the short story project


RJ Belcourt

Bear Bells

My mother-in-law, Dora, visited us last summer. She is from Lima, Peru, a large South American city of over ten million people. My wife and I wanted to show her a taste of the vast beauty of Alberta and the Canadian Rockies. The grandeur of the magnificent Rocky Mountains is only four hundred kilometers west of our home in Leduc. We planned a long weekend holiday in Banff, including a visit to Lake Louise and a bonus side trip to beautiful Emerald Lake just inside the British Columbia border.

Immediately upon arriving at Lake Louise in the early afternoon, we spotted a couple of mule deer eating grass on a hill by the parking lot. Lake Louise itself was spectacular, even more incredible than the glossy photos of the lake that grace so many Canadian calendars. My mother-in-law could not imagine the existence of another lake or landscape that could surpass this majestic view.

We headed west along the winding Trans-Canada Highway, across the BC border towards Yoho National Park. We crossed a suspension bridge high above the Fraser River and started our descent to the gravel valley below, past the town of Trail. I turned off the pavement at the outskirts of town and followed the narrow road to the Emerald Lake Resort.

Parking the car, we followed the main trail through the trees past a few picnic tables. A welcoming board displayed a map of the trails in the area with a notice to be cautious of bears. Dora asked if it was safe to continue towards the lake. I assured her that, although bears are always a concern in the National Parks, the presence of hundreds of tourists talking and making noise in this location kept most of the bears away. Only slightly reassured, she nervously followed us to the water’s edge.

At the shoreline, Dora stood speechless. Captivated by the natural beauty before her, she released a long wistful sigh, a soft smile of peace and contentment enveloping her face. The glassy surface of the jade-colored waters of Emerald Lake mirrored Wapta Mountain and Mount Burgess that stood on the opposite shore. The effect was surreal, like a painter’s impressionistic rendering on canvas. Our senses nearing overload, we continued on a short hike exploring the trails around the lake and the flower gardens around the resort. On the way back, we stopped at a little kiosk for a dark-roasted coffee and a fresh pastry before crossing a small wooden bridge leading to the boathouse and souvenir shop. The boathouse rents canoes, kayaks and rowboats in summer and cross-country skis and snowshoes in winter. As I browsed around the shop, looking at miscellaneous souvenirs and trinkets, I noticed Dora standing at a gift rack, a puzzled look on her face.

‘What are these bell bracelets for?’ she asked.

‘They are bear bells, for keeping hikers safe from bears,’ I explained.

Dora examined the bracelet closer and, with a confused look, asked, ‘But how do you get these on the bears?’

We drove back to Leduc later that afternoon, feeling happy and rejuvenated by our day in the wilderness. We tried not to tease Dora any more than we already had.