I’ve been reading the news about a man who became stranded in the wilderness for three months after a bear attack.
Marco Lavoie, an experienced outdoors man, was on a long canoe trip through a remote part of Quebec (or hiking according to some reports, but given the geography I’d think he was more likely in a canoe). When he didn’t come home as expected, his family reported him missing. He was found ten days later close to starving and in the early stages of hypothermia.
Sometime in August, a bear attacked Lavoie’s campsite. According to the Montreal Gazzette, “police suspect that in early August, a bear ravaged Lavoie’s camp while he was away, swiping his food supply and destroying much of his survival gear in the process.”
A bear can make a mess of an empty campsite. I have a bear story from Andrea Dorfman about a bear who destroyed her tent for a tube of toothpaste. I will post this on Friday.
But back to Lavoie, in some press it is being reported that he killed and ate his dog to survive. Other outlets have made it clear that this is unconfirmed. From all accounts Lavoie went through a horrific ordeal and is lucky to be alive. His recovery comes first. The story comes later.
In reading the news, there are two things that come to mind:
1) The line is between life and death in the wilderness is thin, especially when alone. I’ve traveled alone many times and my preoccupations while packing were not bears, starvation or hypothermia, but weight. Carrying too much stuff can slow you down, put you off route and cost too much physical energy. I can understand why Lavoie was traveling with only the basics.
2) I had a new appreciation after watching “Modest Livelihood” by Brian Jungen and Duane Linklater, a silent film about a moose hunt. The last few scenes are of butchering the moose, something I had never seen. I was struck by how physically hard the job looks and also by the technical skill involved to ensure every part of the animal is put to good use. My brain had conveniently skipped over really thinking it through.
What of killing a dog? Lavoie aside, there is a conversation to be had around whether you could kill your own dog to survive. I think of one of my favourite short stories, To Build a Fire, by Jack London. In that case, I’m sure the dog ate the man. A more domesticated dog might not? I don’t know. The range in dog behaviour is probably as broad as the range of human behaviour.
I also think of Chris McCandless in John Krakauer’s book, Into the Wild. McCandless killed a moose, but wasn’t versed in the arts of butchering and drying meat. The moose meat quickly went bad.
My point is that before seeing “Modest Livelihood“, I would have focused on the killing the dog question–could I do such a thing, if it meant my life? I would have focused on that question alone.
Now, I’m equally focused on the question of skill. Killing an animal is not to be done lightly. If I was ever going to think about doing it, I’d want to make sure I could do it right and not make waste of the life.