A “before” photo shows Marty the Marten shows in the slim days before he discovered back straps. (Oregon State University/Flickr)

A “before” photo shows Marty the Marten shows in the slim days before he discovered back straps. (Oregon State University/Flickr)

Tlellagraph: Gary and Cedric, a Haida Gwaii food-love story

By Janet Rigg

*No woodland creatures in this story are based on any known person living or dead.

Once there was a marten who lived in Tlell. Other woodland folk liked to call him Marty the Marten, because it rhymed. He thought that was rather simple humour. Besides, his name was Gary.

Gary knew that he was descended from the Haida Gwaii Original Ten endemic species. He knew he held a place with the Black Bear, the Charlotte ermine, the River Otter, the deer mouse, dusky shrew, and four species of bats that no one paid much attention to. He knew he should feel distinguished, like he belonged. But he didn’t. He felt alone.

Admittedly, the black bears were often fun to hang out with by the river’s edge. They liked to tell rude jokes about the black tail deer and German tourists. But they were a solitary lot too, often drunk on salalberry juice, so no one spent much time in their company.

The Charlotte Ermine, well, Gary had never got along well with them. Once he tried to get to know one, but she insisted being called by her Latin name: Mustela Erminea Haidarum. It was a mouthful, and then he heard other martens were allegedly taking an actual mouthful of ermine, and it seemed best to stay away from the situation as a whole.

No one spent any time with the River Otters. Gary often wondered why they hissed so much and acted so aggressively. He wondered about their childhoods, if they ever got any love from their mothers, or what else would make them so mean? They often hung out in gangs, like they owned the river. When they were there, no one went anywhere near the river, especially Gary.

The Deer Mouse and the Dusky Shrew? Well, Gary had to admit that his basest instincts came forward when he came into contact with one of them. It was his nature, and as much as he thought the dusky shrew had an alluring air about her, his stomach generally won out.

His stomach… it was growing round. He had a guilty secret. Sometimes, at night, when he was sure no one else was around, he’d hang out in a tree. This in and of itself was nothing unusual for a marten. But then… when a small black tailed deer strolled by, he’d drop from the tree and… well, you can imagine.

The first time it happened it was by accident. He actually fell from the tree and hit the deer in such a way that it was killed instantly. He then discovered he quite liked venison, especially the back strap. There was no going back.

Unfortunately, Gary’s little secret only served to further isolate him from all those other woodland creatures. What would they think? It was greedy and opportunistic, wasn’t it? Or was it a legitimate food source? Was it okay to have a round belly as a marten? Was it as bad as eating the Charlotte ermine? Or worse? He didn’t know, and he was afraid to ask.

Then, one evening, as he struggled between the impulse to track a chipmunk he’d just heard, or climb to his perch and just wait, he heard a young black bear making some strange noises in the bushes behind him. Curious, he went to investigate.

“What’s wrong black bear?” he asked

The bear looked at him suspiciously, clearly unsure as to whether to trust Gary or not with his troubles.

“Marty the Marten? I hear you don’t like other woodland creatures. Why should I tell you what’s wrong?”

“Because my name is Gary,” he replied with a strange confidence.

“Oh,” said the bear, sensing Gary meant business and had no time for the musing of gossips. After a deep breath, the bear went on to explain that he feared he was a vegetarian, that he didn’t like the taste of deer, and barely liked fish. He might even be a vegan, he moaned, dissolving into bear tears again.

Gary’s heart softened. He gingerly patted the Bear’s big paw with his little one. “What’s your name, black bear?”

“Cedric,” he replied, bowing his head. Gary felt his sympathy for this unusual bear grow.

“Well, Cedric,” Gary said softly. “I think that’s okay.”

“You do?” said Cedric, looking hopefully at Gary and wiping away a big-bear tear with his other paw.

“Yeah, I do. If that’s what you like, then that’s fine by me. Who says you have to eat deer or fish?” Gary heard his words, but felt his own shame growing deep inside. His voice went soft, and his eyes went down. Cedric understood body language from a course on communication he overheard up at the Hiellen campground.

“What’s your troubles, Gary?” he asked gently. Gary looked at Cedric with vulnerable optimism. Could he confess? Now seemed like a good time, if he was ever going to.

“I … I … well, you don’t like deer. And I… I do…” Gary’s voice trailed off. Cedric nodded, pursed his lips and raised his eyebrows.

“Interesting. I wasn’t sure, but I’ve heard talk that other martens are eating deer, too. I think there was an article about it in the Observer awhile back. But you confirm it, it is true.”

Gary regarded his new friend with amazement. Not only was he not being judgmental, he was telling him that other martens did the same! It was like the weight of the world was lifted from his shoulders. He smiled. Cedric smiled back.

“But you know,” Cedric added, “You need to think more about exercise with a high-protein diet like that. Or, at least, a fasting cycle.”

And so it was this holiday season in Tlell. A fat marten and vegan bear found acceptance in each other. A great friendship was born, and it would flourish for many years, with the brief exception of the time that Cedric accidentally witnessed Gary leaping on a small deer. It was a bit much for Cedric’s stomach, but after a good chat, they remembered that it was their differences that brought them together, and their differences that kept them strong.

Happy 2018 Haida Gwaii!