Tuesday, November 15, 2011

My Adventures in Labrador (4): Call me Goldilocks

As promised, serialized into bite-sized chunks, my summer adventure in Labrador, 1997...this is just as I remember it, but I don’t have any notes so it’s possible other people have other stories. This is mine and I’m sticking to it. 
Anyway, the next day... 
a bear (probably the same bear) comes ambling along the valley again. We’d just packed up our gear and I’d been given bear bangers to help protect us in the wild. We stood on the rocks by the falls (just like Cam does in the book, but unlike Cam...) I start loading the bear banger which is like a cap gun that shoots fireworks and I get this screech in my ear. “There’s a bear!”
I’m like, duh. But the person actually meant there was another bear. 
When we’d climbed onto the rock, another bear had popped out of the bushes beneath us (probably attracted by our stink of clove oil and fish slime). I get on the radio and, by chance, turned my head to look upriver and there is another ‘nother bear.  
By this time I’m on the radio, talking to our pilot, Matt, and Matt is laughing his ass off. Worse, he’s refueling and laughing his ass off. I heard later everyone was asking who the English chick was with all the bears :) With no immediate help on the way I aim and fire the banger at the closest bear (bear number 2). What no one had told me was I wasn’t supposed to shoot at the bear. This firework went straight between the poor guy’s ears and he took off like a rocket. My memories of the rest of that event are pretty sketchy. 

I used a similar event in EDGE OF SURVIVAL and it’s probably my favourite scene. That’s the closest I’ve ever gotten to bears in the wild; it was close enough. 
There’s another storyline in the book I extrapolated from a real event. I think the real event was both funnier and more tragic, because people lost their jobs. 
I was back in Waterloo but they needed me to tag still more fish toward the end of that summer. It was late August, maybe even September. Anyway I requested my buddy Rick come with me because he was a hell of a fisherman and we worked well together. I think the thing about being in extreme environments you need people who not only use their initiative but respect you and you respect them. I was hardly the epitome of nerdy biologist and not everyone took me seriously. Rick was great. He was also about to get married and needed the cash. We understood each other :)
Side note: the guy who was the company's lead environmentalist actually hired divers to go into the pool below the falls and check my fish weren’t dead at the bottom. I knew they weren’t but it was nice to see the evidence on video. 
Anyway, back to my story. The girl doing most of the tracking found evidence of poaching. Part of the agreement for developing this area was preserving the natural environment in its pristine state. You weren’t allowed to take the char out of the river unless you were first nations or...me :) For the record, I never tasted arctic char and I worked on about 150 fish. Even the carcasses of animals we sacrificed had to be incinerated. It was a shame but I totally understood the reasoning so I was doubly pissed when we found someone was just taking what they wanted out of the river. The miners weren’t too bright about their crimes. They actually caught fish with telemetry devices inside them, put them in plastic bags, labeled with their names and put them in the freezer. (What did they think the wire was coming out of the side of the fish, I wonder?) Not smart. That should have been the end of it, however...
As I said, Rick was getting married, I wanted to get home to my beloved. We’d spent to day on the river and we’d finished our tagging, but weren’t supposed to fly out for a few days and the weather was deteriorating. Well, dammit if there wasn’t a small flight Brian (logistics) could get us out on late that afternoon. Rick and I got back to the boat to be told we could leave--immediately. We ran around our cabins throwing our stuff into our bags. I had a wader in my hand luggage :). The trouble was we were on the same flight as the miners who’d been fired for poaching. Rick was unfortunately wearing a Fisheries and Wildlife ball cap, and one hulking guy turned and asked him if he was a biologist. Rick (I knew he was smart), said “No, man, I’m a geologist.”
“What about her?” asked the hulk. Glaring at me, who was gaping stupidly at him because I couldn’t hear what he was saying above the engine noise.
“She’s a geologist too.” 
I smiled gormlessly, no acting involved. Rick elbowed me in the ribs, and told me not to mention fish or anything else to do with the EIA because he was genuinely worried about being dangled from the aircraft at 20,000 feet. I’m pretty sure his soon-to-be wife wouldn’t have approved either. Somehow we ended up in a minibus with these guys, getting a ride from the harbor (float-plane) to the airport in Goose Bay. I sat on some guy’s lap and I’m pretty sure made him feel better about getting fired. Rick and I ran onto the commercial flight, running through the airport, wader sticking out of my backpack. I sank 2 gin and tonics. Not a good idea. 
I hadn’t eaten since breakfast and alcohol enters the bloodstream faster at altitude. By the time I got to Newfoundland I was plastered and as sick as I’ve ever been in my life. I bunked in Brian’s room (the man who’d sent us into danger who was still on the ship) and called my beloved the next day with a shaky, “I’m not feeling too good.” 

Good thing I married an Irishman. My joyful return turned into a murmured, “I’m going to bed,” the moment I got in the door. 

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  1. "right between the ears' Huh? LOL to funny! and I think I would have been pissing my pants with those guys on the plane. BUT then again they were not the brightest fish in the stream!

  2. They weren't bright at all. I felt sorry for them losing their jobs, but I get mad with people for being ignorant and stupid. They could have turned nasty. Thankfully--mainly to Rick's quick thinking--they didn't.