The unsolved mysteries of a camping trip

A blonde grizzly bear suddenly burst out of the trees about 300 metres from where I was standing. Without so much as looking into my direction, he barrelled down the beach, his dark brown legs a blur -- luckily he was heading the opposite way.

A blonde grizzly bear suddenly burst out of the trees about 300 metres from where I was standing. Without so much as looking into my direction, he barrelled down the beach, his dark brown legs a blur—luckily he was heading the opposite way.

It seemed prudent nonetheless to get back into my canoe and push off from shore where I had been trying to figure out the mystery of the day before. Actually, the bear was a potential explanation to it.

The previous day, I had been camped on the far side of the bay, the sand and hard-packed mud of the crescent-shaped beach telling stories about recent events. There was a busy patch of otter tracks leading up and down, also the neat imprints of a tiny caribou calf but none of its mother. She might have been wading in the water by its side, her tracks thus invisible. And, meandering along shore for a good two and a half kilometres or more, the footprints of a smallish grizzly sow and her two cubs from last year.

The delicate details like wrinkles on the sow’s soles stood out clearly in the moist mud, indicating the bears had passed by not all that long ago. I could see that the mother bear had wandered up close to a well-used rubbing tree and left her own marks on a different pine, then carried on with her cubs.

As always, I had done a thorough sweep of the area where I wanted to camp, touching rocks and wood to leave my scent so animals would know about my presence. There was no evidence of the three bears hanging out in the area or feeding there, they seemed to have just passed through.

After the chores of setting up camp were done, a commotion on the other end of the bay had caught my eye: a moose was running along shore in wild panic with a small light-coloured creature close behind. Cursing myself heartily for having set off yet again without binoculars, I had squinted to identify the small animal. A wolf? A bear? At about one and a half kilometres distance, I could not tell.

The moose seemed to be behaving strangely. Instead of standing its ground or getting into the lake, it kept running erratically, hesitating all the time. Yet it looked extremely distressed. Eventually it disappeared around the corner, the other animal in hot pursuit.

Intriguing as it was, I had decided that it would be smarter to wait until the next day to check out the tracks and find out what was running after the moose. Although I kept an eye and ear open for further developments all evening, I didn’t notice anything else.

And so I packed up very eagerly in the morning, curious to find the answer to the moose riddle. With everything stowed in the canoe, I was soon paddling across the bay, singing at the sight of the mountains washed in morning light, for joy at the beauty of the world, and also to let any potential predator munching on moose know that I was on my way.

Landing on the far shore only 10 minutes later, I slowly walked up and down the beach and found the solution to my mystery in the form of small calf prints. What I had assumed to be a wolf or bear chasing the moose had actually been her new calf. It was while I was still making sense of this (then what had she been fleeing from?) that the blonde grizzly shot out of the woods, immediately providing one possible explanation to the moose’s panic and hesitancy. She might have had two calves and maybe lost one to a bear, though not necessarily to this one.

As I got back into the canoe, my eyes were glued on the beautiful bear speeding along shore. He stopped once, briefly, to rear up and rub against a tree, then dropped to his feet again and resumed his fast pace. His quickly receding blonde shape proceeded to make a beeline for the area I had been camped at, with only one more quick stop to sniff at one of my pee spots. Then he vanished into the trees, maybe 100 metres from my camp spot and leaving me with more questions than before.

Had the moose indeed lost one calf? Why did the bear suddenly burst out onto the beach like that and what was his hurry? Did he check out the sow’s rubbing tree? Did he investigate my tent site?

Suddenly not feeling curious enough anymore to go and investigate the possible answers, I started paddling back towards home. After all, curiosity killed the cat.

Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon

River south of Whitehorse.

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