Tag Archives: Hamilton

Fireflies!

The Royal Botanical Gardens is an extra treat for those of us who live nearby; it has the gardens, yes, but also many kilometres of hiking trails through nature preserves and active nature education programs for artists, adults, kids and families. Naturally Frances has been a constant attender of the daycamps since we moved here a few years back. This past weekend we took advantage of the other programs and attended their Fun with Fireflies evening.

The RBG staff started with a presentation on fireflies (fun fact #1: fireflies aren’t flies. They’re beetles) a few games outside while waiting for the sun to set; then we set off on a short walk to the shore to see if we could find any fireflies, bug nets in hand.

Did we ever. There were hundreds of them, twinkling in the trees like a fair city. Frances didn’t manage to net any, but I did get one exceptionally blurry photograph.

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Besides stalking fireflies in the woods in the dark, which was pretty fun, I loved learning about their deceitfulness. No, really. They use their flashing butts to talk to each other and find mates of their own species, as you probably already knew. But females will also use the flashing patterns of females of other species to lure in those males, and then eat them (yes, fireflies can be cannibalistic). And, in a lovely mind-bending twist, the males will sometimes use the flashing pattners of females of other species who are pretending to be his species in order to convince the males of their own species that they are in imminent danger of being eaten, to frighten them away, so they can have the territory and the females to themselves. Amazing.

Fireflies are declining in numbers and becoming endangered, due likely to light pollution (hard to talk to each other when they are being washed out by streetlights everywhere) and habitat loss. If you’d like to learn about how you can help them, or about the different species of fireflies, check out firefly.org. You can even contribute your firefly sightings to help scientists further their research into these important and beautiful insects.

Planet Moving for beginners

2011 is the year for climate activism (knock wood–so far): the Keystone Pipeline protests at the White House, Climate Reality last week, Moving Planet this weekend, a Keystone Pipeline action in Ottawa on Monday, all in September. Chances are you missed the White House bit and won’t be making it down to NYC for Occupy Wall Street, nor will you be busing it up to Ottawa to camp out on Parliament Hill and tell Stephen Harper what an idiot he is.

(Definition of Idiot: repeatedly states he has no intention of doing anything about preserving the planet we live on because the soils, oceans, atmosphere and climate underlying our civilization are not significant, but as soon as Europe’s economy falters and a recession looms he jumps in with both feet. This, Dear Readers, is like fussing with the arrangement of the photos on your mantelpiece while your house burns down around you.)

I digress. Chances are, you are not traveling for climate activism.

But lucky you, you don’t have to!

For the very laziest among you, log on to the Climate Reality project and watch the highlights videos from the comfort of your den or living room. At the very least, watch Doubt & the concluding New York City highlights. That’ll take all of 15 minutes of your time.

For the less lazy, Moving Planet is this Saturday, aka tomorrow, and climate change events will be held all over the world. I know of several within a one-hour drive of my house including rallies, bike rides, fairs and clean energy exhibitions. It might be–I fear to even whisper it–fun.

I count myself as fairly lazy most of the time (fact: I do not own a hairdryer, mostly because I see no point in burning coal to get my hair to dry faster when it’ll dry on its own anyway, but also, it saves me a heap of time every morning and I’d much rather sleep), but even so, I’m hoping to get out to the Hamilton Moving Planet rally tomorrow afternoon.

babies are always cute

Cute!

On the way home from Frances’s school last Monday–a walk which is by the way all of five minutes and 1 1/2 blocks long–she stopped, suddenly. “Mummy, look!”

I looked, and saw four baby skunks gamboling on the neighbour’s lawn, composed of equal parts grass and clover.

Four cuter little fluffballs you never have seen. Each was the size of a small kitten, fluffy black and white fur bristling out all over, scampering and digging in the dirt. Smaller than squirrels, cuter than chipmunks. Who knew?

According to the Hinterland Who’s Who, skunks are normally born in March or April, so these little guys might be as much as two months old–the typical time for weaning. Where was Mum? No idea. We didn’t see a peep of her.

We saw one particularly tiny baby skunk whose fur was mostly black, with a white tip on his bushy black tail. “The runts are always the cutest,” said Frances, and I had to agree. For the fifteen or twenty minutes we sat and admired them, other neighbours joined and left as well, taking their own pictures and reminiscing about the baby skunks they’d known and loved as pets. It’s one of the things we love about Dundas: not only are we surrounded by natural areas and not only does wildlife commonly live in the town, but most of the people are there because they also value these things. Everyone wanted to stop and love the baby skunks.

Frances, of course, wanted to adopt one.

At the same time, though, I wondered how this would have been seen here, even a hundred years ago, these little baby skunks on the lawn. I have to think it would have been a much more common sight. Imagine, a hundred years ago, flocks of birds that covered the sky, vast forests, wildlife everywhere of every kind and description–would they have noticed our baby skunks, and if they had, would they have stopped and stared? Would have sat down to watch them? Would it have been even remotely remarkable?

How much have we lost?

Nearby Nature: wildlife vet

Frances wants to be a wildlife vet when she grows up.

Until recently, it was just plain vet, from her lifelong fascination with animals of all kinds. You can imagine how excited she was when I told her that “wildlife vet” is a real job, not just some pie-in-the-sky fantasy she dreamed up.

On the weekend, she got to practice when a baby bird got itself tangled up in our thorny rosebush.

A cluster of little girls gathered at my back as I carefully cut out the rose branches keeping the little bird pinned, and carried it out to freedom, where it promptly began hopping towards the road. “Oh no, little bird,” I said, heading it off and picking it up. “Should we take it into the backyard, where it will be safe?”

“Yes!” chorused the girls.

I put it down on a rock in the back garden–where I took the picture–and then, probably panicking at the aggressively nurturing group of girls surrounding it, it hopped right into the poppy garden, and we didn’t see it again. Its almost-mothers, bereft to a one, spent a few hours carefully listening, calling, peeking through the poppy stems, and reading through my bird field guide in hopes of luring it out and caring for it again. What disappointed them most, I believe, was that the bird wasn’t properly injured and they couldn’t tuck it into a homemade nest and coo over it for a couple of weeks. (Lucky bird.)

But it’s cute, eh? And, as Frances joyfully reminded all of her friends and her father for at least 24 hours, she got to be a wildlife vet!

~~~~~

Outdoor adventures have changed from Frances’s early years, as our skull walk also demonstrated. The world is a big, exciting place to be explored, and at the same time a big, terrifying place to be protected from. When she was a baby or toddler or even kindergartener, we’d say, “Look!” and she’d look. Often at what we pointed to–the mountain range, the cactus, the elephant, the big tree with the oddly shaped branches–but just as often she’d look at the squirrel or seagull or pebble or something else closer to hand and more accessible. Looking seemed perfectly satisfactory. Now she explores and interacts; nature is something to put in her hands, wrestle with, clamber over. It’s a wonderful phase, though somewhat exhausting.

After spending last weekend with The Nature Principle, I’ve spent this week reading through the first half of Wild Play: Parenting Adventures in the Great Outdoors, by David Sobel (he of ecophobia fame). He discusses the different phases of children’s adventures outdoors quite extensively. Unlike my other kids-and-nature books, it’s more memoir and less manual. I expect to like the second half as much as I liked the first–in which case, you can expect to see a glowing review here in the next few weeks.

Mother’s Day Skull Walk

Ah, Mother’s Day. A leisurely sleep-in, to be woken at a civilized hour by an adorable jammie-clad child bearing a pancake breakfast on a tray, with Dad clearing up heroically in the kitchen. Then, flowers! A much-cherished homemade gift from the adorable, small child, mis-spellings intact. According to the television commercials, a meal later on at a restaurant is also de rigeur, and maybe jewelery, and certainly no housework.

I did get much-cherished homemade gifts from the adorable small child, all low on capital outlay but high on capital thoughts. And a very nice boy did stop in with flowers in the afternoon. We even bought KFC for dinner and ate it on paper plates so I would neither have to eat nor clean (I acknowledge that it’s not the most environmentally ethical thing but, you know what? It’s one day a year).

On the other hand there was laundry and groceries and skulls.

Umm, yes. Skulls.

Why yes, this IS a dead animal after it's been thoroughly cleared out by carnivores, scavengers and insects

It happened like this: Frances and I wanted to see if we could find frogs and tadpoles in a very large pond near our house, and one of Frances’s little friends decided to come along. Frances and I wore our rainboots and the friend wore mudshoes and I had my camera and off we went.

We got to the pond all right, but once there found the water too silty and dark to see if anything was in it. No frogs along the shore. Some fish jumping in the water. Lots of red-winged blackbirds, some robins, a hawk of some kind, and a lot of walking around the pond hoping for frogs and tadpoles. And then, what’s this? Teeth and an eye socket coming out of the ground?

“Hey Frances,” I said. “Come and see!”

Wouldn’t you know it, but these two seven-year-old girls thought a buried skull was THE MOST COOL THING EVER and demanded that I dig it out and clean it off. (Done.) And of course we had to put it in my backpack so we could bring it home. (Done.) Then since Frances had one her friend had to have one too–and after much scouting about, we’d found a bunch of leg bones, a duck skull (bill attached) and foot, and a couple of carnivore skulls of some kind, one of which was fairly putrid and still attached to whatever it used to be, half-buried in muck. The friend got her skull, though–a different one–and I got to be the cool mom who goes for a nature walk with the neighbourhood kids and brings them back a bunch of dead animals for their parents to pretend to be impressed with.

I’ve been told a bit of peroxide will clean ’em up right pretty. In the meantime, I wouldn’t trade my Mother’s Day for any other, even if it did include less relaxation and more body parts than advertised.

a long and lustrous winter


I love the way snow turns blue at dusk, and how everything looks beautiful with the escarpment in the background.


These are a few weeks old now, and the snow has melted and frozen and snowed again since then. Groundhog Day is meaningless here; we’re lucky if spring beats Easter and we actually get a chance to dress our daughters in those lovely pastel-coloured dresses in April, let alone a mere six weeks of white stuff following February 2. But it’s coming. We’re halfway to spring.

In the meantime, winter gives us plenty to love.

Summer Vacation

Niagara River, whirlpool

By which you might deduce, and correctly, that I was recently in Niagara Falls. It’s not quite the sort of nature shot I usually go for, being large and imposing and Charismatic, not to mention Touristified, but it’s not the river’s fault, is it? What I love about it is the colour of the river, not really done justice here: a deep, glossy, dark teal. Damn the sun for washing it all out again.

And on a much smaller, more local scale, another shot of Webster’s Falls, taken on another day:

Webster's Falls, July 2010, sunset

This while I work up a post on public consultation under Ontario Regulation 359/09, under the Ontario Environmental Protection Act. Which is distinctly going to be one of the steeper parts of the learning curve.