Blaise Cendrars Speaks

A Victoria imprint releases a collection of interviews with the extraordinary, one-armed, under-heralded, Swiss-born, French writer who travelled the world and brought modernity to French literature. FULL STORY

#61 They shoot bears, don’t they?

September 27th, 2016

Hi Darlin’:

I was in bed, sleeping. It was six o’clock in the morning. When ohmigawsh, my dog goes nuts.

I’m jerked awake, totally disoriented. Someone is yelling. Bang, bang, bang. Someone is knocking on my door.

I leap out of bed. I have to calm my old dog who is angry beyond any description. In the nearly fifteen years I’ve been living with Min, I’ve never heard her growling like that!

Calming Min down gave me time to wake up enough to remember to haul on my housecoat. Otherwise I’d have arrived in my kitchen completely starkers.

And I would have really scared the guy with the axe.

It was my neighbour, almost hysterical, babbling, “There’s a bear in my house… I had to go out the window… I have never been so scared…” Etc.

I screeched at him to shut the door and phone the cops. He put down his axe and found the phone. I started a pot of coffee.

While my neighbour talked to Officer Chuckles, I went back to my bedroom and put on some clothes. I took my neighbour to the coffee shop and we had breakfast.

Several hours later two cop cars and a Conservation truck arrived at my neighbour’s house. There were four men in uniforms, with guns. My god, they could have invaded Afghanistan.

I did not tarry, I came home. I have a thing about guns. It’s called terror.

My phone rang with people asking what was going on, and I had no more idea than they did. It just went on and on, like one of those endless French farces where people come in and out of doors. They declaim a line which means little at the time and depart by way of a different door.

Then it started. KER POW BANG BOOM… It sounded like Aleppo. Aleppo on a bad day. More booms, bangs, and I thought surely to gawd they can’t be that bad shots. How many SSG slugs does it take to dispatch a bear? BOOM BANG POW.

Finally calm descended. Silence fell. I thought, poor bloody bear.

An hour later: knock, knock at the door. It’s Officer Friendly. He’s looking for my neighbour. I say I last saw him at the cafe, eating soup. Did you get the bear?

No bear in there, he said.

Of course I ask what was all the shooting?

It turns out they were trying to scare the bear so it would come out of the house! When the bear didn’t come out, they looked inside. And there was no bear.

Between the time my neighbour vaulted out of his window and raced here, axe in hand, and the time the constabulary drove into Tahsis over the goat track of a road, the bear had vamoosed.

A cop truck kept going up and down the streets, up to about midnight, looking for lurking wildlife, to no avail…

All of which is a preamble.

Once upon a time one of the few “attractions” we used to have here was our dump. Visitors would come and we’d drive out to the dump to sit in our cars and watch the bears chowing down on what had been thrown away.

As many as a dozen at a time would be prowling in the pile of discards and one of my all-time favourite memories is of an enormous and very fat sow bear sitting upright, spraddle-legged, with a big container, a bucket of fat which had been thrown away by one of the restaurants.

She was like a happy kid with a bag of candy! And it was HER bucket of fat; if another bear even looked her way she would roar like thunder. She was shiny with spilled fat, dipping one paw into the mess, lifting it to her mouth and licking off this gelatinous feast.

But progress of a sort arrived, yes, even in Tahsis, and the dumpsite was encircled by a fence which I’m told is electrified but I don’t know that for sure. Bears can no longer feast on our leavings. So, of
course, they have since wandered off in search of something else to eat.

Most of the time the bears pass through on their way to the river to catch the fish which are coming up to spawn. From time to time, there is undeniable conflict. But most of the time conflict between bears and people happens because people have not been careful about what the bears consider to be food.

We’ve been told time and again not to leave garbage out where the bears can get at it, to be sure to pick up any windfall fruit, don’t leave it on the ground. Don’t feed your dog or cat out on the porch, bring it into the house… you know, common sense.

Unfortunately, common sense isn’t all that common at times. Some people have even been so downright stupid as to clean their fish in the yard and then leave the heads and guts out “to feed the birds”.

Bears have incredible noses, they can smell food from a half mile away. Now is the time they’re trying to pack on fat to get them through the winter. It takes more than berries and skunk cabbage to feed a large animal and if they get even a whiff of food they’ll do almost anything to get it.

I had a bear up on my porch a couple of weeks ago. Scared me spitless! I grabbed the air horn my daughter had given me, and let loose a blast. That’s all it took, the bear ran away and hasn’t been back. If you
don’t have an air horn, bang a big spoon against a metal saucepan, holler and yell. Bears do not hang around when there are loud noises.

But if they’ve found food, they’ll be back, that’s almost guaranteed.

Problem is, we’ve had a lot of “newbies” move here lately, probably because house prices are lower than they are in other places, and unfortunately some of the newbies seem to feel less casual about the presence of wild animals than some of the old-timers are.

I have personally heard an “old timer” holler “Here, you big bugger, get out of that tree!” And he cut loose with an air horn which sent the bear out of the tree and racing off as fast as it could go.

But newbies don’t seem to react that way. They panic and call Conservation. I’m almost ready to send Conservation a copy of Webster’s Dictionary, with a bookmark at the definition of Conservation.

When called, they come, and they set the barrel trap and bait it with canned sardines or something similarly smelly. Bear goes in, trap door slams down and, when Conservation comes back, the trap is connected to the truck and off they go, back to the dump (err, landfill, sorry), and that’s it for the bear.

No “relocation” is attempted.

It’s bang bang, lights out and another bear is gone. [I’m not sure how to politely put this, but we once had a cop in town back who was tall and blond and some people nicknamed him The Hitler Youth. He must have had delusions of being some kind of big game warden or something. Some people say he shot a dozen bears one year, others say no, he only got ten. He was transferred to some other unlucky place and the next cop wasn’t as keen to wipe out the wildlife.]

If this was happening to Panda bears, the screech would resonate around the globe.

People are all happy to donate to a fund to stop the poaching of tigers and elephants and even crocodiles, but we don’t seem as concerned about black bears.

The Vancouver Island black bear is genetically distinct from the black bears on the mainland, I’m told. And this is an island, with finite space. There is no “away” for Island black bears. They can’t head into
wild country cuz we don’t really have any on this Island which hasn’t been clearcut or covered with subdivisions.

We’re the ones who aren’t being careful of our garbage, we’re the ones who foolishly store our fish-filled freezers out in the garage or the storage shed, then screech bloody murder because the bear smelled the
fish, ripped off the door, went in, destroyed the freezer and feasted on our salmon, and on the ice cream and chicken thighs.

So now we’ve had three bears shot in the past two weeks.

It’s not rhino-poaching in Tanzania or anything. It’s not news.

But it’s happening.

Anne Cameron grows pussywillows on the western edge of Vancouver Island. She received the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award for an outstanding literary career in British Columbia in 2010. Her 23 books include Daughters of Copper Woman, the bestselling work of fiction ever written about B.C. and published from within B.C. She has banished herself to Tahsis, a small town not far from Friendly Cove where the shenanigans called British Columbia all began.

6 Responses to “#61 They shoot bears, don’t they?”

  1. John Vaillant says:

    Your comparison of these events to Aleppo, in jest, or not, comes off as callous and out of touch. Aleppo is a city roughly the size of Toronto in which citizens are being massacred indiscriminately on a daily basis.

  2. So true and as always written only the way Anne Cameron can write it, with a melange of humour and sadness. I still remember when everyone went on the hunt to find and kill the wolf that somehow found its way to Saturna Island and was living off goats, sheep and pets. You’d think something that rare could be worth saving. If someone killed a person’s pet dog running loose there’d be hell to pay. I’ve never understood how the human animal can cherish a human-introduced species and call it a family member, while slaughtering the wild creatures who existed here first.

  3. anne cameron says:

    I guess, maybe, the goats, sheep, etc., are part of our “stuff”, and we think we have got to protect our “stuff”.

  4. Fran C. says:

    Is this a good place to mention an experience on the outer Coast the other day ? Something like 60 sea otters rafting up between a couple of islands as our vessel came within hundreds of feet of them and slowed right down to neutral.No one had seen such a gathering. Shortly after the engine went to neutral/quietened, a group splash occurred and many of the gathering took off in serious porpoising mode far away…serious fright concern. Consensus was that that group had been shot at by urchin gatherers, why exit so intensely otherwise ?

  5. Eva van Loon says:

    Thanks for writing this, Anne. Powell River, your old stomping ground, needs to read it.

  6. anne cameron says:

    John Vaillant: I appreciate what you’ve written, and it is exactly why I chose the comparison with Aleppo… both are heart rending examples of needless slaughter and both demonstrate a type of mental illness which is hard to understand and impossible to accept. The number of casualties is not as important to me as the fact there are any injured, maimed and killed. I’m not sure I can easily accept the idea this or that person “deserves to die”, I’m not convinced anyone “deserves” to die but, of course, we all will, eventually. But in both instances, Aleppo and on this Island, the ones being killed are blameless, helpless, unarmed, and while they are not “voiceless” it would seem as if nobody in power is listening.
    I’m very sorry if what I wrote upset you, John, it certainly wasn’t my intention. But I can’t apologize for writing it because I do believe it’s a valid comparison.
    Perhaps we should send dictionaries to the Conservation service with a book mark at the word so they can see it doesn’t mean destruction.

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