The coffee has been shit since Cranbrook. Kyle takes some pride
in this, that he is the only one on the tour who seems to notice.
The other two are busy asking the attendant if this is where they
are on the map and if they take this road to get to where they're
going and whether or not they'll see any more totem poles on the
way up. Kyle asked at the last station. There are some just up
the road, plus a glacier or two between here and Stewart. These
things are easy, he thinks. But recalling two months of bad gas
station coffee, that takes dedication.
What about kermodes? Gaye wants to know.
the Husky attendant, all knowing. He could answer the question
if he wanted, tell her the exact number of bears she'll see and
their lineage, probably even the day she'll die and what she'll
die of, but he's holding back. Maybe not.
Being native and working
at a gas station, Kyle thinks. This guy must know as much about
direction as anyone in the world. Kyle has told nobody it's his
thirtieth birthday. Though the morning news advised, Choose
a path and charge. It is time you took yourself by the horns.
What's a kermode?
Elly asks, buckling her seatbelt. She had never left Vancouver
before joining the tour. But something about Bear Aware, teaching
bear safety to elementary school kids, made her drop university
and take off in a van with two strangers. She learned to drive
somewhere in the interior, got her license on a day off in Prince
George, and is now steering north up Highway 37.
White black bear,
Gaye says. You know. Spirit bear.
Elly says, They
say if you see a spirit bear your whole life flashes before your
eyes. Elly has bad vision, but wears contacts. She wore
a white collar and a long black skirt for the interview, the day
she and Kyle met. He thought, Short and sort of round, but
pretty. Since then, he has seen her wear nothing but her
uniform and loose grey jogging pants. She wears lots of toques
and rarely looks at the road.
They do not,
Life altering moment
of clarity. Like a
One in every ten black bears is white. Gaye knows these
things, she grew up in the Kootenays, though she also knows kermode
bears only live on the northwest coast. She once answered, Conversation
Officer, when a teacher asked what she would do if she could
be anything in the whole entire world. She has straight brown
hair. She was five.
Elly leans over the wheel
and points across Gaye, who covers her chest with both hands out
of habit, down a gravel road to the right. Theres a red
schoolhouse. Some sort of church. A bear. A frog. An eagle.
Kyle is happy here, the
first bench seat in the back. His job in the show is to wear the
bear costume and scare the audience just enough. He is also the
prop man. The idea to have all the kids sit in a circle and hold
taught one piece of string to demonstrate impact assessment: his.
He used to drive the van. It's not that he has a problem turning
thirty, though it does make him seem ten years older than Elly
and seven older than Gaye when, he thinks, it is really closer
to nine and six.
His age hadn't mattered
with Ginnie, or at least not in the same way. She had wanted him
older, he has written in his journal. And slower. Old as
the fucking world.
He and Ginnie met in
Terrace a few years ago now and a hundred or so kilometres back
along the road. Kyle had taken her photo on convocation day for
the Weekend Advertiser (she graduated community college with high
school equivalency, and if you look closely you can see a trail
of smoke creeping over the left shoulder of her gown), and misspelled
her name in the cutline. It was Ginnie. Short for Virginia. Two
months later he saw her in the street and apologised.
You did do that,
Kyle had tried to look
her up, and told her so, but failed. She said, Why dont
I give you my number now? and gave him her number. Home
and pager and all. And ran off in the rain to pick up her kid
from the park. When it ended months later he left town without
the goodbye kiss he had hoped for. Just some photos of her wearing
fake fur, sallow cheeked and inhaling in his headlights, and her
kid dancing on the sidewalk like cowboys and Indians. Stopped
at the light before the bridge out of town he wrote in his journal,
I dont want to leave. I like this pain best.
But he went anyway. His contract with the Advertiser had ended.
He moved back to Calgary,
learned to make soup and liquidated snow shovels and ladders and
other merchandise with his father. Then he applied for the tour,
which brought him back to BC, and stopped at three schools in
Terrace over two days last week. He didnt see her, though
he bought a sandwich at the German deli and heard shed married
a mill worker.
Someone with money,
Kyle thinks, dropping his head on the crumpled tawny fur of the
bear outfit beside him. In it for the money. He hasnt
talked to Ginnie since he left. The Husky attendant, him and his
blue coveralls and matching cap and footlong braid, would know
for sure. But hed say, Maybe.
And Kyles thinking,
Gaye has propped her
head between the window and the door, using the seatbelt as a
buffer, and without turning around says, Quit creasing your
costume. Kids notice these things. And, groaning, Kyle folds
the costume and places it on the floor. Gaye adds, Babycakes,
like she knows he wants her to say it.
Elly likes the sound of this.
Kyle says, Where
Nobody knows. Somewhere
between the Husky and Stewart, moving downhill into a bridge.
Out the window there is a rest stop, outhouses and families, but
Elly has learned to always assume lateness. Stewart is the last
stop on the tour, and the last town before Hyder, Alaska, and
they are expected shortly after noon. They are moving. Kyle thinks
Elly drives like the fucking wind. She is the best driver he has
Gaye gets nervous near water. There is a river on the right side
of the highway, wide and strangely green.
Elly says, Were
Kyle thinks, Its
not easy being me. He isnt referring to the fact that
he turned thirty today, though that is keeping him from napping.
For the past month and a half hes shared two beds with Elly
and Gaye in one hotel room, only every third night he gets a bed
to himself. Its nicer sleeping with Gaye because she wears
black pajamas and moves little more than he does. He doesnt
move at all. Elly rolls and rolls. Butts his arms with her head.
Steals the covers. Kyle likes this too, just not as much.
Kyle wishes he was from
Likely, BC. The strong come from Likely, he thinks, not Calgary.
This is all he learned from the interior.
And the Husky attendant
is back there thinking, Maybe. He says, Maybe.
Gaye says Stewart is
one of the most important towns on the tour because, unlike most
places theyve visited, it actually has bears. And not just
at the dump. She has a book. It says grizzly and black bears gather
for the salmon run at Fish Creek on the other side of Hyder. The
book, she says, makes no mention of kermode bears.
Elly says. Gaye has given up.
In the photo there is
a cedar bridge packed with people and large camera equipment leaning
over the railing.
Gaye blows the hair from
her face. Thats asking for trouble.
with this picture? Elly asks.
Kids hands shoot
up all over the classroom. They know it, they know it. Boy, do
they ever know it. One dirty faced blond kid cant hold it
in, blurts out the answer.
People could fall
over the edge and get eaten up by the bears.
Elly says, and presents him with his very own Bear Aware sticker.
The kid is the envy of every first grader in the room, he has
never seen anything like this before.
oh no! Somebody leans too far and falls over! Gaye says,
giving Kyle his cue. He runs in to screams of fear and delight.
There are always one or two kids who pee their pants. What
if it was you? What should you do to protect yourself?
says the same kid from before, hurting for another sticker.
That would be the
most natural thing to do, says Gaye, but its
not the safest.
Good answer again,
but no, you should not play dead.
The correct thing, she
goes on, using Kyle as a prop, would be to speak calmly and move
slowly and confidently away without turning around until the bear
is out of view. He circles her and she remains calm. She walks
away unharmed. The important thing, she says, is not to alarm
Because he is more
afraid of you than you are of him.
Then Gaye and Elly have
the kids growl and make bear faces at Kyle. He, in his grizzly
suit, stumbles over as many little chairs as he can on his way
out of the room. All of the kids get stickers.
says, who can tell me what biodiversity is?
We'd marry Craig Battle.
If it was legal in the province he was born in. And the province
we were born in. Or just if one of us was a woman.