Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Back into the wild

After ten months in civilization, I now can't get enough of wild spaces. It's almost like a hunger, a need to stuff myself with the sound of wind stroking the mountains, the sight of unbroken forests to the horizon, the taste of earth and wildflowers and trees.
 Is this how my bears felt when we released them? I crave the feeling of tussocks and rock under my feet, of sleeping with only a foamie between me and the ground, snuggling up to the earth.
We celebrated my return up north with a hike to Samuel Glacier in Tatshenshini-Alsek Park, close to Chilkat Pass (Haines Pass).
You can go for miles and miles here, accompanied by the warning whistles of gophers and marmots.
The nights were chilly even in early August; at least that gave us an early morning reprieve from the billions of bugs of every description that were overjoyed to find other blood than just that of gophers to suck.
I capped off the trip by taking the scenic way home.
A woodland caribou swam by my camp on the first morning:
 Back at home, our resident porcupine came by for an early morning visit.
It was still so dark out I had to use the flash. The porcupine knows us and isn't scared of us at all, but wondered what the flashing light was all about. She abandoned her breakfast and came over to me, quills down, to check it out.
When she was getting too close for my comfort, I moved a bit to indicate I was getting nervous. She immediately got the hint and turned around, quills still down, to resume her breakfast.
What a wonderful homecoming it's been!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Saying goodbye



How to say goodbye to the animals I’ve lived, breathed and dreamed for almost ten months? It’s been a time so intense, uplifting and heart wrenching that I almost feel as if the little orphans ate me up and spat me out again in a different shape. I’ve never done work before where I cried so much – tears of sadness, happiness, exhaustion and frustration. The worst was when the animals cried as well: bear cubs, deer fawns and moose calves desperately calling for their mom, injured animals crying out in pain.

With each little orphan who came in I’ve wished there was a way to let its mother know that her baby was at a safe place now, that we would do our very best as foster moms, and that her little ones are loved. There are a lot of impossible things you find yourself wishing for when you are looking after orphaned wildlife.

But there is something that was better than anything I could have wished for: my co-volunteers Ludmila and Brooke. We were such an awesome team. Our wildly different backgrounds, huge disparity in age, and completely different personalities somehow turned out to be a strength. In our volunteer world that largely revolved around sorting through run off fruit and vegetables, keeping track of the consistency of animal poop, and keeping the feed kitchen clean, we came to see humour in completely unfunny things. We didn’t just wash the floor, we blessed it in a daily ritual with detergent (ah, that lavender smell!). Undoing the annoying rubber bands and twist ties around interminable bundles of radishes turned into unpacking greetings from our queendom, the big agribusiness farm that produces them.

With all the stress that looking after the animals can create, it was laughing tears with Ludi and Brooke in moments of utter silliness that often balanced things out and kept me sane. There was always one among us who greeted the at times overwhelming work load with the same war cry: “Okay, let’s do this!” 


And we did it. Plucking hair for DNA records from tranquilized bears (Ludi’s specialty), taking paw prints (Brooke’s expertise), taking garbage bins of compost away, sanding the icy driveway while using the sand buckets as walkers, hauling logs and branches, you name it. We were there for each other as much as we were there for our animals.

Wildlife rehab takes you outside your comfort zone, pushes you to your limits and sometimes beyond them. I came to Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter to learn more about bear behaviour and wildlife in general, and to help give orphaned animals a second chance. I leave here with incredible memories of my animals. Being allowed to share in so many intimate moments of their lives was a humbling experience; the most poignant being how these animals have managed to overcome sometimes horrific trauma and eventually embraced the good things in life again.

In wildlife rehab, we let the animals go once they are fit to survive on their own. Setting free who I have come to love is tough, it’s like tearing a little piece of my heart out and sending it afloat. But at the same time it’s beautiful because it feels like I have become part of something much bigger.
I am lucky to have had these experiences, and even more lucky to have had such incredible people to share them with. Thank you, Brooke and Ludmila, for the jokes and laughter, for letting me drone on and on about my favourite bears, and for letting me sleep. I love you guys.