Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Mum and I woke up this morning and found that during the night the mountains around Vancouver had their first snowfall.
            We jumped into the car and drove up to Cypress Mountain, one of the ski resorts on the other side of the harbor, only half an hour or so from home.  By the time we reached the resort the snow had retreated back up to the very tops of the ski runs, so instead of a snowball fight we went for a hike - very bracing and bucolic - along an alpine trail out to a small alpine lake.
            The landscape was very precise and quietly precious - almost manicured, as if a dedicated team of landscape gardeners had set themselves to a millennium of mountain-scaping, planning for the moment a group of Anglo settlers would come and build ski-runs down the mountains and plow a few trails through the forest for when the skiing palled.

The manicured appearance of the trails was deceptive - when we left the open ground and entered the forest Mum handed me two bells.
            "Bear bells?"  I asked warily.
            "Bear bells."  She said.
Readers might remember that Mum has a certain ambivalence about the ursine residents of these here mountains.
            "Don't laugh. " Mum said flatly. "We were up here a month ago with your aunt and uncle, and we saw a bear and two babies as close to us as that tree over there is to you right now."
I turned and looked at the tree in question.  It's lowest branches were brushing my hair.
            "Truly?"  I said.
            "You just keep ringing those bells."  She said.  "No rhythm.  Keep it irregular."  She turned on her heel and marched away down the trail, jingling as she went.
            "Are we warning them off or ringing a lunch bell?"  I wondered, and started off after her.

Hiking through an alpine forest in an alpine forest with jingle-bells on each thumb is monotonous.  The mystery and magic of the moment is utterly lost - jingle jingle jingle - you can't think thoughts - jingle jingle - and you catch yourself falling into a rhythm to match your footsteps - jingle  jin-jingle! Jing! jingle jingle - and pulling out of pace pulls your footsteps out of kilter and you stumble on the rocks and the bells ring CLANG jingle JAG CLANG jingle -
            Hikers coming the other way stare at you, and all in all, reaching the lake comes as something of a relief. 
The lake waters were still and quiet and wide and the path turned into a clearing that Mum judged as sufficiently broad to prevent bears from sneaking up on us unawares. 
            "Your uncle said that he saw one from here - over on the opposite shore."  Mum whispered.
            "So this side's safe?"  I said, and stripped the bells from my fingers and dropped them on a picnic table.
She shot me an indecipherable look.  
            "Keep them near you at all times."  She said.  "You could need them at any moment.  And if they don't work, I have a backup."  She patted her hip pocket.  "I left the flare gun in the car, but my pepper spray is right here in my pocket."

For seasoning, I presume.  We made it back -unchewed - to the carpark, jingling all the way.  The bears must have all been up at the tops of the ski-runs, having snowball fights.  If I  were a bear, I'd've had a napkin round my neck and been staking out the dinner party.  

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