Wild and Woolly
August 15, 2004
Mr. Gib and I were on our sedate way down the Two-Mile Hill
this morning when a coyote loped briskly across four lanes of
traffic right in front of us. He was good sized, for a coyote,
sleek and well-fed, as if gophers and neighbourhood cats had
been plentiful this summer.
Gibson created a helluva ruckus, all teeth and toenails as he
scrambled over the steering wheel, across my thighs and
halfway out the driver's side window, screaming threats and
curses at the top of his lungs in his eagerness to give that
big old boy what-for. By the time I'd hurled the 35 hairy
pounds of whippy wire coil off my lap and back into his own
seat, blatted an apologetic beep at the small white Suzuki SUV
that we`d cut off when Gib stepped on the spoke of the
steering wheel and moved us into the right hand lane without
the benefit of a signal, and wiped the globules of dog spit
and foam out of my eyes, the coyote was gone.
Ah well, easy come, easy go. Coyote sightings are a dime a
dozen here in the city, summer or winter. They seem completely
at home with us and are a familiar, if not especially welcome,
sight. The cougar sightings, up on Haekel Hill, are a little
more surprising and even less welcome.
My sister Jo and I took friends from Vancouver Island
cougar-watching up on Haekel, a couple of weekends ago. Of
course, we didn't know that was what we were doing at the time
or we might not have been quite so insouciant as we strolled
around the base of the wind changers and clambered up and over
the rocks. . We thought we had made our spine-jarring way up
the rough and dusty trail to look at the breath-taking view of
the broad Yukon Valley, all the way from Lake Laberge's famous
marge to Marsh Lake to the south, with all the wonders of
Whitehorse, and Grey Mountain and the sewage lagoon in
between. Gibson thought that he'd pulled a fast one on me when
he was allowed to slip his collar and wander about as if
neither of us had ever had dealings with By-law, much less
that one of us had ever had ever spent an entire weekend in
jail and requiring half a month's Old Age Pension before a
release was effected.
None of us even once contemplated the possibility of a
presence dangerous to our soft and chubby little bodies.
In any case, we were unsuccessful at the cougar thing, there
being nary a one to report, and it was only a few days later
that we heard of cougar encounters in the area over which we
had trod so lightheartedly. Too bad. Scenery is nice but can't
hold a candle to the thrill of being stalked by a reputedly
blood-thirsty predator with breakfast on his mind. I'll bet
Moya and Gerald will be sorry to hear that they missed it.
Shortly after our jaunt around Haekel, we went wildlife
viewing again, but this time it was on purpose and this time
we really got our money's worth.
We'd been sitting around after lunch: Jo and I, Moya and
Gerald Flemming from Courtenay, and our brother and
sister-in-law, Aksel and Lorene Porsild, also from Courtenay
and along as tour guides on the Flemmings' first trip to the
Yukon, discussing what was left to see and do after an
intensely full week. We'd done Dawson with a side trip to the
Tombstones. Had taken in the Follies, ridden the Trolley,
walked the Millennium Trail on BOTH sides of the river, and
had spent hours at both the Transportation Museum and the
Beringia Interpretive Center where we'd indulged in a small
contest, throwing spears to see who would buy the pizza for
supper. A trip to Haines and back had filled one whole
glorious day and another afternoon had been spent roaming
around MacBride Museum. There didn't seem much left.
“Listen,” commanded my sister-in-law, shaking out the brochure
she had picked up at a Yukon information center, “it says the
Yukon Wildlife Preserve is recognized internationally as a
first-rate opportunity for wildlife viewing, preservation and
education. It says here that there are elk and deer and
muskoxen...Aksel, I want to go.”
“That's Danny Nowlan's old game farm, Ax,” I said, adding my
two-bits worth. “I was there once a long time ago and always
wanted to go again. We could do that this afternoon...” Jo and
Moya concurred, the men were out-voted, and soon, there we
were, with our brochures and notebooks, bottles of water,
snacks, cameras, sunglasses, binoculars, sweaters - you name
it, at least one of us had it in a Tilley Secret Stop-loss
pockets - off on a safari, Yukon style.
It was a slow afternoon at the Preserve and we had the
12-passenger bus, as well as our charming and good-humoured
guide, Deirdre Nugent, all to ourselves. There were no bad
Deedee, as she preferred to be called, took us on a leisurely
and informative tour, taking care to point out, in addition to
the animals that we had come to see, the various ecosystems
contained within the boundaries of the Preserve, including
aspen parkland, valley-floor meadows, wetlands, Black Spruce
bogs and boreal forests, as well as rolling hills and steep,
rocky cliffs. In each area, we were introduced to the animals
that claim that particular territory for their own, elk, bison
and deer in the meadow, moose at the edge of the wetland, the
goats on the rocky promontories, and the caribou, Dall, Big
Horn, and Stone sheep in the hills and the rolling parkland.
The muskoxen seemed to wander pretty much wherever they damn
well pleased but it turned out that they were more or less
confined to a large hilly area with stout fences between them
and the rest of the world.
All species featured both mature and young animals and the
baby goats got our collective vote as the cutest. The old
billy who appeared to be taking credit for just about
everything in the Preserve, got our “most-interesting” nod as
he walked straight up the cliff and strutted along the top,
stiff with pride and testosterone, keeping a jaundiced eye on
our bus as we slowly moved parallel to the rocky outcropping
and out of his domain.
It was the muskoxen, unkempt and all of them flying ragged
banners of qiviut, that truly captured our attention and held
us, double-wired out of danger on a viewing stand, enthralled.
They were, Deedee explained, just coming into season and the
big males were a little more belligerent than usual, lunging
at each other and making serious advances to the smaller
females, most of which were still being coy about the whole
situation. Fascinated, we watched one bull as, time after
time, a bewitching little hussy gave him the come-on only to
rebuff him at the moment of truth.
The whole scenario reminded me of a time when our kids were
small, I'd taken them into town for a movie. Unfortunately,
the choices on that particular day were: What Do You Say To A
Naked Lady or Rabbit, Run. Neither movie seemed to be
appropriate viewing for my little raft of offspring, aged four
through thirteen but after first promising and then driving 80
miles to carry out said promise... the upshot was that I
eschewed the nude and went with the bunny. I thought it might
be the best choice. Wrong. Naked Lady turned out to be a
Candid Camera vehicle, slightly bawdy but mostly just fun.
Rabbit turned out to be a dull coming of age film, fraught
with angst, violence and several pretty graphic sex scenes.
As I saw one of the latter building, so to speak, I leaned
over and handed a handful of money to my eldest son, the one I
thought might be most influenced by the action.
“Toby,” I whispered, “go and get some popcorn for all of us.”
He never took his eyes off the screen, “In a minute,” he
muttered. “Toby, go now and get us some popcorn.” “Just wait,
Mom, I'll go after.” After what, I wondered, glancing at the
screen. My eyes crossed. “TOBY,” I yelled, no longer worried
about causing a disturbance “GO GET POPCORN, RIGHT NOW!!”
Now, as we stood on the edge of a viewing platform, watching
that big shaggy musk ox bull trying to put the moves on one of
his lady loves, I felt an almost uncontrollable urge to turn
to my brother and scream, “AKSEL, GO AND GET US ALL SOME
Eventually, Deedee was able to herd us away from that
mesmerizing scene of unrequited love and loaded us, limp and
unprotesting, onto the bus for the return trip to base. It had
been a terrific afternoon, informative and fun and totally
satisfying. Later that night, as I thought through the events
of the day, it occurred to me to wonder about that big bull
and if his afternoon had ended up as totally satisfying as
ours had been.
And as I drifted off, I swear I could smell...nah, couldn't