by Megan Lane MacDonald
My great-great-grandmother, Mary Haffeay of Newfoundland, immigrated to Prince Edward Island in the late 1800s after marrying Mike Fitzgerald. At that time, large swaths of the island were still unsettled. They lived on a small farm near Morell, surrounded by wilderness. Back then, the roads were little more than paths through the woods and people had more day-to-day interaction with the wildlife they cohabitated with. Mike was a sea captain so Mary was often left to tend the farm on her own.
One day she had to go to the village to get a bag of flour. She was wary of going through the woods on her own but, despite her trepidations, she made her way to the village without much trouble. Her return trip was more difficult. As she was walking home with the bag of flour on her back, Mary heard a sound from up ahead. A whistle. She knew the sound was the warning whistle of a bear approaching. She froze in her tracks, weighed down by the heavy bag of flour. Her heart hammered in her chest. She did not know whether to go forward and try to get home quickly or to go back to the safety of the village. Either way she couldn’t run without leaving the bag of flour behind. Her choices became more complicated when she heard a whistle from behind her as well. She wondered to herself, was it an echo? Or was she caught between two bears? Or was it the same bear but it had now moved beyond her towards the village? Was the way ahead now safe? Maybe the whistle had been behind her all along?
She couldn’t be certain. But her chances going forward seemed better; at least she would be closer to home. So she went ahead, warily, keeping an eye and ear out for further signs. Her legs shook with every step but she tried to remain calm. Then, suddenly, she heard a rustle in the bushes along the road ahead! The breath left her body as she watched an immense black bear amble slowly out of the bushes and cross the road only a few yards ahead of her! She waited, dumbstruck, as it slipped back into the trees. It was a few moments before her legs moved again. She recited a Hail Mary to steady herself and, once she was certain that the bear had passed far enough not to notice her, she hurried home.
She reached home safely with the flour and a story to share with all who would hear it. Even in her old age, Mary Haffeay often recounted the story to her grandchildren. She had lived through a lot by then, had birthed six children and lost two, had known sickness, poverty, and struggle, but she still marked that encounter as one of the most terrifying moments of her life.