The Trail, Wildlife

All that Is Wild

A couple weeks ago, my husband and I joined some of my coworkers at a brewery for a couple beers after work. One of the coworkers came here from Ireland. He is the same guy who gave us great insights on the best places to go when we visited Ireland last year. That is to say, get out on the West Coast, away from tourist traps, into the country, and find small pubs that have great fiddle music lasting into the night. As we sat around the brewery chatting, he told us a story of a living in a bear-infested neighborhood nearby. By now, I was into my second Shake a Paw Smoked Porter (really, and most honestly, good, especially if you appreciate Guinness)–so I’m not sure if he was embellishing his story a little–but he said that often on his way home, he and his wife would see the same black bear walk down the street and try to open doors, house after house. Bears are quite tricky and smart, as they can easily open doors–or just break through walls if they really wanted to.

Yesterday, another coworker told me of a plum tree he has out back and how he saw a bear getting into it this week. He lives somewhat nearby us. Today he says he sees that bear nearly every day.

Yesterday when I got home from work I saw that some of our recently ripening strawberries were missing. The plant is hanging on the front porch. Yesterday was also trash day. You know, the bears come for the meal (people often go against city bylaws and put their food waste out too early), so the bears come for the the main course of compost and stay for the fruit desserts.

Last night as I was falling asleep I heard several noises in the back yard. It sounded like a bear crashing through the trees and foliage and thumping on our deck, or just lumbering heavily. I was too tired to get up to check. What separates us from the back yard is a sliding glass door, and we often leave open the glass part, with the screen closed, since the cool breezes at night are great to fall asleep to. But it has been cold here lately at night, down to about the high 40s (around 8-9C), so we had our door shut last night. I won’t forget, however, how my coworker said the bear looked at him through his sliding glass door. Or how I looked at my backyard Mord through our sliding glass door a few weeks ago, after high-tailing it inside when a bear approached me in the yard.

And then today another coworker showed me a photo her friend had sent of a full-grown adult black bear standing upright, pressing against his sliding glass door, looking in. That friend lives nearby us too.

The number of bear sightings this year has risen to three times as many as ever before in our city, and it makes me wonder, just what is happening? The nearby municipalities are more strict than ever about leaving trash out or attracting bears. A lot of people are being fined. Luckily, there have been few attacks.

A service is actually removing our invasive blackberries today from a spot in our back yard that is kind of hard for us to navigate, because it’s like a jungle–which may have been at one point landscaped, but when we moved in was overrun with blackberries and ivies and numerous bushes and wildflowers. It’s just set back behind the yard, up a little higher on a ledge.

My husband began running regularly again last week, after dealing with plantar fasciitis for a while, and he usually gets up very early, before work, to run. This morning when I awoke he was out running, and I sleepily unbound myself from cozy blankets and gazed out the sliding glass door–no bears in the grapey skylit yard. But my husband wasn’t back yet, and I worried about him coming across a bear again while running. He has before up by the Coquitlam River trail. He saw a sow emerging from the forest onto the trail, and my husband stopped. The bear looked at him, and he waved at it and said, “Go on,” and the mama bear did. I think my husband’s timing was lucky, for not two seconds later out came a cub to follow its mama up the trail. If my husband would have been a couple seconds ahead, he might have intersected the mom and cub, which isn’t good. This morning, in my sleepiness, I worried about his early running. It’s still early dawn (and will soon be dark) when he runs, and he normally goes the route of the river or its tributaries, which bears occupy, due to salmon this time of year, as well as the wild blackberries. But by the time I was done with my shower, he was home. I guess I shouldn’t worry too much.

It’s just so weird, but also fascinating to me, that this area we live in is so populated with black bears. Increasingly, too, they aren’t really afraid of people. I guess bears in the wild would be afraid of people and run away unless they were surprised by a person or super hungry, and the person had food, but here we are learning to exist with a wild species that, like crows or seagulls or squirrels or rabbits, has grown accustomed to people and lives somewhat symbiotically with us, as they are attracted to our food and aren’t finding what they need in the wild. Whether this means that bear populations are going up, that food in the wild is decreasing, or some other reason, I’m not sure. Of course, these animals are bigger and a little scarier than birds or critters. Salmon numbers have been dwindling for years here. The Fraser River fishery closed again this summer due to low early returns.

It’s good to be bear-aware, but also I get excited by the wild. Mama Earth is going to do what she wants, no matter our human concerns. I’m definitely seeing changes around the world, from when I was a kid, that identify climate change is happening now and is affecting everything. In fact, I am tiring of the phrase “climate change” because it’s saturated in the media and feels just like any other familiar thing, when in fact, like Margaret Atwood said, it’s “everything change,” or like Lorna Crozier said, it’s “climate catastrophe.” I’m done watering it down and repeated tired clichés. It’s no longer something “in the future.” Whether it’s warming waters, changing weather patterns, species in trouble, whatever, we’re in it and it’s observable everywhere.

I’ve been happy to see fall temperatures lately, but they’ve been kind of going from extreme–from a really hot, dry summer to a sudden decrease in temperatures and periods of super weird and heavy rain. Over the weekend we took advantage of cooler weather to get some work done around the house that would be kind of suffocating to do in hot weather (we don’t have any central air). Friday night late, we put together bookshelves for a third bedroom on the main floor that we’re turning into a guest bedroom instead of a cat/storage room. At nearly midnight, we were nailing, putting in pegs, erecting bookshelves. The next day we finished off by putting together a daybed with a second pop-up trundle (I chose this bed, reminiscent of something Mom used to have in her sunroom–pure nostalgia but also practical for guests coming this fall to visit). It was very pleasant working in the room with windows open. But later during the weekend we had very heavy rainfall, and on Monday loud intermittent hailstorms. It was such heavy precipitation in the cooling weather…yet this weekend it will get back up to almost 30C again. And, a little further east there are already snow warnings in the mountain passes.

Still, I am digging the wild lushness of old Mama Earth, her creatures great and small, her beauty and rawness and honesty. I love this season of bears and golden light and crazy hail and rain or hot sun and a feeling of ephemeral time.

The featured image is by Alan Vernon – Female “mother” Black Bear CC BY 2.0

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