21 Nov Read all about it in the Guardian!
By any measure it’s been a fine year here at Grizzly Bear Ranch.
The bears have been healthy and numerous in our valley (with the exception of a slow week in September), the weather has, for the most part, been glorious and our guests have been plentiful and pleasant.
After putting our hearts into making every holiday at the ranch a winning one, the end of October marks that time of year when the grizzlies head into the high country to sleep, our guests return to their winter habitats and we baton down the hatches against the approaching winter.
November is usually a month of mixed blessings – many of the animals depart, the weather turns cold bringing in driving rain and snow and the road at the end of our driveway turns into an ice rink.
But we also get a chance to pay off our debts, visit our friends in the valley, read cherished books we have carefully squirreled away for just such occasions during the busy summer, and get in the firewood.
November is also the month we make our annual pilgrimage to Vancouver to feast on Chinese food, take in the multi-ethnic sights, sounds and smells, stock up on provisions not available locally and browse the multi-story bookshops.
Inevitably, perhaps, this year it has not all been plain sailing.
After spending thousands repairing and replacing the suspension, steering and brakes on one of our Land Cruisers at a specialist workshop in Vancouver, it spluttered to a stop 10 miles from home.
The alternator had blown. For the second time in two months. As we struggled along in the dark the words that the mechanic who last fixed it used to reassure Kristin came floating back to me: “I’ve rebuilt it… it’s as good as new… will last forever.”
We finally made it home in our second car but the highway that leads to our house (a glorified goat track as those of you who have been to the ranch will know) is now so potholed that it is shaking our remaining Land Cruiser to pieces.
Back at the ranch we threw ourselves at the firewood with vigour. Every couple of years we buy a logging truck of timber – each load must scale in the tens of tons – and it was waiting patiently for our return.
Sporting a fancy mesh face shield, ear protectors, kevlar gloves and steel-capped boots (I’ve learned a thing or two since arriving in the wilderness) and with Kristin keen and willing to help, we set about dismembering the first of several dozen nuclear missile-sized trees.
And then the saw broke. It didn’t explode glamorously in a fiery inferno or fling bits of searing metal around my head but merely putted-putted disappointingly to an early death.
“Your cylinder’s blown,” the local man told when I took the hapless machine in for repair.
“Can we nurse it back to life?” I whined. “At least for another season or two?” The global economic downturn has been weighing heavily on my mind of late.
“A season or two!?” He looked at me as if I was stupid. “It’s not going to start again. Not even once.”
An hour later, and several hundred dollars poorer, I walked out with a new chainsaw and a worried knot in my stomach. We have six months without income ahead and you certainly can’t eat a chainsaw.
Then, back at the ranch, the house electrics began to go haywire. One of the two chargers that is the backbone of our off-grid system went bonkers and began to spit out unprecedented levels of amperes threatening us with a Chernobyl-style meltdown.
I dived for the main cut-out switch, just in time I’m sure, and, unlike this time last year when we fried the entire system, we are still, thankfully, fully-lit and computerised.
As always in this valley, however, every cloud, it seems, is somehow balanced out by a ray or two of sunshine.
The weather has indeed been beautiful and this morning we woke up to our first proper dusting of snow. The dogs charged around the garden in fits of ecstasy snapping at each other and ingesting huge mouthfuls of the white stuff.
Even better tomorrow we have our annual vodka party for our friends and neighbours in the valley. It’s one of two annual parties that we host.
The first is a reasonably cultured and civilised affair at the end of October, when we invite a small handful of grizzly biologist friends to the ranch to talk bear and raft elegantly down our beautiful river.
Tomorrow’s, if last year’s performance is anything to go by, will be a mad, frenzied free-for-all. If the grizzly biologist party is the social equivalent of Bach, tomorrow will be Iron Maiden.
Last year it was left to Kristin to emerge shortly before dawn, eject the recalcitrant hard core and detach me from a bottle of liquor as I slurred the words to Sunny’s alcoholic riffs on the guitar.
This year I promise to behave better. On a more sober note, we have another milestone to celebrate tomorrow too.
After a happy visit earlier in the year, Patrick Barkham, one of most lucid and elegant scribes at The Guardian, has put pen to paper to detail our exploits and endeavours here in the valley.
The last time I was in a position to flaunt our little operation to such an audience – that time it was on BBC radio – I was so scatter-brained that I forgot to mention the name of the ranch.
This time, fortunately, the ball is in safer hands. If making us out to be a little odder than we actually are, Patrick has nevertheless done us proud.