If You Go Down To The Woods Today

There are very few moments in life where a single look can silence you. Good or bad these are few and far between but I can guarantee that they will stick with you forever and I am sure the memory of the moment I am about to write about will stick with me longer after everything else has gone fuzzy. A while back I posted this: 

So I feel I should now explain.

Tap. Tap. Tap. I scrunched up my face and tried to ignore the incessant tapping on my forehead but it kept coming. Whatever was going on with Caroline, the girl I had spent 2 weeks sharing a tent and canoe with, she obviously wasn’t going to let it go. At this point we were a couple of weeks into the Canadian wilderness, still recovering from a nasty accident that had occurred the week before and surrounded by only trees and water for miles in any direction. As I’m sure you can all appreciate, at this point tempers were starting to fray and everyone would have benefitted from a good night sleep so when I felt the repetitive drumming on my forehead I was ready to give as good as I got.

Having been dragged head first into consciousness I snapped my eyes open ready (I will admit) with a torrent of abuse for the rude awakening. The look on Caroline’s face was enough to wipe all thoughts from my mind and plunge me into silence. Her face reflected pure terror and arguments I have been about to voice were lost immediately. Eyes wide she moved the finger she had been using to wake me to her lips and motioned for me to be quiet. Confused, I did as she asked. To this day I don’t know what had woken her because the rustling that could be heard outside the tent was barely audible at first. There was something outside and it was close. That evening we had chosen to pitch our tent on the edge of the group and were relatively close to the edge of the river (Yukon) we were canoeing. The snuffling moved closer to the water and further from the tent and for a couple of minutes we could hear lapping noises that were unmistakably the sound of something drinking. This went on for what seems like minutes but I suspect was a lot shorter. It was during this time at me and Caroline moved to the middle of the tent, curling ourselves up until we settled in the middle of the tent in what can only be described as the foetal position, and had a near silent conversation to establish whether either of us had slipped up and kept food in the tent. Caroline told in me hushed tones that she had apple juice and “did I think it would be a problem?”! Well, actually, yes I thought it could be but I dutifully shook my head and give her a look that I hoped was reassuring. It’s important to note that at this point we had no idea what was lurking outside as we had had fairly close encounters with moose, black bears and grizzly’s during the trip so far.

The noise moved closer and we once again we descended into silence. It’s then that the fun really started. The padding got closer and closer until it was drowned out by the creaking of our tent as it was pulled to one side, crushed as our mystery animal settled on its end. Whatever had taken a liking to our camp had decided that the end of our tent would be a perfect place to lie down. Caroline and I were now curled up in the middle of the tent with the fabric only inches above our heads. Neither of us dared move. We didn’t know what lay just inches away but we knew it was big and that was enough to keep us quiet. We lay there for what seemed like hours but was realistically no more than a couple of minutes before we heard a zip opening from one of the other tents. Another of the members of our group had also been woken by the noise and, having heard everything go quiet, had built up the courage to sneak a peek. All I heard was “it’s a bear. A grizzly”! A gasp from a third tent let us know that more people were aware of what was going on than we’d known and that maybe it was a more basic instinct that had woken us all rather than the noise, which must have been almost inaudible at the other end of the camp. Thankfully the increased activity seemed to have riled the bear and even more fortunately, it decided that the best course of action would be to move away. The tent righted itself and we could hear slow movement away and towards the tress. A few moments elapsed before we dared move but when we heard voices moving towards our tent we felt safe enough to get up and inspect the damage. The prints led from the trees, through the middle of camp and to the water. They then looped back and towards our tent where there was a large impression in the soft earth before more prints led back into the trees. A close call by anybody’s standards!

So, that’s how I came to be within touching distance of a grizzly with only the fabric of my tent between us! I will never understand why a bear would choose to wander through camp and choose that spot to drink, though I hope someone reading this might be able to offer an explanation, but I am glad it did. Yes it was scary but I would have it any other way. How many people can say they’ve been that close to a wild grizzly and walked away totally unharmed?!

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