I love going for walks, I always have. It’s therapeutic – whenever I’m upset a walk helps, and I know a lot of people are like that. When I was a kid – 13, 14, 15 years old – I used to skip school. But I didn’t always have friends to skip with and I didn’t really have anywhere to go or any money to spend. So I’d go walking from Porter Creek High all through the forest up and down hills and on all the different trails I could find. I knew those few miles like the back of my hand, and I loved going there – as soon as I crossed the street and got off the highway it was like all this stress just dropped away, just washed off me. My shoulders lowered, my neck eased, my stride lengthened. I’d talk to myself, or sing, or find a spot to sit and read, I’d smoke a few cigarettes or a joint, have a drink if I’d found someone to buy booze for me or had managed to stash enough sherry or beer or brandy away when my parents didn’t notice (or pretended not to, who knows). It was always different, no matter how many times I went over the same trail. Sometimes I saw eagles, I saw a lot of ravens. I found feathers and looked at leaves and strange trees, and the way the light was coming through all the branches on a particular day. I’d go watch the ice thaw in the creeks. I didn’t really have much to do, so I’d just look and think. And when school was over, I’d go back home.
Man. I used to do this when it was -20 outside in nothing but a women’s cheap fashion trench coat and thick high-heeled boots. I can’t imagine going out like that now – at -15 I’d be bundled and wearing Kodiaks. I’d also be carrying a fucking cell phone in case I slipped down a hill and broke my leg. You just don’t think about frost bite and safety when you’re young and stupid and perpetually stuck with your head in the clouds or up your ass.
I wouldn’t change all that hiking for anything, I loved it. I STILL think I’d go back and do that again, rather than spend the whole day inside. I never went back through those trails much after I left my parent’s house and started working – mostly I didn’t have time, and when I did I was usually tired or drunk. But this one day when I was 17 I went back through those trails, from the opposite ends – I lived in Takhini trailer court with my girlfriend and I was hiking up to PorterCreek to visit my parents. While high on magic mushrooms.
Well, it was a great hike! There was this one spot high over the creek I used to visit on some clay cliffs? I stopped there and started to think that I was an eagle. Course, eagles fly, right, so I figured I would too. I jumped off the cliff and half ran half rolled down the fucking clay cliff into a small tree, and careened off of that into the creek. What a rush, right? D’you think if I maybe had busted my nose or my leg or my neck that it woulda been cooler? Hhhh.
Anyways I just wandered aimlessly. I was talking to the trees and listening to the secret things the birds and lady bugs were telling me, and. Man it was cool. A couple of hours of walking around and examining grass stalks and searching for squirrels nests, and I had made it up to P.C. I was about ten minutes away from the part where the forest started getting cut off by people’s fences. And I noticed that I didn’t hear any birds except a few ravens who were getting really raucous. And then I saw a bear.
I don’t know if it was sick, or old, or just waking up from a winter sleep (this was early May and unseasonably warm at that) or what. Maybe all three. But this bear just… lumbered out, almost shuffled out of the bushes on my right. It saw me, it looked at me, it considered me, it huffed. I would be shitting myself on a normal day – I grew up hearing bear stories from my die hard Yukoner trap lining mining camping parents, I’d seen The Edge, and even if I hadn’t had that stuff in my head – it’s a motherfucking bear, and I’m alone. Not to mention high as a fucking kite.
I was wearing a jacket or a button down shirt, something like that. So I shrugged that off and raised it up behind me like a parachute and just started talking to the bear. I don’t know what I said, but I think it went something like “Hey dude, please don’t eat me I’m really fucking scared right now and you don’t look mean but you are a lot bigger than me and I’d really like to just walk away and go home I won’t even look at you I promise just go find some berries or something, k?” I don’t know what it was, but I didn’t yell and I didn’t cry I just talked to it for like, 20 seconds that lasted a year. And that bear just kinda huffed at me some more, shifted his bulk side to side a bit, then walked away down the hill from me.
I didn’t shit myself! I just kinda… processed it. And then walked on. Went to visit my folks. Some way on the way there I lost the shirt or the jacket that I’d been wearing. When I got there I was coming down a bit and they were on their way out so I stayed behind and had a few beers and probably took a nap or something. It wasn’t a huge corner stone for me. But I did stop going hiking as much as I used to, and after a few years I realized that the only time I went out hiking alone was when I’d been drinking enough to get stupid. Even when I was around other people – a lady from work who used to power walk the road up Grey Mountain, Stephen and his dog Val at Long Lake, Tabby and Dan when they came to visit – I’d still be uneasy no matter how content I was. Because the next time the bear might not be sick, or old, or tired. The next bear might be hungry, or pissy, or a mother with a cub.
I used to berate myself for this shit, and make myself go out for walks just to get over it. But I hated those walks, once I get spooked out it’s hard to ignore. When I got to be a little less stupid about, you know, Life in general, I realize how retarded that was. At Long Lake, I was secretly glad when Stephen had the kid – not because she was too heavy for me (I really loved carrying her and felt left out when I didn’t) but because he was faster and stronger than me – I could yell at the bear while they got away. Bears come into our town like nothing. It’s nothing to them. We’re right in the middle of the fucking mountains, man, I thought Whitehorse was rugged. In Lillooet it’s like the wilderness is RIGHT HERE across the street. Sure the towns are closer together, but they’re smaller, and there’s still a lot of distance in between. We’ve seen bear scat on our way up from the Old Bridge to Main Street. I’ve seen bear scat on Reynolds, right across the street from our house. Whenever I go for a walk with the kid, even up around the Hop Farm, I’m always in the back of my head, looking for open gates and houses with cars in the drive way. Just in case.
AND HEY. I AM OK IF THAT”S SILLY. It’s funny that that experience didn’t hardly phase me when it happened. It took a good long while before it sunk in, and by the time it did I didn’t even really realize that that was what that feeling of unease stemmed from. But there you have it. I’m afraid of getting killed ded by a bar.