Jean was afraid of bears. She wouldn’t go into the forest without her bear bell. It was a tiny bell which she fastened on to her blue jeans. It made a tinkling sound when she walked, and that metallic noise warned bears that she was in the area. When people asked Jean if her bear bell actually worked, she would reply that she hadn’t seen any bears, so the bell must be working.
Now Jean was not a person who frightened easily. When it came to fighting for higher welfare rates or for a higher minimum wage, she would battle any politician in the country. In political debate she could be as fierce as the mighty grizzly, yet in the forest Jean was afraid of bears. She knew a lot about politics, and that knowledge gave her courage, but she didn’t know much about bears.
One beautiful Sunday morning in autumn Jean and I decided to go for a walk in Cypress Bowl which is located in the mountains of North Vancouver. We walked up an old logging road on Black Mountain, and then we took a winding trail through some old growth forest. Our destination was a tiny lake in the flat country behind Black Mountain. We liked to reach this lake while the morning mist was still on it, and we liked to watch the water lilies, so dignified and calm on the still water. I named this small lake “Jean’s Lake”, and it was so peaceful there that it seemed to us that Vancouver was a thousand miles away.
Jean was wearing her bear bell, but her fear of bears was not as strong as her love of the forest, the mountains, and the beckoning sky. Blueberries grew along the path and around the shores of the lake. We stopped to pick some, but this was not a berry picking trip. Jean had picked her winter supply of blueberries at sea level about a month earlier. The lake was at an elevation of four thousand feet, and berries at that height ripened later in the year.
After spending some time at Jean’s Lake, we decided to walk to the top of Black Mountain. I led the way. Jean meandered along, picking a few blueberries from time to time. She was about fifty or sixty feet away from me when suddenly Jean ran towards me in a great rush. She grabbed my arm and said in an agitated tone of voice, “I want to go home right now.”
“Jean, what’s the matter?” I asked.
“I saw a bear,” she said, and her eyes were wide with fear. “I want to go home.”
“Where did you see the bear?” I asked.
“Back there. It stuck its head out of the bushes. I want to go home.”
“What did the bear do when it saw you?”
“Jean, that bear is probably a mile away by now. It’s more afraid of you than you are of it.”
“I want to go home.”
“The bear was probably looking for blueberries, just like us. Bumping into you would be the last thing the bear wanted. You must have scared it something fierce. We’re safe here.”
“Do you think the bear is far from here?”
“Oh, yes. It might be in Squamish by now. Tell me more about the bear.”
“I was just walking along when I heard a rustling in the bushes above the path. I looked up and saw this little bear face poking out of the bushes.”
“And then it disappeared.”
“Yes. It was just a little face, and it didn’t look very fierce.”
“You want to go home because you saw a little bear face?”
“Well, I don’t know how big the bear was.”
“The bears have been on this earth longer than we have. They are our older brothers and sisters, and they, too, are suffering from the ravages of imperial progress. Shall we walk along the trail a bit further? I’m sure we won’t see any bears.”
“Alright. We’ll go a bit further, one step at a time,” Jean said.
“I’ll drink to that,” I replied.