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A Drive In The City Reveals Wildlife

Growing up at Candle Lake there was never a question as to whether we would encounter wildlife in our daily life... it was only a question of what we would see and when.  In the summer, one of the common visitors to our home was a red-headed woodpecker.  Somehow Dad finally deterred his visits as he spent a lot of time drilling into the wood siding of our house.  Looking back, I wonder if the Woodpecker thought our home had termites.  I can’t imagine any other reason he’d have such a determined interest in personally dismantling our home, one hole at a time! Fortunately for all of us the house had good bones and it never did implode despite the best efforts of the Woodpecker.  I still enjoy watching these birds hunt on trees and find comfort in hearing their beak drilling against the wood as they hunt or make a home.  Until recently, I never realized what a big and mighty bird a Woodpecker is.  Unfortunately he’s also incredibly shy so I will have to continue to practice patience while I wait to capture the ever elusive photograph with a camera instead of with my heart.  There were always a lot of animals around and in the community at Candle Lake; deer, all types of birds, insects including moths as big as an adult hand, bats, bears, fox, coyote, skunks and squirrels, rabbits and lynx, just to name a few.  One of my favourite childhood encounters was watching lightning bugs on the dark summer nights when it would be too hot to sleep and I’d press my face against the clear, cool glass of the window watching the bugs light up the night for a few seconds before darkness prevailed again.  Watching them made the night feel magical and surreal to me.  I didn’t even want to move as I watched them, afraid that if I did I’d scare them away.  And I think I really hoped they’d bring their bright little butts closer to my window so I could observe them more clearly.  I always figured if lightning bugs could exist maybe fairies could too - alas some flying creatures really only thrive in our imagination.

Wildlife still plays a vital role in my life.  I enjoy feeding the birds, squirrels, butterflies and bees that visit my garden.  The hummingbirds visit and spend time sitting on the wire supplying electricity to the house.  And I enjoy seeing little ones leave the nest, learning to fly and then hunt so they can begin to be independent and on their own.  So on a recent trip to Saskatoon I was reminded again how we humans need to be aware that we are not alone... that it is our responsibility to be cautious and take care on the roads.  Especially since our ability to travel means using roads which animals have learned to associate with food, as people discard their garbage out the window, obliviously speeding along to their destination.  Not everyone litters however, it is clear to see the highway spring cleanup is needed and perhaps overdue.  The bones of large dead animals also bring a sharp reminder that it’s more than just the life of an animal at stake.  Striking one of these magnificent creatures not only damages our vehicles but could claim a human life if the accident was severe enough.  When an animal steps from the ditch to the roadway, we really do only have a split second to react, so it’s always best to be vigilant on keeping our refuse in our vehicle and keeping our eyes open for wildlife on the road.

Nature is such a beautiful part of life.  From the incredible sunsets to the wildlife we are able to observe every day, the animals just enhance what is already a life in deeply appreciative of and grateful for.  This past week I needed to be in Saskatoon overnight.  I’m always amazed how the traffic is a constant flow of noise that never seems to cease in a larger urban centre.  Even twelves stories up, the traffic below seems to be right outside the window and I hear the noisy, impatient vehicles revving their engines as drivers wait for the stop light to change from red to green.  After a couple nights of this, I needed some quiet time out of the city to regroup and slow the anxiety I often feel when being outside of my normal environment.  We took a drive on Highway 16, heading towards Clavet.  There were goose and duck citing in fields and sloughs but as the sun began to dip, we decided to head back to Saskatoon.  Along the way we saw two trains snaking their way along the railroad tracks.  One train had two engines and 99 cars, the other had two engines and one hundred and twenty four cars.  And for a while it seemed like the trains would be the highlight of our trip - until I spotted a large four legged animal approaching the freeway.  Unbelievably calm, with very little inflection in my voice, afraid to scare it away just as I was when I was a girl with the fireflies, I was afraid of scaring this incredible animal away before I had a chance to take photographs with more than just my heart, I asked three times, “Is that a moose?” before anyone acknowledged and answered my question.  Camera in hand, we made a u-turn and returned to the field where we’d seen the Moose approaching the road.  There he was... looking at us looking at him and neither of us was afraid of the other.  I snapped several photographs with my phone before we were forced to leave.  When we last saw him he’d found a tree to stand beside while another family stopped to watch him for a while.  We returned to Saskatoon and saw a rabbit sharing a patch of green grass with several Canadian geese.  It was really nice to see his fur has changed from white to brown and he is camouflaged very well as he blends in with the trees and the grass that is in the process of turning from brown to green.  It’s amazing how animals can adapt and survive, especially in the city.  Seeing nature in unexpected places, watching as they learn to adapt and thrive in their habitat, then raise their young and build an ecosystem is a really fantastic experience for those of us who enjoy watching this type of thing.

Our return trip brought another unexpected gift as we neared McDowell - a bald eagle perched on a branch in a little stand of trees.  We’ve seen eagles in this particular area but I was beginning to think they wouldn’t come back this year as they are a bit late. I’m really happy to see their return.  It’s just too bad it took a drive to the city to see a few of my favourite animals - the moose, the rabbit and the eagle.  

Relaxing at home, my phone buzzed indicating I had a new message.  A friend sent a photograph of herself, her mask firmly in place even while she’s up north and hunting in the forest.  In the photo she holds a successful bounty.  In one hand hangs a prairie chicken and in the other she holds a rabbit, also deceased.  A couple of good meal there and I type back a message, “Yum!”  Its more than just food she holds in her hands.  It the lining and trim in a pair of moccasins, it’s the decorative regalia for traditional clothing and the beginning of a fan to be used at a future Powwow gathering.  It’s chicken feet soup and bone broth so full of nutrients from the marrow a day without ingesting a mug of it seems like a day that is incomplete.  It’s fried rabbit served with a thick gravy and onions accompanied alongside bannock to soak up the drippings left on the plate when the meat and vegetables have been consumed.  I am grateful to the animals for so many reasons - they feed my soul and my body.  I’m just sorry that I seem to need to travel to the city to see them, rather than travel to the country where they used to be.  As you drive and encounter nature in your everyday, take time to appreciate what you see, even if your response is close to my sister’s as she observed the moose with me.  “Isn’t that beautiful?!?” I asked, a little bit of wonder and a lot of awe in my voice.  I’ve waited twelve years since my last moose citing and I’ve been long over due.  “Yes,” my sister agreed, her eyes following the animal as it lazily crossed the field in front of us.  She licked her lips, an unconscious response to the picture she had in her mind’s eye... “there’s at least two rump roast and plenty of steak.”  Sometimes I have to laugh at how one person sees a majestic animal and another just sees dinner!

Take care and have a great week, everyone.

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Wednesday January 12, 2022