I have a short tale to tell you that probably will go down as one of my less stellar moments in my career in advertising. Because of some of the people concerned you will understand that I have to be a little vague on some of the names. Needless to say, the primary protagonist in this little adventure was none other than one who shares their name with a certain occupant of the White House.
Well, I had no idea at the time, of course, only aware that one of the charities that we work with at the advertising agency wanted me to organise Bernard (my photographer) to come to one of their locations for a photo opportunity that I was informed could be very valuable in the fund raising campaigns that we typically manage in the fall.
As a result Bernard and I took the flight from Montreal to Vancouver, and then north to the Yukon, where a local company flew us on to a remote hunting lodge. Now, here’s the back story. Apparently some hunter from the US had decided they want to shoot one of our bears. It’s not that we are short of bears, but the area of incredible beauty that this particular ‘sportsman’ wanted to hunt in is designated as a national park. Now, we take these things rather seriously in Canada. There’s meant to be no hunting of certain species in the national park, however I was informed that a large donation would be made to the conservancy were this particular hunter allowed access, and a special dispensation had been granted.
Naturally I was very skeptical. Frankly, coming from South Africa where we believe guns have a rather specific purpose, people wandering around the wilderness shooting at defenceless animals have never been the top of my list of favorite things. I definitely come from the school of thought that says, ‘if it can’t shoot back, what the fuck are you playing at?’. For those of you who are in the know, I should add that over the years I’ve put more than one bottle of scotch away with Bob Langeveldt in our Mozambique bush camp, and laughed about his adventures with Capstick. But of course, this was at a time and place in which your Mannlicher might be all that stood between you and a 400 lbs lion dismembering you in the warm Africa dusk. In other words, it wasn’t a game.
However, it’s not my place to judge. And knowing me as you do, I know you’ll think me the very last one to be so unfair. I must say, though, knowing what I do know, it did strike me that it’s hardly surprising that one who is too craven to serve his country when called, and hides behind ‘bone spurs’, would have a child that would likely start by pulling the legs off spiders and then progress to shooting defenseless animals.
But I’m straying from the story. Forgive me. So, Bernard and I headed north and eventually settled into a beautiful lodge location, where we found that a certain VIP guest was already in residence. It was late in the evening, and even though it is light virtually all night at these latitudes during the summer, I was very weary and prepared myself for bed. I slipped into a delightful pink nightie, poured a large gin and tonic, and stepped into the cool night air. The sun was low but still cast that lovely flat light we see in the north. As I sat quietly on the deck outside my cabin I heard the footfall of another guest behind me, and a moment later was surprised to find our intrepid hero – let’s call him ‘Ronald Junior’ for the sake of clarity – introducing himself and sitting down with me.
I must say, when uninvited guests simply impose themselves on me I am not generally very receptive. Either way the young idiot seemed to want to talk. Our conversation was really rather one sided, and kept slipping back to him telling me about how large his weapon was. It was really all rather tedious. You see, the trouble is, I’ve hung out with the real thing. However, I did my best to sound impressed and simper like the type of witless bimbo he generally mixes with.
“Oh, Ronald,” I laughed. “You’re so dashing! Tell me about your weapon again!”
And then he launched into some fatuous story about killing a leopard in Africa, while slurping his drink and passing wind in a most disgusting manner. I don’t really think he was emotionally connected enough to realise quite how much he was turning my stomach.
Anyway, the following morning Bernard and I took off quite early to take some general pictures, which we could use as backgrounders in the fundraising material for the conservation charity which was our agency client.
Driving through a small wooded area I glanced over my shoulder as Bernard was doing something with the cases of camera gear. And that was when things started to go wrong. I returned my attention to the road ahead, and there out of nowhere was a huge brown bear standing slap bang in the middle of the road.
I swerved hard to the left, and the Landcruiser bounced into the wooded landscape, skidding to a halt miraculously without hitting a tree.
“What the hell was that?” said Bernard still shaking.
“That was a grizzly.” I said. “Stunning!”
Bernard grabbed his camera and was about to open the door when I stopped him.
“Bernard, that’s eight hundred pounds of ‘I’m going to eat you and your camera’ out there. Let’s stay in the vehicle and back up.”
I put the vehicle in reverse and slowly edged back toward the road. As we slipped and slid reversing toward the road Bernard looked out the back window of the Landcruiser.
“Oh my god, Fiona,” said Bernard. “You killed that majestic creature.”
“That’s impossible,” I said. “I didn’t hit it! Even if I had, I would’ve put my money on the grizzly!”
After watching the carcass of the bear for a few minutes we climbed out of the vehicle. Bernard was right. The bear was dead as a doornail. There was no sign of any impact, and yet here he was. We looked at the magnificent creature and marveled.
“What could have happened?” I asked.
“Well, I don’t really know,” said Bernard. “But he looks a pretty old guy. Look at the grey hair around it’s muzzle.”
I looked closer, and very gingerly opened the bear’s mouth. I don’t know that much about bears, but I could see this was an old animal. His teeth were pretty ragged, and quite a few were missing.
“Is it possible that he was old and had a heart attack?” asked Bernard.
“It’s possible, I suppose,” I said. “Either way, it’s dead. We can’t leave it here, and it doesn’t look very good for the agency, going around killing bears when we’re supposed to be promoting the conservation of the area.”
“But it was an accident!” protested Bernard.
“Sure,” I replied. “But it’s still a dead bear.”
I thought for a moment. After a little head scratching I had an idea.
“Let’s move it off the road and hide the carcass. I’m sure we’ll be out of here before anyone finds it. After all, it’s not like there’s many passers by. We’re in the middle of nowhere after all.”
With this resolve we took a rope from the back of the vehicle, looped it a couple of times around the carcass and then used the Landcruiser to drag the bear into the bush, where we sat it up behind a thicket as though it were sitting leaning with it’s back against a tree. The once magnificent creature at least looked peaceful in it’s last pose. Well, it was the best we could do.
Once everything was set in place I drove back to the road, and then Bernard and I decided we’d go back and check we’d not left any incriminating evidence. A careful look round and we felt quite sure no one could connect us with the untimely demise of the bear. And there everything should have rested, and without further complication.
As Bernard and I walked back toward the road and out vehicle something happened that really shouldn’t have. We heard the crack of a rifle report. Then another. It must have come from a couple of hundred yards from the road, and while we couldn’t see anything, it didn’t take a genius to figure out who might be hunting in the area.
Not wanting to stick around any longer Bernard and I took off at a run, climbed into the car and hot footed it back to our luxury cabin fifteen minutes down the road. Once back in the camp we had a coffee and tucked into a late breakfast.
It was after this great brunch that we strolled out to the front of the camp to find a scene of great excitement. There was my visitor of last night, Ronald, posing with a huge grizzly, lifting it’s enormous head as his photographer took photo after photo.
I suggested Bernard take one or two pictures for the fundraising campaign, and as we looked closely at the bear we could see we’d met this fellow before. There was no doubt about it. It was the poor old fellow that we’d met out on the track.
“Great shooting Ronald,” I said.
“It was a tough one,” he said proudly. “I had to stalk him. He was sitting at the foot of a tree, and I don’t think he ever heard me.”
“Ahhhh… that’s wonderful. I’m sure he didn’t hear you. You must be very proud.”
“It takes years of practice, of course.” He said. “I remember one time….” And then he started droning on.
I decided to slip off to the bar with Bernard. Fortunately we got a flight out later that day and stayed a few days in Vancouver. To be quite honest I don’t think I could have stomached the company a moment longer. Fortunately Pride Week is in full swing in Vancouver and I was able to spend time with people that I could actually respect.
But there it is. The life of an advertising executive is never easy.
Till next time,