Joanne Barnaby – the Hay River woman who made international headlines in June with an extraordinary story of survival in the wilderness – has given a deeply personal account of her amazing adventure.
On Sept. 15, she gave a public talk at the Hay River Heritage Centre about being stalked for almost 12 hours by a wolf while mushroom picking on June 10, and escaping by leading the wolf into a fight with a mother bear protecting its cub.
While that account is well-known, it was Barnaby’s explanation of why she believed it all happened that was surprising and moving.
“It turned into a real spiritual experience,” she said. “That’s obviously why it happened.”
Barnaby said she was confused while being stalked by the wolf, especially by a strong feeling of sadness she felt from the animal.
“I didn’t know what the heck was going on,” she said. “I didn’t understand that really powerful sorrow. And I actually cried a lot and I cried a lot for that wolf while I was out there and after when I came home.”
Barnaby said the wolf was really tall and skinny, and it was in bad shape.
“He looked like he had been in a pretty serious fight. He had rips in his one side,” she said, recalling that at one point she could even see the animal’s ribs.
Barnaby said she was confused by the animal’s aggressiveness – baring his teeth and growling – and the sense of sadness that she felt from the animal as he cut her off from heading back to Highway 5 south of the Sandy Lake turnoff and kept moving her and her dog Joey away from the road.
“I went through phases where I’d get really scared and I’d start praying, and I’d get angry and start cursing, and then back to prayers,” she said. “I started talking to people out loud. It was a way to keep my sanity from the mosquitoes mainly. They were so loud it was hard to hear.”
She said she even started talking to deceased relatives and asking for guidance, and received their spiritual help.
“In a crazy way that kept my sanity,” she said. “I said things to them that I should be saying to them all the time. Telling them I loved them. It was a way to keep my mind occupied.”
After hours, she heard a mother bear calling for its cub.
“And I know the sound. I’d heard it many times,” she said. “So I thought about that and I prayed about that.”
And she asked one of her deceased relatives what to do, and the message that she got was to go to the cub because that’s where the mamma bear would be going.
“I wasn’t nearly as worried about the bear as I was the wolf,” she said. “I had lots of life experiences with bears and I’m not afraid of them. Some people think I’m crazy for that but that’s the way it is. I talk to bears and they respond to my requests. When I ask them to leave my yard, they leave. And when I’ve asked them when I’ve been out on spring hunt to leave my beaver pelts alone they do that, even when they’re hungry.”
Barnaby said it took quite a while to hear the cub’s response.
“When I finally heard it, I went in that direction,” she said, recalling she probably walked for a good half-hour.
“When all of a sudden there was this big crashing behind me,” she said. “The bear had caught up with the wolf and had taken on the wolf, and so I immediately headed toward the highway as fast as I could hobble.”
She said the bear attacked the wolf at about 4:30 a.m. and she made it back to the highway by about 8 a.m., where she spotted the searchers looking for her.
Barnaby then began to contemplate what had happened.
“After this was all over in the days that followed, I started talking to elders and talking to people who had experience,” she said. “It took a few weeks to get fairly clear in my own mind as to what had probably happened, what was going on with the wolf.”
Some of the elders speculated the old wolf was probably a leader who had been challenged, lost a fight and had been kicked out of a pack.
“That’s why he was alone,” said Barnaby.
She also said she had further insights after going into a sweat to restore her spiritual strength after the experience with the wolf.
“I was still really disturbed by that sadness. It was like sorrow,” she said. “It was so deep in that wolf and it was so powerful. It was really, really disturbing me. And so going into that sweat really helped me become at peace with that.”
After the period of reflection, Barnaby has come to believe that the wolf was looking to die.
At the conclusion of her talk to 18 people at the heritage centre, Barnaby was asked about the possibility of a movie about her adventure.
“I’m talking to a whole variety of people,” she said. “One of them is, I think, very serious. We’ll see.”