When Dad would tell the bear story.
It was always a good story! From the time when we kids were little it was an event of wonder and vividly imagined. When we got older we became a part of the telling and shared his experiance vicariously. As Dad would tell the bear story he would color it up, adding snippets, recalling the sounds, sights and other small details assuring the listeners of his participation in the actual event.
Nothing could tie us closer to Dad then when he would let us in on all the fine points of life in the wilds of early 20th Century Vancouver Island.
It seems that the tale began in 1918 or 1919 at the end of a day’s hunt with brother Tom who at 8 years younger still had some growing up to do.. They had arrived at the shallower parts of Campbell River where meanders still remained in the steam and the waning days of the summer had grown good stands of willow, huckleberry cotonwood and blackberry on the river’s edges and on the sand and gravel islands in the stream. A variety of logs and debris piles crossed the river and spawned out salmon carcasses littered the beaches and floated in the shallows. Dad and Tom sat on a log and rested quietly prior to making their way back to their night’s lodgings.
Then the Bear appeared on the mid-stream island. Dad whispered to his less experianced brother to be very quiet and watch and learn from the bear.
They observed it for a many minutes as the bear made a meal on the fish carcasses, conferring in whispers to each other so as not to spook the bear. Dad wanted to leave as it was getting dark but Tom thought that the bear had a beautiful coat and would make a great addition to his bedroom. Dad said to leave the bear his coat but Tom was not to be deterred.
So Tom shot the bear!
Unfortunately the bear was not knocked down by the single shot and tore off into the brush of the island. Dad and Tom watched in the deepening dusk with the bear growling and crashing in the undergrowth. Finally they left for home with plans to return the next day after work.
The day had been very warm for fall when Dad and Tom returned to the river bank. All was quiet on the island and they worked their way across logs to the sand bar. Hundreds of depleted salmon bobbed and perfumed the fitful breeze as they cautiously worked through the underbrush of yellowing willows and small firs and tangled berry vines following an animal trail of sorts over and around stumps and logs until in a small natural clearing in the blackberries they found the bear. Dead! But bloated!
The combination of rotten fish and the day’s sun had rounded the bear’s belly and raised two legs in a ridged salute. There was a certain aroma that wasn’t just the smell of bear. Dad expressed the opinion the skin was not worth the effort to retrieve but Tom differed and proceeded to lay aside his coat and rifle and draw forth his trusty knife as Dad stood up wind of the bear.
Starting in the classic manner of skin removal and since the bear lay partly on its back Tom moved to the head of the bear and bent down to cut the throat. That is when Dad jumped on the bear.
The bear erupted!
Dad speedily exited the brush pile by the carefully remembered but twisted path. The way he told it he was fast and practiced on his feet making his passage with astounding grace.
Poor brother Tom, partially blinded, retching and gagging made a straight-line direct exit through the brush and bramble tangle exiting scratched, bloodied, clothes torn and reeking of rotted fish and vomit.
When Tom gained his breath and between retches and gasps he asked his hysterical jokester older brother the question of the day, “You Damn Fool! What did you do that for? “
Dad’s story never let us know if the skin ever made it to Tom’s room or any reason why Dad had jumped as we were all rolling on the floor or out of breath with laughter. I asked Uncle Tom the last time he and Dad got together when they were in their eighties about the bear story and Tom looked at Dad and said “You told your kids that story?”
And there!, that was all there was to it.
Except perhaps it explains something about sudden urges!