Week of ManCamping Women – Bear In The Woods – Heather Mills
Bear in the Woods – By Heather Mills
When the ManCamping team asked me to write a story celebrating the mishaps that happen in the woods, I came back to them with a massive list of things I could write about. That time we spent the night with about a foot of water in our tent, that time we got lost on a portage and separated from our gear for a night, that time we paddled down the tiniest, most overgrown creek and ripped a hole in our canoe… the list just goes on and on! The mishaps always make for the best stories, so I’ve already written about a lot of them on my blog WatermarkWords.org. Here’s a new one that’s either funny or scary, depending on which angle you look at it from…
(The trip was to Clearwater Lake. Some of the photos are from other places and other trips. I didn’t take any photos during this experience, you’ll see why in a moment…)
It began at sundown. I was gazing into our evening fire, just about to put it out for the night and retire to the tent. The scent of the fresh sausages and vegetables we’d had for dinner had blown away with the wind. Now the breeze carried the musty green smell of early spring. That’s when I heard it – the crack of a twig underfoot. It came from the woods in front of me, just beyond our small circle of firelight.
Earlier in the evening I’d heard what I thought was a moose in the woods by the shore, coming down for an evening drink. It stopped short just out of sight. I never heard it walk away though…
A twig cracked again, this time from the other side of our campsite, behind the tent. I called over to Sean, “I think there’s something in the woods.”
“I’m sure it’s nothing.” He called, crawling out of the tent.
Then it happened again. This time near the fire pit and this time Sean heard it too. I hadn’t heard whatever it was travelling around the campsite from behind the tent to beyond the fire. Were there two of them? We made some noise, yelling and banging, and then sat waiting… Crack. It was still there. We shone our flashlights into the woods, walking around and making noise – nothing. No eyes in the night, no shifting shadows, nothing. We waited. Crack, crack – this time from the two places at once! There were definitely more than one and they were definitely not scared of us. They also definitely had us surrounded.
I walked down to the canoe and put it in the water, ready to beat a hasty retreat. We didn’t have a gun or a bear banger or bear spray but Sean had his wits, a knife and some idea about wrestling a wild animal with his bare hands. He started yelling and ran at the spot where the thing was hiding. It charged. From about 30m away it charged through the bush, stopping just short of the light, just short of Sean.
That was enough of that! We retreated in the canoe. Maybe if we floated away off shore the marauders would reveal themselves, or at least take what they wanted and leave! We floated in wait. While we waited we guessed at what it could be. You would never hear a cougar coming and wolves generally leave humans alone. Secretly I had a theory about some wild bushman spying on us. But really, the only thing big and clumsy enough to make that kind of noise was a bear. Why were there more than one? Surely a bear wouldn’t wander into our campsite, cubs in tow? And at night?
Whatever it was we could still hear it. Sometimes it sounded like 2 or 3 of them were scampering up and down the point of land that housed our campsite. Sometimes we heard multiple sounds from multiple directions. And sometimes it was silent… but just when we’d think maybe they were gone, it would start up again.
There was no way I was just going to sleep in our tent that night. Not with some strange, invisible creature stalking us. But I also didn’t relish the thought of spending the night without a sleeping bag either. After about an hour of floating we decided to surrender the campsite. We quickly landed the canoe so we could grab the sleeping bags from the tent and beat a hasty retreat to a tiny rock island we’d spotted that afternoon. Whatever it was could probably swim, but at least this way we’d see it coming! We navigated across the lake by the light of the moon, set up the sleeping bags on the rocky slip of land and settled in for a cold and uncomfortable night.
I pulled the mouth of my sleeping bag tight around my face, but still the cold night air teased at my un-tuqued head. Between fitful snatches of sleep I watched as the full moon swung low across the Southeastern horizon. Just when the temperature had dropped from cold, to too cold, it started to get warmer again. The sun rose and the horizon blushed a quiet pink. Finally warm and too tired to care about being comfortable, I slept. We dragged ourselves awake around 730am, intent on squeezing the most out of every second of the last day of our weekend trip. After packing up the island we headed back to camp, armed with daylight. We searched around the campsite for clues to our marauders identity. The tent was exactly as we left it, not shredded in ribbons. In fact, to our untrained eye, nothing seemed out of place.
Slowly we packed up camp and start the journey back home. A short portage and we’d left Clearwater Lake and were paddling south down Obabika Lake to our access point. I reveled in the feeling of the soft, humid breeze tickling the back of my neck, the warm sun on my skin and the cool of the water on my hands. The long months of winter are behind us and the length of summer stretches out before us like a golden road. We will always return to the Temagami Wilderness, but hopefully the bears will not always return to our campsites.
About Heather Mills
The depths of the wilderness is an interesting place where fascinating things happen to ordinary people. Heather tries to distill her experiences into words, to save them for later. She seeks beauty and adventure, be it in her own backyard or in the wild woods, in ordinary life or extraordinary faith. Heather is a blogger by day, a dance teacher/ choreographer by night, and a backcountry canoeist in between. An artist at heart, she is always creating something be it a dance, an essay, or just a pan of cookies. Find more of her work at WatermarkWords.org