Lighting up the dark…

2020 turned into a weird blip in the 21st century, where life as we know it, took an abrupt and life-changing shift. For many, it has been marked by fear, boredom and frustration.

And now it’s the shortest, darkest day of the year. Winter Solstice, the official beginning of winter. What could be more bleak than that?

But when I look outside, I can’t help but smile. My neighborhood and many others are ablaze with colourful lights and displays. The holiday sparkle began  early this year. I believe it’s humankinds way of lighting up the dark in the midst of a global pandemic.

Reflecting on my personal life during the Time of Covid, I also see some light. One of my most rewarding experiences was a Covid-safe writing retreat at Cluxewe Resort on Northern Vancouver Island.

Welcome sign and my cabin at Cluxewe Resort

My cabin provided a view across Queen Charlotte Strait to the BC mainland, a stunning estuary a short distance to the rear and, perhaps most important of all, time.

I opted to not hook up to Wi-Fi or turn on the big screen TV so my soundscape consisted of eagles calling, pounding surf during a big storm and raindrops beating a staccato rhythm on the metal roof.

Nature was my only distraction and with it came a feeling of space, as if the vastness outside had seeped into my mind, providing room to ponder the book I’m working on and what direction it will take me. The oasis of that little cabin and the time and space it provided were precious gifts in a year of uncertainty and upheaval.

Cluxewe River estuary

And, although there is still an abundance of darkness in each 24-hour stretch, light is on the way. The Winter Solstice means minutes of light will be added to each day and, even better, Covid-19 vaccines are on the way.

As 2020 comes to a close, I hope everyone can find some time to think about what lights up their life (even during Covid) and take at least one small step to make that happen.

Top image by Dzenina Lukac

Takaya

What does a wolf do when it finds itself in the middle of an urban area? Maybe daylight is seeping into the sky and people are stirring. The wolf’s instinct is to find a secluded, safe place. So, he plunges into cold ocean waters and swims a couple of kilometres through challenging currents to a small, rocky archipelago.

The wolf probably doesn’t realize this will be his home for the next eight years. A collection of islands with no deer to hunt, no year-round source of water and no other wolves.

He can see densely populated Oak Bay on southern Vancouver Island and hear dogs barking there. Sometimes he howls in return. He watches freighters and kayakers go by and learns to hunt seals, steal goose eggs and dig for water to survive.

But most of all, he learns to live alone. This is very unusual as wolves are highly social animals who live in family groups. No one thought the wolf would stay but, whether by circumstance or choice, he did. And thrived.

Takaya Lone Wolf is a story about a wolf and a woman. The first time Cheryl Alexander heard the wolf howl, she was hooked. The award-winning conservation photographer lived a short boat ride away and began watching the wolf she named Takaya. Personal observations and photographs were augmented by video footage and trail cameras. Before she knew it, she was documenting the life of a lone wolf.

Alexander’s new book provides an intimate glimpse into Takaya’s day-to-day life, as well as the vast beauty and richness of his domain and the wildlife that share it.  The photographer’s persistence and patience also reveals some wolf behaviour that has perhaps never been documented before.

Takaya Lone Wolf is a beautiful blend of stunning photographs with heartfelt words. Alexander invites the reader into a wildness that, surprisingly, can exist close to the capital of British Columbia in Canada. It also raises questions about how humans relate to wolves. The book is scheduled for a September 29 release.

Last year, Takaya and Alexander’s story appeared on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s The Nature of Things, as well as BBC TV in the UK and ARTE television in France and Germany.

For more information visit the Facebook page TAKAYA: @takayalonewolf.

 

 

When wolves lose their fear of humans

It was 11:00 p.m. and Stanley Russ was only a few steps from Grant and Miranda Moore’s house when a wolf bolted out of the bushes and attacked him. Hearing his screams, the Moores raced outside. The ruckous also alerted the couple next door, Russ’ son Frank and his wife, Sylvia, to the emergency.

Frank got between the wolf and his dad, while the others provided first aid. Despite Frank yelling and throwing whatever he could find, the wolf repeatedly attempted to get to Russ. A neighbour set off her car alarm and the wolf disappeared only to reappear an hour later.

The seventy-two year old Port Edward, BC resident suffered severe bites to one arm and both legs. He received emergency surgery at the Prince Rupert Hospital and was later flown to Vancouver General Hospital for further treatment.

Russ survived the attack, the wolf was killed and, after an intensive investigation, Conservation Officer Service (COS) deemed the May 29, 2020 attack predatory.

Attacks by healthy wolves are extremely rare and usually occur when wolves become habituated to humans and are food conditioned. the Port Edward incident was a classic case.

A large population of feral cats in Port Edward and Prince Rupert resulted in wolves frequenting both communities. The investigation into the attack also revealed a network of trails between Port Edward and a nearby landfill where wolves ate garbage on a regular basis.

As well as sources of food, wolves are also attracted to human belongings and have been known to keep and play with items for up to a year. COS observed a well chewed shoe at the dump that was regularly moved from one spot to another.

Most people do not realize how easy it is for wolves to become comfortable around people. If wolves receive rewards such as garbage, food or human belongings, they will begin to seek out places where people are rather than avoid them.

In many areas, wolf populations are increasing and some wolves are moving through or even occupying space close to humans. It’s up to communities and individuals to make sure there are no attractants to arouse their interest.

Photo courtesy Avishag Ayalon

 

 

A wolf’s ears

“Their ears are like radar. They can smell a man from three to four kilometres away. And their eyes… they can see through everything,” Ion Maxisimovic says in Wolf Hunter, a documentary film by James Morgan.

Wolves are built to move and that includes an aerodynamic head featuring a sleek muzzle leading to triangular-shaped ears that are gently rounded on top. Each ear can be independently rotated creating optimal antennae for picking up sounds.

According to Wolf Watch UK, domestic dogs can hear up to sixteen times better than humans. Experts say a wolf’s hearing is even more acute and that they can hear noises ten to sixteen kilometres (six to ten miles) away on open ground. It’s also suspected that wolves can hear frequencies as high as 80 kHz compared to a human’s upper range of 20 kHz.

Wolf pups open their eyes when they’re around two weeks old and begin to hear sounds after three weeks.  Ears play an important role in wolf body language and communication. Wolves cock their ears to indicate alertness, aggression, playfulness or submission.  And, along with eyes, ears, mouth, hackles, tail and posture, ears convey mood, status, sexual interest and intent.

Dogs evolved from wolves and, over the centuries, have been bred to fulfill the desires of humans, whether that be as companion, work animal or simply the trendy fashion accessory of the day.

These red wolf pups are only a few days old and are not yet able to see or hear. Their ears are still soft and floppy.
Photo by Ryan Nordsven, US Fish and Wildlife Services.

Studies show that a large proportion of people are attracted to dogs with floppy ears and shorter, rounded muzzles. These are juvenile characteristics that all dog and wolf puppies have. As wolf pups grow, however, their ears stand upright and their snouts lengthen, whereas many dogs’ do not.

 

 

The top photo shows an adult red wolf waiting to be transported to a site for release into the wild. It’s well beyond the puppy stage and its ears are erect. The position of the ears, the eyes and the general posture of the wolf shows that it is stressed. Photo by B. Bartel, US Fish and Wildlife Services