This column is about Bert Everston and his down-to-earth approach to nature and the birds and animals he shared space with on the 80 acres where he lived for the past 30 years.
Bert was a heavy duty machine operator in the north and throughout logging operations where he worked. My impression of the respect he was held by his peers, he could have cut pastry with a bulldozer blade.
During his later years he worked with small air compressors and other mechanical tools. He was a magician when it came to fixing them and if he needed a part he often made it on his small metal lathe. I was privileged over the years to share his bottomless coffee maker and philosophic discussions on nature and life in general.
Thanks to his landlord, George Cousineau, Bert developed a symbiotic relationship with the birds and animals he shared space with on the land and forest where he lived. When the pond was built he made certain the geese and ducks who came to nest in it were amply supplied with grain and other supplements.
The chair pictured with this column is one of two he used to sit on as he entertained his neighbours. One of the significant neighbours were the domestic rabbits he encouraged around his immediate buildings and woods. This unusual affiliation with rabbits was probably in respect to the wild rabbits that saved his life years ago, when he was left in the Nahanni Valley in the Northwest Territories for three months and survived by living on wild rabbits (varying hares). Bert would never eat rabbit; but on one occasion when they increased in numbers, he asked me to thin them out.
I had the privilege of hunting deer on the property, but it was never consecrated by harvesting a deer – I was concerned about killing one of the deer that Bert referred to as little people.
I realize it is unlawful to habituate wildlife; but there are times when you turn a blind eye to something more important. He was never certain how many deer he had in his immediate group, but at times he would go out in the evening with a flashlight and count the number of reflecting pairs of eyes in the beam of his light and occasionally they reached the teens.
He legitimately had a strong dislike for feral cats and dogs that ran deer. He handed out frontier justice to any feral cats that killed the rabbits and birds around the house. In an interesting distribution of food, he always put any dead cats or rabbits in an area where the local vultures could find them. This unique habit spoke much of his basic understanding of nature, a system of creating balance in wild places. It is worth noting that he held no grudge against the owls that regularly took the surplus small rabbits during the night hours.
He was wise enough in beaver engineering that he out-smarted them when they tried to dam the outlet to the pond. I suggest road engineers should look at his system.
Bert passed away Feb. 21, 2015 just short of his 95th birthday. He was representative of thousands of Canadians who live close to nature and understand much of its secret ways. This column salutes him.
Ralph Shaw is a master fly fisherman who was awarded the Order of Canada in 1984 for his conservation efforts. In 20 years of writing a column in the Comox Valley Record it has won several awards.