It’s another grey, misty day in December. The sky is not quite crying like it did on most other days lately, so I don’t have to force myself as hard to go outside for my daily ‘walkies.’
Shortly after starting my regular loop up, over and around Burnaby Mountain, on the trail below the Barnett Highway, I encounter a big, beautiful black bear, a hundred metres ahead of me. He’s right between the cement plant and the train tracks that run along the waterfront, a ways below the forested embankment. It’s pretty relaxed, and so am I, but I decide to bushwack up to the road to give it a wide and respectful berth.
I marvel at this place I live in, Vancouver, British Columbia. Here’s a bear that doesn’t even feel the need to hibernate. Being an urban beast, he knows he has the cornucopia of garbage, fruit and pets right here at hand and it’s eight degrees outside in mid-winter, so why bother climbing a mountain, digging a hole and ‘closing the system down’ for the season? I try to visualize how he made it here, ambling unseen all the way from his real wilderness home east of Indian Arm, following the narrow greenway tracks from Port Coquitlam, Port Moody and into Burnaby. A few days later, they spot a bear in the Capitol Hill area of Burnaby, and I wonder if it’s the same one that just kept on going. In the past, the occasional bear was reported in my neighbourhood of Hastings Sunrise, even further west along the tracks. Coyotes are more commonly seen, being some of the best-adapted urban animals around.
It’s a regular Zoo out here, big animals abound. You see tree trunks on the ground along rivers and wetlands with characteristic pencil-pointed stumps: the work of beavers, decidedly not of Park Board maintenance crews – the best they can do is to put wire baskets around the riparian trees they want to protect, and you see that, too.
You spot sea otters and seals in the harbour; in a good year, reams of spawning salmon in the various re-naturalized urban creeks; deer, looking lost – they probably are – behind the fence of the oil refinery compound in Burnaby, and the occasional orca that dares enter the Burrard Inlet in the midst of port-bound ocean freighters. In my side street, Kamloops, there’s a singular forest-size spruce tree with an eagle’s nest on top. The racket between the eagles, the crows and the seagulls is alarming as they incessantly harass each other in the air from the ocean inlet all the way to the nest, to steal each other’s food, or for prey, or protection, depending on this particular pecking order. In urban environments close to the sea where the eagles’ food comes from, these birds seem to have co-dependent, rather morbid needs.
On Nov. 4, at 1:05 pm to be precise (for the Park managers who keep track of these things), I encountered a lynx crossing the trail just west of the dam where Burnaby Lake feeds into the Brunette River. A lynx! He came out of the bushes along the waterfront and walked north into the forested area across the grassy field, a mere 30 metres ahead of me. Never, in my 25 years of steady hiking in the backcountry have I seen this animal and what a surprise to see him here, so blatantly out in public view. I don’t have a cellphone so could not take a photo of its shaggy brown fur, the little comma of a black-pointed tail, a wild animal the size of a medium dog, but this photo from the internet shows what it looked like. Again, close to an industrial area and a busy train track, all city-locked with no particular place to go that you’d think would resemble his natural habitat. But you never know, do you? Nice, made my day. The joys of silent solo walking and hiking pay off in spades.