________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 9 . . . . January 6, 2006


Bear Encounters: Tales From the Wild Side.

Jim Nelson.
Edmonton, AB: Lone Pine Publishing, 2005.
232 pp., pbk., $16.95.
ISBN 1-55105-534-1.

Subject Heading:

Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.

Review by Gillian Richardson.

** /4


It was getting dark, which at this time of year meant it must be quite late. Roberta didn't feel sleepy, but neither did she feel like lighting the lantern to read or to fix another pot of tea. She pushed through the curtains into the stale, blind dark that was the bedroom. (The partition had been put in as an afterthought, too late to provide the bedroom with a window.) Roberta found it claustrophobic. She lay on her back, staring into the absolute dark and imagining her little salad garden, and eventually drifted into dreamless sleep.

She awoke with a start, to the sound of ..... glass breaking? The window in the other room was being smashed to pieces! A wheezing snort, or grunt - the bear! The bear was breaking into the cabin through the window! (From “Diary of a ‘Towerman.'”)


With the increase in reported clashes between bears and people in recent years, numerous books offer true accounts of such incidents. Storyteller Jim Nelson has created a collection of short fiction loosely connected by bear and other wildlife encounters. His rationale, described in the introduction and echoed in the epilogue, deals with the error of taking nature for granted, and he points to respecting the bear as a symbol of the power and grandeur in what remains of our wild lands.

     Eleven stories and a couple of anecdotes in the introduction and epilogue comprise the collection. Most of the stories focus on close encounters that result from the carelessness, lack of common sense, or disrespect of humans who venture into bear habitat. In half of the stories, the bear emerges victorious: one grizzly repeatedly raids camp supplies outsmarting a seasoned guide; a couple of timber cruisers find themselves stranded between a determined mother and her cub; a ghostly polar bear inspires a skeptical photographer to pay closer attention to the spirit world. On the downside for bears, one tale focuses on the unfortunate outcome for a young bear that has been tempted too close to the setting of a political summit at an Alberta resort. A couple of the stories do not feature bears: a bullying rooster is the nemesis of a would-be cowhand in one, and wild pigs foster rebellion against arrogant authority in another.

     The best structured story of the collection portrays a young woman stationed at a forestry fire tower who is content to ponder the daily presence of a bear watching her cabin. Roberta doesn't mention the animal to male coworkers lest they raise the issue of gender-based courage. Although she doesn't doubt her own resourcefulness, her bravery is tested when the bear attempts to enter the cabin one night, becoming stuck halfway through the small window. Roberta is forced to shoot it. Any question of courage is settled, although at the expense of an old, almost toothless and apparently starving bear.

     Unfortunately, the lead story in the collection exhibits the weakest structure and no thematic satisfaction. Initial character development is dropped abruptly as the scene shifts to the actual main characters eight pages into the story. The protagonist professes to have the bears' best interests in mind but fails to elicit empathy as he 'rescues' an orphaned cub for a life as a one-ring circus performer.

     While most action scenes are tightly written, well paced and tense, the collection is uneven in writing quality. It may be of interest to young adults or adults looking for light reading.



Gillian Richardson, a BC resident, is a former teacher-librarian and freelance writer.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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