“I see why you take advantage of these massages,” I said to Norm on the second night. “My only question is: how come only three a week?”
Norm just gave me his Cheshire grin and asked if we’d like to fly over the Coast Mountain glaciers the next morning, weather permitting. We told Flint to move our fly-fishing excursion to the afternoon and went with Norm the following morning. “It’s really quite spectacular,” Norm told us as we looked down upon the snow capped mountains and the sliding glaciers. “There are four distinct biomes in this area. There’s desert, forest, grass lands, and marshes. And the wildlife is abundant—the falcons, eagles and hawks, the bears, moose, cougars, the salmon and rainbow trout. You can fish, bird and bear watch, mountain bike, horseback ride, cross-country ski, or just sit on the balcony, sip Scotch and smoke a Cuban cigar with Flint. It’s really all here in our backyard.”
Hiromi wasn’t sure about flying in Norm’s small plane (“It isn’t small,” he said. “It can seat six.” But it seemed small to us) and she really wasn’t sure when Norm asked if I’d like to fly it. I had been wondering what we would do if Norm keeled over while we were in the air and here he was, offering to give me a flying lesson. So I took hold of the wheel handles and did as he said, turning the plane to the left, to the right, up and down. Hiromi got very quiet behind us, sure that this was a huge mistake. But it wasn’t hard to learn and we managed to get back safely, though had Norm asked me to land the plane I’m sure we’d have wound up in the pasture, upside down, with the dogs running to rescue us.
There weren’t many other guests while we were there, but one couple told us a bear story over dinner that caught our attention. One of the perks of staying in small lodges is meeting new folks and hearing stories like this. The woman’s name was Leslie and she was a physical therapist. She said that her brother and his friend were once walking somewhere in Canada and came upon an angry black bear. Her brother had an axe, so he told his friend to run for help while he stood his ground. The bear charged and he swung his axe and slashed the bear’s face. That stunned the bear, which only made it more determined to attack when he came to. But on the second lunge, the axe entered the bear’s neck, knocking it down. Instead of trying to finish off the bear, her brother started to run. After some minutes the bear regained its senses and took off after the young man. Just as the bear reached him a shot rang out and the bear fell dead. His friend had managed to return with a rifle, and the two had a story to tell for the rest of their lives.
“Did you believe that story about the bear?” Hiromi asked me that night.
“Yeah, it probably happened. Canada’s a pretty wild place. And you saw the black bear today grazing the wildflowers. They’re around.”
“Do you think you could swing an axe at one?”
“If I was with you, I wouldn’t have to.”
“What do you mean?”
“I can run faster than you.”
She didn’t quite appreciate my humor, not knowing if I was being funny or serious, so I thought I’d better change the subject. “How many of the dogs can you name?” I asked.
“More than you can,” she said.
I tried, but stumbled after four: Elmo, Bessie, Jack and Anna.
“Bett, JoJo, Bernie, Echo, Sage, Benji and Joy,” Hiromi said. “You owe me a hundred dollars.”
“What are you talking about? We didn’t bet.”
“While you were running from the bear, the dogs came and chased it away. Pay up.”
Now it was me who wondered whether my wife was kidding or if she’d gone mental. But then I remembered that she could whisper to horses. Who knows what she might do with bears.