Thursday, July 18, 2013

Love, adrenaline, and a whole lot of barking

Last Thursday, Hubby and I celebrated our 4th wedding anniversary.

(Cue "awwwwwwww" now.)

In the terribly unromantic fashion that only the two of us are capable of getting away with, we did not spend our anniversary together. I went to see the Tragically Hip with some friends, and he stayed home.

Now in fairness, we didn't do this on purpose. It was only after I bought the ticket that I realized that the concert fell on the same day as our wedding anniversary. But admittedly, I was not willing to give up a warm summer's eve at the Bluesfest with Gord Downey and friends. Go ahead and judge me. But before you do, know this: (a) I did ask Hubby to come with us and he chose not to; and (b) we all called him from my cell phone before the concert to toast our anniversary.

Faced with this glaring display of unromanticism, Hubby and I agreed that we should schedule some kind of celebration, lest our marriage disintegrate under the weight of our co-neglect. So we agreed to take Friday off work so that we could spend the day together. 

We mulled over the terribly romantic idea of spending the day being pampered at a local Scandinavian spa. I was, in fact, about to make the reservation, when it occurred to me that it might be nice to do something as a family. As in Hubby, me, and Fergus. I mean, how often do the three of us get to embark on a family outing. And now that we have the car, we can go anywhere!

My boys getting ready for a day together
On this day, "anywhere" consisted of the beautiful trails of  Gatineau Park, a mere 20 minutes from our door. What better way to enjoy a warm, sunny morning than to hike under a canopy of trees. We might even get romantic and hold hands!

And so, we put Fergus' pack on, stuffed it with some water, and set off for our morning adventure.

It was one of those perfect, peaceful summer mornings. When we arrived, there were virtually no cars in the parking lot, and we ended up having the trail to ourselves. Fergus roamed around off leash, sniffing at trees, peeing on bushes, gnawing on sticks, and walking through every mud puddle that he could find. Hubby and I held hands, reminisced about our wedding day, planned out our weekend, and talked about our upcoming trip to Philadelphia to see Pearl Jam in October. All three of us were simply enjoying being in one another's company.

Leading the way

Hey slow pokes, what's taking you so long? 

I'm coming, I'm coming...
After about 4km, the trail came to an end, and we turned around to make our way back to the car. A few short metres later, we bumped into a pair of hikers. Fergus barked excitedly to say hi to the newcomers as we passed them on the trail. Then he went back to sniffing around and we went back to holding hands and chatting.

Another few hundred metres later, Fergus stopped, and his ears perked straight up into the air, a sure sign that someone - or something - is approaching. "Who's coming, buddy," Hubby said. "Maybe it's another hiker with another d...," I tried to say, but before I could finish, Fergus was off like a flash, barking loudly and hurrying through the woods towards an as-of yet-undefined-shape.

"Holy shit!" Hubby explained, followed by "Fergus, COME HERE!" And there was an edge of panic to his voice.

Now allow me a moment for a sidebar here. My husband almost never swears. He almost never raises his voice. And in 11 years, I have only ever seen him panic once - the day that he misplaced tickets to a Montreal Alouettes vs. Winnipeg Blue Bombers game, which was wreaking havoc on his plan to propose marriage to me at that game (an incredibly romantic story for another time). I was quite sure that there was no forthcoming marriage proposal causing him to panic, and at this point, I still thought that the undefined shape was just another dog. In fact, I was still looking around for another human. "What are you getting so excited about, Hubby. It's just another d..."

And then I stopped dead, as the as-of-yet-undefined-shape started to get a little bit more definition.

It was a bear. A black bear. Being chased by Fergus. Up a tree.

(It looked something like this - but this isn't my picture. I wasn't about to stop and take a picture of a damn black bear in a damn tree only a damn twenty feet away from us!!! I'm nuts but I'm not THAT nuts!)

Photo courtesy of CBC, June 10, 2006
"Oh my God! Fergus, HUSTLE!" I screamed.

Fergus, who was by this point a mere 10 feet away from a tree that contained a bear, was torn. On the one hand, he's got an incredibly great recall and knows that he is expected to come when we call, no matter what he is doing. On the other hand, he had never seen a bear before, and was clearly intrigued by this new species. And, I suspect, he felt a little bit proud of himself for cornering one in a tree. Not knowing whether or not this was a lone bear on the trail, or if there was an angry mother somewhere nearby, or even if the tree'd bear would lose patience with Fergus and come down to attack, Hubby and I did not want to leave without the dog. We wanted to get him on a leash and get him the hell out of there.

We started to move away from the tree, because like all good herding dogs, Fergus moves with his flock. When he saw us leaving, he took one last desperate look at the bear in the tree, growled and barked, and came running back to us. Relieved, I grabbed onto his collar and started to run, Hubby right beside me.

As I was running, one hand on Fergus' collar and the other trying to clip on his leash, two thoughts repeated over and over and over again in my head: is there a momma bear? and why the hell can't I stop shaking so that I can get this damn leash on!!!! The first thought practically blinded me with fear. I could not bring myself to look behind me over my shoulder for fear that a giant bear would be ready to take a swipe at me. The second thought caused me to scream out to Hubby, "Hubby, I'm panicking! And I can't stop shaking. I can't get the damn leash on!"

All the while, Fergus, sensing my own mounting panic and freneticism, was frantically looking back towards the his prize, barking in that shrill, loud, hyena-like pitch that only Fergus can hit, and trying to run as fast as he could despite being gripped by the collar. He was about to tear my arm off when Hubby told me to stop, took the leash clip from my hand, snapped it on Fergus' collar, checked behind us to make sure there was no bear, and then yelled at me to run again.

And so I ran. As fast as I could. Down an extremely steep hill. Still too scared to look behind me. With a frantic, barking dog, himself running so fast down this hill that he threatened to pull me down into the dirt and simply drag me behind him.

And then, I heard a sound that made my heart stop. It sounded to me like a scream. A woman's scream. "Hubby, the hikers!" I yelled. "One of them is screaming!" "She's not screaming, Jay. It's a bear whistle. She's okay. She's just making noise to keep the bear away. Keep running." Moments later, we heard an air horn. One after the other, the air horn and the bear whistle rang out and echoed through the trees.

As we approached the clearing leading to the main road up ahead, a lone mountain biker was stopped by the side of path. What a sight we must have been. A woman being literally dragged by a crazed, barking dog, a man trying to keep up as he screamed out to her, "Bear! Bear! Turn around!", and the piercing sound of bark, air horn, bear whistle. With a look of shock on her face, she turned her bike around and followed us out of the forest and onto the main road. Twenty seconds later, the other hikers joined us.

"Holy shit!" I just kept saying, over and over and over again, finally feeling safe enough to look behind me, as I gazed back into the woods out of which we had just stampeded. "Holy shit, Hubby. He chased a bear. He chased a f%&#ing bear!"

Meanwhile, surrounded by so many panting, panicky humans, poor Fergus was having a meltdown of his own - barking at everyone, trying desperately to lunge towards them, fighting Hubby who was trying to make him lie down be still. We led him away and did our best to calm ourselves down so that we could calm him down.

At this point, we were still about 3k - through the woods - from the parking lot. But you could not have paid me to head back into the woods to the trail. Instead, we decided to walk back to the car along the main park road, adding an additional km or so onto our trek. And then, about 10 minutes later, I stopped, looked at Hubby and said, "I think I am going to throw up." With no more adrenaline pumping through my veins, I just wanted to collapse in a heap on the ground. And there, on the side of the road, bent over to fight the rising tide of nausea, I burst into tears. Hubby patted my back and kept repeating, "We're okay. We're all okay. We're safe. We're all safe." Fergus whined and tried to lick my face. We stayed that way, my little family, by the side of the park road, for about five minutes, enough time for my legs to stop shaking enough so that I could keep on going. And then, in relative silence, we walked the last 20 or so minutes back to the car.

Since our little adventure, I've told a handful of people this story, and I've gotten a variety of responses. One friend has rechristened Fergus with a warrior name, He-who-chases-bears. One of my colleagues told me that my dog was a hero, saving our lives by making so much noise that the bear ran away. And my father gave me shit for letting Fergus roam off-leash in a wooded area, lecturing me about "how much bears hate dogs" and "how lucky Fergus is that the bear didn't swing at him". When my father learned so much about dog-bear relations, I'm not really sure, but anyway...

As for me, well, I can't decide if Fergus is brave or stupid. Probably a combination of both. And definitely a whole lot of lucky. I can't allow my mind to go to that place where he would have come across a particularly grouchy bear who was not willing to put up with his shit. Instead, I'm just thankful that we'll all make it to our fifth wedding anniversary.

I think I will go buy an air horn at Mountain Equipment Co-op on the weekend... Or maybe I will just stick to the Arboretum...