The most dangerous animal in our parts, I was told by a man from Florida, is the wolverine.
“But I’ll bet you’ve never even seen one,” he concluded.
The logic of his statement defied me. How can the wolverine pose the greatest danger when you never see the darn things? I must have been extremely lucky to have come out of my two brief “encounters” unscathed: once, on a town trip, I spotted one at the dump, and another time, I watched one crossing rotten lake ice. Neither one stopped what it was doing to take a bite out of me. We usually come across their tracks, looking like a strange blend of wolf and bear paw, a couple of times every winter.
I informed Sam of the menace lurking in the woods, lest he go and meet one unprepared. Sam laughed at the Floridian’s idea of the North.
“Sure, there’s the wolverine that’s dying to sink its teeth into us, and then the bears. Plus, of course, the wolves. Probably lynx, too.”
It got me thinking about the danger of animals out there, past my doorstep. Just about all of them are well-equipped to do major damage, if they choose. Big game is the obvious suspect, but even an ermine could fling itself into the air and dangle off your throat like a vampire fur collar if it wanted to. Generally, wildlife prefer to play it safe, though, and threaten before they pounce or stomp.
I remembered the bears I have startled who either ran or stood their ground and let me choose how to conclude the encounter, not bothering to make a meal out of me (of course, I retreated). Or the moose I have blundered into who looked at me in only mild surprise as if such benighted behaviour was more or less what they expected from a human.
Obviously, there’s always the chance to catch one of them on a bad day, to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. But overall, our four-footed neighbours display an amazing level of tolerance to our bumbling around in the bush.
The guy from Florida had it all wrong, I thought, when episodes of beaver fever, food poisoning and colds came to my mind.
The wolverine is not the animal to be afraid of – it’s bacteria, viruses and germs. Especially when you’re throwing up into an outhouse hole. Even worse is summer, when things are not hygienically frozen in there.
I shuddered at the memory. Those are the things that lay you lame, turn you weak and make you sick. They’re no fun anywhere, but even less so when you can’t just go and see the nurse or stay in bed for a few days.
Then again, germs are not animals.
I was just about to write the whole scary animal business off as a city slicker fantasy when it dawned on me that, indeed, there was one species here that has already hurt us a few times and almost cost us our lives. Strange it didn’t come to mind right away – but one tends to get preoccupied with the most glamourous and furriest members of the animal kingdom.
This one is very cunning, generally strikes when least expected and in a variety of ways so that it’s impossible to predict. Sam nearly got brained by it, another time, it almost drowned me. It has drawn blood, injured our backs and done damage in too many ways to remember it all. It’s us, we’re the ones that are the animal most dangerous to ourselves.
Be it by inattention, carelessness or simple stupidity, wrong decisions are made and the consequences sometimes hurt. It’s not so much the elements or animals that are a danger, it is our perception and interpretation of them. What clothes to wear, what gear to bring, when to do what where – that’s the slippery slope we’re moving across everyday. The danger is mostly inside ourselves.
Having shared my findings with Sam, he was quiet for a few seconds and then said: “You should e-mail that Florida guy back. So he can tell his buddies that he’s faced off with the most dangerous animal in the North!”
Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.