Well done GingerCoffee! I was hoping you'd win. Now if you could send me the theme for the next contest we can get this show on the road! - Lemex GingerCoffee Where the Wild Things Could Be – [word count 1,620; nonfiction] The window display was unsettling: “Attack of the Killer Grizzly”. The book promised to tell the reader about a young couple's fight for survival during and after an attack by a grizzly in Glacier National Park, British Columbia. Except Glacier is in Montana. On the Canadian side of the border, the park’s name was Waterton Lakes. But no matter, the book was about a recent bear attack here in the park where Jim and I were setting out to hike into and camp. A dozen copies of the book were spread across the lodge gift shop window display. Said bear apparently killed 4 people before the couple in the story survived with their near death injuries. Jim pointed out bears are dangerous if you’re a woman and it was that time of the month. Great, thanks for telling me that. It wasn’t that time of the month for me, but what if it started when we were out on the trail? I hadn’t a clue when I was due. There was a notice board in the lodge explaining all the care we would need to be safe, don’t eat where you sleep, hang your food, never put anything edible in your tent. OK, so if it’s that time of the month, how do you keep that smell out of your sleeping bag? And did we seriously bring tuna to eat? At the trailhead stood an imposing bulletin board, warning us again about bears, little diagrams showing how to hang your food, admonishments to keep those smelly items away from where you sleep. And once again, no advice for what to do about my lady parts should they … , well enough obsessing about that. We locked up the car, shouldered the packs and set out. I lost myself in the beauty of the trail, the smell of pine seeping from baking needles, the peaceful drone of insects and the musical cacophony of a dozen bird species. A little too warm in places but mostly a perfectly shaded trail stretched on ahead. Glacier Park is absolutely incredible, the Rockies, the lakes, the wildlife, umm, most of the wildlife. One full day hike to the lake, we were the only ones there, and we didn’t see any bears, all was well. Of course, even here, park management felt the need to warn us yet again. There was another sign at the campground trailhead, smaller, but with same warnings, same diagrams, same absence of what to do if you are a woman. The night was uneventful. I made sure we put the tent a long way from the campfire and dinner. As we hung the food I wondered if tuna breath or toothpaste was more attractive to bears. And would the plastic trash bag be enough to mask the smell of an old tuna can when we hiked out day after tomorrow? “Stop worrying,” Jim assured me. “Bears are fine as long as you take precautions. Really.” Exploring in the morning, we found a one room unoccupied ranger cabin next to the lake. Locked of course, but what great luck, a canoe was leaning against the side wall. Hey, why not? There was no one around and who would care if we borrowed it anyway. We could only find one oar, too short, but it would do. Jim and I simply couldn’t resist. He rowed, I enjoyed. In no time we were in the middle of the lake soaking in the ever more incredible surroundings and reveling in the luck of finding the canoe. Not too far away I saw the water rippling. There was an animal swimming, enjoying the lake with us. We both stared, fascinated. What was it? We drifted closer. Two round brown ears, brown fur, … , whoa! It was a bear! Did bears go for recreational swims? I wouldn’t say Jim and I panicked, we definitely got a little shaky, hearts racing, the single, too short oar, suddenly inadequate. We retreated as fast as we could. Fortunately for us, so did the bear, to the opposite side of the lake. It was as afraid of us as we it. “Told ya,” Jim said. I didn’t remind him just how quickly he paddled that short oar. We had a great laugh about the experience, enjoyed another night at the campground. I was a little less nervous, after all, we came, we saw and the bear was afraid of us. Not that I was now convinced bears weren’t dangerous. The book in the lodge store recounted a true story. But you can actually be in bear country and most of the time it’s exciting to see them. I was delighted. I could stop the story here. But it didn’t end there. Next we headed across the border to camp on the Canadian side of the Rockies. We stopped in a roadside picnic area for lunch. There on a very big bulletin board with lots of information in very big print was the teeniest tiniest little warning, “Take bear precautions in the park”. Seriously, that’s it? That was it. I don’t recall we saw a single other bear warning the whole time we were in Canada. We joked about the difference in culture since the bears were certainly the same on both sides of the border. This time we parked at a trailhead that was just off the main highway. But only a couple miles in and up, we were in alpine country, no remnants of traffic detectable. A short distance from the small alpine lake was a lean-to of sorts. It’s a fixed camping structure, compliments of the Canadian National Park Service, a three-sided shelter with a roof and built in sleeping benches to spread the sleeping bags off the ground. We had another luxurious hike through blissful wooded wilderness, and being only a short hike there were some daylight hours left over when we got to the lake’s campsite. A deer and her two fawns walked right into our camp. She came within a few feet of us. It was thrilling until the poor thing tried to take a sip from a pot of recently boiled water. All three ran off. “It’ll be OK,” Jim said and I knew he was right, but I was still sorry the doe burnt her tongue. While Jim hung the food and cooking gear in a tree, I collected lots of firewood. Bear warnings or no bear warnings, female odors or no odors, I was still nervous. Bears are scary no matter how cool to actually see them outside a zoo. Our campfire guarded the unprotected flank of the shelter, the flames eventually burning down to coals after I was done fighting sleep to keep them alive. The sounds of the night replaced the day, quiet. Except that new sound! Scratch scratch, clunk clunk, scratch scratch. “What the heck is that?” We both asked each other. It was loud, right next to the lean-to and didn’t stop. Jim got the flashlight and I followed. It didn’t take long before the light shown on a porcupine! I’d never seen a porcupine in the wild before. It had been digging up roots. When we disturbed it, it waddled off in no particular hurry. Whatever it was looking to eat, apparently it preferred more dimly lit dining. After a bit of laughing and wowing at each other, I fed the fire and Jim and I crawled back into the sleeping bags. Once again it got quieter, the fire died down, and this time I felt safe and tired, no urge to resist the dying fire. When you look under the bed and there’s no boogeyman there, you feel a little safer, for a while anyway. And then, thump! Thump! Thump! The ground shook. Whatever the heck it was this time, it was big. I wasn’t going out there. Jim wasn’t either. We discussed the fact that whatever it was that had stomped past the shelter, was passing through. Best not to get in it’s way. We didn’t even risk putting more wood on the fire. I don’t know how long it took to finally fall asleep but I eventually did. And in the morning we went out to solve the mystery. There were fresh elk tracks next to camp, leading down to the lake. We guessed the weight by comparing how deep our own boot prints sunk next to the Elk’s in the same ground, less than a quarter of the depth. An 800+ pound elk can be dangerous during the rut, but they don’t feel as scary as a bear when you’re close to them, unless of course, the elk is some unknown monster shaking the ground while passing next to your unprotected flank in the dark of night. We went home with some pretty great, “remember that time,” stories. I’ve since heard the whole ‘time of the month’ thing was probably a myth, but I’m keeping a calendar anyway. Oh yeah, and I carry a large can of bear spray now, anywhere bears and people share the wild places. Bought it in Yellowstone where the park rangers put up temporary folding, ‘bear - trail closed’, barricades like the ones that say no parking or road closed. Thousands of tourists on heavily populated trails and they simply close a 500 foot section for an hour if someone reports a bear. Really, a three foot by two foot, temporary folding barricade is apparently all we need separating people and dangerous grizzlies. Elk on the other hand, judging by the preponderance of warning signs, are evidently the most dangerous animals in Yellowstone. I wonder if the rangers in Glacier and Yellowstone ever get together?