Bears Can Paint

Holding the catch of the day

One of the black bears had left an almost perfect, paint-imprinted butt mark on my mattress. After ripping off part of the plywood cabin wall, the two bears had sniffed out the single box left on the shelf beside the door. The box contained, among other things, a can of spray paint my father had meant to put away in the locked aluminium shed last fall. As my parents, brother, and I surveyed the damage my mother said she guessed one bear had bitten into the spray can and promptly covered the butt of the other animal with black paint. The sprayed animal must have backed up and leaned against my lower bunk bed, leaving a unique piece of backside art.

This kind of springtime arrival camp damage was nothing new. I spent the first 17 summers of my life at an isolated fly-fishing tourist camp owned by my parents in Northern Quebec, over 1000 kilometres from Montreal on the Kaniapiskau River. There was no electricity, hot water, or flush toilets. We lived in cabins my parents had built, prepared meals using a propane fridge and stove, and used gas lanterns at night. Two or three times a month a bush plane would land on the lake bringing the all-important mailbag, a food order (given over the shortwave radio a week before by my mother), a new box of 12 books from the Montreal library, and a keen group of city fishermen.

That annual spring-and-fall family migration planted in me a love of reading and also a need to move on a regular basis.
Exploring unfamiliar territory, both through travelling and writing, became my way of engaging with the world and making sense of it.

After high school I moved to Australia, working first as a governess on a sheep station and later stapling boxes and grading pineapples in Brisbane factories. I travelled around the world for two years before settling down to study biology, having been convinced no-one could make a career out of writing. After doing biology fieldwork on remote lakes in Northern Ontario, I moved to Yellowknife, Northwest Territories for five years then headed south (everything is south when you live in the NWT) and went back to school, this time majoring in Creative Writing at the University of Victoria. The year I graduated I met Evan, a fellow nomad. We’ve been together for over 31 years and, along with raising a family, have managed to take semi-regular travel sabbaticals.

Inbetween the travelling, I worked initially as a journalist and freelance writer. Twenty-two years ago I moved into film and television screenwriting and story editing, along with giving writing workshops and teaching screenwriting in Mumbai, India, at the Vancouver Film School (VFS), and at SHVFS at Shanghai University in China. These days I live on a small island a 2-½ hour ferry ride from Vancouver, BC. We don’t have bears, but there are lots of deer. I now focus my writing on the Teen Rebel Series of Young Adult novels.

Hope Bay, Pender Island, BC

According to Ernest Hemingway, gypsies believe the bear is our spirit brother because “he has the same body beneath his hide, because he drinks beer, because he enjoys music, and because he likes to dance.” You and I are part of a small group of people who know they also like to paint.

I can be contacted via Joy Thierry Llewellyn.