… spring was probably not a good time to go out in the woods rolled in peanut butter and bacon bits.

When was the last time you saw a snake?

When I was a kid there were two types of wildlife. The type you hoped for on a Saturday night, and the type you routinely encountered in the parks and alleyways of our youth. The natural world seemed to co-exist with us without much incident. You knew where to find snakes, where the squirrels were denning and that spring was probably not a good time to go out in the woods rolled in peanut butter and bacon bits. A brick on the lid of your metal garbage can was enough to keep raccoons from spilling the contents onto your driveway.

The urban experience of all things wild seems to have changed.

Today, the raccoon union has mastered cross-functional team work. The bears have augmented the fundamentals of brute force with the exquisite dexterity required to open fridge doors. Skunks keep it ‘old school’: noxious gas remains as their weapon of choice. But where are the snakes?  Despite creating snake habitats on my pesticide-herbicide-insecticide-free property, I have yet to see a single snake in years.  

The urban experience of all things wild seems to have changed.

I can still see it, darting across the road as shadows lengthened into darkness. A streak of auburn and a flash of white, it stopped to regard us before vanishing into the trees on the side of the road. Even though we all saw it, and we all knew the answer, the question still had to be exclaimed: “What was that?!” A fox! It was a fox. None of us had encountered a fox before but there it was, going about its fox-business, right in our very neighbourhood. 

I’ve never seen a fox since.

Bears were not quite the same sensation. But what they lacked in novelty, they made up for in implied threat. People would see them on the golf course. The odd one would be seen lumbering up a ravine and they routinely made their way down the creek beds. Every once in a while someone would explain that a dog was barking furiously because there was a bear in the creek.  

Cougars were fabled threats on walks in the forest although seldom, if ever, seen.  Coyotes? 

Wary, but unafraid, aloof, but curious; from never having seen one, I now see them on 4th Avenue having cappuccinos in the middle of the afternoon. And heads up: the two week-long Stanley Park coyote cull of seven coyotes last year hasn’t entirely eliminated the risk of being bitten while cycling through the park.  

Recently, flocks of Lesser Snow Geese have invaded my neighbourhood park. It’s annoying but it’s also quite extraordinary.

… the sky fills up with squawking white arrows …

It started in the autumn of last year.  Each evening, the sky fills up with squawking white arrows aimed for the playing fields near my home. There are thousands of them and, on a moonlit night, the swirling clouds of white make for a beautiful spectacle … beautiful, but noisy. The snow geese announce their arrivals by honking their horns, all of them, and continuously, too. The geese never seem to truly settle but cackle and croak in some sort of goose conversation that goes on till dawn.  At some point in the night, coyotes will make an incursion into the massive flock and then the alarm goes out.  Panicked, the geese explode upwards shrieking their indignation as they reconsider their sleeping arrangements.

… the Snow Geese lay siege to playing fields …

Video taken while on a late night dog walk. It’s even louder at my house!

The geese come all the way from Wrangel Island in the East Siberian Sea, a distance of about 4,000 kilometres. Some come to BC, some carry on as far south as California.  According to the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary, the Fraser and Skagit River flocks are estimated to number around 135,000. In their own way, the Snow Geese lay siege to playing fields, making them unusable for human activities. Goose droppings make surfaces slippery and unpleasant. Soccer games are all but unplayable. Various municipalities are trying to divert the geese to other locations but with limited success. Flags and streamers were used in hope that they would prove a deterrent to the over-wintering geese but have had limited effect.  

Photo by Aditya Saxena

The coyotes have mounted an insurgency …

Locally, our problem seems to have been controlled by a crack squad of goose disrupters.  The coyotes have mounted an insurgency, albeit entirely borne of self-interest. I had a chilling encounter with a well-fed coyote a few nights ago. It stopped, cast an appraising eye over the two dogs I was walking, then waived us off. 

He was headed to his equivalent of the local KFC.

It was going to be another noisy night.

Photo by Ben Mater

This week’s question for readers:


Now, in return, will you do something for me? Will you sign up for The Plain Jane, my newsletter? You can ignore it, if you want, when it shows up in your inbox every few weeks, but my rotten kids will think I’m a star if I have a decent subscriber list. 

Here’s further incentive to sign up: PRIZES!!!

Submissions to last week’s question:

Ever had an office romance? Totally worth it or did it end badly?

In late September of 1999 I started a new job at Weyerhaeuser and immediately joined the Social Committee.  I was selling tickets to the Christmas Party and the draws.  Two fellows kept coming up to my office to buy the Draw Tickets which was a trip for two to Las Vegas!  One of the fellows, Terry, was continually coming up and one time he asked who I was taking to the Christmas party and I told him ‘my girlfriend’.  Anyway, at the party he came and sat with us and we hit it off! He gave me a diamond ring on February 14th and we got married on August 12th 2000! This year will be our 22nd Anniversary! Funny as when I initially told my Dad that I Terry and I were going to get married, My Mom said “Ridiculous, you barely know this guy!”  My Dad said “What makes you think you want to marry him?”  I said, “Well Dad….he is just like you!”  My Dad said, “Well…that’s a pretty good reason!” Terry and I are each other’s best friend.

Patricia & Terry Tochkin

In 1972 I began my marketing career in downtown Vancouver’s Pacific Western Airlines head office. A few months into the job, I worked up the nerve to ask out the cute, newly-hired young lady in the reservations department downstairs. That date led to a few more and bloomed into a relationship that required my dropping her off a few blocks from the office each morning, then parking the car, so that no co-workers would suspect we were a couple. A few minutes later, we would meet at the office coffee machine and say to each other, “Good morning, how are you today?” like we hardly knew each other. We’ve been married now for 47 years.

Warren Korbin

I was interviewing for a job. A fellow was brought in as sort of a co-interviewer.  My heart leapt when I saw him.  There was some sort of instant connection and I thought he felt it too.  I was well qualified for the position but I didn’t get hired.  I did, however, get a phone call from the co-interviewer.  He asked me out for coffee, ostensibly to discuss my job prospects.  He then asked me out for dinner.  I was enchanted by him so I accepted.  At dinner he confessed that he was the one responsible for me not getting the job.  Company policy forbid senior employees from getting involved with their subordinates and, as I would report to him, he didn’t want me working for him. He felt guilty about this and wanted to help me find another job.  He also told me much later that he didn’t hire me because he wanted to marry me.

We’re still married.

B.B.  Smith

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