Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on March 22, 2021.
Do you remember the first couple of months into the pandemic when social media was inundated with images of wild critters strolling through cities and other areas usually frequented by humans that were suddenly empty due to people staying home? Photoshop tricks notwithstanding, we were indeed witnessing a different level of interaction with mother nature and its wild children, albeit from a far.
Nature, it is safe to say, has since become the ultimate and absolute saviour of humanity as the COVID-19 crisis progressed to envelop us into a grip that has yet to lessen. We cannot travel the way we used to, but people took to nearby trails and when and where allowed, they went camping.
Originally published as a column in the Armchair Mayor News on Friday, November 28, 2016.
The last two weeks have been tragic in many ways. If you’ve read the news and are perhaps waiting for something positive on the diesel spill near Bella Bella, you most likely know about the unacceptable low-class response that came from the government.
Yes, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans PR team build a nice little positive update stating that the tug boat that leaked diesel into the water has been pumped clean and the attention is now focused on removing the Nathan E. Stewart barge from the waters near Bella Bella. Right. And then?
Then not much. Our premier said that what we have learned from this spill is that the federal government needs to provide better spill response for any future unfortunate incidents. As for the environmental impact of the spill, including the local economy and way of life… chances are you won’t hear much from either the provincial or the federal government.
The latter is likely pondering over the slew of lawsuits that come with the latest governmental insistence that the LNG terminal near Prince Rupert must continue. It will be a big mess, if we are looking at the Muskrat Falls protests that just about wrapped up this last Wednesday though many scientific arguments were brought against the LNG plant, nothing influenced the federal mind towards rethinking the project.
If it sounds topsy-turvy, it’s only because it is. Who is then to stand up for what’s right environmentally speaking? Ideally us, the people who live here and raise our children here hoping that the world we leave to them will be a liveable one. The question is: are we? Are we united in adopting the one goal that can see us alter the course just enough to ensure survival? Hard to tell at times.
A couple of weeks ago my family and I drove through Cache Creek and witnessed a road check by conservation officers. They were searching for poached animals. A few days later I heard on the radio that over 70 wildlife act violation tickets were handed out and some warnings as well. That was of course, in a small community in the interior. Care to guess what the province-wide poaching stats look like? Your guess is as good as any and no one can tell real numbers since there are far too few conservation officers in the field and the paper work that is done by those tied to their desks does not include poaching numbers.
I’m ready to say if you describe these scenarios to anyone without mentioning this is happening in Canada, they’d never guess it was here. After all, we should have world-class spill response units and technology in place, we should have objective and careful documenting of environmental consequences following a spill, we should by now have a ban in place that will protect the West Coast and preserve its pristineness and yes, we should have enough conservation law enforcement officers and tough enough laws that will deter most of the marauders from poaching. People should not be expected to fend for themselves like the Heiltsuk Nation people are doing now and there should be news of the spill all over so people can stay informed, talk about it and help. No environmental crisis should be ignored, no desperate outcry muffled by pollical positivity that can almost (and cruelly so) pass for facetiousness.
Our planet overall is not doing too well either. Climate change is still debated in some circles (beats me) but there are signs that cannot be ignored and science-based facts that stare us in the face. Among them, a recently published report that predicts the disappearance of two thirds of all the wildlife should we not adopt some quick and drastic changes to how we live as citizens of a planet suddenly too small too crowded and seriously taken for granted. It’s enough to make one tear up and ask how this is possible.
Pollution, unrestricted logging, and large scale farming add to the changes brought upon by a now finicky climate, and the ultimate consequences have to do with our existence on this planet. Human life is intricately and intimately connected with that pf other forms of life, from bacteria to large mammals and from invisible plankton to old-growth trees. Seeing the connection becomes a game changer. Educating ourselves and acting out of respect for life in general is not an invitation anymore, it’s an act of civil duty worthy of everyone who care about being alive.
The said crossroad cannot be ignored. It’s a simple question: What’s it going to be? If we are to prevail, something must change. Any less reminds me of a song by an Irish group called Flogging Molly: ’’Cause we find ourselves in the same old mess/Singing drunken lullabies…’ Late as it may be, there is still time to change the tune.
It was early afternoon and quiet. Nothing stirred and yet the snow on the ground had been pinched by countless legs, some coming in fours, others in twos. Soon after we took the trail through the trees, it became a game.
‘Yes, see the poop next to it?’
Poop mentions always draw big laughs. Yes, it will be like that for a while. It’d better.
‘Oh, maybe a bobcat?’ Are there any here?
We are at Greenstone Mountain, it is family day and it’s a boys’ first longer hike through deep snowy woods.
‘Are there bears here?’
A reasonable concern. But nope, we tell them. They’re asleep. We hope…
Walk some more, it’s quiet and less spectacular for action-loving boys.
‘Can we sled?’
We follow a side path, it’s an old snowmobile track covered in fresh snow and occasionally intersecting with an animal-only track running across. I wish I could understand them and the stories they hide, all the paws and legs that festoon the forest unseen by humans.
‘Shh… be quiet for a bit. Listen.’
A woodpecker raps against a tree not far from where we are. Then a soft trill of an unknown (by us) bird follows swiftly. Then it’s quiet again. We wait. Again. Woodpecker, unknown bird, silence.
The boys’ eyes, barely seen under the thick hats, grow big and round. How could they not. The unseen world revealing itself just enough to make them look around more carefully and scan the tracks with increased determination.
We come across a slope just perfect for sledding. Steep to climb but oh, the ride down with a bump and face-in-the-snow almost every time.
One boy goes classic-style, facing forward at all times and appropriately concerned about landing. The big brother, a thrill-seeker, tries everything: he sits backwards, then closes his eyes and the anticipatory afraid-but-loving-it screaming makes us all laugh. He rides on his riding on his tummy. Too wild, too bumpy, too tempting not to…
Once more and then we trek through the woods some more, just to the opening…
So we do.
I see a big pile of old branches and trees and a flurry of paw prints leading right under it. Why, a bunny family of course! If only we could see them…
They can hear us. We can only imagine their presence. The unseen creatures, quietly crowded in spaces no man could crawl into, listening, breathing and listening and perhaps inching their way to the secret entrance once our voices and loud thumping depart.
‘Can we sled again on the way back?’
Our tracks will be sniffed for a long time. Animals will tilt their heads and look in the direction of our trekking through their woods.
Be quiet, never leave more than just tracks, even those are disruptive enough to the fine-nosed creatures here.
We’re visitors. We are grateful. We are given beauty and silence. Joy and laughter too. But mostly, the sense of wonder that only a walk through the woods in mid-winter can give you.
Long grey clouds are piled up on top of each other over the blue-and-white speckled hills in the distance as we drive off the mountain.
We veer onto the highway and I wish there was a sign that said ‘You are now leaving the magic behind. On behalf of the unseen creatures whose marks you saw and wondered about, and whose woods you did not disturb and whose paths you did not purposely unravel, we thank you.’