“A bear leaned against my tent last night,” our friend Tom gasps, still as shell-shocked as if he’d escaped only seconds ago. “I woke up and there was this sound, sort of like heavy breathing. Right by the tent. I just didn’t know what to do.”
Wild-eyed, he shuts the door to our cabin and leans against it, perhaps to ensure no bear will follow.
“So what did you do?” I ask and pour him a cup of coffee to revive his spirits.
“Well, nothing. What do you do? You guys said I wouldn’t need a gun, but let me tell you, I want some firepower in that tent tonight. There are holes in the fabric from the claws – holes!” His voice quavers for a moment, then he sinks down on the sofa next to Sam.
I put the coffee mug into his trembling hands, secretly wondering if this will turn out to be a new version of the wolf turd episode.
Far-flung friends who come to visit us tend to be so primed for adventure, so keen for wildlife sightings, that suddenly danger seems to lurk where there was none before.
Years ago, one friend was amazed that wolves came right up to our cabin. Surprised and a bit annoyed that we had missed the wolves, we asked for details.
It turned out that she only found evidence of their presence. Triumphantly, she led us to a fair-sized piece of scat that lay about 10 metres behind the cabin.
“That’s dog poop,” we had to explain gingerly and came to realize that some city people are unfamiliar with the fact that it can come in a wide array of sizes.
Sam must have thought back to that episode, too. He is starting to look skeptical.
“Holes in the tent?” Tom is staying in our battered wall tent, which features a multitude of small holes.
“Wow. It must have shook pretty good.”
Nursing his coffee, Tom concedes the tent didn’t shake, nor did he see a dark shape against the canvas. But when he took a close look at it this morning, he found the telltale holes.
I look at Sam and raise my eyebrows.
“Let’s go see,” he says.
With the dogs running up the path ahead of us, we wander up to Tom’s campsite.
Fireweed is splashed purple underneath the trees and soapberries dot the bushes like splattered blood, leftovers of Tom’s nightmare. We scan the dusty trail for tracks, but the dogs are a better indication: their body language is a running commentary on what goes through their noses. No bear smells yet.
Closer to the tent, we fan out to look for bear sign in more detail. Some soapberries and leaves are lying under the bushes here and there, the odd branch is stripped except for the tip. Looks like a bear fed on it.
The dogs sniff with mild interest – no fresh scent, though. Meanwhile, Tom has taken up position at the tent, anxious to point out the damage inflicted by the bear.
Sam and I walk over and look at the old, mildewed canvas. Rorschach patterns bloom across the walls and roof, dissected by the Frankenstein sutures of mended tears.
No wonder Tom got scared in there.
“Here,” he says and spreads his fingers to illustrate how the bear had leaned against the tent. His arms are almost spread-eagled. That would have had to be a bear with an amazing reach.
I squint at the small holes. There are three of them in one spot, two in the other. And plenty more across the whole wall.
“I don’t know, Tom. They’re so far apart and there’s no smudge from the paw pads whatsoever. There might have been a bear feeding on the berries, but I don’t think he …”
“But we weren’t there, of course. You heard him. Maybe he just stuck the tips of his claws in.”
I frown at Sam and wonder if he’s suddenly gone soft in the head.
It’s when I look back at Tom who’s nodding eagerly and already turning this into a story to tell back in Edmonton that I understand we should leave him his adventure.
Just as we should have let the wolf turds be.
Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.