By Jane Marshall
I’m tucked into my down sleeping bag, housed within my favourite North Face tent. My body rests on the earth. I’m in my happy place. The problem is: I heard a bear just an hour before.
I’d been walking around the end of beautiful Beauvais Lake in southern Alberta, not far from the new Castle Provincial Park. The lake was still, the sun hazy with late-day tones of gold. And then, a rustle in the poplars, and a distinctive hummmph. I heard it again — that sound only a bear can make. Slowly, respectfully, I told the bear I was leaving and then made my way back to camp.
Bear scat siting
Here’s the thing. I’m here solo. I’ve come to this area to do research for my next book, Searching for Happy Valley. I’ve been meeting Blackfoot First Nations people and hiking their land. Tonight, I’m camping solo. I’ve chosen a gorgeous walk-in campsite and not only am I here on my own, I’m the only camper at the 9 walk-in sites.
The sun has set now. I’m tired from hiking and ready to sleep. But my ears are wide open. I hear the twitch of a crow’s wings and how he slices the air when he takes off from the picnic table. I hear so many birds, actually: Geese splashing in the lake, robins singing as they pluck worms from the damp grass. The bugs vibrate and hum too. I hear everything. Thankfully, I don’t hear the bear.
Finally, the birds fall asleep. The din of the bugs gets faint. I slide into a light sleep that is… Aware. What if that bear comes back, my subconscious says? What if a human comes? I’m a woman camping alone.
I let go of my fear, but keep my awareness.
At dawn, I slowly become conscious. There is silence, and then, the movement of feathers. A bird lands on my tent and the sound of claws on nylon is like an explosion. A strange, long call echoes across the sky. It beckons me to open my tent fly, and above the water flies a crane. I’ve never heard such a strange sound. The bugs begin to hum once again.
It’s early, but I cannot miss this intense biodiversity. I emerge, make coffee, and realize that solo camping makes a person alive. There’s something in being slightly vulnerable that wakes me up and makes me more animal like. Sensitive.
In being alone, and without the company of other humans, there is no interruption. Nature tells me stories in my ears that I never knew before.
Information For You:
Beauvais Lake Provincial Park is home to species at risk, like the northern leopard frog, as well as elk, moose, cougars, wolves, and, you guessed it — bears. There are 30km of trails for hiking, running, or cross country skiing and snowshoeing.