encounters in the wild

Dear Uma: Do you and Andrew like one another again? I sincerely hope so; it would be a shame if a 25-year marriage were to dissolve over a holiday…

Dear Uma:

Do you and Andrew like one another again?

I sincerely hope so; it would be a shame if a 25-year marriage were to dissolve over a holiday misadventure.

Things did not look promising between the two of you when you boarded the Air North flight in Whitehorse.

Your demand for another seat, away from Andrew, did not bode well for a happy journey home. If Andrew had only been able to stop grinning and bursting into laughter, it may have soothed your wounded sensibilities. And I suppose Pete and I joining him didn’t help.

Assuming you stayed with your original plan, you had two romantic days in beautiful Vancouver before heading back to Santa Barbara; that would have healed the breach — yeah?

Your silence is worrying me a little, though I guess you’ll need a few days at home to catch up before writing or calling me. You’re far too good a sport to still be angry.

Our drive back to Watson Lake was made merrier, I have to admit, by reliving your bear encounter.

Don’t worry about the sleeping bag; I’ve left it with the dry cleaners in Whitehorse and they assure me it is not the first time they have dealt with urine in a sleeping bag.

Pete is taking responsibility for this one, and is it ever nice not to be the scapegoat, for a change.

My plan was to do a day trip to the Liard Hot Springs, and spend the rest of the time hanging out, visiting and showing you around Watson Lake.

It was not my idea to take you and Andrew camping for two of your five days here, especially the last two. Having to get up early to catch a plane from a campsite, without a shower, would not be my idea of ending a trip on a high note.

I would not have chosen a campsite outside of Whitehorse and definitely not one with a bear warning posted at the park entrance.

If you will remember, Andrew and I were less than enthusiastic about the whole venture; it was you and Pete who carried this particular day.

The two-room tent also was not my idea, you will recall. Not that I would have missed this for anything: you snuggling a bear through the wall of the tent and Andrew, in a fit of jealousy (we assume), firing a bear banger for the first time.

Isn’t this 24-hour daylight marvelous? We got the very best seats for the whole performance: you asleep and mumbling as you gently shoved the bulk that you thought was Andrew away while your husband peered over the top of his sleeping bag with his eyes as big as saucers.

Inexperienced as we were, we all three knew what was lolling against you from the outside of the tent.

Andrew was quick, impressively so, in locating and loading the banger, though I suspect he was glad of a reason to use it; he’d shown a tremendous interest in it when Pete showed it to him.

Nice of him to pay the rental folk for the cost of repairing the tent, although I think they wouldn’t have charged us for it, so deep was their enjoyment of the event, as related by Andrew.

The banger scared Pete and me, too, Uma. We’ve owned it since we got here but we’ve never had to use it — who could have imagined such a loud noise coming from something the size of a fountain pen? And no one said anything to us about NOT firing it in a tent.

It is good to know that it does the job — the bear did leave, though not exactly in haste. I think it was liking the attention; something that size probably felt as though your pushing was a sort of caress.

Bear business aside, it was a fabulous visit and now of course I am missing you more than ever. You will come here again, won’t you?

The day after we got home we met the true terror of the North. I am not telling you this in a lame attempt to assuage your humiliation with one of ours, OK? Our encounter with The Spruce Beetle and our subsequent reaction was every bit as dramatic as yours to the bear, only with less reason.

We were sitting inside the canvas gazebo having our morning tea and reading. Remember our canvas gazebo? Designed to protect from insects, not that the creature that invaded it could be called a mere insect; it was huge, matte black, ugly and as it turned out, full of a vicious intent to injure human beings.

It entered the gazebo silently, perching on my shoulder where the waving of its long hairy feelers soon caught my attention.

Having lived in various parts of the world and seen all manner of living things, large and small, I regarded it simply with interest, calling to Pete to have a look.

While we both gazed upon one of Nature’s wonders, I became aware of a strange feeling; the thing seemed to be looking at me with a dark intention, a sensation so odd and powerful that I picked it up to put it outside. It bit me, a hard and painful bite, done with a pair of pincers that sank into the ball of my thumb and didn’t let go.

Shaking my hand didn’t dislodge it: Pete had to pull it off me. He has always been a bit more uncertain about the creepy crawlies that share the planet with us, so he’d wrapped a napkin around his hand before wrestling the critter away from my shrinking flesh. It bit him through the napkin!

By this time, we were both a little shook and there was none of the usual argument from me about the sacredness of all life when he managed to fling it to the floor of the gazebo and started to stomp on it.

When he lifted the napkin to survey his kill, there it was, entirely uninjured, staring malevolently upwards and seemingly larger for the experience; it immediately began moving towards him.

There was really nothing substantial to hit it with other than our big teapot, which had belonged to his grandmother and was one of the few things we both liked well enough to keep it through innumerable changes of location, and it was this teapot Pete chose as his weapon.

I hollered at him to get something else, but with a look of triumph, he revealed his true purpose — he poured the hot tea all over the bug thing.

It shook its hard-shelled body like a dog. Tea sprayed in all directions. Pete and I stared at one another with a growing horror.

Pete began to beat at it with the teapot, encouraged by the growing volume of my voice telling him “Kill it, Pete! Oh yeah! Hit it some more! Harder!”

The handle was the first to go, and after repeated bashings, the lovely round body of the teapot was smashed like Humpty Dumpty, and like the famous egg, nothing was going to put it together again.

But the beetle was unharmed, and annoyed. It launched itself from the ground — it could fly! Pete and I left the gazebo in undignified haste, pulling out some of the poles as we exited. This meant we had to fight our way out of yards of netting, so that by the time we emerged, we were in a bit of a state.

We found our friend Norm standing outside his truck with a questioning look on his bearded face. “What’s up?” he asked.

“A big black beetle sort of thing,” Pete shouted, slowing down as he neared the truck “The damned thing can’t be killed.”

Norm’s face underwent a quick change from friendly inquiry to abject terror. “Spruce beetle,” he yelled, hastily opening the door of his truck and scrambling in. He was rolling up the window as he peeled out of our yard.

We raced to the trailer, Pete losing a slipper on the way. Safely inside, I called Dave, trying to be calm and curious as I described our encounter.

Dave, a man of vast understanding, said he would be right over, and he was, fearlessly re-erecting our semi-flattened tent, and actually going inside. Dave is not a man given to guffaws, or even wide smiles, but we heard him snickering to himself and there was definitely a grin in his beard when he came out.

“Gone,” he told us with as straight a face as he could manage.

See why you have to come back, Uma? There is still much to learn and experience.



Heather Bennett is a writer who lives in Watson Lake.