Faith: Walking the BC Wildlife Park

Clover the Kermode bear walks on a path in front of the viewing platform where we visitors are waiting to be entranced by him.
 
He sits down, rolls his head around in a semi-circle, sniffs the air with two dark undulating nostrils and folds himself down onto the new spring grass, whereupon he eats it in little bits, pulling it up with his teeth, chewing deliberately. 
It’s a warm, mid-week spring day and I am walking the trails of the 43-hectare BC Wildlife Park. 
If I go the long way around the perimeter, I have the trail to myself and am unhindered as I make my way into the wooden enclosures that provide vantage points for watching, talking to, wondering about and marvelling at the various wild animals here.
 
Most of them have been rescued after becoming orphaned, injured or sick. They are safe, though, and while they are acting bored, they seem resigned to their fate, even content.
 
Except for the two silver coyotes. I see them trotting around their enclosure, sometimes following each other, sometimes diverting to a hollow log or a patch of new grass. 
 
Once or twice, they cast a glance upwards toward me and send a signal that I interpret as more than a tinge of exasperation, as if to tell me, yes, I know, we see you, and yes, we have been here for years and we are still not used to being cooped up like this.
 
Are the coyotes relying on me to empathize with them? 
 
I doubt it. It’s clear that as they glance up through the plexiglass, they are aware of my presence. 
 
But soon I will move on and they will still be there. See you next time, I say to them. It is what it is.  
 
I talk aloud to the cougars, too. At the far end of their enclosure, in a large open-ended wooden box, I can barely make out the two large cats reclining. 
 
The older female cougar allows the leaning against her of her male companion, now about two years old. The youngster was orphaned when a conservation officer shot and killed his mother, who had gotten into an altercation with some hikers. 
 
This young cougar is lolling around in front of his foster mother, welcoming the warmth she is emitting and the security of her bulk. Is their consciousness like mine?  
 
The cougars seem healthy, as do the badgers, bison, white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk, moose, Rocky Mountain goats, big horn sheep, two grizzly bears, three brown bears (two black and one tan), trio of Arctic wolves, dozen birds of prey (falcon, eagle, owl), porcupines and an unknown number of hoary marmots roaming around.
 
Ah, here comes a young couple and their toddler in a stroller. The man glances at me and returns my zippered smile. The woman is intent on pushing the stroller away from some bumps and ruts in the path.
 
As I wander farther, I pass over the steel tracks belonging to the Wildlife Express miniature train and visualize it full of kids. They will scramble into the seats of the open cars, imitating the train’s noisy whistle with glee while waiting to get going on a route that will take them past most of the animals.
 
As I continue to amble, another group is walking toward me. 
 
It’s a woman of middle age, an elderly man, a boy about 15 and a girl about six. 
 
It’s immediately apparent to me that the woman is a caretaker of the others, who are unable to look after themselves. The man and the boy greet me. I say hi, nod my head and keep walking. They appear happy to be here.
 
Another couple is walking nearby, this time in the same direction I am going. They are taking turns keeping track of a little boy about four who darts here and there, looking at all the animals and the fences and gates and hay and rocks on the path and, well, everything that little boys look at. 
 
He does not return my glance, but his mother does, nodding her head and producing a small thin smile. The dad is oblivious to all of us, his head bent over his mobile phone, his walking awkward.
 
In the distance, a groundskeeper is digging up soil near a mound of rocks, probably intending to make the terrain more interesting for whatever animal gets the surprise of being gated there. He is too far away to engage with directly. 
 
In his peripheral vision and other senses, is he aware of my presence? It’s his daily job and he seems content.
 
As I round a small hill, I am aware of a fragrance in the air, so I look up and around. It’s spring, so the Saskatoon trees are blossoming. Bees of all shapes and colours are flying near them, finding their reward for coming out of their hives on a sunny day. 
 
I bend over to take a whiff of blossoms and wait until a bumble bee flies out of my way before touching my nose to some ivory petals.
 
I am humming to myself as I round a corner and head toward the visitor centre. I use the washroom and drink from a water fountain. 
 
I can acknowledge the clerk in the souvenir shop and, if I want to, engage her in chitchat about the weather, animals, and things they have to sell on the shelves. 
 
Instead, I pass by the clerk and glide through the exit doors.  
 
Clover the Kermode bear, the one I waited all winter to see, was late coming out of hibernation, late compared to the grizzlies and brown bears. Odd that it is Clover’s colour — champagne — that lures many curious visitors here.  
 
Spring is wake-up time for us humans, too, when we can be more easily in contact with other humans, animals, plants, the air, the noises, the odours, through every source available. 
 
Or we can decide not to.
 
I have not seen all the 60-plus animal species in this wildlife park, but I plan to come again soon and scout out some I have missed. 
 
A few animals are in rehabilitation spaces and cannot be seen by people other than staff until they are recovered (including a young bobcat at the moment). 
 
I wonder how many animals will be rescued this season and end up here?  Which ones will be rehabilitated? Which ones will not make it? 
 
On my next trip, I will time my visit to correspond with the feeding of certain animals, feeding by a wildlife expert who will tell us about each animal, its history, its habits, its needs and its future here. I look forward to this.  
 
As I head for my car, I plan ahead to turn on the radio to my local CBC station as soon as I turn on the engine. It will be time for the noon news. 
 
Today I am solitary, in contact, content.
 
Joy Belle Conrad-Rice is a Quaker, someone whose faith and practice is part of the Religious Society of Friends. Their testimonies are few: SPICES (Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality and Stewardship).
 
KTW welcomes submissions to its Faith page. Columns should be between 600 and 800 words in length and can be emailed to editor@kamloopsthisweek.com. Please include a very short bio and a photo.
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