More Bear Encounters

I wrote previously about grizzly bears in Alberta, Canada. In this post I have a couple more stories about bears – this time in New Brunswick,Canada and also in Siberia, Russian Federation…

The black bear can be found in almost every province and territory in Canada. And as evidenced by my discovery of a bear trap in the woods when I was a young teenager, we knew there were bears lurking around our farmhouse in New Brunswick.

Ivan Shishkin Morning in a Pine Forest 1878

Morning in a Pine Forest by Ivan Shishkin 1878, oil on canvas. This is one of a few rare images of bears from the 19th century that is beautiful. Its so depressing to look online for pictures of bears and mainly find images of bear hunting, zoos, circuses and bear baiting… what a despicable history we’ve made for ourselves.

In fact one of my friends in Junior High had a locally famous mother who once shot a bear.

black bear wikipedia

Black bear, image

So considering that we lived in a remote place surrounded by lake and forest, its surprising that we personally never saw any bears. On occasion we would come across a large, odd looking scat and surmise it was a bear’s – but we never found any other direct evidence.

A neighbor of ours did, however. She and her husband had a cattle farm in Jolicure, and they worked a number of fields in the area.

One summer they planted corn in a field situated along the road to our house, about a mile in from the crossroads. As far as I remember, it was the only time they planted that crop there. By the end of the summer in the early fall, the corn was very high and thick.

One day the wife went out to find her husband in the field – she had his lunch to deliver. So she parked her truck on the road bordering the field and went out into the corn rows.

Cornfield_pennYan wikimedia commons

Commercial corn grows densely in a field, and can be anywhere from 5 feet to 12 feet tall, so you can see how hard it is to see anything inside a cornfield. (photograph by Jlantzy from Wikipedia Commons). Ever see the movie Signs by M Night Shyamalan with Mel Gibson and Joachim Phoenix? If you have, you know why I ask… if not, you should go watch it…

Ahead of her she heard rustling and saw stalks moving. Thinking it was her husband she pushed through the stalks, calling to him, when all of a sudden she came face to face with a black bear. She screamed, and turned, and ran back to her truck.

black_bear head shot

Black bear (Ursus americanus)

The bear, just as startled and terrified, fled in the opposite direction. Her husband, meanwhile, was fine – he heard the whole commotion but never saw either of them.

Soon after that epic moment, they harvested the corn, and all the stalks were cut down and the bear was never seen again.

Back then (in the 1970s), I spent many hours walking through game trails in the woods alone with my dog, and though I saw scats and prints I never encountered any large or dangerous animals. But because I knew that the farmer’s wife had come face to face with a bear just a mile from my house, I was always noisy in the woods and on the road (singing out loud and whistling) just to let “everyone” know where I was at all times.

My paternal grandfather Harry Safran wasn’t so lucky.

In 1907 he was exiled to Siberia (a long and exciting tale for a future post) where he lived in a cabin in the woods with several other political prisoners.

siberia map

One day he was out in the forest foraging for nuts or firewood, and found himself face to face with a big bear – the bear reared up on its hind legs in front of him and roared… and my grandfather spit in its eye…


Siberian Brown Bear also known as a Grizzly Bear

… at least that’s what he tried to do, because he’d been told to do that just in case he ran into a bear. The idea was that the air in Siberia was so cold that your spit would freeze as soon as it left your mouth, forming a sharp sherd of ice that would blind the bear on impact.

Well, my grandfather never found out if spitting at a bear would save his life. When he came to, he found himself lying on the ground and the bear was gone… and he was alive. Whether spitting in the bear’s eye saved him, or fainting and looking dead did, my grandfather lived to tell the tale.

Casey Anderson and Brutus

This photo should be called “Living in Harmony”: Casey Anderson with his 800 lb buddy Brutus at the Anderson family Thanksgiving dinner… I’m not recommending wild animals as house pets, but this picture was too good to pass up.

Its a wonder that the bear literature in Canada doesn’t include that piece of advice. Perhaps I should tell Parks Canada and suggest they tell tourists and hikers to practice spitting shards of ice before heading out into the woods.

I just hope I never have to find out for myself.

Many thanks to my Aunt Rhoda for details about my grandfather’s Siberian bear encounter and spitting ice.

(Also, a couple of posts back I mentioned I was going to write about a Memento Mori painted by Bernard Safran in the 1960s – I intend to soon – I’m still trying to get a good photograph of the painting before I publish it. Until then I have some other posts to share.)