The Bear Necessities

When I posted my sleepwalking story, I included a photo of Jasper (supplied for the Interweb people), and in one of the comments I was asked if I had ever been to Banff. The answer is of course yes. I went on to describe that Banff was always more commercial than Jasper and back in the day, it resembled Tokyo or Osaka with all the Japanese tourists there. Jasper stayed relatively low-key and maintained a natural charm that all of Banff’s wealth from tourism can’t match. And the thoughts of all the tourist from the Far East, as it was known to us then, got to me thinking about one of the only times I’ve ever really seen my dad get angry. And I mean kick the Hulk in the nuts angry and tell him to take off his bra when he whimpered. Man, that was an intense day …

We were in Jasper National Park and heading up to Maligne Lake, about an hour’s drive from the city of Jasper. Speed limits are slower on the highways in the national park, and the smaller roads limit even slower speeds. Part of this is because of the good chance that animals will be on the road. Even entering the national park, just as you pass the toll booth to get in, there was always a herd of big horn sheep licking salt from the tarmac and snacking on the grass and shrubs that lined the roadside. Without fail. Always there. Every single damn time I went to Jasper. And I went there a lot.

The road up to Maligne Lake is a twin-lane paved road. You drive up along the Maligne River, past the Maligne River Canyon, beyond Medicine Lake (the disappearing lake I might add), until you finally reach Maligne Lake. All the while you are nestled amongst the Rocky Mountains. If you believe in God, they say the platypus is proof he has a sense of humour. The Rocky Mountains are proof he has an eye for detail and beauty.

My dad, my little sister, and me are packed into his station wagon, loaded down with enough camping gear to survive a month’s long hiatus. As we curl up the road, ahead of us we see over a dozen cars stopped along the shoulders. At this time, I’m old enough to know the score. A couple of cars stopped means some sheep or goats. Half a dozen cars and we’re talking deer, elk, or maybe even a moose if we’re lucky. That many cars can only mean one thing – a bear!

We pull to a stop behind the other cars and look in the direction everyone else is looking. On the far side of the road, up a 20 foot embankment and along the tree line, a lone black bear is snacking on berries from the bushes. Not a cub, but not yet full grown, this bear is probably out on his own for the first time. And here’s what I didn’t think about then but think about often now. People get out of their cars. Us included. If the bear would have been on our side of the road I doubt we would have though. Having done safaris in Africa where you are not permitted to leave your car except at rest stops and picnic sites (or if you’re with a guide doing a hike I suppose), this is something quite unique.

I take a photo with my little Kodak disk camera while dad adjusts his light meter to snap the perfect photo with his 30 year old film camera (this was the 80s ladies and gentlemen).

And then it happens. A Japanese man on our side of the road walks across the road and puts his baby daughter down on the ground. He walks back to our side and lies down, props up his camera, and unhappy, gets up again. He mumbles something and his wife, wearing a rising sun on her white baseball sunhat, opens the door to the trunk of their car.

Just then the bear moves, and proud papa lies back down on the road as his daughter laughs and slaps her hands against the road. The bear still doesn’t venture any nearer the road, but he’s edging closer to the child, although still many meters away. Not completely happy, he joins his wife at the car and pulls a jar out of the cooler. He walks back towards his daughter, jar open, and begins to spread what looks like honey on her hands. Happy, he goes back across the road to wait. Is he trying to entice the bear closer to get a photo of both the bear and his next meal, err, I mean daughter? My dad apparently thought so.

He tells my sister and I to get in the car and we do. We both lean over each other and squeeze through the window and watch as dad ventures across the road to pick the little girl up. He carries her to her car and hands her to the mother. She looks confused. Dad looks like he could start fires on Pluto with his eyes. The husband comes over, trying to explain the situation in broken English. Dad, never been one to show much emotion around us, hauls off and punches the guy in the face. Just once. And then yells at him about just how “fucking stupid a human being has to be to use his daughter as bait to get a better photo of a wild animal.”

He got in our station wagon and drove the rest of the way to Maligne Lake. My sister and I say nothing. First time I had heard him swear too. But by the time he has bought us all ice cream and we start our little walk to the first look-out point, all I can think about is why I didn’t get mint chocolate chip instead of vanilla.

6 thoughts on “The Bear Necessities

  1. I like your dad :)!!
    As I was reading, I didn’t know what go me angrier, if the stupid man using the daughter, or the rest of the people saying nothing 🙂 I hope many men are like that.

  2. Way to go Mr.Isitt! I We had a similar experience on of our trips to Yellowstone (not as severe but just as stupid). We were heading back to our suburban which was parked at a lookout point, and noticed that a crowd had formed a circle around a boulder. The light from the flashbulbs was blinding, so it took a moment to figure out what the attraction was. There was a mature black bear standing fully upright on the boulder, and the Japanese tourists were inches from it, snapping photos. We quickly left the scene, and as far as we know, no one got hurt. But if they had, they deserved it.

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