All the Bears Sing: Stories
“This is a book for those who love nature. It is the domain where Macy excels.”
The author’s biography says Harold Macy has worked for the BC Forest Service Research Branch, been a silviculture contractor, fought wildfires, and been a forester on a research farm. The stories reveal the author unquestionably knows the woods, what happens in them, the animals that people them, and the people that frequent and work in and around them. What’s more, he can write about them, and write about them well and entertainingly. And the reader will learn how bears sing: “They go ‘gronk, gronk’ in deep grumbly voices.”
There are 23 tales in this collection. The reader will be treated to language with descriptive lilts. “The early summer lightning storms frolicked a hellish two-step across the forested steeps of North Island, trailing fire from Wolf River up to the hemlock-balsam jungle of the Artlish* that has rarely felt this devil’s lick.” And that is just the first sentence in the book.
Later on, the author treats the reader to: “His sentences clatter like rocks in the rusty wheel well of an old truck climbing a loose gravel road. A few words tumble out, then they stall, spin and roll back down to make another run. Some more verbs and nouns roughly seek form and purpose.”
The author is wonderfully observant of nature. “Water has three forms: liquid, ice and vapour. Mixed they are slush, like quicksand, having no edges, no hardness, offering only passive resistance.” And “A flock of chickadees flitted through the thick conifer branches for a last evening meal from their day’s stash of seeds and beds. They cocked their black-capped heads and watched Abel with bright, curious eyes, He watched them ruffle themselves into feathery footballs of the night.”
Only a few of the tales would be considered stories in the traditional sense where the author introduces the main character or characters, someone upsets the apple cart, there is a struggle to put the apples back in the cart, the apple seller is successful or not, and in the next act he either continues to peddle apples on the street or becomes a global purveyor of apple sauce.
Roughly a quarter of the book consists of a sweet story “Overburdened” about a geologist who hoodwinks a minerals company by spreading information and rightful fears of a tsunami in the community concerning the company’s plans to drill, all mixed with a light romance and technical details.
One of the more entertaining and harrowing tales is “Into the Silverthrone Caldera.” It is about heli-logging on hillsides in the shadow of “Mount Waddington rearing up four thousand metres from riverside thickets, grizzly bears the size of cars with little fear of puny, scampering men, trees like the pillars of Solomon’s temple . . .” The helicopter is carrying a load of logs when it suddenly drops straight into the caldera, the crew smell the sulfur and see the smoke, the ground alarms are clanging, the rotors are grasping nothing, until they do, and everything shoots straight into the sky. Lots of suspense, well done, but not much about the people.
Particularly recommended is “A Heartbreak of Winter Swans.” It is a very short tale of two and a half pages of the cob left behind as the flock, the hen and the fledglings move on.
This is a book for those who love nature. It is the domain where Macy excels. His understanding of it and the poetry he uses to describe it is comparable to the English naturalist Robert Macfarlane.
*The Artlish is a river on Vancouver Island in British Columbia.