The Spirit Bear Story, Part One

This is a true story.

New Years Day was the beginning of an odyssey that would change my life, and my wife Stephanie’s life forever. No it wasn’t about a New Years resolution about changing some behavior. It was the day I would crack through the snow and ice and fall into a wild White Kermode Spirit Bear’s den, while hiking on my property. Here’s the first part of the story.

Each winter, Steph and I took great pleasure in hiking the ambit or circumference of our property line of ten acres. Located just north of Terrace, B.C. In a small mountain hamlet called Rosswood. The temperature at this time of year was minus twenty-seven degrees. At minus twenty, it really doesn’t matter if it’s Fahrenheit or Celsius. It’s still dam cold. At minus forty they both equal out as the same anyway.

This particular winter, the arthritis in my hip was causing me so much grief, I wasn’t sure I could make the usual two hour trek along the ambit of the property. I didn’t want to let Steph down, knowing how much she enjoyed the annual excursion. Even though I was doubting if I could make it.

If you don’t know what an ambit is, it’s the measure or outline of your land. At one time, a King could own and rule as much land as he was willing to walk around the property line of once a year. If he could not complete the trek, he had no right to own or rule the subjects within it. This made for healthy Kings.

Anyway, back to the story. I usually have some disdain for people who drink alcohol during the day. Myself included. However, on this fine sunny but freezing day, I grabbed a double shot of rum on my way out the door in an attempt to override the pain in my hip and assure me that I could make the trek with my adventurous wife.

Our property line is usually disguised on one side by some swamp and marsh during most of the year, and is impassable to navigate. The swampy hawthornes will rip you to shreds if the mosquitoes don’t. So we always welcomed our annual tour de ten acres. It also allowed us to see to the back forty so to speak. There was a nice stand of firs and birch back there, where a house could sit quite well.

At the end of our hike, we were nearing an area between our property and my neighbor and brother in law Paul’s place, the next ten acres over. An undeveloped piece of marshy land. Plus a great place to photograph bears who loved to relax and sleep in the tall grasses there. As long as we were downwind they never knew we were there. Especially when the wind blew. The wind was like a great white noise machine that made the sound of your footsteps disappear completely. Allowing us to photograph those big forest dogs with ease.

As I hiked along, by this time, heading for home, I approached a small mound of snow. Instead of going around it, which was a little longer than walking over it, and because of my painful hip, I chose to walk over it.

When I reached the top of the mound the snow suddenly gave way under my feet, and I found myself falling through the snow into a cavity in the earth. At first a little stunned. It took a second or so to get my eyes readjusted to the darker environ around me. It smelled dank and earthy. Like mushrooms and mud.

Not sure where I was, I looked down at what at first I thought was some strange kind of fungus. So I reached my hand out and palpated it and rub my hand back and forth over it. Trying to figure out what it was. That was when I realized that it wasn’t fungus at all. It was fur! It’s amazing how thoughts can race with adrenaline when you suddenly realize you are in a dangerous situation.

By the time my hand had pressed lightly into the fur and softly into the bears body, it wasn’t seconds before a bears head raised itself from the other darker end of the cave, and looked straight at me. It was then that I realized that I was palpating a bears rump. The second time he raised his head and looked at me was all the information I needed to instantly jump straight out of the den at top speed to save myself.

My fear was the bear would come after me and I would become dinner. After all, at twenty below zero, if it isn’t frozen, it’s someone’s dinner. I did not know at the time, that when bears hibernate, they can wake in a dopey kind of sleep and protect themselves if they need to. If there is no danger, they’ll just go back to sleep. All I knew was that I had to climb out of that den and get to safety.

I caught up to Steph, who was unaware of what had just happened to me as she was hiking in the lead. I described what had just happened and what I had seen. I described the bear as a light brown motley color. She knew at the time something was off. I have a certain degree of color blindness which caused her to question if indeed it was a brown bear.

About two weeks later, Steph decided she wanted to take a picture of the bear, so we headed out to the back forty for some picture taking. Steph is fearless when it comes to bears. More on that in the next part of the story. When Steph approached the den the second time, to our great surprise, out poked the head of large beautiful male Kermode Spirit Bear.

The Spirit bear, is a bear of almost mythological proportions. Moxgmol as the indigenous natives would call him. Most people in the region have never seen a spirit bear, let alone had one hibernating in a winter den on their property. Even my mother in law who had lived in the area for forty years hadn’t seen one.

We had been seeing this white bear around our property since we moved there and a mother spirit bear dropped him off as a cub. We would enjoy his sightings for years to come.

Steph got her pictures and all was well. Thinking that the best thing we could do for him, was to leave him alone to finish his hibernation cycle. So it wasn’t until a few weeks later when we borrowed our friend Ann’s video camera, and went out to take a few more pictures and a prized first piece of film.

This ends the first winter of our experience with the spirit bear and our story so far. We decided to name him Apollo, where he would go on to become a powerful figure in the 2010 winter B.C. Olympics, and the whole world. The footage that was ustreamed of Apollo is the rarest ever.

Please come back for part 2. Thanks Harreson Waymen

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