A bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck

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Where: Waterton, Alberta, Canada

At the top of Bear's Hump for a view of Waterton Lake

Plate of food: This isn’t a plate of food; it isn’t even a complete meal, but it deserves a place here. It is a Bear Paw (sometimes known as a Bear Claw). Before I have animal rights activists lashing out at me with their non-leather shoes (oops), let me explain that this isn’t actually a bear’s paw. Us Canadians, we like to name our foods in a way that challenges the mind as well as the palate: each food is like a riddle. Those that are unaware ask themselves, “What am I actually eating?”, while the friendly Canadian chuckles and wryly shakes his head. Take, for example, the Beaver Tail or Cowboy Caviar or Moose Droppings….it is typical of our latent (albeit hokey) humour. Anyway…

A Bear Paw is a disc of caramel toffee coated with chocolate (obviously dark chocolate is the best, right? Right!). To complete the illusion of a real bear’s paw, cashew nuts are stuck into the caramel as claws. Aha! Genius!

No chocolate here, but a cast of a real paw. So scarily big that it made my butt cheeks clench. Yeah, you heard me right.

Culinary snobs might sneer at this being my memorable food from Waterton, which is home to many fine restaurants. The rest of us, however, will acknowledge that you cannot go wrong with caramel and chocolate and nuts – in the shape of a BEAR’S PAW.

When you go to Waterton (you really should), you take yourself straight to Welch’s Chocolate Shop and buy yourself some Bear Paws. Hopefully it is the closest encounter with a bear that you will have during your visit!

The best: A day hike to Bertha Lake (to work off those Bear Paws or, in my case, to justify eating 3 more of them). There are innumerable hiking paths around Waterton and we did a different hike each day we were there, but this was my favourite.

It was a beautiful sunny day. We climbed up from the townsite on a dirt path through pine forests. We often stopped along the way, where the trees parted and wildflowers bloomed, to gaze down at the valley. Despite being in Waterton at the height of summer, there were hardly any other hikers on the trail. It was quiet and peaceful, and satisfyingly hard work. We crossed clear, rushing streams with water so cold it made your fingers ache. Soon we moved further into the trees where it was darker and spongy underfoot with pine needles. Eventually we descended to Bertha Lake and saw a majestic sight:

Wow. Just, wow.

It was breathtaking to come across this perfect vignette of green trees, silver mountains, and blue sky, all mirrored in the crystal waters of the lake. The view made me want to burst into a moving rendition of “Oh, Canada” (even the French verses, that’s how touched I was by this). It was worth the effort of hiking for hours. Bertha Lake is not easily accessible and for that I am grateful – it can remain a hidden treasure, unspoilt and untouched.

We did not linger at the lake, despite its magnificence. As I communed with nature and made grand statements about spirituality, Mother Earth, and giving up eating Bear Paws just for this, Matt’s body suddenly went rigid next to me.

“I saw a bear”, he said.

“S**t”, I said.

Gone was the spirituality and the nature and the beauty. It was replaced with us frantically searching to see where the bear had gone, me hissing at Matt about whether he saw a black bear or a grizzly bear (really? Does it matter at this point?), and me maniacally clapping my hands like a deranged seal because we all know that that is how you scare off a bear. Either that or it is like a dinner gong to a bear – clap, clap, Bear! I am dumb enough to think this will scare you away. Come and get me!

Luckily we had lingered at many lovely spots along the way to Bertha Lake because our return trip was very hasty indeed. I went at a steady trot the entire way, still clapping intermittently which startled a group of Texans, but no doubt had no effect on bears in the vicinity. We made it back to Waterton without any problem, and promptly went and had a…beer (you didn’t think that a Bear Paw was going to cut it this time, did you?).

Story that needs to be told: One afternoon as we walked through town we came upon a house set amongst tall pine trees. It had a pleasant yard, but the owners had placed two plastic deer on their lawn. You’ve seen these before – a doe laying in the grass and a buck standing frozen with one hoof poised to take a step. They exist in the realm of duck ornaments stuck on the exterior of a house or macramé owls hung in the kitchen. That they exist at all confounds me.

It struck me as funny that people would have these lawn ornaments in a place where you regularly see wildlife, but it takes all sorts. I laughed, joking, “You should take a photo of me with that deer in a headlock. We could tell people it was real!”

Smiles still on our faces, we continued walking. As we crossed the street, the lawn ornaments suddenly got to their feet and stared at us. Now, I know that most of you knew that was going to happen, but I assure you, I did not. Blame it on the chocolate I had consumed, but it took some real brain work to figure out that the figurines had moved…no, wait…oh, they’re NOT figurines!

We stopped and waited as the deer delicately picked their way across the lawn and disappeared into the trees.

I then spent the rest of the evening (much to Matt’s delight) pondering what would have happened if I had tried to get my headlock photo. Play along with me, won’t you?

Imagine me cockily crossing the street and doing some body builder poses for Matt. Ha, so funny! Then, imagine me actually getting close enough to the doe (in my mind I had targeted the one laying on the ground) to get my hands on it. Warmer than I had expected! Imagine the deer being so bewildered by this giggling, show-boating girl that she would freeze rather than flee. Imagine me locking my arms around the deer’s neck while I try to arrange my face into an outdoorsy and fearless expression. Cor! Now imagine the look on my face as that deer rears up to her feet, fed up with this foolish girl trying to strangle her. What the..?

Imagine all of that caught on camera. I’m almost sorry we didn’t try.

All together now - "Oh, Canada...!"

“When I’m in Canada, I feel this is what the world should be like.” Jane Fonda

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5 responses »

  1. What a great post! I remember have close encounters with deer in Waterton National Park also on my first visit years ago, and coming from Europe I definitely wasn’t used to that. There were deer everywhere: in the woods, on parking lots, between cars – and they didn’t move even when you got very close. Amazing!

    • Thanks so much for taking the time to read my blog! Yes, Waterton has so much wildlife – I sometimes wonder if there are more deer than residents!

  2. I love this one! (I love all of them so far, but i love this one!) I love the use of the word “cor”!! and the description of trying to ward off the bear…i remember many a hiking trip with my parents and me sporadically clapping my hands just in case! 🙂

    • It makes me so happy to hear that you love this! Thank you, my friend. And, yes, I can’t hike without clapping…it just comes over me!

  3. Wow – that bear paw is something else! So glad I didn’t run in to any of those guys when I was cycling through! I had heard of a few campers having a run in. Gorgeous shot of Bertha lake – such an amazing area. Just gorgeous.

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