According to Spruceroots.org, Haida Gwaii is home to the largest black bears in North America. In March of last spring, for the first time since our arrival the previous September, we began to see some bear sign while on our occasional hikes. We had always been wondering if the bears here actually hibernate or not and had even asked the Conservation Officer that visited us the prior fall. He didn’t have a definite answer, only saying that they may or may not, for at least part of the winter.
It was a sunny spring day, as I recall when we were paid a visit from a rather nice looking and very large black bear. He stayed down on the beach and didn’t bother us. We stayed up on the deck and took some pictures and then fired a bear banger to scare him away. He left but didn’t seem to be too frightened by the banger.
Fast forward to the present: We were quite happy that the crew vacated The Outpost and left us alone as fast as they had. We got in a week earlier than last year, which to me meant an extra week’s pay. What we hadn’t bargained for though, was that it also meant that we were left with the monumental task of cleaning up after the season and shutting everything down. Last year, all the preparations for the off-season were done by the time we flew in. This time, almost nothing was done.
I wouldn’t have minded that at all, had I been forewarned about a few little details and not been mislead about at least one other.
The boss had mentioned that he wanted me to mix all the used fryer oil from the kitchen to the fuel for the incinerator. Having experimented with vegetable oil as fuel in a couple of pick-up trucks in the past, I thought it was a great idea. We had seen the kitchen staff packing several full containers of used oil over to the incinerator so had assumed that it had been completed. It hadn’t, unbeknownst to us, they had left two containers near the back door to the kitchen, along with four full buckets of kitchen scraps.
Add to that, our food stores had not been put away, resulting in a mouse and squirrel infestation in the basement, but hey, at least there were no racoons, right?
So the way this all worked to conspire against us was that, at first, other than a big mess to clean up and water to desalinate and a “hose to flush”, it didn’t seem to be anything other than an annoyance. So, we set about cleaning up here and there while splitting the time with getting our boat mooring set up in preparation for the onslaught of winter storms. There was much work to do in that regard as well.
When it became clear that we had a serious problem with rodents in the basement, that became the priority real fast because the issue was food preservation. Ironically, we should thank the mice and squirrels, because it was them that brought our attention to the food stores in the basement and that is how and when we found the perishables that were not stored properly.
Never mind that perishables shouldn’t even have arrived until the barge comes at the end of September suddenly we had a NEW, priority. Wendi’s new priority, actually, while I worked away at the rest of it, while still trying to get the boat mooring set up.
That’s when the bear showed up. Suddenly, we had another new problem, a BIG problem and it was a hungry problem! We thought the rodent infestation was a serious problem until this! No biggie though, we just had to switch priorities… again! So, by this time we had moved all the dry goods into a more secure location and set a gazillion mouse traps – nothing we could do about squirrels – and had begun to put boxes of not-so-fresh-produce away. Wendi was busy repackaging bulk foods into small portions and cooking/preserving and suddenly the new top priority was to find and eliminate any and all potential food sources for a big bear, trying to fatten up for the winter, from around the lodge.
First I immediately poured the dozen or so fryer oil containers that had been packed over to the incinerator, into the fuel tank. We then took eighty litres of kitchen scraps down to the ocean at low tide and I rinsed out the buckets and left them full of fresh water beside the boardwalk, just outside the lodge.
About midday, Wendi was down at the fish packing station vacuum packing portions of ham and I had just finished pouring the fryer oil into the incinerator fuel tank. I was on my way to the laundry room door at the back of the lodge when I happened to look out back and saw the back half of a bear at the back of the new guide shack. I didn’t have a weapon of any sort or even a bear banger so was basically helpless.
I quietly headed for the fish packing station to tell Wendi. When I got there I told her to put the ham in the walk-in freezer and stay put. I went back to the lodge, confirmed that he was still there and then went into the basement to find the hatchet. By the time I returned to the deck with it, the bear had finished the snack he had found and was slowly making his way back toward the tree line. I knew he was out of range but threw the hatchet at him anyway and yelled at him. He showed no fear and continued to amble away.
Later, Wendi decided to investigate where the bear had been over by the new guide shack. As she scanned the ground in front of her for tracks, she failed to watch where she was actually going and got a nasty little gouge in the head from the over-hang of the propane shed.
A couple of days went by with no more sign of the bear. Then one night, I went out to shut the generator down at about 11:00 PM. I walked past the scrap buckets I had rinsed out and all was normal. Coming back from the generator shack, only a few minutes later, I was strolling along the path, completely relaxed and enjoying the silence and fresh air. I took notice – as I always do – of the water line that pours into the creek water tank and the echoey, gulping sound the water makes as it recedes down the pipe in the absence of the pumping power that had brought it to the tank.
I continued past the tank and up onto the boardwalk and turned left, toward the lodge – without looking to the right. About a dozen steps later, looking down at the boardwalk I saw wet footprints and thought, why were my boots wet? Then I looked closer, there were no tread designs on those tracks – Those were NOT my tracks! I knew immediately what had made those tracks and I suddenly realized that since I had not looked to the right as I stepped up onto the boardwalk, that I had no idea what was behind me. Every hair on my body stood at attention as I turned to shine the flashlight down the boardwalk in the direction from which I had come. There was nothing there. Scanning quickly with the flashlight in every dark hiding place around me and being ever-so-grateful for my decision to bring the high-powered light out with me, I hurried back to the deck. First I went around front to make sure I was alone and then returned to survey the scene from the safety of the deck.
The tracks did not fade out, as you’d expect from wet feet on a dry surface. Rather, they stopped abruptly at the edge of the boardwalk, indicating that the bear had heard me coming from the generator and jumped off the boardwalk. His front paws were wet from pawing in the buckets of water. I went inside and told Wendi.
In the morning, when I got up, I put my boots on and opened the door to go out and start the generator. I was greeted by three over-turned garbage cans. I hadn’t emptied them because there should not be any food in them, they are for plastics, cans and paper and had sat there throughout our last nine-month stay without being emptied and without incident. This year’s cleaning and kitchen staff don’t, apparently, read garbage can lids, nor do they clean cans or wrappers before throwing them away.
By that time I was no longer even angry about how the lodge was handed over to us. I’d have to say I was more in awe at the level of stupidity that was now so obvious that the crew had aspired to achieve.
The day before the crew left, as Wendi and I were walking down to our dinghy, we saw one of the girls jogging up and down the boardwalk with earbuds in, listening to some tunes. Wendi asked her if she was concerned at all about bears and the fact that she was unable to hear while jogging. The next morning, while we were all waiting for the Helijet to arrive, Wendi was in the room as that girl was expressing her anger and disbelief to her supervisor that she had not been informed about the possibility of bears in the area.
We continued on cleaning up around the lodge, starting with picking up and incinerating the former contents of the garbage cans. By late that afternoon we were satisfied that there was no longer anything outside that a bear would be interested in. I sat down in a comfy chair in the lounge and fell asleep.
I slept for about an hour and a half. The chair I was in faces out the front windows of the lodge and my back was to the back deck, where the (empty) garbage cans are. After I woke up, Wendi asked me if I had set the garbage cans up after cleaning up the garbage. I said, “Yes, of course”. She said, “Then he’s been back”. Yes he had, all three cans were lying on the deck. The generator was running and it was broad daylight – This guy wasn’t afraid of people.
How does that go again? For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction?
Now, with everything cleaned up outside and our problem solved, a problem has now been created for the bear, we had hoped that his solution would be to look for food elsewhere but perhaps NOT the kitchen!
As I was readying to go out to shut the generator down that night I said to Wendi, “Let’s go shut ‘er down”.
“You want me to go to?”, Why, because you can run faster than me?”
“Well, would you rather sit in here wondering if I’ve been drug away or know that I’ve been drug away?”.
So, with Wendi in tow – literally – I went out to shut the generator down.
Tune in next week for the exciting conclusion of… Silverlox and the Big Bad, Bear!
© 2017 Ron Morrison