Notes From The Quebec Wilderness
By Gabrielle Blair
There’s a break in the persistent Spring rains and the deck-boards dry out enough for me to do yoga outdoors. The air is fresh with a little breeze barely disturbing the surface of Lac Otanibi, a great body of water only feet from our cabin door.
On rolled-out mat I stand surveying this vast expanse of nature with not a soul around. No fishing boats have come. I listen to bird calls and the incessant bell-like tinkling of the peeper frogs. Yesterday a long wavy ‘V’ formation of Canada geese flew over, the first time we’ve seen them heading north. Squirt, the red squirrel, has claimed the bird feeder. He’s growing plump and glossy on this rich diet of sunflower seeds and is tame enough that he simply eyes me as I pass him, feeding more furiously. From time to time he sounds his rattle of alarm when Merkel, the competition squirrel threatens his stash. The dark chocolate mink, called Cato, scurries along the shore before silently slipping into the water to swim across the bay. Five minutes later, he’s making the return journey. What does he do on the other shore?
Finally I attempt to block distractions, keeping half an eye out for bears, as I begin to stretch. But not for long. There on the flat rock beneath the flag pole, a snake is sunning itself. I know it knows I’m here, but is unafraid. Besides, this day is too nice to go back under the rock. I decide to take this opportunity to challenge my fear of snakes, and knowing it’s a harmless garter snake helps, I complete my routine without interrupting my companion’s meditation.
A disturbance in the water beside our dock shows that Riff, the muskrat has come to graze on the weeds. With a cup of tea, I return outdoors and the snake has gone. Just then, Smudge our black and white cat trots by with a smooth, straight stick in his mouth. It is the snake gone rigid. Smudge and snake disappear under the deck. Strange play-mates!
At dusk, making our evening cups of tea, a huge adrenalin rush. A mid-sized black bear, perhaps 250 lbs of it, is passing beneath the kitchen window. I remember I’ve left the dish of drippings from the BBQ beside the front door intending to clean it. The bear is slurping hungrily. On tiptoe (our cabin is like a sounding-box) I grab the camera, heart pounding and take tons of pictures as the bear circles the cabin.
Finally my husband shoots off a five-round clip of his SKS Simonov assault rifle and the bear takes off into the bushes. Pierre, who guides mostly Americans who pay big bucks for the privilege of hunting bears, has already downed 42 this season. “I suppose there won’t be any left up at our neck of the woods?” I’d asked gaily. “There’s plenty left,” he said nonchalantly – a man of few words. I guess he’s right.