NOVEMBER: She is hungry. She is alone. Snow is falling. But the bear’s sole focus is the hole she digs under the trunk of an ancient yellow birch that had toppled over, two years earlier, during a windstorm. This would be a good place to spend the winter — and, perhaps, to give birth to the cubs that are slowly growing inside her.
Around the early 1950s, the “arctic fox” strain of rabies entered Ontario from the north. The province’s abundant populations of red foxes and striped skunks are particularly vulnerable to that strain of rabies, and Ontario soon had the dubious distinction of being the “rabies capital of North America.” As I spent so much time “in the bush” and handled wild animals from childhood as I aided my mother with her work in wildlife rescue and rehabilitation, I was familiar with rabies and took vaccinations hoped to protect me in event of contact with rabies.
In the Bible, the book of Leviticus describes a horrific custom that involved sacrificing two goats to atone for the sins of the community. On the appointed day, one of the animals was slaughtered in the temple; the other, bedecked with a red ribbon to symbolize the people’s wrongs, was abandoned in the desert to die. British artist William Holman Hunt’s famous 1854 painting, “Scapegoat,” shows a dying goat, wearing the pretty ribbon, staggering beneath a blazing desert sun while surrounded by inhospitable salt pans and the bones and carcasses of other animals.