A Ghost in the Darkness
Dying is not an option, and death is not a game which will soon be over. Death is not anything, it’s the absence of presence, nothing more. The endless time of never coming back, a gap you can’t see, and when the wind blows through it, it makes not sound… Poem written by Tom Stoppard
The evening of August 5, 2014, in the wilderness of Northwestern alberta, was spectacular. it’s not often you simultaneously have perfect weather in the mountains and the pleasure of being surrounded by great coworkers. friends actually. as are most tragedies in our lives, they are unexpected and arrive in the blink of an eye. often, these sudden events bring forward the inherent human spirit to survive and the selfless acts and heroic efforts of others to save a loved one. on august 2014, death came in the form of a cougar, but dying was not something on the mind of its intended victim.
The Alberta ESRD (Environment and Sustainable Resource Development) Fisheries team had assembled in a remote location in the Nose Mountain region, southwest of Grande Prairie, for an annual stream fish count and survey. Some streams were to be accessed by foot and OHV’s with more remote areas via helicopter. When I received my invite to attend the weeklong event, I was thrilled. What better opportunity to see the remotest areas of my new district, get up in a chopper, camp with great people, and do a little fishing? The invite included a very lengthy safety briefing plan and as I read it, I distinctly remember thinking, “Wow, who puts together such an in-depth and detailed safety plan?” Someone had gone through a great deal of work to produce this plan and it almost seemed like overkill. Little did I know how important and lifesaving the plan would soon become.
August 5th was a day still early enough in the summer where the sun stays up well past 10:00 p.m. In it, the shadows lengthen while the temperatures drop and the animals start to wake for their evening forays. Following a day of 30 degree weather, the evening was a soothing time, a time to get a fire going and maybe roast a wiener or marshmallow while plans were being made and stories were being told. The wild lightning and thunderstorm that had rolled through turned everything to mud, but the sky was now clearing and spirits were lifted.
The cougar feared not humans nor their noisy activities, having heard these sounds his entire life. Be it logging, oil and gas exploration or hunters and their ATV’s, the wild cat had become conditioned to such commotion. Like most cougars, it knew humans are normally oblivious to its presence as it patiently watched the group from just outside the camp’s perimeter. As the last sliver of daylight faded into dusk, the cat’s confidence grew. Darkness was his domain. The onset of pitch black also sparks the desire for most humans to complete their day’s final tasks, such as collecting firewood, prepping the tent and of course, bathroom breaks.