Snakes and Grizzly Bears

By David Alexander Grant

Ana says it’s a matter of principle – you should always tell people the truth.

I’m inclined to be more circumspect. When visitors come to stay with us they should have peace of mind – and mentioning snakes on the website won’t encourage peace of mind.

“It’s local fauna, and they’re not poisonous, so where’s the harm?” Ana asked. “It’ll add to the allure!”

But there’s little allure in the image of snakes slithering down from the rafters.

“We’ve only seen one or two, and they were very small,” she said.

“Five, and one was quite large.”

In the end, we did mention the snakes, and we also made much of our window netting, which is guaranteed to keep out anything that moves on its stomach, and every other class of creepy-crawly.

The netting was a substantial investment – we have seven bedrooms, which is a lot of gauze. But we can boast (on and off the website) that undisturbed tranquillity is assured when you stay at the Mountain View.

Tranquillity extends to the evening entertainment. We don’t have any. The only live music to be heard in our precincts comes from Dino, chef de cuisine and general factotum, when he is moved to whistle a popular melody while dicing vegetables.

“We should at least have a folk singer,” Ana suggested when we first sketched out the business plan. “Visitors will go for that. I’ll do it myself if you like.”

“My wife will not sing for money!” I replied, allowing what I felt was an edifying touch of husbandly hauteur into my voice.

“That or an erotic floorshow,” she said.

“Would you be in the floorshow?” I asked, curious.

She took umbrage.

Anyway, we have no music (or erotic floorshow). Our guests come to ski in the winter and to hike and bird-watch in the summer. When they return at dusk they want nothing more than wholesome food and a good night’s rest. If that sounds like something from a nineteenth-century health-spa prospectus, all I can say is that it seems to suit our twenty-first century visitors.

It certainly seems to suit the Schönborns from Graz, who arrived at the start of the week.

“You have wonderful mountains,” Mrs Schönborn told me. She spoke with a mixture of surprise and envy, as though I didn’t look like the sort of person who would have wonderful mountains.

“We dabble” I quipped.

She examined me with benign incomprehension.

“My husband and I are going to explore!” she announced, speaking quite breathlessly, as if she were Dr Livingston or Ferdinand Magellan.

“Watch out for the bears.”

“You have bears!”

Mrs Schönborn looked at me even more intently. I think I know what she was thinking – the presence of bears in my wonderful mountains might reasonably have been mentioned on my wonderful website.

“Oh, from time to time,” I acknowledged truthfully, “but they rarely come down this far, and when they do, they stay well away from humans.”

“But how will we know to stay well away from the bears?” Mrs Schönborn asked with disconcerting Germanic directness.

She had a point, I suppose. I felt metaphorically pinioned to the pigeonholes behind the reception desk.

I was saved from having to answer, by the timely appearance of Mr Schönborn.

“Helmut, there are bears!” said his other half.

He looked around as though he expected to find a grizzly strolling from the bar to the restaurant.

“Friendly ones?” he asked hopefully.

“Generally not at all unfriendly,” I said.

“Have we to feed the bears?” Mr Schönborn asked.

“I wouldn’t recommend it.” I tried to sound emollient. I had only mentioned the bears in a moment of discomfiture, perhaps because of Mrs Schönborn’s sceptical surprise at the beauty of my mountains. “But the chances of meeting one are very small.”

“We shall certainly tell you all about it if we do,” Mr Schönborn remarked genially, extending a companionable arm to Mrs Schönborn.

Like that, they set out to explore my mountains.

“You didn’t tell them about the bears!” Ana scolded.

“It’s a matter of principle,” I remarked smugly. “One should always tell the truth!”

“You have to go and help Dino in the kitchen. We have an intruder.”

“A bear?”

“I wish!” Ana said. “It slithered in through the kitchen window and now it’s holed up behind the fridge.”