While painting the bogs along the boardwalk to Liard Hot Springs in British Columbia, I was interrupted by a park vehicle that needed to pass. The driver and I peered at each other and realized we’d met the prior year. My husband and I had walked out to the hot springs in the late evening, by starlight, armed with nothing more than towels. That park officer gave us a ride back from the hot springs in the middle of the night, stopping to check for bears frequently along the way.

“What are you going to do if you see one?” I asked. He gestured at the brush with his pistol. Not that he was trying to kill a bear; he just wanted to make a big bang to frighten it.

“Good thing he gave you a ride,” his brother told me. In 1997, a bear attacked four people at the hot springs. Two died and two were horrifically injured before the animal was shot. The park remains a hot-spot for bear-human interaction. When the blueberries are bad, the bears come down the mountain and enter the human areas of the park. The average tourist is clueless about bears, as I was reminded when I saw them exiting their cars to take photos of bears on the side of the road. As I had been that night when I walked to the springs with no whistles, no bear repellent… not even a flashlight.

The bears of British Columbia are not our eastern black bears. “People tell me that they saw a ‘little’ bear,” the park worker told me, “And when they’re trapped they turn out to be 350 pounds. That’s 350 pounds of muscles, claws and teeth.”

The park is full of warning signs about them (“A fed bear is a dead bear”) and instructions on what to do if you encounter one. Even though this is by far the best hot spring I’ve ever visited, I’ll never walk down to it in the middle of the night again. I didn’t on this day, either. Instead, I set up on the boardwalk to paint the tamaracks turning gold in the warm autumn sun.

In 2016, my daughter Mary and I set off across Alaska and Canada on a Great White North Adventure, which you can read about starting here. We arrived in Anchorage at the beginning of September and got home in mid-October. In between, we visited every province but PEI (been there, done that), and Yukon Territory. In retrospect, it might have made more sense to do this during the summer, since Alaska and Canada threw a mess of strange weather at us.

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Tamaracks is 8X10, oil on archival canvasboard.

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