Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Living Within Nature's Wild Precincts

"Claudia and I didn't want to play the game anymore. We wanted to do something different."
"We didn't have a clue what to do here [Yukon]. But it was our future. We just knew we had to be here."
"This is not a place for a city person. But we learned how to do everything."
"Claudia was unconscious. It took me 20 minutes to get to the medical centre. The nurse was there. We needed to do CPR. I held Claudia's feet as we brought her inside."
"I was able to see her afterwards. Her face was serene, beautiful. I took her hand in mine. I smelled her We lit a candle in the nursing station, because Claudia loved candles. We always had 20 or 30 candles burning in the house. I lit a candle. I said goodbye to my love."
Matthias Liniger, Four Mile Creek, Yukon
Video thumbnail for Matthias Liniger talks about how his wife Claudia was mauled to death by a grizzly
Claudia Huber, her Malamut companion Kona, Yukon

"Being in poor condition, and still out at this time of year, this particular bear was looking for food. It was looking for a moose, a caribou, a road-kill."
"This was a chance encounter."
Ryan Hennings, Environment Yukon conservation officer

We were ourselves concerned about the potential of chance encounters when we set out twenty years ago with our youngest son, a biologist, to do the circuit of Bowron Lakes, set in the Cariboo mountains of British Columbia. We asked the provisioner from whom we rented the canoe and paddles we used, whether it might be wise to buy pepper spray. He looked sideways at our fit and muscular son, shrugged, and said in an aside to him, that he could easily outrun his mother. Ha-ha.

When we were paddling daily from lakes to rivers on the circuit, settling down in the late afternoon to set up camp, pitch our tent and prepare dinner, we were busy, and didn't give too much thought to coming across a grizzly, though they were there, somewhere, just not where we happened to be. Idly, we would occasionally focus binoculars at mountain slopes opposite our camp. At night a tall ladder had to be lifted to nearby trees where a platform rested high in the forest canopy, and where our food backpack had to be left overnight; standard camping procedure anywhere in the wilderness.

At one juncture in our week-long circuit we happened to come across a different type of food security arrangement, one that we understood was no longer in use. This was a food safe, a large rectangular steel safe presumably used at some camp sites in the past. It had seen better times. Clearly, a grizzly or a succession of grizzlies, had attempted to open it, their keen sense of smell informing them at any given time while in use, that it held edibles. That steel strongbox was dented, askew, worn and depleted; a complete and utter wreck.

Another time we paddled toward a pebble beach where we took the opportunity to stretch our legs a bit after hours of paddling. In the rain. Always in the rain. The week we were there the rain was interminable, never-stopping but for brief intervals. And since we were at about the 3,000-ft.level, it was cold; we wore winter jackets under rainsuits. We were still able to set up our tent and prepare our campsite, somehow, and deconstruct it all the following morning before once again setting out for our day's adventure. On that beach we saw the distinct prints of caribou and wolves.

Nature in all its wonder and fury holds an irresistible attraction for many people. The geology; paddling on a liquid-blue lake, the wind blowing, surrounded by the peaks of mountains marching off into the distance, the green of conifers to the treeline, then a cone of snow. As it rained during the day, you could look up, above and see the snow spreading on the mountain summit. It is breathtaking, beyond beautiful. At night, hearing a screech owl is an experience unlike any other. During the day, seeing birds in flight, and sometimes a large salmon swimming the river you're paddling on, another experience.

Claudia Huber and Matthias Liniger meant to change their lifestyles completely, not just fly across a vast country as we had done, to experience raw nature. They dreamed of leaving Switzerland and the work they did there, for another kind of lifestyle opportunity. As a child he had dreamed of the natural world and the animals that inhabit it. He had been to the Yukon years earlier. Years later the Swiss-German couple travelled to Canada then drove about in a rented recreational vehicle.

The Yukon property of Claudia Huber and Matthias Liniger.  Claudia was killed by a bear.
Matthias Huber   The Yukon property of Claudia Huber and Matthias Liniger. Claudia was killed by a bear.

They looked at a property, a rural property on Four Mile Creek in 2006, outside the village of Teslin in the Yukon and having liquidated their Swiss property, they bought the one they looked at and were to name their own. They became Canadian citizens and looked for work nearby. They learned their way around. Claudia herself was able to work a trap line, shoot a rifle, use a chainsaw. They planned to turn their property into a retreat for the adventure-bound tourist who might want to stay with them in one of the two cabins they were to build for guests.

They were aware of being vulnerable to a degree, and were careful to take bear spray when they were out and about. They had a large Alaskan malamute as a companion and early-alert warning system. On October 18 of this year Kona the malamute began barking furiously at eleven in the morning. That led Matthias to venture outside to see what had upset Kona. He had left his rifle inside. In the ensuing succession of events, the grizzly entered the house smashing through a window, leading Claudia and Matthias to exit it.

By then Matthias had his rifle. But by the time he managed to shoot the grizzly it had chased down and already mortally mauled Claudia. He hurriedly drove his wife into town for medical help. She did not survive, though heroic measures were desperately taken to try to save her life. A funeral took place in Whitehorse for Claudia on Wednesday. Her husband plans to remain, with their faithful dog, at the remote cabin site on Four Mile Lake To forge on with their plans to transform the property into a tourism destination.

"Coming to the Yukon was our dream. We were so proud when we got our Canadian citizenship. I hope I can stay on at Four Mile, just to feel Claudia's spirit around me. She is everywhere, in that place. I have to find a way to hold onto that", he said, speaking with Joe O'Connor, a journalist with the National Post.

National Post Graphics

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