Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Time for Change.....

Sadly the time has come for another change.  My goodness, has it been four years already?

I still remember - clear as day – the evening I was asked where I see myself in the next chapter of my life.  For me, the reply was quite simple.  I had heard of this fantastic place right up in the Arctic Circle, called Yellowknife.  The fact that I didn’t really have a good idea of what was to be expected there was inconsequential. 

While I don’t usually make a habit of jumping into situations without thinking them through completely, I seemed to be settled on this decision way before I had time to justify whether it was the right or wrong thing to do.  I’ve never looked back.

It’s true, I always say two things:  1)  Never have regrets because even if I make a mistake, there is always the opportunity to learn from it and the learning is something I really enjoy.  2)  You’ll never know if you never go – This statement alone has gotten me into heaps of trouble in the past, but it has also provided me with experiences I will never forget and adventures that surpass all logical thinking and explanation.
Some really wonderful moments stick out when I think of my time in Canada.  The day we flew into Yellowknife was one in particular.  The plane ride from Vancouver was exceptional but once we were due to land at the Yellowknife airport things started to get a little weird.  We hovered in the air and flew around in circles for just over an hour and then were told that we had to land in a very remote community Wild West style due to the fact that the weather in Yellowknife had made it impossible to land.

Our plane needed to refuel and we were told that we were not allowed to disembark because it was far too dangerous “out there”.  Needless to say, another hour later we were all given the go ahead to leave the plane and enter the little trailer that served as our airport arrivals gate.

A couple of hours later we were allowed to embark the plane once more and this time when the plane took off, we were delivered directly to our airport without incident.

Another memorable moment for me was on location for a photo-shoot.  Unplanned and unarmed we arrived at our destination like excited kids.  I jumped out of the truck with my camera gear in hand and started scanning my surrounds in search of a bear or two to photograph.  A couple of minutes later, someone came running towards me from behind the safety of an electric fence shouting for me to get away.  I don’t take kindly to this type of behavior, so I calmly walked up to her to ask her what her problem was.

Out of breath and clearly stressed, she pointed up into the tree where our truck was parked and screamed “Bears!!”  I followed her gaze, squinted, moved my head from side to side but couldn’t see anything that remotely resembled a bear of any description.

“What do you mean?” I asked her in my usual fraternizing way but clearly thinking; this one is knitting with only one needle.   Again, she pointed into the tree above the truck and shouted for me to get the driver to move the truck before he exited. 

Without replying to her I walked to the truck and asked the driver to move it.  He protested and asked why, to which I replied, “clearly that one over there has a problem with us parking here, she says there’s a bear in the tree above us.”

The driver took a look up in the tree and assured me that there was nothing there.  I turned to face the woman who had caused all this commotion and she was still ranting about the tree, so I instructed the driver to move the truck.

Then I went back to socialize with said deranged woman.  She was not happy with my calmness and stressed that bears around these parts WILL kill if they feel threatened in any way.  I made sure she was aware that my camera was in no way meant to be intimidating and then I walked away towards where the truck was now parked to retrieve my tripod.

By the time I had taken my tripod out of the vehicle, I heard a strange crying noise.  Not that of a cat or of a dog, yet nothing quite like I had heard before.  I spun around just in time to see a movement on the lowest branch of the tree where our truck was originally parked.

Sure enough there was something there.  I walked closer to see what the movement was and froze when I saw not one, but two bears; mother and cub.  The first thing that went through my head was that I had no idea that bears could climb trees.  Myth #1 Busted.

I was hugely excited and immediately set about setting up the camera and tripod.  My excitement had taken over and I was running on adrenalin.  I set myself up real close and started clicking away.

At first the bears were unperturbed but as my excitement rose and the clicking of the camera became more animated, the baby bear became interested with what was happening at the base of the tree and decided to climb down for a better view.

The mother immediately followed.  I stood still, clicking away.

Both bears stood at the base of the tree smelling the air.  The cub made a few distressed noises and then the mother decided to investigate.  Still, I continued to click away at the camera and not move.
Mother bear headed my way and I began to feel slightly uncomfortable.  I had no escape.  I slowly picked up the tripod and started taking very small, even steps backwards but soon I would have a decision to make.  Back into the electric fence and be shocked or jump into the river on the other side – either way I’d be mauled by the bear and my camera would be destroyed.

The bear continued walking towards me.  Slow steps; matching my own.  I didn’t break eye contact; I was too scared to.  Memories of a DVD I had recently watched about bear safety came flowing through my mind.  On the one hand the DVD had said that if the situation is non threatening then one has to shout at the top of ones voice, look big and with a bit of luck the bear would go.  One the other hand, the DVD had said that if one is in immediate danger of attack, one is to drop down on the ground, curl into a fetal position and hope the bear will lose interest in you.

I didn’t have the courage to scream, nor was I able to admit defeat and drop down on the ground and roll into a fetal position.  But I did stop breathing!

The bears eyes were at the same level as mine and when she was about 2 meters from me, we both heard a cry.  Instinctively I thought it was my own, but it took a few seconds to realize that the mother bear had recognized the cry as that of her cub and she immediately turned away from her pursuit of me to attend to her young.

I stood there reeling from shock, adrenalin rush and the harsh realization that I was only moments away from death.  The photographs were awesome though.