One of the great joys of being a social outcast in my childhood (and sometimes in later life too!) was discovering the healing properties nature provides those who take the time and input the energy and the suffering often required to get to know her.
I guess I must have traipsed (i love that word: traipsed) thousands of accumulated kilometres through the riverhills near the family farm. The official reason was that I was hunting fur. Coyote skins brought decent money at the time and provided a small income while also giving me the excuse to explore the hills and the folds of Lake Diefenbaker’s captivating shoreline.
A huge side benefit was witnessing the doings of the local wildlife. Some surprising things came to light as I rambled amongst all those hills!
One frigid day I came upon a small pond of open water, which was surprising by itself! The temperature that day was perhaps around zero Fahrenheit. Obviously I had stumbled on some sort of warm natural spring. I may have decided to take a drink, but for whatever reason I got down close enough to notice quite a few bright red buffalo berries in about an inch of water lined up near the shore. It took me a minute to understand what was going on: Little birds of some feather were picking the frozen berries from the thorny bushes and dropping them in the relatively warm water to thaw them, apparently making them easier to ingest! How’s that for smart, considering they were all “bird-brains” ??
Another time, I was stalking the plentiful mule deer with my bow in archery season. And I found a really nice buck bedded down facing away and made a careful stalk, getting within 10 yards. As I rose to make the shot, really believing I had him i noticed the sudden rush of another similar buck as he rose from his bed, whirled and bounded over the edge and away. And without even a backward glance, my buck lowered his head and bolted as well, leaving me standing there like an idiot (I do that a lot) wondering how I had just been duped. Turns out they were bedded facing each other, a great arrangement! How many people would come up with that scheme to protect themselves? Lots would not and you know that you know that!!!
Do wild animals have emotions? Do they feel love? Joy? Happiness? Sorrow? Of course they do! Do they play? Definitely, as a flock of young ducks demonstrated for me on a moose hunt in the Yukon many years ago. I crept up on a pond I had found by following up a stream and came upon another of nature’s treats: somewhere between 10 and 20 ducklings were at play, totally unaware i was anywhere nearby and was that a sight! They’d gather at one end of the pond and race across the surface to the far end making a great wet clattering, where they’d dive just before impacting the shore, turn around again, the whole lot and race back again! They did this over and over as I watched fascinated, until creeping slowly away unnoticed. It was obvious to me, they were having a ball.
Another time I saw a sight that deeply impacted me. I was powering upriver when a small flock of young Canada geese appeared, dogfighting downriver at high speed, when suddenly a mature goose, the mama most likely, sped in between the boat and her brood honking furiously! Of course, her message was clear enough: “Shoot me! Shoot me! Don’t harm my babies!!!”
And of course, I did neither…