Sunday, March 14, 2010

By the way...

I've been asked about the bells and pepper.

It's probably an inevitable aspect of being an immigrant anywhere; the tendency of the host population to tell a few tall stories. Countries with an indigenous sense of humour do this so well that it can be hard to sort the gentle ribbing from the genuine advice. Brits excel at it of course. 'Be sure to check out the echo in the reading room of the British Museum'...'It is customary to shake hands with each passenger in your carriage on an underground train' know the sort of thing.

Well, Canadians do it too. We were regaled, quite early on, with tales of the traditional pumpkin hunting season for Thanksgiving. The hunt leader blows a whistle to frighten the pumpkins so that they run about in their patch, then you can pick one and shoot it; it is considered most unsporting to shoot a resting pumpkin. Now I may be a daft Brit, and a city kid to boot, but even I know that pumpkins are vegetables. (Although, now when I see a pumpkin patch, it does look remarkably as though they are all just resting up, ready to run about and get some exercise as soon as your back is turned.) But anyway, when the same person began to tell me all about Groundhog Day, I assumed it was another wind up. But Groundhog Day, turned out to be real. Who knew?

Then these people start to tell you about bear country. What to believe? Bear attacks are real enough, they are on the news surprisingly often. The advice for walking in bear country is to wear little bells because bears are most dangerous when you surprise them so it's good if they can hear you coming. This could well be true, proper winter outfitters sell bear bells, I've seen them. Google 'bear bells'...they exist. No, really, try it. (I'm quite charmed by the idea of these rugged fearless types adding a few Morris Dancing features to their kit.) The other thing you are supposed to carry in bear country is pepper spray. A close encounter with a bear is unlikely to end well, unless you are very good at rapid tree climbing, but in extremis pepper spray can buy you some time.

I am unlikely to find myself alone in bear country, but with my ignorance of the geography of this huge land it behoves one to learn what one can, just in case. Our little camping trip in Cathedral Grove, Vancouver Island taught us a thing or two, the terrifying Sindy wouldn't allow anything that smelt of anything in the tents, no toothpaste or deodorant, and all our food had to be hung high in the trees. Just in case. A simple road trip up the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario had us foraging about on roads that had 'beware bears' signs posted on the trees, and we'd only stopped to take photos, so you never know. Besides, it's interesting. But the advice is a little contradictory. Once you've done all the bell ringing and pepper spraying, some experts tell you to wave your arms about and act aggressive, others advise 'playing dead' by adopting the foetal position with your backpack towards the bear for protection.

I discussed all this one morning over breakfast, back at the B and B, with a pukka wildlife expert who happened to be staying with us. 'Ah' he said. 'The confusion there is because it makes a difference whether you are in Black Bear country or Grizzly Bear country. Black Bears are more easily intimidated, so you'd wave at them but it's better to play dead for a Grizzly.'

I was suckered in. How do you tell the difference? And the answer, of course, is to examine the scat. Black bears are a bit more able to manage on a herbivore diet, so their scat will contain bits of acorn husks and pine cones and some berries. Since the two species tend to occupy different bits of land, the acorny, piney stuff means you are in arm waving territory.

The scat in Grizzly country looks a little different; pull it apart carefully and you will find, mainly,

bells and pepper.


More dog sledding shortly.


  1. giggle. I didn't see that one coming!

  2. I've heard that one before but it still gives me a giggle because I am never expecting that punch line! Thanks for the giggle...again!!