Bears, wolves, and salmon for the soul

Three black bear mothers wait turns at the favoured fishing spot. Photo by Ian McAllister, Copyright 2014
Three black bear mothers wait turns at the favoured fishing spot. Photo by Ian McAllister, Copyright 2014

It has been a brutal week, in many of the world’s places but most acutely for those of us who live in Canada, washed by a torrent of grief, outrage and increasing bombast over the murders of two Canadian soldiers and a madman’s attack on the House of Commons.

Perhaps, like me, you will find salve for the soul in Ian McAllister’s photos, the excerpt of his book, and above all the video accompanying his new project Great Bear Wild: Dispatches from a Northern Rainforest.  My first career plan, alongside writing, was as a biologist. Since I abandoned the science of biology for the craft of journalism, a lifetime ago, there have been countless times when my mind has drifted back to a certain stream, redolent with wild mint and damp earth, in Canada’s Wood Buffalo National Park. I held a long-ago summer job in that vast park, living rough in the Boreal forest far from human settlement, “commuting” to work projects by paddling a canoe or zooming in skiffs along the mighty Peace River. The experience was life-altering, and it convinced me that everyone should spend time, real and significant time, existing — just being — in the natural world. 

Ian McAllister does just that as a lifestyle, and with this project he brings his audience into that world.

Here’s a sample of his piece in F&O:

Looking down through the occasional breaks in the spray and mist, I can see hundreds of black salmon heads and tails rising occasionally above the swirling foam. Large house- sized boulders fill the tight gorge, forcing salmon to swim through fast-moving tunnels below. It is a coho salmon bottleneck. A fishing derby is not far off. Downriver, the early run of pinks is mostly spawned out, and I see a small bear stand up on its hind legs to access some crabapples. The sharp tartness must be a nice respite from the decaying corpses floating downriver. When I passed those swimming carcasses earlier in the day some of them were moving and technically were alive, but their souls appeared to have since departed, their bodies unable to shut down after such a constant journey. …  click here to read Great Bear Wild: Dispatches from a Northern Rainforest

McAllister is also now on a book tour through Western Canada and the U.S. — here you can find the dates of his talks in places from Vancouver (tonight, Oct. 24) to Portland, Banff, Seattle, and elsewhere.