Sunday, June 26, 2016

BAD DOG! – And Other Things to Say When Training a Bear

With the recent anniversary of the death of my amazing friend, Babak (Armi) Armajani, I’m reminded of the many wilderness canoe trips he and I shared in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) and Ontario’s Quetico Provincial Park. Among our countless adventures, a few provided stories that are especially memorable. This is one of them.

                                                *          *          *

We were several days out on trail, paddling down a long, narrow lake toward our next portage. It was about 4:30—plenty of daylight left, but we always tried to claim a campsite early. According to the map, there were several on this side of the lake, but we’d already seen one other paddling group, so we grabbed the first decent site we came to.

Over the years, the various tasks of setting up camp had settled into a comfortable yet efficient routine for us. Some of us start unpacking tents and cooking gear; others venture out in the forest for firewood; and a couple of guys start looking for the perfect tree from which to hang the food pack overnight, out of reach of bears.

Now, any one of us could have hung the food pack, but Armi, well, this was one of his many specialties; he fancied himself a food pack virtuoso. First off, it had to be just the right tree—the best ones are a ways off from the cooking area and tents, and have one rather isolated, horizontal limb, about 15 above the ground. A rock with a strong rope attached is thrown over the limb at least six feet away from the trunk. One end of the line is tied to the pack; the other end pulled to lift the pack up at least ten feet and then tied off on a nearby tree.


That’s about as far as most folks’ thinking about food pack hanging went. But Armi felt he understood bears; he thought like a bear. So he would ply his art one step further. There had to be a complicated way, after the pack was hoisted, to tie off the rope. Like a special knot; like wrapping it around two adjacent trees instead of the customary one; or adding a dummy rope to cut even the cleverest bear’s chances of untying our pack to 50/50.

While Armi and I perfected the apparatus, our cohorts were busy pitching the tents, cutting and piling the firewood and collecting water from the lake. Before long, our personal gear was in the tents and dinner was on. All was good.

      Someone—or some thing—was emerging 
      from the lake and coming ashore just 25 
      yards from our tents.


About an hour after we’d hoisted the food pack and turned in—just as my exhaustion was finally starting to get the better of my discomfort—I heard a curious sound coming from down at the landing. Water splashing…dripping…being noisily shaken off. Someone—or some thing—was emerging from the lake and coming ashore just 25 yards from our tents.

I knew right away it was a bear. A few seconds later I heard it snuffling around over where the food pack was. I felt around for my flashlight and slipped out of the tent as quietly as I could. Armi had beaten me to it. He grabbed the frying pan and a big spoon from the cook kit; I, a mug and a plate; and we ventured out to meet our adversary.

By this time everyone was up and “armed,” right on our heels. The rather large black bear was standing up on its hind legs right under our food pack, intent on smells seeping through the canvas that I’m sure conjured a bear smorgasbord. We unleashed a cacophony of aluminum-on-aluminum percussion, and the 500-pound animal, barely bothered, turned, considered us for a moment, and then ambled back down to the landing and swam away.

            If that bear thought it had gotten 
            the better of us, it didn’t know Armi.

Ten minutes later, back in our sleeping bags and just coming down off the adrenaline high, we heard, from the next campsite down the shore a few hundred yards, a familiar dull-metallic clanking and shouts of “Shoo!” and “Hey, get out of here!” We all hoped those poor folks couldn't hear our laughter.

But we weren't out of the woods; ten minutes later, incredibly, the determined bear was back with us. This time, though, it seemed to have learned a new trick. For instead of standing frustrated under our food pack, it knew to follow the rope down to where we'd tied it off—twice—and started clawing at the knots. Smart bear.

But if that bear thought it had gotten the better of us, it didn’t know Armi. This time, amid everyone else’s impassioned arm-waving and clanking of pots and pans, he’d evidently had enough. He took a couple of bold steps toward the intruder, which turned toward him and roared. Armi, undeterred, raised his right hand and, shaking his index finger at the massive carnivore, shouted at the top of his lungs, “Bad dog!  BAD DOG!!

At this—no lie—the bear turned in shame and slunk away toward the water. We never saw it again.

Thanks for the memories, Armi!


Unknown said...

Holy Toledo!

Jeffrey Willius said...

Thanks for stopping by Laurie! Yes, it was as exciting as it was funny. Have you had any close encounters with wild animals?
BTW, I've tried many times to leave comments at your beautiful site, but WordPress and I are not friends -- at least when it requires I check in before commenting. Sorry - I usually go to FB and comment there. :-/

Anonymous said...

Yes, thanks for these memories, Jeff. This is the perfect Babak story. I miss my cousin but I have great memories of our BWCA trips together.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you found your way to my post, Karen. One of my favorite memories of all time. And I know so many others for whom he provided such gifts. Babak was definitely one of a kind.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic story Jeff. Well told as always.

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