I run to the house for Javex, Lysol, Mr. Clean, Raid, and the household ammonia. I spray it all. The otter remains until Andy pries loose his last remaining fortress. Then he slithers the length of the boat and flops into the water. (He is not shy. I see him a few minutes later, slinking his way up the dock supports right beside me.)

Meanwhile, Sharon calmly records the proceedings on her trusty digital, and after she and Andy clean the boat, she persuades me to carry on with our boating. (Get back on the horse and ride?)

We do.

Now if I were Annie Dillard, renowned American nature writer, I would have a book worthy of the New York Times Bestseller List — all philosophical with universal themes ensuing from these critter encounters.

However, since I am not Annie Dillard, I think I will just go to Hawaii next summer.

And worry about sharks?

Elaine Hurlburt is a writer living in Haines Junction.

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