Voices from Russia

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Russia: Beware of Foodie-Bears!

Barbara-Marie Drezhlo. Was it Your Turn to Lick the Spoon. 2012


T-shirts in souvenir shops in Moscow’s Arbat tourist district read, “I’ve been to Russia, there are no bears”. The print mocks the popular stereotype that Russia’s all about endless cold winters, vodka, and bears have rescued a couple after a bear broke into their countryside home, attracted by the smell of fresh borshch. A patrol turned up in the early hours after a neighbour raised the alarm and found the couple hiding in their sauna, where they temporarily lived as their home was under renovation. Meanwhile, the bear enjoyed hot borshch in their garden. A warning shot was enough to scare the intruder back into the woods. No one was hurt, although the bear damaged the building. The couple said that they’d left the homemade borshch to cool on the porch and went to bed. They woke to “loud banging” and saw a bear breaking the windows of their glassed-in porch. Then, it got inside and treated himself to all the borshch, which was still hot and delicious. Often, people spotted bears looking for food around dachas in the area before, but happily, no one reported any attacks.

Although the case may seem funny to some Americans, but he who laughs last laughs best, as encounters between bears and humans are actually not that rare in the USA and Canada, and may far exceed those reported in Russia. Thus, recently, hungry grizzlies in Yellowstone National Park were really determined to share a meal with people. Since the area is popular with tourists, officials had to issue a warning after they recorded several bear attacks on visitors in the park straddling Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. Officials with the park and two national forests that border it said that numerous recent sightings of bears seeking berries and other foods near roadways and popular trails prompted them to issue the advisory, which called on campers to take precautions like carrying bear spray and hiking in groups. Some 600 federally-protected grizzly bears wander around Yellowstone and its border areas. Each year in the region there are about five encounters between bears and humans that result in injuries. Fatal attacks are rare.

In recent years, conservationists said that climate change caused a decline in whitebark pines, which produce the nuts that are a food source for grizzlies and black bears, forcing them to roam around, starving and frustrated. Late summer and early fall are typical times for encounters, as bears begin to seek out more food to pack on pounds before going into winter hibernation. At the same time, summer is the peak tourist season for national park visitors. In July 2010, a grizzly killed a camper and injured two others in a national forest in Montana near Yellowstone. The following year, in separate attacks, bears fatally wounded two hikers. On 15 August, a grizzly wounded two hikers at Yellowstone, but a second pair of hikers warded off the bear with bear spray. The same day, a grizzly bit two biologists collecting grizzly habitat data in Idaho near the park. The scientists drove off the bear with bear spray.

Meanwhile, Nevada wildlife officials pressed local governments near Lake Tahoe to penalise residents for not having bear-proof trashcans, saying that existing regulations to address trash-raiding black bears are insufficient. The Reno Gazette-Journal reported that Nevada Department of Wildlife Director Tony Wasley told trustees that they could address the vast majority of human-bear conflicts by decreasing the availability of human garbage. He said, “Ultimately, total removal of human food sources as an attractant for bears is the only way to avoid these types of human-bear conflicts”. Wasley also thought that it would help matters if the district enforced existing laws that penalise residents for being careless with their trash. Local jurisdictions already have rules on the books to address problems posed by trash-raiding bears, but many residents don’t think that they go far enough.

In the Canadian province of Ontario, the bear population dangerously grew to an alarming number. According to a recent census by the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, there are some 150,000 bears in Ontario; no one is entirely sure of really how many of them there are precisely. The bear population has increased every year since the cancellation of the spring bear hunt in 1999, and so has the number of incidents involving bears, including a vicious and unprovoked attack on a woman near Peterborough. Thus, some local activists favour an early season hunt.

In the northern part of the Canadian province of Manitoba, a polar bear chased and bit a man. Earlier this month, the bear chased Garett Kolsun whilst he was walking home after a night of celebrating with friends in Churchill. It cornered him on a porch, swiped at him with his paw, and sank its teeth into his hip until Kolsun said he managed to distract it with the light from his mobile, which allowed him to flee to safety. The Hudson Bay community has fame as the polar bear capital of the world, and it attracts tourists coming for at least one glimpse of the predator. Nevertheless, the animals pose a threat to residents, and when they’re captured, they’re kept in a holding facility that’s commonly referred to as the polar bear jail.

However, this particular offender got a new home in a Winnipeg zoo. Margaret Redmond, president of the Assiniboine Park Conservancy, said that, within the next few weeks, the bear would be transported from Churchill to the International Polar Bear Conservation Centre. Redmond said that this would be the first polar bear from the wild to be housed at the facility, which the conservancy opened last year. On Saturday, Redmond said, “Otherwise, it was determined that he was going to be euthanised because he was such a danger”. His new home will eventually be part of a new four-hectare (10 acres) exhibit, due to open next June, that profiles northern Canada’s animals and its fragile environment. Redmond said that she hasn’t personally spoken with Kolsun about how he feels about the polar bear’s new home in Winnipeg, but she said that provincial officials talked with him before the decision was made. Kolsun suffered only a few superficial puncture wounds and scratches from the attack. Redmond said, “He feels very good about this option, he sees that this is an opportunity for the animal, rather than having to be euthanised, to serve as an ambassador to his species in what will ultimately be a very large and comfortable area for the bear”.

That was a lucky escape for the Canadian bear, but his black pal captured after it wandered through Athol MA wasn’t that lucky, as Massachusetts Environmental Police euthanised it. They caught the bear after it climbed a tree and police tranquilised it. A spokesman for the state environmental affairs office told the Athol Daily News that, after that, the bear couldn’t be released in New Hampshire or Vermont, as both states are holding black bear hunting season; they have an agreement with Massachusetts that any “chemically immobilized” animal can’t be released into the wild within 45 days of the season’s start. It’s not hunting season in Massachusetts until November. However, the spokesman said Environmental Police euthanised the bear, instead of releasing it, because the chemicals used to tranquilise it are potentially fatal to any hunter who might shoot the bear, then eat it.

Another black bear felt at home in Gatlinburg TN and was caught on camera walking the city’s streets, climbing up the steps of the local convention centre, and even following the crosswalk to cross the street. ABC News said that Tricia Alexander captured a video of the bear, then, posted it to her Facebook page. She was sitting in her car, but not everyone had the good sense to keep at a distance. As the bear made its way through the city’s streets, weaving in and out of restaurant-goers, people clamoured to come within just feet of it in order to get a good picture of with their mobile-phone cameras. Dr Marcy Souza of the University of Tennessee School of Veterinary Medicine told local ABC affiliate WATE, “Unfortunately, a lot of people in our society are getting more desensitised to wild animals, as we move more and more into this digital age, and we don’t actually get out into the woods, so, you don’t encounter these animals very frequently except for on TV. Although he looks cute and cuddly, they can actually be pretty fierce. That bear probably weighed somewhere in the range of 800 pounds (363 kilogrammes) would be my guess, and they can do some serious damage if he got cornered as he did in some of those situations”.

A commenter on Alexander’s Facebook post wrote that he works near where the video was shot and the bear “comes around all the time”. Alexander herself commented that she had another encounter with a bear on the streets of Gatlinburg in 1997 in a hotel parking lot. The abovementioned cases are just a few in a string of human-bear encounters registered in bear-inhabited communities, so their residents should better not banter about Russians and their hungry bears. The borshch-eating bear was at least decent and well-behaved… he finished his meal and left like an Englishman… with no goodbye.

5 October 2013

Voice of Russia World Service



Sunday, 17 March 2013

One of My Favourite People… Stompin’ Tom Fans, Friends, Family Throw Joyous Memorial

00 Stompin' Tom Connors. RIP. Canada. 17.03.13





A public memorial to Stompin’ Tom Connors was a joyous celebration Wednesday night, as thousands of devoted fans packed the Peterborough Memorial Centre to pay homage to the late Canadian country icon with songs, signs, suds, and one standing ovation after another. An eclectic mixture of Canadian musicians, politicians, and Connors’ close friends remembered the unique, black-hatted songwriter behind Bud the Spud and The Hockey Song, whilst jovial spectators… who’d spent the day lining up for access, some singing Connors’ songs and sipping beers… responded enthusiastically to every tribute, clip and anecdote.

Connors’ long-time promoter Brian Edwards said as he introduced the festivities, “We’re going to show you we really know how to throw a party”. Whilst the ceremony had its sombre moments, from the start, it was clear that this wasn’t meant to be a mournful event. Given that Connors had an integral role in planning the memorial before his death last week, Edwards and others were able to say with certainty that the rousing remembrance was conducted exactly the way Connors would’ve wanted. He even handpicked most of the line-up of performers, beginning with a spirited fiddle medley from Billy Macinnis, who frequently played with Connors. Calgary’s Tim Hus performed his original tribute Man in the Black Hat, Connors collaborators J P Cormier and Dave Gunning teamed for an inspired medley of Little Wawa and Gumboot Cloggeroo, Sylvia Tyson and Cindy Church collaborated on an elegant version of Connors’ Farewell to Nova Scotia, and former Rheostatics frontman Dave Bidini contributed his take on Bridge Came Tumbling Down.

Testimonials from Connors peers including Rita MacNeil and Liona Boyd were read aloud, whilst country legend Tommy Hunter sat close to the stage. In a series of speeches, Connors was remembered as tolerant, authentic, clever, and surprisingly warm for a guy who, as Bidini attested, could occasionally level a stare so intense it was “terrifying”. Connors was even, according to Edwards, a savvy Scrabble player. Former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson spoke at particular length about her friendship with Connors, whom she remembered as “truly wonderful”, saying, “Stompin’ Tom, the man that we’re celebrating today, is that very unusual thing… something that we can all agree about as Canadians. He was a gift to us as Canadians. I think the secret to his gift was that he knew that he was giving it. When Stompin’ Tom stomped on that board, he stomped ‘Canada, Canada’ into our hearts. We didn’t ask for Stompin’ Tom. He just blew onto us like a wonderful wind”.

Canadian politician and author Ken Dryden, famed of course as goalie for Connors’ beloved Montreal Canadiens, reminisced on the joy he felt hearing The Hockey Song ring out in arenas during his NHL days, saying, “Tom could do two things I always wanted to but couldn’t… sing and wear a cowboy hat”. Dryden later asked the audience to stand for the “national hockey anthem”, and a collective sing-along of Connors’ most famous tune commenced. Indeed, the crowd was rarely quiet for long. The speeches were intermittently interrupted by outbursts of applause, cheering or the odd shout of “We miss you, Tom!” from the passionate assemblage.

The evening did begin with a rare solemn moment, as nine members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police carried Connors’ casket… covered entirely in a Canadian flag… onto the stage. Connors’ wife, Lena, then, walked out to a rousing standing ovation and placed a black cowboy hat on top. Other personal effects surrounded it, including a piece of plywood like the hunks of wood Connors used to bury his boot in onstage. The memorial then began, and the fans were ready. A technical glitch prevented the audience from hearing the sound during a video of Connors performing The Peterborough Postman, but some observers were undaunted. “Everybody sing!” shouted one spectator. Added another, “Come on, we all know it!”

Many pointed out that Connors would’ve relished the celebratory mood. Tyson said, “Tom orchestrated this whole thing. This is his show… and he’s here”. Damhnait Doyle sure seemed to understand the spirit of the evening, pausing dramatically just before her performance of The Coal Boat Song, saying, “I need beer… it feels weird not to do this without beer”, before charging offstage and returning with a brew in hand.

While Connors actually lived a couple hours away in Halton Hills, Peterborough made sense for a few reasons. It was there that Connors first received his famous “Stompin’ Tom” moniker, a nickname conjured up by a waiter at the King George Tavern back in 1967 after observing Connors hammering the stage with the heel of his left boot to keep time. He subsequently found a particularly warm reaction from the southeastern Ontario town, and he was given the keys to the city years ago in an honorary gesture. Brian believes Connors played Peterborough more than any other town. However, on Wednesday night, fans flowed in from all over, from Vancouver to Prince Edward Island, where Connors spent his early life. Many shared their memories of Connors as they waited for the service to begin.

Musician Joe Bulger recalled that when he put out a CD in 2006, Connors sent him a postcard of congratulations, saying, as he clutched a laminated copy of the letter, “We’re all here for the same reason. He’s a class Canadian and that’s all you need to say about the man. There’ll never be another Sir Tom”. Added 34-year-old Sara Maclean, “It was very cool to know that this is a piece of history that I got to take part in”. The final speech of the evening belonged to Connors’ son, Tom Jr., who noted that this was the first time the late singer’s four children ever gathered in the same room. In his tribute to his dad, he looked to the future.

Tom Connors Jr, who bears a striking resemblance to his famous father, said, “We’re giving him the best send-off we possibly can because he did everything he could for us to feel better about being Canadian. He travelled coast to coast seeing all of you. There would be no Stompin’ Tom without all of you. I heard some people comment at the funeral, saying there’d never be another Stompin’ Tom. Well, I got news for you. We still have a Canada, and we still have the roads, towns, people, jobs… and that’s what Tom wrote about. So, never say ‘never’… he never liked anyone copying him, but anyone who wants to sing about Canada, keep ‘er on going. It’s nice to travel south. It might be warmer on the skin, but if you go east and west, it’ll be warmer on your hearts”.

After the casket was carried offstage, Edwards said that Connors specified that he didn’t want the night to end on a down note. So, a flock of musicians returned to the stage to sing Sudbury Saturday Night, while audience members danced in the aisles.


13 March 2013

Editor’s Note:

Stompin’ Tom wasn’t known much “south of the border”… that’s because all too many Americans are navel-gazers, who think that Canadians are a form of American (they’re not, emphatically not). Don’t forget, English-speaking Canada sprang forth from the United Empire Loyalists, who rejected the “American Revolution” root-and-branch. Need I mention that Stompin’ Tom’s particularly loved by the NDP set? I didn’t think so…

That is, Canada is what it is, and it’s most definitely NOT “America North”…



Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.