I felt something soft under my foot and thought I’d stepped in dog shit. We were outside the door of Ottawa’s newest fancy donut joint, Maverick’s, where we planned to buy a ½ dozen of the pricey treats and bring them home to the children for all of us to enjoy. We’d spent the last 2 hours hiking in Gatineau Park, tromping up and down hills aglow in fall foliage – maples, aspens, birches, fanned out like a male turkey’s tail feather display. The bear warning signs had not deterred us.
Bears have been plentiful in the bush this fall. Cottagers have reported bears in greater numbers – and boldness – since late August. One poor lost black bear even wandered into Ottawa’s downtown Byward Market in early September. He probably smelled Lapointe’s Fish Market and the berries on display at the stalls and thought he’d hit the bear mother lode.
As we walked, my husband would occasionally let rip a loud whistle and I banged my metal water bottle on craggy Canadian Shield outcroppings hoping its gonging would keep the bears away. I needn’t have worried since the woods and trails were full of people enjoying nature’s annual dying foliage. (Have you ever wondered why people can’t go out in explosions of colour instead of fading into transparency?)
We never saw a bear or even bear scat. Mushrooms and fungus sprouted in profusion on trees and on the damp forest floor. Sawdust and fresh cut fallen trees from the recent tornado were scattered here and there but no bears.
Back in my urban element, safe on a flat concrete sidewalk, I was feeling relieved and well exercised having tromped 6.5 km over hill and dale and escaping unscathed. Poised on the threshold of donut nirvana, I anticipated my reward. That’s when I felt a soft velvety squish underfoot. I was certain that when I lifted my toe I’d find dog crap smooshed in the treads of my shoe. I cursed the dog owner who’d so discourteously left it on this busy spot and reached for the wall to steady myself as I hoisted my foot to survey the damage.
A vole, not shit, lay on the sidewalk, its hind leg twitched wildly. Its tail spasmed. My husband came up beside me as I smacked a hand over my mouth to smother a cry. “It’s dead,” he said. “No he isn’t,” I wailed as I watched it thrash. He gave it a whack with his foot to put it out of its misery as I sobbed in the entrance of the donut store.
All weekend, I thought about my reaction to this accidental death. I’ve been wondering how I could be so upset when I regularly eat meat without ever thinking about how animals raised for food are treated. It got me thinking in strange – for me – directions.
Yesterday, at the family Thanksgiving feast, I surveyed the array of food on the buffet table and I saw living creatures – a pig, a cow, and a gorgeous fanned feather-tail turkey. I filled my plate with bean salad, mashed potatoes and spicy Moroccan lentils, vegetarian options provided for my niece who has decided to take meat out of her diet. I was thankful for these choices yesterday and today I’m considering joining my niece in her vegetarian diet and let the creatures – like the bears – be.