Friday, November 26, 2010

Bearly There, Again!

Many summers past, Hubby had gone to his high school reunion, Daughter had been invited to a friend's cottage.  I decided the boys and I would go boat-camping in Georgian Bay.  I would lead us out on a little adventure of our very own.

We shopped at Canadian Tire for replacement tent pegs.  Youngest son finagled a three-foot inflatable toy boat into the shopping cart. 

All Georgian Bay boats have Zodiak tenders, he reasoned.

Not to be outdone, Oldest son negotiated for super-fins for powerful swimming.
Finally underway at 3pm, we motored out of Midland Harbour to our fav swimming spot.  The distinctive pink and gray granite of the area had been worn smooth by retreating glaciers thousands of years ago, leaving fertile niches for opportunistic blueberries and wild strawberries to flourish.  While the boys swam and horsed around with the dog, I picked enough berries to go with cereal for the morning. 

Why not stay right here for the night?  We could put up the tent and...

No Way! they bellowed.  We want to go much further before tonight!!

 Well, we had come for adventure, so I gamely agreed.  Right around the corner, not speaking in boating terms, was a small channel, excellently marked with buoys of red and green, some with flashing lights, and many with back-up day markers on shore.  I have often marveled at the efficiency of this system for warning unsuspecting boaters of the hidden dangers of submerged rocks and shoals, and have been thankful for the many unknown people who put it all in place.  Oldest son was at the helm and I was the navigator.

Shouldn't we be over there where that boat went?

No.  I know where we want to go, I confidently replied.

But the Police Boat went over there.

Kid, the locals can do whatever they want.  They know these waters, but we are going with the charted route.

He was a very kind man.  His family had been coming to this cottage site for 110 years, even before people had motorboats on the Bay.  His grandfather used to row for 6 or 7  hours to reach this spot from Penetang. 

Yes, those rocks have seen  many a propeller destroyed over the years.

He graciously allowed us to tie up to his dock while we inspected the damages.  They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and in this instance, it was never more true.  I had never loved my wonderful husband more than when the kids pulled out a spare prop that

Dad always keeps in the boat, just in case.

Finding a camping spot late in the day on the busiest civic holiday mid-summer was not easy. All the popular sites were occupied by the time we arrived.  We settled on a third-rate tenting spot, with an okay boating anchorage and a first-class swimming situation.  The boys were chatting up other campers where our boat was tied on, the dog was asleep in the sun, and I had lost myself in a good novel, perched on a flat rock in our site.  Commotion from a passing cruiser pulled me back to reality. 

Hey Kids, what are those people yelling about?  Did they say "bear"?

Yup, there it was.  A black bear, pushing his nose into a tent close to the dock where my boys were.  He ambled along, grazing on bushes and berries, and cleaned out the remains of a lunch left in the fire pit.  All the families had gathered together on the dock--safety in numbers--except for me and my dog, alone on the rocks across the way.

Soon the channel was full of boats with cameras, camcorders and binoculars, all watching the bear, watching the people, watching the bear.  Mr. Bear snuffled his way right up to the end of the dock, totally unperturbed by the 9 people putting up a terrible racket to make it go away.  Black Death moved out of my field of vision.

Where did he go?

He's headed for the outhouse.

Isn't that half way between you and me?

Yes!  He's headed your way.

I scanned the campsite for an escape route.  The path to the outhouse and the dock, or into the water.

Go Dog, go.  Here Ben, Atta boy!!

With elbows and knees in all directions, I barely fit in the three foot inflatable dingy.  Ben, the golden retriever, always eager to please, swam towards the encouraging crowds of onlookers, while I held onto his big, bushy tail. My hero pulled me to safety.  As I looked back, the bear was crawling over my sun mat.  He devoured the gum packages in my purse, slobbered over my wallet, books, and needle point,  snuffled the sleeping bags and then casually ambled off again into the woods.  Needless to say, nobody slept on shore that night.

Now "The Chrissy Rose" (which came after the purple boat and before Little Steadfast, which came before Steadfast) was always the smallest boat in any harbour, or tied to any dock in northern waters.  Georgian Bay is heaven-on-earth for the family equipped with a 35 foot cruiser, complete with a full head and forward/aft cabins.  Our pride and joy was a 19 foot runabout with a camping top.  What we lacked in footage and amenities, we more than made up for by being fast and light on the water, with very little draft, and able to do as much or even more than the bigger boats.

Long after dark, when the big boats had locked their wooden doors and we had zipped our zippers and snapped our dome fasteners, the moon and stars created a heavenly display.  Everyone was fast asleep when I awoke to the sounds of someone/thing moving around,  knocking things over on the dock.  My heart stopped as I saw a big, black shadow silhouetted against the night sky.

Before turning in for the night, I had assembled an arsenal of weapons to do battle with the enemy, should he return:

a paddle
an aerosol can of bug spray
a spot light.

I reasoned that the light would be the first weapon of choice, as it could be weilded from a safer distance.  With fumbling fingers, I ripped open the box and armed my lethal torch.  By this time at night, the plastic windows of the boat cover were drenched with dew, reflecting back the 800,000 candle-power into the boat.  Our refuge was illuminated with the equivalent of an atomic blast--I was virtually blind.  Here we were, three people and a dog in the space equivalent to a small closet, facing the jaws of death!  In my total panic, I couldn't understand why nobody else was awake.

Bravely, I rubbed a one inch clear spot in the window and peered outside.  A better look at what had made the shadowy shape of a bear, revealed a lawn chair with a jacket hung over the back to dry.  Raccoons must have been the invaders. 

That's when I started to cry.

Some people, like airplane pilots, police officers, telephone operators, or parents of large families thrive on being the ones in charge, the ones responsible for everyone's safety and welfare, the ones everybody depends on.  I found it an exhausting and very humbling experience.  Never to underestimate the resilience of the human  heart,  it seems we can live through wild excitement and adventure and grow from the experience.

Anyone up for a camping trip to the Yukon?

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