As our time in Toronto comes to a close, I reflect on the things that I’ll miss most about the city when we are gone. Without a doubt, Toronto the wild is amongst them. Our relationship with the wildlife in the city has been one of amusement, surprise and at times frustration. Let me tell you a little bit more about it.
Back in May, a black bear was spotted roaming in Newmarket, a town 50km north of Toronto. At the time, CBC news published advise on how to survive a bear encounter, which included making noise to keep them at bay, remaining calm, not running away as they might chase you, and finally standing tall and fighting back if you are been attacked. Now, at 5’6”, how tall would I stand in front of a bear, and how would I stop myself from running away? We haven’t encountered any bears, and yet, within the city, we have come close to plenty of wildlife.
Walking through one of the ravine habitats at High Park, a 161-hectare park at the heart of the city, we came across a sign with similar advice, this time in relation to coyotes. If you are approached by a coyote, make yourself appear larger and shout and/or clap your hands together. Stay calm and never run. We have seen the coyote signs many times since, and although we have not seen one ourselves there has been sightings within a mile from home.
What have we seen in the city, in the downtown core? Plenty of squirrels and racoons. We used to amuse ourselves by counting squirrels on our way to the kids school. We soon stopped counting, as there were so many. We stopped taking the compost bin out until collection morning in the summer, as we would find the contents spread through our front door by the racoons overnight. Racoons, with their extremely dexterous front paws, can open anything. One evening I saw one desperately trying to open our kitchen glass door. And skunks. Outside our door and unfazed by our presence. The poor neighbour’s dog was sprayed by a skunk and it took two weeks for the smell to wear off. And rats. Now this is were my relationship with the wildlife in the city became frustrating. A rat made a nest in the neighbours crumbling shed and had babies. Over the next weeks, until the neighbours got together to contact a pest control company, we saw rats crossing our small garden or hiding below our deck before returning back to the shed. The squirrels, racoons, even the skunks, I enjoyed seen. The rats were different, but why? When the rats were gone I felt relieved, relieved and guilty at the same time. At a time when I am advocating a more natural, wilder approach to the design of urban landscapes, perhaps it’s time to redefine my own relationship with the wildlife, all the wildlife that can live amongst us.
All in all I have loved this ‘wild’ year. And I hope we get to see a snowy owl before our time is up.