A mystery at the secret heart of the wilderness

A wolverine is haunting my partner Sam. Or hunting him? Either way, suddenly wherever he goes, there seem to be wolverine tracks or the animal…

A wolverine is haunting my partner Sam.

Or hunting him?

Either way, suddenly wherever he goes, there seem to be wolverine tracks or the animal itself scuttling away. Weaving through the forest, scaling impossibly steep icy cliffs, galloping down a snowmachine trail — the wolverine is close at hand.

This kind of thing, endless sightings of a certain type of animal over a period of time, appears to be as cyclical as the seasons.

No doubt there is a close connection to the food situation in the animal’s habitat, weather conditions and life cycle.

Obviously, in early summer there is a good chance of seeing bears on south-facing grassy slopes, or many lynx when the snowshoe hare cycle is up.

That is not what I mean, though.

It looks like there is a rhythm to some animal encounters, another dimension into which factors either a lackadaisical attitude of animal species about crossing a human’s path, or else they make an active choice of showing themselves for some strange reason.

Sounds too esoteric? It well might be, I don’t know.

What started me thinking about this was one summer when I had an inordinate number of bear encounters. Each and every one occurred only in Sam’s absence.

At first is seemed to be pure coincidence, but by the fourth or fifth time that I (figuratively) bumped into a bear while Sam was inside the cabin, had just left to go fishing or was over in the garden, it really became a bit weird.

It was almost as if the bears (and it was always a different one) kept a close eye on us and whenever I was somewhere alone, one would decide to amble up or situate himself behind a berry bush in my path.

Last winter it was moose.

To be sure, the record snow pack probably kept them in certain areas — but they showed the same nonchalant attitude as those bears, (and now the wolverine) by calmly displaying themselves in full view.

Thinking back to my old weekend warrior times, before we moved into the bush, when the clutter of a “normal” lifestyle swamped observations such as these, it still seems to me that this sort of thing also occurred to me back then.

One year it was wolves, another countless lynx, and one winter caribou.

Only it didn’t stand out so much because there was more going on in my life then than now, when much time is spent looking for animal neighbours, admiring the view and listening for sounds.

Scientists, and maybe many laypeople might be rolling their eyes at trying to invest such strings of encounters with any sort of meaning other than coincidence, fluctuations in numbers or behaviour patterns.

Quite possibly they are right.

Yet I wonder how we can still retain an in-depth understanding of what goes on in the woods these days.

Almost all of us live in cities or towns, don’t grow or hunt our food, and are dependent on the services of other people and companies to fulfill most of our wants and needs.

To me, the scientific way of studying wildlife and ecosystems misses the vital points, the essence of wild animals, their habitat and the interconnectedness.

It is usually someone from the outside looking in, much in the way of tourists on a three-week tour of Europe.

Obvious things will catch the eye, but the nuances, local accents and peculiarities will most likely escape notice or their meaning can’t be grasped.

We feel equally at sea in our life out here, often being puzzled and sensing our ignorance about the way of the woods.

A true knowledge can probably only be gained by cultures that depend on a daily basis upon understanding the patterns and moods of wild animals, plants and the weather.

This is one of the great tragedies of the colonization of indigenous peoples all over the world: the vast loss of wisdom about the natural world around us, painstakingly gleaned over tens of thousands of years.

Of course humanity still depends on understanding our ecosystems, but we have now set ourselves up in such a way that this is nearly impossible to accomplish.

So we keep wondering why the wolverine is accompanying Sam, and what species will next make strange and frequent appearances.

What animal is haunting you?

Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.

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