22 hours in bear country

Arrival in bear country is similar to arrival anywhere.
It begins with fries.

And moves from there along a lane through many trees…
—to a house on a lake across which I’m ferried to a patio with a view.
Caesar salad and veggie wraps are involved.
And then back via nautical means—and views of bear habitat.
And habitats among the bears.
Eventually returning to the house at the end of the lane for quite a bit of this…..
—with exactly the right amount of that…
All the while, plenty of citronella-scrunching to let the mozzies know who’s boss.

Here’s a pink one giving the citronella two fingers.DSC00803
And chatter. Much chatter. And bbq’d salmon. And later an attempt to sit by the dock, thwarted by the absence of light. A decision I don’t question because those trees look much bigger in the dark, and so very much better for bears to lurk behind —bibs tied around their mammoth necks, knives and forks at the ready, lips smacking… Thank god for the absence of light I say.

Instead, we chatter some more and only when voices and stamina give out do we call it a night, and then in my room I find a magic lamp. It has no buttons. You merely approach it with a what the? where’s the frigging button? and it senses your need and lights up. A copy of The Antigonish Review  magically appears.
There are large windows and no curtains and again I wonder about the lurking bears pressing their muzzles against the glass, breaking through, ransacking my overnight bag for snacks. And wouldn’t you know it I happen to have a small container of peanut butter in my purse, snatched from the diner where I had breakfast last weekend.

I try to put this out of my urban mind, concentrate on the winning stories from the 2013 Sheldon Currie Fiction Contest, the plan being to read them, but my eyes are doing that closing thing that no matter how much you try to force yourself to stay awake you just keep going over exactly the same three words.
I give up trying to read or to survive imminent bear attacks and then, as if sympatico to my mood, the magic lamp goes dark with but a touch, or was it a wave?, of my hand.

More magic: the dark hours are over in mere moments and the new day is is all trees and I sit outside and write about vertical things.
There is breakfast.

And a walk with bells on.
And by the time I leave bear country, I have learned three things:

1) There are no shortage of bees in these parts.
2) The essentials for survival are simple:
3) Most importantly, should a bear manage to break through your curtain-less windows in search of your contraband peanut butter, or is drawn to you by the scent of recently BBQ’d salmon on your breath, or you encounter one anywhere else, whatever you do, do not buy the myth of playing dead. This, apparently, only assures the bear that you are in fact deceased and it will use you as a hacky sack. (This comes to me via my house-in-the-trees-at-the-end-of-the-lane host, and is largely paraphrased. But you get the point.) (Oh, and it only goes for black bears. If you encounter a grizzly, do whatever you want, you’re pretty much toast.)

journal notes, solstice in muskoka, 2011

Silver morning. No, scratch that. Too cliché. Go with first instinct: grey and dull and lacking yesterday’s slow copper cherry sunrise followed by blue blue sky.

No. Scratch that too. Here’s the thing: this winter morning lacks nothing.

Frost on new wood of deck at water’s edge. In the lake, a plastic bottle, loose on the ice. I wonder how it got there; did somebody throw it to see if the lake was frozen? What is wrong with the somebodies of us?

The fire pit from last night where we burned marshmallows. No one believed me when I said roasting is an art. They said charcoal was their favourite flavour.
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A writing exercise in a book I find tells me to write in third person.

Not me.

She sits cross-legged on a lime green duvet cover that is identical to the one she used to have until it ripped and she gave it to the Humane Society instead of repairing it. Plus it had become too lime green for her taste. Animals, being colour blind [or so the rumour goes], may indeed like it, she figured.

People she knows will have done a series of sun salutations at the yoga studio in the town a few hundred kilometers south where she lives. Once the sun sets they’ll meet again for chanting and meditation. She is at a cottage with husband and stepson. There will be no chanting. Maybe a movie later.

Last night at the bonfire she wanted to talk about all of it, the air, the frozen lake and the extraordinary ways of fish that they remain unfrozen; the lichen and inukshuks on their walk and the puddle in the shape of a rabbit; the smarts of nature and the distance humans have travelled from their original DNA. She wanted to hear about the books her husband and the boy were reading and talk about the day and the places they’d walked and what they’d seen and what thoughts, ideas and questions all of those places and sights had inspired.

But there were marshmallows to cook.

The exercise goes on to suggest that I write about what I see and what makes me comfortable. Excuse me, what makes her comfortable.

She is at a cottage. I think we’ve established that. And what she sees is the vague outline of a lake beyond cedars and through a window whose night-time glass is warming and what makes her comfortable is this rather odd and empty room off the main bedroom, where no one else goes because there is a proper living room elsewhere. This extra room is a private nook, a sanctuary, an addition to the cottage, an afterthought. But it’s heated and there are big windows on three sides and a door to the patio and steps. I like escape routes—she likes them.

She writes in this silent, private space, looking up only occasionally (although even a momentary pause in the writing is frowned upon by the rules of the exercise) to assure herself the lake is still there and when the snow turns to slushy rain she hears it on the roof of this thin-walled room and writes about it. And although it’s irrelevant she writes about how the friends who own the cottage lived here for six months after their dishwasher set fire to their house. The exercise recommends just going with whatever comes to mind so she writes about how she can’t imagine the noise and disruption of kids and a beautiful giant black dog in this space, and how remarkable that none of those frenetic vibes remain. And then she writes about vibes, about lingering energy, the kind you can feel and how some rooms you’ve never been in before can immediately feel good or bad.

She digresses here and writes about how she likes places—buildings, cabins, tents, trailers, everything habitable. She likes paintings and photographs of houses and the ones about to be demolished… she likes imagining their stories, the people who stood on those doorsteps on a thousand snowy Christmas Eves, bearing gifts and casseroles.
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Coincidentally, the next step of the exercise is to write about diversions so I skip that.

After breakfast the husband and stepson go out and I’m alone with the radio and the rain in this lovely space and I read and write some more…

And before I know it I’m dancing to the hallelujah chorus on this silver day at noon.