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  • Monday August 9, 1999

    Our first bear

    Geoffrey Peake writes:

    PETER
BREWSTER We hopped on the Winisk River rocket again, and for the second day in a row did 30 km within four hours. Today we saw our first bear, but only from a great distance. A number of our readers have asked what kind of wildlife we've seen. This brings to mind what famed canoeist and filmmaker Bill Mason had to say on this.
     
     Most nature films and shows he observed, give you the impression that the wilderness is just crawling with wild animals--but I have to tell you, this just isn't the case. Sometimes, just seeing a moose or a bear can be a big deal. I remember on one of my first canoe trips, on the Petawawa River in Algonquin Park, 1978, we saw nearly a dozen moose in one
    BREWSTER
    A riverside stop.
    -->To the photo gallery
    hour. At the time I thought that this was just a normal occurrence, that the woods were just teeming with all manner of deer and wolves and bears. I have never since matched that day, even in 21 years of fairly extensive travel. Even while on the George river, which has the largest caribou herd in North America, we hardly saw any ourselves. On our first trip there, we missed a herd of 10,000 crossing the river by just one day. There is just a certain combination of fortune and fate that determines what you'll see.
     
     Eventually, if you do enough trips to the right places, the odds will favour you. Never expect a guarantee of wildlife, though, unless you go to the zoo. When we head out to the Bay and Polar Bear Park, there is a good chance that we'll run across a Polar Bear--but we can't be sure. You'll just have to tune in on Saturday and see what happens.
     
     One of the disadvantages with being on the river day after day--and with not portaging--is that you don't get a chance to get away from the river valley and into the woods. I took a little hike this evening, just to get a feel of what lies away from the river banks. The forest here is primarily composed of Black Spruce, which thrives in the relatively acid and poorly drained lands of the region. They are a smaller and more spindly version of the White Spruce that appear in patches here and there, often on the islands and by the banks where drainage is better. The occasional Tamarack (Larch) can be found in places, but the Black Spruce, with its narrow trunk and peculiarly tufted crowns, dominate. The ground cover is generally composed of an incredibly thick and opulent layer of mosses and lichens that thrive (relatively speaking) in the acid soils. These mosses and lichens form a thick layer of carpeting that is incredibly comfortable for sleeping--and has one other prized use. Because some of us (myself included) eschew the use of toilet paper on trips, we find that the rich quiltwork of soft, spongy mosses that bless the muskeg to be the most ideal substitute. Some of us would argue that it is far superior to the more conventional store-bought product.
     
     Tonight, at the request of some of our members, I am keeping the bear spray handy. The fresh tracks in the bank behind camp have prompted some worries that a bear may show up before morning. Personally I think that most of the bears in this area associate people with gunshots or worse, and will high-tail it off into the muskeg once they get a whiff of us (not to mention our clothes). For safety's sake, though, I'm keeping the spray handy in the tent.
     
     You just never know...


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