A long long time ago our family vacation most years was a week or two up in Algonquin Park. This summer the 4 of us kids and a couple of nieces and nephews are heading back there for another family vacation. While talking about it a while ago with my older sister I was reminded of one particular evening we had spent there.
Back in the dawn of time the park had several programmes underway that would probably be frowned on now. One of these was the viewing of the local black bears when they came to the park dump to eat every night. The garbage that was accumulated and collected at the various highway drive in campsites was taken a short way into the bush off the highway and just dumped there. Naturally the local wildlife and the bears in particular soon figured out that there was a ready supply of food to be had for much less work than ripping up old logs for grubs or gleaning blueberries out of the fields.
The animals in the park then were treated almost like tame pets and it was common to find deer right along side the highway being fed by stopped motorists and the rangers put on programmes showing the wildlife to the campers.
One programme was taking hikes in to the dump to view the bears. It was pointed out in great detail that these were in fact not tame bears and that great caution should be taken to make sure that no one got too near them.
Now within our family it was always my father who had been the outdoors person. As a boy and young man living in Scotland he, his brother and several of their friends had gone on many camping trips both on foot and by bicycle. Mum on the other hand had been raised to be a proper lady and was much less comfortable out in the wilds.
On this particular evening we and several other campers, about 20 of us all together hiked the half mile or so down the dirt road to the dump about an hour before sunset. When we reached the edge of the dump the ranger positioned us around one side and explained that the bears would almost certainly arrive from the far side. We were also warned not to make too much noise as this would upset the bears and that if we saw any cubs to be especially wary of where the mother bear might be and under no circumstances to approach a cub.
As if on cue the first bears appeared within a half hour of our arrival and indeed came in from the other side of the dump. We didn’t see any cubs there at the time but got to watch four full grown bears wander around through the trash searching for and finding goodies to gorph down. While watching these animals I must admit I was quite nervous,soon everyone in our family was even more nervous because dad decided he wasn’t close enough to get any good pictures and so leaving us he started moving closer to the bears and went around a bit to one side of the dump to get the angle he wanted for his pictures.
After about an hour the sun had completely set and it was getting difficult to see the bears anymore. Dad, who in our minds had gotten much to close to the bears came back to us safely and we started walking back out to the highway and the cars. I remember mum being quite put out by his bravado and scolding him on the way back out. He was of course saying there was never any real danger but she was imagining what would have happened if a bear had turned on him etc.
By now it was quite dark on the road but I noticed a fist sized rock along the edge of the road and picked it up without mum noticing. As we walked along I agreed with her that the bears might have harmed dad and even went so far as to say that I had heard of some of the bears following people away from the dump. I realize now that at various times in my life I have been a pawn of the devil and I claim that that is what happened next.
After walking for a few more minutes now in silence through the deepening dark, I took the rock I was carrying and tossed it just off the side of the road and into a small thicket of trees growing near the road. The rock of course made quite a bit of noise coming to rest in the brush whereupon I screamed that it was a bear coming after us.
Now at that time in my life, about 12 or 13 I can’t remember exactly I was a pretty good athlete. I made the school sports teams and my mother was considerably out of shape, overweight and smoked three packs of cigarettes a day. I learned something then. Middle aged out of shape housewives can move surprisingly fast for short sprints.
Mum took off at a dead run before I or anyone had a chance to declare it was just a joke. We were only about 200 yards from the car and she made it all the way there in a time that would have put an Olympian to shame. I thought that was about the funniest thing I had ever done. As we got to the car and it was explained that the noise had been caused by me not a bear and as mum got her breath back I learned something else. She didn’t always understand or share my sense of humour. I never did anything like that to her again. I did however figure out other ways to terrify her. Just never on purpose after that. Meanwhile of course the entire episode became just one part of the family history and I can guarantee it will be recalled this summer when we are there again.