Initially published as a column in the AM News on Friday, March 20, 2015.
The most magpies I have seen at one time in our front yard is six. It was January and everything was covered in deep snow then and the six birds were an instant one-of-a-kind decoration for an otherwise barren, dormant tree.
They often scratched in the snow for delicacies only a bird could appreciate and one spot was of particular interest. Enough to steal my attention from writing.
My desk is adequately positioned to provide the best lookout and, aside from the elderly couple that looks up and waves every day as they pass by our house, the magpies have been a welcome interruption since I noticed their elegant attire.
Now there are two left and one seems to be particularly active collecting twigs for a secret project hidden in the cedar hedge. It has to be the nest. According to my reference book, the female preps the inside of the nest, while her partner builds the outside.
They belong to this neighborhood as much as every other resident, and more so.
On my runs on the trails nearby I see crows doing the same this time a year. Twigs, dirt, soft feathers and grass will make it all right for the baby birds to come. The one thought that stuck with me one of these mornings was that their rituals have never changed. Perpetual building of nests every spring, responding to instincts so strong that nothing can stop them from doing what they’ve been doing forever.
The adjacent thought was the unfortunate interference of us humans in all of that nature-driven dance. We do it for many reasons, while often forgetting that the first thing we should do is try to understand nature and how everything works, from the tiniest critter to the most imposing. That in itself would provide a natural barrier towards stomping our feet where we’re not supposed to.
Yet these days we interfere without putting in the due diligence of knowing more, or enough to do it right.
As the provincial government was unfolding the plans to kill wolves in order to protect the dwindling herds of caribou, I wrote a couple of articles about the unfairness of it – given that human encroachment on caribou habitat should be the first to be addressed.
It was suggested to me at the time that I read Ernest Thompson Seton’s story called ‘Lobo, the king of Currumpaw’. So I did. I picked up a copy of ‘Wild Animals I Have Known’ and read more than the wolf story.
I’ve always been a nature lover; no creature was too small or unworthy of consideration. Yet Seton’s accounts of his encounters added an extra layer of dedication to the cause. It takes time to understand nature. Beyond the figure of speech, being observant for long enough, you are rewarded with facts that will deepen your respect for every living thing. There is so much we do not know. Fascination redefined.
Such was Seton’s gift, and so many others’, from old times and new, and the message is one: everything in nature has a purpose, and it is a privilege that we can be part of it. As of late (make that the last couple of centuries here in North America), we have overstepped our welcome in ways that can be described as callous and irresponsible at best.
During the few months of homeschooling my eldest, we focused on Canadian history as one of our subjects. As if the subject to a conspiracy theory of some sort, a common refrain kept surfacing in regards to many aspects of life in early Canada.
Animals were plentiful, until greediness drove many to the brink of extinction. Land and water creatures were hunted, trapped and fished until there was nothing left. Nothing is without end, save for time itself.
Nature’s resilience is well known though, so conservations and repopulation strategies brought many back. Yet despite many successes, repopulating areas once devoid of animals is often less successful than expected. A lesson we should learn from.
If lack of knowledge was a justifiable excuse then, what is our excuse now?
The wolf cull that started a month ago continues. It will be so for the next five years. At the same time, not nearly enough has been done to see the caribou habitat from human activity, the real culprit in the decline.
The grizzly bear trophy hunt that will see somewhere around 300-400 grizzlies killed, unless cancelled, will add another black eye to the already bruised reputation of a province that proudly displays on many a license plate ‘The most beautiful place on Earth’.
Words can be as pompous as we want them to be, yet the provincial government has been on a course to undermine the very thing we are so proud of by allowing animals to be killed for fun or in a shortsighted strategy to protect other species; it allows for parks and pristine areas to be mined and pipeline-invaded while the reality of climate change presses for renewable resources and conservation strategies that should see next generations able to enjoy the same beautiful places we still have around us.
As it turns out, at least 90 per cent of British Columbians oppose the trophy hunt, yet their voices are undemocratically ignored. Many conservationists agree that shooting with the camera and leaving the place as you found it is the way to go. Even that, with care, and with the understanding that we do not own the rights to do as we please but are here to learn how to live and let live.
The magpies – considered by some nothing more than pests – fly in and out of the hedge as I write this. One perches on the tree while the other crosses the street in low flight and returns with a twig of considerable length. There is nothing that makes me think of greediness. The bird makes frequent stops and I cannot help but be charmed by his determination (according to my book that would be the male, and yes, magpies mate for life) to build a good nest for his babies.
Again and again, that makes me think… if only we could stop long enough to observe and learn, if we could add enough thoughtfulness to our actions, that might just give our life and that of our children’s a measure of what we’re truly capable of. Because truth is, we are a brilliant species, yet that should serve to humble us and enable us to raise to such expectations in earnest, rather than entitle us to act as if we’re here to own a place that will, nevertheless, have the last word.