The peacocks (and other wildlife) of Vancouver Island

PACIFIC RIM HIGHWAY
The deer came out at dusk. They barely lifted their heads to acknowledge us, but I slowed the car and put everyone on deer watch. Bear watch, too, since we were up in the mountains.

I had formulated a plan in case we saw bears. It involved my pulling onto the shoulder, opening the sunroof and standing on my seat to take pictures. If the bear reacted poorly to the paparazzi, I’d dive down and hope Melani got the sunroof closed in time.

I was going to fill her in on the plan when we came round a bend — the 20th in a series of thousands — and my heart stopped and my stomach fell (a disconcerting combination). There in the oncoming lane, crossing the road with nary a care, was a peacock in full blue and green glory.

“Feathers everywhere!” I thought in a panic as I veered just slightly out of his way. It was safely over before we’d fully realized what happened. I turned to Melani and said, “Well, that was unexpected,” and she kind of laughed at me.

The Bird Atlas says the presence of wild Indian peafowl on Vancouver Island is “hypothetical,” though it has documented two separate populations that it says were accidentally established when imported peacocks escaped their pens starting in the late 1990s. There are fewer than 150 of them, the atlas says, further warning that free-range domestic peafowl are breeding with feral ones. And we all know where that story ends.

A day later, after a winding, rolling trip to Tofino and Ucuelet on the west coast of the west coast, I sighed and muttered something about heading back to our Airbnb so early, having accomplished so little (so little: a beach, mountains, a sweet thrift shop, hipster heckling and the extreme joy of listening to our daughter belt out P!nk tunes as we drive).

“We’ll arrange some adventure on the way back,” long-suffering Melani said, though we both knew there was nothing but wilderness between us and the trailer we were renting.

“Did that car just flash its lights at you?” she asked as we crested a small mountain.

I hadn’t seen it happen, but I took my foot off the gas. I’d been warned about speed traps along this highway. I squinted forward at a pullout on the opposite side of the highway, wondering whether a cop car was hidden there.

It wasn’t police.

I pressed on the brake and crossed the highway onto the gravel pullout. “Jillian. I need you to take off your seatbelt,” I said as I put the car into park and opened the sunroof. She was perplexed. “What?”

“Get up here. Stand on this. Now move over for me.”

There we were, on the side of a barren highway, the tops of our bodies poking out of a sunroof, with a bear directly in front of us, ignoring our stares and whispered squeals, poking into the grass with his nose. He looked up at us once, then lay down and committed to willing us away. “He has zero shits left to give,” I said to the guys in a car who pulled up next to ours.

We slid back into our seats and drove past nice and slow, bidding him farewell.

He halfway rose to say good night, then rolled his eyes (I imagine) and went back to snoozing in the sunshine.

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