Thanks to the promptings of a ladyfriend, who knows I need more exercise, I took a hike around Stanley Park this afternoon after work, and passed a pleasant hour sitting by Beaver Lake. The smell of the pond (because it’s far more a pond than a lake), stagnant, fetid, brackish – brought back this smell of my childhood and I drifted in reverie for a long time, sitting on a little wooden platform that extended a short ways out over the water. There I observed the blooming, white, pink and purple flowers of the lilypads; the low intermittent thrum of a single distant bullfrog; the wriggling tail and bulbous, egg-sized body of a bullfrog tadpole; abundant dragonflies and damselflies (one of which landed on my shirt); and the songs and cries of various birds. I tried to tune out the noise of cyclists on the trail or the constant seaplanes flying overhead. I remembered from my youth that if you’re silent and still for long enough at a pond, the creatures aren’t as timid, and will emerge and go about their business, where normally they would flee you. (I remember being 15 or so, standing on the edge of a large pond off Pitt Polder, watching bullfrogs float up from where they’d been hiding, to drift along the surface of the water, ducking under if I shifted too visibly). Storks do the same thing -- they just stand there, until something comes close enough, not realizing a predator is close by.
Of course, I'm less of a predator now. Content to observe, happier not to interfere: the fruits of adulthood, I guess.
Walking back out onto the trail, I encountered several squirrels and something that looked like a cross between a squirrel and a chipmunk – it had lighter fur, a much smaller body, and shorter tail than your garden-variety (so to speak) B.C. squirrel, so I’m not sure exactly what it was. I stopped on a bridge to watch it; it had an unusual way of moving. It would move its whole body, almost in a bouncing, jerking jump, of sorts, then stop, and examine what was in front of it, to see if any of it was edible. It would pause like that for a minute, and then bounce-shift again, like it was simply too high strung to just take a step; it had to move its whole body, then be still. It came quite close to me, and I was finding it very pleasing to watch, when suddenly a bird gave a loud twitter from the forest on the other side of me, and, as if warned by the bird, the animal darted off. A minute after that, a large raccoon stepped out of the bushes on one side of the trail; it was as if the bird cried out “a raccoon is coming” and the squirrel-thing new enough bird to get out of the area. The raccoon looked at me for a minute, sizing me up, then continued to the other side of the trail.
I lingered on the bridge for a minute, watching minnows in the shallow creek below, before continuing, figuring I’d give the ‘coon ample time to meander on its way – I’ve had them growl at me when threatened, and I didn’t want to cause that sort of reaction. To my surprise, as I passed the area where it’d gone, I noticed that the ‘coon was still there, watching me intently from cover. I bent down to meet its eyes. It began to sniff the air. Wanting it to see similarity in me, I began to sniff the air, too. It seemed to relax a bit; I backed off and watched. The animal, with its long, furless, black forepaws, came forward and began to dig in the muck at the base of a rotting skunk cabbage, pulling up something and eating it. Bugs? Roots? I couldn’t tell, but it plunged its arms into the muck (reminding me oddly of the experience of doing dishes) to bring up morsel after morsel, which it busily chewed. I recalled that I had some hard candies in my bag, and I unwrapped and threw one to the ‘coon; last I saw this beast, it was chewing my gift with great effort and determination.
Walking out of the park, I took a little detour from the trail; it was interesting to notice that there was someone camped out in the middle of things, clearly someone homeless, in a ramshackle tent, with clothing, cookware, and garbage strewn about it. It would be a very different life, to wake up every day in that park. It’s probably far easier to romanticize than it is to do; I don’t think I’ll be buying a tent anytime soon. I do think I’ll start spending more time there, though.