I woke early from a light sleep where I was dreaming of being eaten bone by bone after my tent was shredded by sharp claws. A hint of daylight was in the sky and I went over cautiously to the stove to put on some coffee. I heard a crunching of footsteps on the beach and assumed that Reg was up as usual to suss out the lighting for some early photos. But then I realised that it was not the sound of a biped but a quadruped. I stood still for a moment and stood frozen to the spot as a dark rounded shape slowly appeared from behind a bush on the beach. It was a bear shaped shadow. It stopped for a moment and the nose shortened as the bear looked in my direction then carried on down the beach. As it disappeared behind another bush I moved stealthily towards the tin-can motor home, closer to the toy-like growling from the bear alarms within, so I was in range should I need to suddenly duck under its wheels. The bear reappeared but just carried on its loping stroll further down the beach and into the distance. Phew, definitely time for a coffee, a campfire, and more noise.
The camp, and the wildlife, slowly woke. Loons started calling, a juvenile bald eagle stood on watch on the opposite beach, and Reg appeared with his camera and his usual grin. Chris appeared and made pancakes with peanut butter for breakfast – yummy. It was a cold start but the sun rose above the hill on the opposite side of the lake and warmed the day up nicely. The domestic humans woke later after the rattling squirrels had settled their territorial claims. The humans demonstrated their own territorial claims with chainsaws, generators and sickly-sweet breakfast television.
There were a number of bears wandering up and down the opposite shore eating up the dead and weakened salmon that had, hopefully, laid and fertilised the next generation before they became food. The dead fish here are sockeye salmon that have spawned. The new young fish, called fry, spend up to three years in the lake and then migrate to the ocean. They spend some time at the edge of saltwater to adapt and then spend one to five years in the sea before they start the cycle again and fight their way upstream to Chilko lake. To the bears, this spawning season is like a conveyor belt of food: the beaches are lined up with fresh fish a little like a large sushi bar. Although I prefer freshly cooked sockeye, I could imagine that this was a real feast time for the bears and other predators and scavengers on the lake. No wonder they were not interested in the less tasty humans – especially spare ribs; as I must have been classified.
The bears here, both grizzly and black, are largely habituated to humans and I saw a number of occasions where bears came close to people as the bears took their regular patrol down the shoreline for dead fish. Mostly the people got out of the way but there was one incident where a grizzly and her three cubs were trying to get down the beach but were blocked by the rope that tied a speed boat to a motor home. The bear made three attempts to get down the beach but were spooked each time by the rope. The fact that there were about twenty people watching from close by didn’t seem to bother the bears. This may seem nice and friendly of the bears not to be scared of the humans but once the fish run out the food inside the motor homes will be more attractive and the risk to both will increase.
A little later in the day we were treated to a demonstration of how humans can be incredibly insensitive to their environment. A number of fast motor boats travelled past our campsite raising quite a wake, however that was not the most sickening act. Their intention was obvious: to get photos of the bears from close up. The boats had a number of tourists with cameras on tripods that seemed to be fixed to the seats in the boat. The skippers sped by with no hint of respect or skill at approaching wildlife – they used brute force to get close to the bears as fast as they could take their, no doubt, wealthy customers to get their prizes. How would you feel if you were eating at your favourite sushi bar and a gang of paparazzi insisted on flashing their 200 mills at you? That’s what it looked like to us quieter back-to-nature folk. If our day hadn’t grown into a fabulous experience later then the witnessing of humanity in such an ugly state would have spoilt our time at this spot. I feel ashamed to be part of the human race sometimes. One of the most therapeutic and spiritual aspects of these trips for me was the absence of the evidence of man’s attempts to force consumerism down my neck. Out here I have benefited profoundly by the lack of electricity and it’s attendant evils: chewing-gum-television, beeps, flashing lights, ringtones, and ‘you have 75 new messages’.
Here, the tourists have the effortless camping with expanding motor homes and power gadgets that will do all the work for you: chop wood, start fires, keep in contact with your boss, move you rapidly across water, even tell you when to laugh. I wonder who wipes their bottoms? They have their fridges full of beer and their artificial grass outside their doors to maintain their artificial home.
I have always known that I am a primitive human: one who hasn’t the stomach to fit into a, what seems to be widely accepted as a more advanced, modern society. I have tried to fit in, tried to work 9 to 5 in a specialised field of expertise – and I do indeed have some specialised expertise – but it fails every time because I exceed my bounds. I am either too honest (read not an arse-licker), too troublesome (do things that are out of the status quo), too lazy (don’t like doing things that I think are unnecessary), or too unusual (read ‘thinks outside the box’). I used to hate the fact that I am an outsider but now – I feel lucky; and to hell with those who disagree.
I actually like the idea of living in a place where there are no shops, council departments, estate agents, etc. and have to look at my surroundings and the resources around me and use what I have. I like seeing and interacting with nature close up. Cooking with minimal technology, entertaining myself with building a camp, canoeing across the water using muscle power. I do admit that it would be much harder without supplies; factory made equipment (sleeping bag, knife, fishing rods); but not impossible in the right, fertile, area. And I know that it is a matter of balance – that I do live in a technologically advanced society and need the contact with others in that environment. However, I do not see the logic of bringing almost all of my home’s technology on an experience like this. I might as well invest in 3D television if I wanted to be like the owners of these motor homes.
This is where the magic of the large canoe comes in: it brings people to the past, to a point where humanity lived in greater contact with nature, where we survived without the need to consume huge amounts of resources, where we still remembered how to make fires and hunt. We have forgotten how to enjoy the present because we are constantly working for the future – for that day when we retire and can finally enjoy life. We do this because almost everyone else does the same and if they are doing it it must be the right thing to do. We are scared to do differently because we are frightened to be outcasts from the tribe, rightfully because that is what we would become – admired by a few (from a respectable distance) and rejected outright by the majority. But, would this, in fact, be a blessing? To be ejected from the claustrophobic world of the squeezed world of the majority? To have to live a life in solitude, blissful solitude? Perhaps I will be lucky to find others like me – I may have found one or two, perhaps I will come across more. Who knows? Who cares – I have found a great peace in being alone in my way of seeing the world and don’t really feel any rush to change that. I have found some great companions during my time in Canada – the best being the ones that sat beside me in a silence that communicated a bond beyond words.
We did, of course see more bears today, and, of course they added to my sense of peace and connection with the Earth. Coming close to a mother and her cubs I heard a voice – one that said ‘even a mother looking after three cubs was not a complicated affair: find food, eat, sleep, fight if need be; the rest of the time, if we are lucky with those four essentials, is play time. Death will come soon so all the other complications are incidental and unnecessary.’ That voice still speaks to me of other things now and then – now it says ‘you’re tired, sleep’.