A true story.
It was mid-July, I was a fourteen-year-old boy sitting with my father in a small pancake house near the lake in Banff, giving all my attention to the daily crossword puzzle in front of me. The aroma of powdered sugar and blueberries wafted through the restaurant, it was pleasant. I was relaxed, though I was beginning to get very irritated when these two elderly men in the booth behind me were blabbering about something. I could see in the mirror in front of me that he leaned forward, put his arms on the table and said: “those people are so utterly wrong.” I did not understand what he was talking about until I noticed an old television screen mounted in the corner of the room, a news channel was on and they were discussing gun laws. The man sitting across from him said “they don’t understand why we hunt, we hunt because it is fun, not because we like to kill. If we liked to kill then we would be murderers.” He agreed and they both nodded their heads. On this day, I was given a better glimpse at the ethical nature of the individual — the true motives of these bloodthirsty, undoubtedly cowardice, men.
Later that day, my father and I decided to go on a hike through Chephren Lake, a secluded hike through the picturesque mountains and lakes of Banff. As we entered the trail there was a large metal sign that cautioned hikers of the dangers of bears and other wildlife, it read “you must hike in a group of four.” We ignored the instructions and continued on.
The route we took had sparkling wet black rocks which had been worn down to form a smooth path of stones to cross a flowing river. I could feel the cool breeze coming off the raging rapids to my right, and the sound of the running streams of fresh water was rather soothing. We were now walking through a chestnut-brown forest with parsley-green leaves — the tangled arms of the lush trees rose ever upwards, as far as my head could turn. A pair of jays were shrieking very high up in the trees, almost like a warning call.
We walked past three hikers. There were two males and one female, all wearing large neon-yellow backpacks. As all five of us went around a corner, a crashing sound could be heard from my left, and I instinctively moved to the right. I saw a young black bear with its right paw trapped in a steel-jawed bear trap. The bear gave a gasping screech and staggered up, and then dead silence. Its roar was horrifically loud, and the sound was disturbingly human. I thought it was clearly crying for help. I could see it’s paw was swollen and tightly clamped in the razor-sharp spikes of the trap. I could distinctly see the excruciating pain it was in. The bear had an open wound on its paw, and the fur was completely ripped off the skin, I didn’t want to believe that I could see exposed bones but I could. The thick blood spewed out of the bear, dripping slowly to the ground below. The leaves beneath the bear were no longer parsley-green, they were bright red. Seeing this bear made it feel like time stood still. I could feel every second pass. I couldn’t breathe. Reality had yet to set in. I looked at the oak trees between us and the bear and imagined they were the steel bars in a prison cell locking the bear in. I wondered who really should be imprisoned: us or the bear? What are we? Animals? Or humans? “What are we going to do?” I asked my father, “There is nothing we can do, so we’ll just go,” he replied. I didn’t understand how we could just leave the animal there; it was suffering, it was in pain. The other hikers didn’t seem to care about the dying animal. As they were abandoning it, one of them muttered “so sad,” and the women replied with laughter, “who cares.” This was the moment when I was unsure who really was the animal, this group of humans, or the animal itself. Then, I saw my father walking away from me, I didn’t know what to think of this. My conscience was telling me one thing, while my father was telling me another. There wasn’t anyone telling me what to do. Only me. I told myself that the bear would live, but I didn’t believe it. The bear was starting to fight less against the pain, its breathing was ragged and very uneven. I could hear the sound of jays high up in the canopy of trees, it sounded familiar. I didn’t want to get left behind, so I took a deep breath and walked away.
Afterward, at the end of the hiking trail, there was a group of four national park Rangers discussing something, they seemed upset. The three hikers from before, the ones that also saw the bear, walked passed the Rangers, and the Rangers asked them if they saw a black bear trapped. The female hiker quickly replied “no,” without skipping a beat. It was obvious that the Rangers didn’t believe them, but it didn’t really matter — did any of this matter?
A short while later, I walked to a small fountain on the side of the road to clean my hands after the hike since they were very dirty from all the climbing we had to do. The water was crystal clear, I could see my reflection looking back at me as if I was staring into a mirror. I put my hands in the water, it was much colder than I had expected. I tried to wash off the powdered dirt from my hands but it was challenging, the filth would not come off. Only then did I realize it was not water. Alas, my bloody hands.
In the end, I never found out if that bear had ever been saved. I often wondered if I did something wrong. There is no rule saying that you have to save animals if they are injured, yet I still sense that I did something that I should be ashamed of. I was never really bothered by the bear. Actually, maybe it was the bear that bothered me. Seeing that dying beast made me witness things I never wanted to witness, feel things I never wanted to feel. Maybe humans are just horrible. We seem to have an impulse to act based on self-interest and scorn moral rules. Looking back, the experience I had with that bear was very much enlightening. I don’t think those three hikers were bad people — I think they are just a representation of human nature and society at its finest. They didn’t want to get their hands bloody and, I don’t blame them — blood does stain.