Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

There's beauty in the beast

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It was around this time of year that a black bear came walking into our yard -- a long summer day that started out hot and seemed never ending.

I was about 13 years old and we were living in Grandpa's old house in Bissett. I discovered photography that year after I was given a little point and shoot camera.

I would hoard my cash and would give it to my mom to buy film whenever she and my dad went to the city for a shop.

My parents and little sisters had gone visiting in Manigotagan for the night, so I was alone -- a lady of leisure with the house to myself.

I fell asleep reading in the verandah, next to the screened-in side window.

The sounds of sniffling and soft grunts from outside woke me up.

I thought it was a dream at first, but then realized there was some kind of animal outside in the yard. Maybe it was a loose dog, I thought. But there weren't many of those around town, that's for sure.

I slowly got up and took a peek out the window to see what the noise was.

And there he was -- a bear cub with fur as dark as midnight, sniffing around the side of the house, probably looking for something to eat.

He must have been about two years old, and about 200 pounds.

I looked around for my camera and spotted it nearby. Then I did one of the stupidest things of my entire childhood.

I grabbed my camera and ran outside to take a close-up of the bear in my yard. Bears weren't uncommon in our community, especially in the summer if it had been a rough winter.

Sometimes you'd hear the news over morning coffee at the restaurant that a bear was spotted rooting around in someone's garbage, or worse, a bear had made off with a fluffy dog.

Sometimes humane bear traps were set up around town if they didn't move along on their own. A bear is not something to be taken lightly.

You see, they are not the thing of Hollywood cartoons. There are no ties, pork pie hats and picnic baskets, no honey pots, or soft, fuzzy hugs from these guys. Bears look cute from a distance, but they are wild animals to be feared and respected.

My great-grandpa Alphonse said bears were once men and we should never hunt them or eat their meat.

He said if you spoke Indian softly to bears they would know you meant them no harm. If you happened upon a bear by accident, just say "Boujou" and quickly move on.

That's what came to mind when I stood not 10 feet from that bear cub.

I tried to take a photo but my darn camera wouldn't "click." I realized I hadn't pushed the winder forward and would need to do that before I could take a photo.

The bear just stood there, looking at me. I said "Boujou" and, wouldn't you know it, the darn bear took off for the back of the house, towards the cover of the deep woods.

I chased after him, still trying to take a picture. Then self-preservation kicked in and I stopped in my tracks.

Young bears often have bear moms nearby and I was sure she wouldn't be too happy to see me.

I was thinking of that bear when I heard about another little bear -- Makoon -- and saw him on the news a while back.

I'm sure the man who found him by the side of the road meant well when he rescued him. The little cub would have likely died then without human intervention.

But I also cringed a little, wondering what would become of the cub. It always makes me a little sad to see wild animals at the zoo.

Wild animals are meant to stay in the wild.

Conservation took over the bear's care and then the bear cub was released into the wild after a couple weeks. Many people were outraged by the province's decision.

I was, too, for a minute, but then thought about it a bit longer.

Getting a 50/50 chance at a life in the woods is nothing to sneeze at. Many wild animals -- and even people -- get far less of a chance in this world.

The bear had less of a chance when he was first found. And now, it's up to him and his instincts if he will survive. Such is life.

There is something very beautiful about the life of a wild animal -- something some of us can never fully see, understand or appreciate.

Colleen Simard is a Winnipeg writer.

colleen.simard@gmail.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 7, 2012 j6

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