Saturday, May 4, 2013

Jasper: A Walk on the Wild Side (4)

Jasper National Park sprawls across 6,976 square miles, is on UNESCO's World Heritage List and is also the largest Dark Sky Preserve in the world.  The tiny town of Jasper sits humbly in the midst of all this wilderness. Jasper -- named for the fur trader who used to run a  trading-post here -- has houses, roads and even sidewalks, but it is totally dwarfed by the mountains and virgin forests that surround it.
Xingxing and I stayed at the Sawridge Inn and Conference Center, at the edge of this very small outpost of civilization.  The rooms are comfortable and the decor is hunting lodge, with a number of very convincing wildlife specimens on display in the lobby. I found the wolf particularly alarming. I never  knew wolves grew so big. Hard to believe this guy was one of Xingxing's ancestors.
Sawridge Inn is dog-friendly, but the neighborhood -- which includes wolves, bear, moose, caribou, coyotes, lynx, cougars, wolverines, hawks, eagles and 275 other kinds of birds -- isn't. To most of the non-human population, Xingxing was just another potential snack.
The tall pine forests came right down to the edge of the parking lot, and so did many of the critters. When I ventured out onto our little deck, I found myself staring at an elk in the nature strip, who didn't even bother to look up.
When we set out for our morning walk, discretion seemed the better part of valor and I decided not to venture beyond the perimeters of the hotel parking lot.   However, this made for a very short walk.  Xingxing was restless and excited by all the new smells and wanted to go where a Shih Tzu had never gone before. I looked around. The elk had wandered away and it was a quiet, peaceful morning. So we set off boldly across the patch of grass that separated Sawridge Inn from the motel next door.
We were between the two motels when a huge black bird swooped down on us.  The bird was a lot bigger than Xingxing. It dived, and I screamed and jerked Xingxing out of reach.  The bird banked, and settled on a branch. It was not happy.  It flapped its wings and looked around almost as if it was waiting for reinforcements, which it was. Within seconds, three of its friends arrived. They looked at us, calculating.  You could see their bird brains, working. This was not looking good and I decided to make a run for it. Scooping up Xingxing, I dashed back towards the hotel. To my astonishment and chagrin, the birds came after us!  They swooped and dived and screamed around us, and I was really, really scared. It like something out of Hitchcock.
"They're ravens," the young man at the desk explained.  "They build their nests in that stand of trees between the hotels. They might just be protecting their territory. Or looking for food. Baby ravens take a lot of feeding.  But you don't need to worry. A hawk could take a little dog like that, but a raven probably couldn't manage it. At least, I don't think so" he added thoughtfully.

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