We were sitting in the car, driving back to Calgary from a hike near Banff, when I exploded. "F***!"
The driver, a friend of mine from church, looked at me, startled. I don't swear often, and I almost never use the F-bomb. But some situations warrant anger of that magnitude.
This particular instance of expletive came out of a deep place in my heart. I had just seen a bear on the railroad tracks. Over the past few years, bears have been dropping like flies - getting hit on the highways, and by trains. Our Alberta grizzly population is dwindling at an alarming rate, and this concerns me. I've been a backcountry hiker over half my life, and wilderness matters. Bears, especially grizzlies, represent everything that is wild and free about Alberta, this province that I love. Tourists will create bear jams that go for miles on the highway just for a glimpse at the revered grizzly bear. We pay lipservice to valuing the bears, but it doesn't go far enough to make a difference on the rail line.
A few years ago, a mother grizzly was killed on a stretch of rail line near Lake Louise. Her orphaned cubs died in the wild. This year, it happened again. She was one of three females with cubs in the area, and now there are only two. This is her the day before she died.
Bears are being hit while on the railway line, but they are specific examples of the bigger problem of humanity's incredible ability to be selfish.
The frustration I have about human callousness to animal life isn't just about bears. It's about human callousness to human life too. We have homeless people literally dying in droves from poverty. Sure on the surface it's sepsis, or trauma, or overdose. But really, it's poverty. Financial, emotional, social poverty. We have known for a long time that poverty is a determinant of health - it's taught in every community medicine class around the world. And yet we justify it somehow when it's in our own nation. "It's their own fault," we tell ourselves. "Calgary is booming - if they wanted a job, they'd have one." Ever tried to get a job without a home address? Not so easy. But it's more than just that.
The number of homeless, addicted, mentally ill, or vulnerably housed people who have been hit while on Calgary's C-train tracks is astounding. And that's literally. So many of our population are dying due to inadequate health care. Whether that's because they're getting discharged to mats at Alpha House, or because they're vulnerable to violence, rape, infection, and malnutrition. That's not even considering all the illnesses that are associated with addictions too. Every day at Alpha, we see multiple people who are quite ill. Some are dying. Getting them health care is often a huge battle.
People are being hit while on the rail lines too. Are we going to respond, and if so, how?