Despite never having been on an African safari or a junket to see the march of the penguins in Antarctica, I have had many memorable interactions with wildlife.
My very first was in my Aunt Polly’s garden Ethelbert, Manitoba, 1951. I had been sent out to pick a head of cabbage so she could make some holuptsi for dinner. As I was passing the hollyhocks my attention was seized by a loud buzzing by my head. I reached out to deal with what I assumed might be a bee or a wasp. It boldly danced and hovered in front of me, skilfully evading my outstretched hand. The clear prairie sunshine brought out its startling iridescence. Its whirring wings were barely more than invisible. It chirped and chattered as if it were trying to tell me to calm down.
It was a hummingbird, a creature this unsophisticated 11-year old had never heard of.
Another exciting experience was in 1963, with a little band of playful sliders. No, not spiders – sliders. Paddling round a bend of the Saugeen River, we heard some chattering, then zzz-ipping sounds, followed by splashes, then more chattering. Entranced, we watched the playful antics of three otters as they joyously slid down a slick groove in the riverbank, splashed into the water, then scrambled up to the starting point again, and again, and again, eagerly repeating the process over and over.
Only when they saw us did their antics cease.
A 1998 chapter of “My Wildlife Adventures” took place when I noticed that the top of one of our wood duck nesting boxes had blown off during a windstorm. I climbed up the ladder to replace it. When I peered down into the dark cavity I saw six eyes peering up at me. I quickly clambered down the ladder so as to not further disturb whatever they were.
A day passed. No adult returned to feed her plaintively peeping offspring. Another day passed. No change. Time to intervene. When I investigated, I found three startled tiny owls. We contacted a bird rescue organization in Montreal to inform them of the situation.
“They’re quite unlikely to survive, but if you want to try, feed them puréed liver using an eye dropper.” That we did – for about a month. Twice a day, we plucked them out of the box, sat them on our railing and fed them. They grew, they thrived and after a month, one by one, they flew off, never to be seen again.
Next week, I’ll share more of my memorable interactions with wildlife: an escaped lion, a den of rattlesnakes, kangaroos in a campsite and a hippopotamus that got too friendly with a canoe? No, I never experienced anything like those situations. However, I will tell you about a foraging skunk, six fox cubs, a raccoon that needed a baby sitter, a bear that was more than twice as tall as me and the many moose of Maine.