Animals are a great subject to write about, and awesome for adding a touch of realism to your fictional writing. As with any living thing you add to your writing, animals as characters or stage content should seem as real as possible. Let’s consider today’s animals…
One of my brothers mentioned hearing a news item that promised to name ‘the most dangerous animal to man’ in North America. Apparently it’s not the grizzly bear, panther, or any fanged or sharp-clawed animal. Number one in your headlights is…the deer. Besides their tendency to freeze on the spot when blinded by your lights, it turns out deer also like to play chicken.
Here in northeastern BC, I can tell you that this is most likely true, and not just something deer do. In the nine months I spent commuting to the neighboring province of Alberta, I witnessed a few examples of wildlife taking chances. A fawn jumped in front of my car and spun around for the ditch just as quickly while my car went into a spin…seems there was a little manufacturer’s defect the dealer had to fix. (I haven’t had the problem since, but at first my car would go into a spin whenever I braked hard. Not a good start to the relationship…) Then there was the crazy squirrel that liked to race semis. One time I thought he’d had it, but he changed his mind and raced for the ditch instead of the tires. The flock of swans that flew past just above my car was cool, though; for a few moments it felt like I was in flight with them. I wonder if they felt they were driving down the highway with me?
At the start of July in 2001, I drove up to Alaska. There was a lot of wildlife to observe, and, unfortunately, more than enough to interact with. A juvenile caribou jumped off a rock face and snapped the antenna off my car in the Pink Mountain area–right where there are signs warning drivers to watch for Dahl Sheep. Sorry, guess I was watching for the wrong species. The little fella jumped up and took off with incredible speed, leaving me with a rapid heartbeat and some really minor dents. So that’s what tiny hoofprints look like…
The moose in Kluane National Park had him beat for speed. The ditch was quite deep in that area, and this was a muscular, mature bull moose with a huge rack. When he saw my car coming, he got a twinkle in his eye and started to run. By the time I was beside him, he was keeping up. I did have to exceed the speed limit to get past him, but if he’d jumped onto the road it could have been deadly for both of us. He looked sad in my rear view mirror, as if the game had ended. To this day, I think he was bored and just wanted some exercise. He did keep up for several seconds.
A few kms (or miles) down the road a younger moose stood stock still in my lane, as if he was posing. He had a slightly expectant expression, as if he was hoping I’d get out of the car and take a picture. (I don’t know, do they work in teams?) You should never, ever get out of your vehicle to take pictures of wildlife. It’s not safe for the human, and it’s not fair to the animal who might become dangerously accustomed to human contact. At length I honked my horn and he sauntered into the bush with a look that seemed to say, ‘you had your chance.’
We do tend to anthropomorphize animals in our attempts to understand them better, and to a degree they imitate us as well. It makes sense that a creature looking up to the top of the food chain would try to mimic some of the behavior it sees. While a dog may never grab a gun, he can be trained to attack when it’s in his owner’s best interest…so why not his own? At least one mystery I remember identified the thumbprint of the criminal as not quite human–it was a trained monkey.
Animal intelligence tends to be understood in human terms. I still say if you think a Basset Hound is dumb, he has you outwitted. This is a dog that will only overcome its inherent laziness if it deems the humans around it to be smarter than itself. Even my old half-Basset, Dingo, kept testing me to see if I would maintain the standards originally set for him. My current dog, Liberty, mostly takes after her Chesapeake Bay Retriever background, while the Border Collie in her keeps jumping (within my parameters) and the German Shepherd Dog just might adhere to the training. Chesapeakes are a bit of a challenge, and like to grumble when they’re not having enough fun or if they’re upset or bored. Funny thing, Liberty is carrying on Dingo’s tendency to fawn over cats. Is it me?
Thanks for reading. 🙂
Phyllis K Twombly