I was shocked recently while at the cottage when I discovered a tragic sight near the entrance to the garage. The overturned remains of a nest sat next to three tiny chicks on the ground. It was a nest made by 'Pepeshchel' – the Robin. It was a sad sight to see the three tiny creatures fighting for life. They had landed next to an ant hill and the insects were crawling over the vulnerable little intruders. My friend Mike and I decided to take matters into our own hands and we rounded up the surviving chicks. One had died, one was weakened and the third was still strong enough to raise its head and open its beak for a meal from its parent. Once we fed the two survivors a quick lunch of earth worms from the yard, we set to work to put them back in their nest. We built a box set atop a steel pole, placed their old nest inside and put the two chicks into it and raised them back into place for their parents to find them. We hoped that momma Robin would notice them nestled and propped up among the pine branches.
In the Cree culture, I was raised to have a healthy respect for animal life from a young age. My parents taught me that animals great and small deserved respect. Although we hunted, trapped and fished for food we always stopped to thank these creatures for giving up their lives so that we could sustain ourselves. We were also taught by our Elders that any activity that took the life of any creature for no good reason was frowned upon. We believe that bad fortune will befall anyone who takes a life for no good reason. The lessons mom and dad taught me centred around leaving animals alone and allowing them to live out their lives freely. If they invaded our space, we let them know and most of the time, the creatures that came into our world gave us respect and moved off to let us proceed with our work.
My parents and Elders also gave me lessons about situations when it came to accidents in nature. They taught me that no matter how tragic the circumstance might be, most of the time there is nothing that can be done to help other animals that are injured or abandoned. They live in their own world and they do not enjoy us interfering in theirs, no matter what the cost. In the case of the two Robin chicks, the parents may not have accepted them because of my interference, however I took the chance that I might have reunited their family. It was difficult to ignore the plight of these tiny creatures on the ground so the little bit of work we had to do to give them a chance at life was worth it. Let's hope mama Robin decided to feed and care for them.
I sat by my fire the other day to watch the smoky mist keep the tiny insects away. A shadow moved under the board walk near the circle of rocks I had placed for the campfire. Suddenly, a dark snout and small black beady eyes looked up and from the twin white stripes on its back, I recognized right away that it was 'Sheekak' ñ a skunk. Skunks that I have come across are usually confident creatures that have little fear of the greater world around them. They know and understand that they carry with them a powerful biological weapon that will keep any other creature away. The 'Sheekak' I saw was timid and kept hidden away in the shadows. I soon realized that the 'Sheekak' I was dealing with was a young one that was half the size of an adult. It was terrified and did want to be anywhere out in the open where it could be seen. Perhaps it had been terrorized by dogs or even worse those most dangerous creatures, humans.
I let him relax under the old wooden steps. Later, I walked over top of his spot to go for my swim and I spoke to him Cree asking him not to spray me or anyone else while he was visiting. Later, as I sat next to my fire I knew he could easily hear and smell the crackling flames. He seemed to enjoy the company as he kept watch from his spot under the walkway. He moved on later that day when I was busy doing some work. 'Sheekak' disappeared as mysteriously as he had come into my space. Reports from the neighbours indicated that he had made the rounds and was headed into the forest away from all the noisy humans and barking dogs.
I find that the old life lessons I learned long ago back on the land near Attawapiskat still apply to my modern world today. 'Sheekak' went on his way once he realized he did not belong. The 'Pepeshchel' family gave signs of promise when I noticed the mother Robin visit the nest on several occasions to examine her chicks. Here in Northern Ontario we are living on the edge of wilderness tracts that have been home to all types of creatures since the dawn of time. We are the new ones. We are the tourists. We are the visitors. Long after we are gone many of these creatures will continue to survive and roam the land. For now they are our neighbours and we owe it to them and ourselves to live and let live.www.underthenorthernsky.com
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