Photo courtesy Peter Nuij, Unsplash.com
It’s a bear!
This summer, my husband and I had four encounters with grizzly bears; fortunately, none of these events resulted in harm to either the bears or ourselves. We saw two grizzlies in Jonas Pass while on a six-day backpack trip, and another walked quietly behind some trees near us on a trail at Lake O’Hara. We viewed the last bear on the South Molar Pass trail, while hiking high above a meadow the grizzly was busily feeding in. And as well, my husband encountered a confused black bear in our town. We’ve never seen so many bears in one summer.
Bears have always been part of my life; I grew up on the Riding Mountain escarpment of Manitoba, just a few miles (as the crow flies) from the southeast side of Riding Mountain National Park.
I was only about eight years old when my older sister tied up my younger sister Grace and me with a stretchy pink skipping rope. Pleased with herself, Maryanne walked up our driveway towards the gravel grid road. All of a sudden, she screamed and raced back to the house, without even a tiny thought about her incapacitated younger sisters! Grace and I untangled ourselves from the pink ropey mess and went to the house to see what all of the fuss was about.
“I saw a bear!” Maryanne whimpered.
We all walked towards the road and located a smeared bear track. Startled by Maryanne’s scream, the bear must have been scared off.
Maryanne never lived that story down.
What did my Baba think about the bears that travelled though the bush around their farm? Were bruins new to her, or did she and my grandfather see bears in their home village alongside the Dniester River as well? Or only in the Carpathian Mountains to the west?
One of our family stories is about my Baba going out to the pasture in late evening. She walked by her black cow “Slim,” patted Slim on the head and said a few kind words to her faithful bovine friend.
But it wasn’t Slim – my Baba had patted a black bear on its head.
This was one of my cousins’ favorite Baba stories, repeated numerous times at reunions.
In another family story, my Baba and Aunt Mary had gone picking saskatoons in their bushy pasture. My grandmother and aunt were deep in conversation on opposite sides of a bountiful bush, filling their pails with juicy saskatoons. After a while, Baba wondered why her daughter wasn’t answering her questions, even though she could see the branches moving opposite her. Baba parted the bushes to have a better look: Mary was nowhere in sight, but there facing her was a bear!
I wonder what the conversation was between Baba and Mary after my grandmother had faced off with that bear, had Mary seen any bruins?
On one of my recent trips with my sisters and cousins to my grandparents’ old farm, a fat and sassy-looking black bear scooted across the grid road in front of us and disappeared into the bush. How fitting!
For more stories about my Baba’s and Dido’s life, you can read my new historical fiction novel Heart Stones: A Ukrainian Immigration Story of Love and Hope, it is based on my grandparent’s prolonged and difficult immigration to Manitoba during and after WWI. It was published in early 2023.
Visit my website for more details about Heart Stones, read reviews and check out my Bookstore page, listen to recent CBC radio interviews, read about my offerings for book clubs, and check out my other blog posts. While there, you can download Chapter One from my book, it’s absolutely free!
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