A family of deer graze on mountain ash berries at story writer Chris Hornby’s home this past spring. Chris Hornby photo

A Christmas story: A Gift

Chris Hornby reflects on the year and how she found comfort in nature after the 2017 wildfires

Chris Hornby

Special to the Tribune/Advisor

It seems like a long time ago now, but it’s only a year and a half ago we, here in Williams Lake in the Cariboo Chilcotin area of B.C., had horrendous wildfires.

In the olden days, they used to call a fire a forest fire. Now it’s called a wildfire.

Experiencing the fire was traumatic for everyone. Each person experienced the fire in their own way. I don’t think any two people experienced it in the same way.

People got busy helping each other, took stacked firewood away from the sides of buildings or out of carports and cleaning up underbrush from around their homes and buildings.

They formed work parties, yes: ‘parties’ and helped each other.

Bonds between people were formed, life-lasting bonds, that didn’t exist before the wildfire.

Neighbourhoods became close!

After the wildfire there were workshops on poetry to express feelings of the fire. There were art sessions to express feelings, and singing. The church choirs sang and all the people began to return to their normal feelings of security.

When the wildfires were here we could not hear the birds sing.

It was eerie.

We wondered if they would ever return?

They did return and sing as brilliantly as ever. This past fall, the birds came back in abundance in our yard.

Swedish and Danish elders told me they used to make jam from the mountain ash trees, when they lived in the old country, when they were children.

This past fall the Saskatoon and chokecherry berries hung like grapes upon the bushes. Everywhere one hiked they were extremely plentiful.

It was peaceful and therapeutic to stand amongst the bushes and pick berries for hours on end.

I could hear the birds again and watch the deer.

What a gift! I picked and picked to my heart’s content. I was as happy as a clam in a seashell. Berry picking brought peace.

The deer were plentiful this summer and fall. At times there were 14 deer in the yard. We had the pleasure and honour of having two fawns (twins) born by the front gate in a glen of trees.

They remained all summer and well into the fall. We watched as they played, and chased each other around the yard.

When they were first born they had white spots on them but, as fall approached, they lost their spots and their legs grew long and gangley.

They were able to jump up on their back legs and reach the mountain ash berries on the trees.

They drank water from the bird bath and seemed contented.

For the children: I wonder if these are the reindeer sleigh on Christmas Eve?

We have not had as many squirrels this year in our yard as other years.

Wonder where they disappeared to?

We had one black bear, a sow and a cub, wander through our neighbour’s yard.

They came over to tell us about it, but we did not see it ourselves. The bear didn’t stay very long. Just a day or two.

She did return later in the fall to fatten up, eating almost all the mountain ash berries and leave a scat as proof.

Read more: Walkers cautioned of black bear at Scout Island

Another, unusual occurrence this past September on Fox Mountain the forested area were the return of the elk.

We have never seen them here before. We were out hiking with a group of people from Vancouver Island when one of the ladies stopped, and yelled at us to “come back!”

We did, and there were two elk, the largest we had ever seen. I was not quick enough with my camera to get a photo.

A conservation officer said there were also two elk spotted at Sugarcane, at the back in the hills.

The salmon run at Horsefly this year (2018) was also very plentiful (over two million).

The salmon were pink and gray in colour, breaking the surface of the river water, fighting to swim upstream.

They were returning home to lay their eggs, in the rocky, silty, bottom of the Horsefly River. What a gift to see.

We are blessed to live in the beautiful Cariboo-Chilcotin area of this province; British Columbia, Canada.

It is so spectacular, free and peaceful in nature.

This year we have been gifted with the abundance of trout (from out west, Sapeye Lake, salmon, Horsefly River, deer, moose, elk, fox, birds, cedar waxwings, jays, pileated woodpeckers, wee sparrows, thrushes and bald headed eagle in December).

At times when we were fly fishing we each had a trout on the line at the same time. The trout (rainbow) were plentiful.

Sometimes, when situations are sad and rough, something happy happens in nature.

It is important to get outside, go for a walk and breathe the winter air. It makes us feel better and happy and it is free.

Mother Nature has been good to us this year and we are thankful for all the gifts.

Best wishes for a happy Christmas day and all the best for 2019!

Chris Hornby is an environmentalist, naturalist and pre school teacher living on Fox Mountain with her family. She annually submits a written piece at Christmas time.



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