Tag Archives: forests

Nature Photography Day

So did you get out to take pictures?

(I know at least one of you did. How about the rest? I may not be getting a lot of traffic here but I do have more than one reader for a fact. So.)

1306_nature photography day_042The Ebony Jewelwing damselfly picture in the background on the front page is the favourite so far, but if you want to see some other shots, they’re all on my flickr stream. And just as I said, I looked for things that most people would be able to find within a walk of their home, no matter where they live.

Like … bugs! Surely there are caterpillars and beetles in your vicinity. (Fun fact: beetle species make up 40% of all insect species and 30% of all animal species. That’s a lot of beetles! But by weight the ants win; if you took all the ants in the world and weighed them up together, they would weigh as much as all of the people in the world put together. That’s a LOT of ants. There are probably at least a few ants within a few feet of you right now, whether you can see them or not.)

This lovely fellow is a six-spotted tiger beetle; very common in woodlands in these parts and easily seen because he likes to sun himself on paths, rather than in the foliage.

1306_nature photography day_121

And garden flowers. I don’t know if I’ve ever been anywhere that didn’t have at least a windowbox growing something with petals–and very likely there is a front stoop or boulevard garden with roses growing nearby.

The deer, turtles and frogs I admit you may not see on a stroll around your neighbourhood.

But by far the best part of Nature Photography Day was getting out on a gorgeous afternoon with enough time to poke around and discover some previously unexplored corners of the trails near my home. The first led me to a small, shallow pond full of tadpoles; the second to a larger, deeper pond full of frogs, with turtles sunning on a log and dragonflies (mostly Common Whitetails) and damselflies (mostly bluets) darting around the edge like WWII fighter planes. It was Happy Season for the Whitetails; I lost track of the number of mating sessions I saw in the two-hour span I sat there for, the bright bluish-white males and the golden-brown females flying by, joined in a heart-shaped loop, then the females laying their eggs in the pond while the male guarded them from above. I did try to get pictures but they all turned out blurry. Maybe next time.

Overhead, flycatchers (I think) swooped over the pond in low arcs, while woodpeckers called from the trees. It was odd to think that while I sat there, taking some time away from any kind of work and entirely at peace, I was surrounded by animals busily at work providing for themselves and their families, largely by eating each other. And yet it was perfect. I somehow doubt that our human, urban environments provide our non-human neighbours with the same sense of calm.

Near IS the New Far (or: I Told You So)

bloodroot

I became very afraid last weekend about the potential apocalypse. There I was, going about my regular business, when I saw this giant yellow flaming ball in the sky. Then I remembered that it was something called the sun, and usually heralded a good day to spend outside. I obliged.

Mostly this consisted of yard work–lawn mowing, hedge trimming, and weed pulling–speaking of which, do not, for the love of god, plant a garden of ground-climbing roses. They grow like weeds, take over the lawn and the sidewalk, and it is impossible to weed them without skinning your forearms. I’ve decided more or less officially to let half of the backyard grow in wild and leave it unmowed, and claim this is for the good of the neighbourhood birds and rabbits. You can judge the honestly of this claim for yourself. At any rate, it does make my life a bit easier.

But mostly–Dear Readers, I went to the forest. And it was green! There were things growing. Pretty things, just like spring had actually begun and winter was really truly over. Just in time for summer, in fact, as June starts this week, but whatever. There were trout lilies, trilliums, and the Royal Botanical Gardens’ magnolia glade in full bloom. Yellow warblers and red-winged blackbirds, green and leopard and tree frogs, cacophonies of spring peepers at dusk.

It was, in every way, perfect, except that Frances was at her Dad’s house all weekend so I didn’t get to see her geeking out over all the cool frogs.

It was also, in every way, a perfect illustration of the central thesis of Richard Louv’s recent The Nature Principle, which extends the argument of his prior Last Child in the Woods to society at large, and about time. His point? That you, your longevity, your mood, your relationships, your physical strength, your family, your neighbourhood, your community, the world at large, and the non-human world as well, all stand to benefit from a reconnection between us and our green kin and neighbours. An important book that deserves to be widely read and will almost certainly be ignored in favour of Apple’s latest profit statements, it made me dizzyingly happy. I read it in snippets between long stretches outside and felt both smugly self-righteous and determined to spend that much more time outdoors. Even in winter (perish the thought) since apparently winter walks provide just as much benefit as summer walks do, only people don’t enjoy them as much.

Bummer. I’ve lost my excuse to stay inside in January.

At any rate: on the assumption that any readers of my little blog are likely to be pro-green and well-disposed to the occasional out-of-doors afternoon, pick it up. You will have to imagine how it thrilled me to see and read “Near is the New Far,” seeing as it’s only what I’ve been saying to anyone who will listen for the past ten years, which isn’t many people, except now I can add “and Richard Louv agrees with me, so there!”

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I want to write more here, and soon, and not just because Louv filled my head with a lot of green ideas, either. I miss it. But between coordinating field visits for frog-counting and debating the merits of various methods of ensuring soil visibility for archaeological surveys, writing Natural Heritage pieces for Heritage Toronto, raising a daughter, maintaining a house, reading, sewing, running, and sleeping a couple times a week, this has been the one thing that gets dropped. That should change, soon.

If you see me here again in June, then it has changed. Otherwise, not so much.

Plus ca change

It took me forever to get out to the woods today. I missed Frances, and I missed the boyfriend. And, I came to realize, I missed my old pond, near my old house in North York. I wanted deeply to just put on my shoes and head out the door for a long walk in a natural setting without needing to drive or bike first, and I wanted to end up at a pond and putter around it for an hour or so, looking at frogs and wildflowers and herons and ducks. I wanted to sit at the bend of the Don, on the big boulders, where the current continually tosses up one perfect cowlick of froth. I wanted to hear the water thundering over the stones, and then go into the woods and stare at the trunks where generations of woodpeckers had hollowed out a dozen homes for other small creatures.

old-style sacred grove

And because I couldn’t have it, I nearly didn’t go out at all. But then forced myself into the car and down to Webster’s Falls, a favourite of mine, where you can clamber out right onto the stones where the river rushes over the edge, and it feels ludicrously dangerous and safe as houses, both at once. It was packed today. Two weddings and at least a hundred other people besides, on the waterfall, the bridge, and the trail down below. Not quite the thing when you want to sulk, you know.

The trail down to the bottom of the waterfall (packed) led to a trail beside the river (not packed); I followed it for the first time. Not quite as civilized, in the best way: no rails, no stairs, no paving. Lots of dirt. Lots of clambering over fallen trees and up or down root-stairs, on wet rocks, or through small trickling creeks. Lots of measured steps where the earth fell away on one side, and the path sloped towards it. An hour and a half or so along this river, thinking, thank god I got myself out of the house today.

new-style sacred grove

It was in every way better than the old river. Waterfalls every twenty or thirty feet. Boulders at the water’s edge one can lie on–and not gabion baskets or erosion boulders but “natural” boulders likely dragged there by glaciers millennia ago. Forests stretching away on either side up the escarpment, lovely old trees spaciously filtering the sunlight through leaves showing the first traces of fall colour. Trunks straight and slim as temple columns. And thinking, every so often as I stopped to take in the view–slopes covered with spread-out tree trunks, the light streaking in high above through the leaves, the palpable hush–that there might be something biological to the calm and reverence those views inspire.

I especially like the way the branches meet in a nicely arched canopy.

Because it’s the same view seen in temple and cathedral architecture worldwide: columns, spaces, high ceilings, filtered light. I wondered if, for thousands of years, we haven’t been building our sacred architecture as highly stylized stone forests with glass leaves.

At first I thought that must be why a walk through the woods always makes me feel better–peaceful, aware, stronger, more alive. But then I thought, no, that’s backwards.

That’s why people always feel better in churches. Because they look like forests.

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Absolutely none of these photos are mine. I take no credit for them. They are lovely, though, aren’t they?