For as long as man and beast have wondered the mountains and valleys of the western part of this continent, the grizzly bear has been head honcho, numero uno, lord of its domain, top of the food chain as it were. Feared and respected by all, not much gets in their way – not much that gets to live and tell about it afterwards.
Going back to the earliest of times, First Nations people have told stories about grizzly bears that have been passed on in their myths and legends. More than one modern day book has been written about grizzlies (Ursus arctos horribilis) and close encounters with this powerful, intelligent and sometimes unpredictable creature of the wild.
Grizzlies, which are actually a sub-species of the brown bear, once lived throughout much of western North America and even roamed the Great Plains. However, European settlement eliminated much of its range and today only an estimated 20,000 of these magnificent creatures still roam the wilds of Canada – many protected within the boundaries of our national park system.
Did I ever tell you about the time I got chased up a tree by a grizzly?
I was walking through the prettiest little alpine meadow you ever saw – all laid out in waves of soft purple, pink and pale yellow flowers and minding my own business, when all of a sudden, a grizzly pops its head up out of the tall grass not a hundred feet in front of me. I don’t know who was more surprised, but I decided not to hang around and chat. I headed for the nearest tree, with that old bear hard on my heels. I could feel its foul smelling breath on me as I ran. I could hear it crushing everything underfoot in its wake as it charged after me.
Somewhere in the back of my mind I thought I remembered that grizzly bears can’t climb up trees very well – because of their size and weight. All I knew as I ran was that I hoped the theory was true.
I’d just made it up the tree to safety, when that old bear starts to shake the tree for all it was worth, trying to shake me down. It’s amazing how fear can give a body strength. I hung on with all the strength and perseverance I could muster. The harder he shook, the harder I hung on, and in the end, well, that bear just sort of hunkered down at the base of the tree, looking up. I guess he was figuring on waiting me out, while I hung on for dear life looking down into its cold, hungry eyes.
Anyway, that bear and I spent the next three days and nights trying to out-stare each other.
On the morning of the fourth day, just when I was starting to get worried that my days on this earth might be numbered, the bear up and starts heading off towards a nearby stream. I figured this was my chance to get away, so I waited a minute, just to be sure, and then started making my way down the tree.
I was not even halfway down when that bear came back with a live beaver in its mouth. He set the beaver down and sure enough it starts to gnaw away at the bottom of the tree. I couldn’t help but feel that all of nature was conspiring against me. It would only be a matter of time before I’d be a goner.
Now if you want to find out how I managed to get myself away from that old grizzly, you will have to come out to Fort Steel Heritage Town, near Cranbrook, where I am going to be storyteller in residence over the summer months through to the end of September.
I might even tell you the story about the fish that used to follow me around like a puppy dog.