not your usual bear story

Most people would agree that getting caught with your pants down is generally something you want to avoid — not only is it embarrassing, it…

Most people would agree that getting caught with your pants down is generally something you want to avoid — not only is it embarrassing, it makes you feel strangely vulnerable and exposed.

Well, let me tell you, your sense of exposure and vulnerability is even worse when such an incident happens15 metres from a feeding black bear.

I had stumbled bleary-eyed out of the cabin for an early morning pee and, as I was squatting down, cast a sleepy eye down the trail.

That’s when I noticed a large dark shape that had not been there before.

Now I don’t wake fast, so it took me a few moments to figure out I was looking at a bear having breakfast in the soapberry bushes.

The bear seemed completely mesmerized by my sudden appearance and weird behaviour.

It was probably not something he’d seen before.

His entire attention — ears, eyes and nose —were completely focused on me, crouched on the ground an easy pounce or two away.

There was, however, no threat in his expression, only utter amazement — as if he was not quite sure I really was a human.

Having finished my early morning business and wanting to get further away from the slack-jawed bear, I slowly straightened.

That triggered an immediate huge jump backwards by the bear — “Huh! A human after all!” — into the berry bushes.

But he must have found the encounter just too intriguing because he stopped to look at me again, no doubt waiting for another bizarre display of people behaviour.

I stood to have a good look at him; we do get quite a few bears pass through our remote homestead, but I didn’t recognize this funny fellow.

When I started making my way back to the cabin, the bear leapt further back, then halted yet again to watch as I stood by the cabin door.

We silently regarded each other, pondering the strange existences we both lead out here in the bush. Finally, the bear broke away and vanished into the bush amidst snapping branches.

Some years it is quite the bear bonanza out here on the Yukon River headwaters, and we literally have to shoo them away now and then.

But this year we haven’t had many bears visit; maybe because there seems to be a bumper crop of berries just about everywhere.

It is a treat to live in a place where it is possible to get to know the bears just a little bit better.

I used to find bear encounters scary, mostly through reading too many pamphlets about how to curl up and when to fight back, but over the years I’ve managed to get rid of the fear (not the respect though).

It becomes easier over time to read their body language and to gauge their reactions.

My favourite way of bear watching is from the canoe because they are often not scared of people in a paddle boat and will frequently be as interested in watching you as vice versa.

Recently while my partner Sam and I were out paddling, we watched a young grizzly who was equally curious about us.

The light blonde bear had a brown head and legs — a spectacularly beautiful guy.

He was very relaxed as he looked for a comfy spot to have a better look at us before resuming his leisurely hunt for berries.

The soapberries are not only greatly coveted by the bears, our chickens have developed a taste for them too, bordering on addiction.

Not thinking much about it, I had tossed a few berry-laden branches into their run, where they were first eyed suspiciously until Martha, the courageous one, sampled the first berry.

Ever since, it’s become their favourite food.

What is slightly disconcerting to watch is the red foamy juice dribbling out the side of their beaks, giving them a vampire-like appearance — like mosquitoes on steroids.

When the bugs were so bad this summer, we had been fantasizing about getting some sort of indoor toilet, to avoid the bug torture of the outhouse.

But, by eliminating the middle-of-the night trips, we’d miss so many northern lights.

And, of course, I’d never have relieved myself next to a bear having breakfast.

Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.

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