I grew up in the Niagara Region but I do not oft get back to visit. I suppose the frequency of my visits has increased as of late, from a rate of once every few years to a few times a year. Relationships between children and parents, in my own experience anyway, are complex and at times not easy. But right now things are easy with my family and the visits are nice. And squeezing in time to go adventuring with friends is a delight as well.
This visit was full of hikes, foraging and delicious food. I ventured to Short Hills Provincial Park in Fonthill, along the parkway in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Decew Falls in St. Catharine's, Ball's Falls near Jordan and the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington. I cannot understate the appeal of each, nor can I wait to return!
At the end of the weekend I was scratched up, tired and sore, all of which are evidence of a good time.
Lower Ball's Falls, a splendor to behold and to make juvenile jokes about its name.
When I lived in Peterborough I had a forest around the corner from me, I've spoken affectionately about University Heights Park many many times and it truly is a gem. Then I moved to Kingston, there are some nice wilder parks but none too close to my house. But here I am right across the street from the lake, which presents other opportunities - like swimming! Alas from the time I moved to Kingston last May and up until the end of last week all or parts of the park down the street has been closed for renovations.
Yesterday - finally, after months and months of anticipation and going by the work in progress nearly everyday - I had a chance to check it out with a friend. Breakwater Park has a walkway, picnic tables, a small sandy area, a rocky beach, stairs down to the lake, a bridge across to the pier where the water is deeper and many places to jump or walk into the water and climb back onto shore. All that it needs, in my opinion and desire for the optimal beach experience, is a public bathroom and a spot where a food truck or two can go because I totally could've gone for an ice cream. My swimming opportunities have been rather limited this year, more limited than I had planned (ahem, see previous post), so I was happy to jump into water! I was impressed and my friend was impressed as well. And given that they had just been to Sandbanks Provincial Park in Prince Edward County the previous day, which is one of the nicest place for a swim around here, and they were impressed with Breakwater Park, I'd say this was a pretty nice swimming spot.
So nice in fact I have now visited it twice!
It was a hot and very humid day of fieldwork (see very sweaty me). I joked with my same friend that I had gone swimming with yesterday that walking in the woods today felt more like swimming with how wet I was from sweating. And in my mind at the same time I had a light bulb moment. I decided that when I got back home I would be making a second appearance at Breakwater Park because I can't think of a better way to cool off after a long hot day (see wide happy smile me)! Except ice cream. They really should have an ice cream truck here.
When things don't go according to plan I hope you find your abandoned cabin in the woods to set you back on track
Earlier this year, on the eve of my birthday actually, I was having dinner with a friend and they asked me if I had ever had a year in my life that went as I had planned. I had never really thought about it until then. My childhood was not easy for a lot of reasons and making plans, having hopes, goals or expectations led to disappointment in the best cases. For the most part I learned to roll with the punches because that's what you learn in volatile environments. Those early experiences made me resilient and adaptable, two qualities I am happy to possess and that have enabled me to grow. But it took me a long time to be able to make plans, to learn to want things, and how to work towards attaining them. As an adult I have found that most things don't fit nicely into convenient boundaries of time, like a calendar, and some of the most worthwhile things I have accomplished have taken more than a year.
This summer I had planned on sharing many grand adventures, flora finds, nature encounters, observations from the field, ramblings from the trail, my thoughts from spending time in wild spaces, and so so much more! I hadn't anticipating this being a challenging plan, I spend a lot of time outside and I love sharing my experiences, it seems rather fundamental to me really. But things haven't gone quite as planned and I have become hesitant to express myself. This is a post I have been composing in my mind for months while I try to understand this situation. I have also been hesitant to express my thoughts on this because, well, I have experienced and overcame far worse things and I find this situation quite petty. Petty, but also terribly frustrating! I have been vilified by somebody who has never met me nor spoken a word to me, but who has read what I have written here and across the social media platforms I use. Somehow the things I have written have been used to create some terrible version of me that so palely resembles the person I am, so much so that I doubt I would recognize myself at all in this other imaginarium. The things I have written have also been contorted and used to negatively impact and control the lives of others. I've never dealt with anything like this, it is entirely bizarre and this type of behaviour entirely foreign to me. I have tried to be understanding, which has made me hesitant to write a new blog since previous posts ended up being fodder. When I have written I have chosen my words cautiously and written as neutrally as I could, which is kind of boring even though I am kind of a private person myself.
And then today I came across an abandoned cabin in the woods while plodding from plot to plot doing fieldwork at the Queen's University Biological Station. My first thought, because the above has been ever present on the edge of my mind, was that it would have been nice to live there at a time when you couldn't be stalked online! After tossing this thought to the side and in digging deeper, I think that this urge is part of a broader desire to disconnect from the constant barrage we receive online. But rather than an all or nothing situation, there is a balance that I strive for in all spheres of my life. We often idealize the cabin in the woods, and my generation is certainly not unique in doing this! I would like to have a cabin in the woods where I could walk out of my door and into nature, but I would like to have the internet so I could continue to share with you. Up until recently I had received nothing but warm thoughtful comments and experienced engaging conversations online. I have also always known that you can't please everyone.
While I assume this post will not go over well, there is a point where trying to be understanding becomes submitting to the wants of others and allowing them to control you, and I will not allow myself to succumb to this because I have plans. Despite the summer not having gone as I had planned up until this point, my first plan is resuming sharing my grand adventures again regularly. This experience has also helped me realize unequivocally that I want my kind of cabin in the woods, but this second plan sounds like the kind of plan that will take more than a year to achieve! In the interim, if any of you have experience with stalking, bullying or harassment online please let me know how you dealt with it. I'm hopeful to nip this in the butt so I can get back to spending my energy doing more enjoyable and productive things.
There is something about beginnings that sends my mind and heart aflutter.
Whether it is starting a new project or pursuit, moving or visiting somewhere new, or trying something new, there is an excitement to that newness. The start of a new season is no exception either. We often have some expectation of what will occur in the future, based on some past experiences and whatever actions we have taken to try to facilitate some outcome. But the other part of what makes newness exhilarating must be the unknown. For in face we have no certainty or control really over what will come. While excitement is one side of newness, I've also written recently about the uneasiness that can also come with the unknown. And it is a hard thing to accept that we don't know what will happen, try as we might! That said, I've often found that the best most rewarding and most worthwhile things in my life have a complex suite of emotions and experiences associated with them. The best things in my life cannot be summarized simply.
As of today summer is upon us and there is the promise of new possibilities. There is a list of things I would like to do over the summer. Some must be done - like fieldwork! And others may be wishful thinking, like camping, unfortunately. It does seem a little unfair that at the height of our excitement, when the season is new, that every day thereafter begins to get shorter, and there is less time in the sunshine to get done all the things we had hoped. But none of this mattered this morning as I set off in the summer sun to go for a hike at Marshlands Conservation Area, where I was greeted by hedge bindweed that were also enjoying the summer sun.
I can say with certainty that the summer will be filled with countless hours exploring outside. There will be hikes, but what I may encounter on any given hike will remain to be seen! As the summer progresses what is now the unknown will be filled with memories that I will carry with me into the future.
Weekends away on a whim are a delight. I have been wanting to get away for a few weeks now. While I had a solo trip to a cabin in the woods where I could disconnect (from obligations and stress) and reconnect (with myself and nature), this was not logistically possible. But, the opportunity to spend time in the Kawarthas last weekend was a superb consolation! It is a little funny to me that going to the Kawarthas is now a treat. When I was living in Peterborough it was a given, but now that I am a year removed and living in Kingston it is something I look forward to. And I look forward to it because I am familiar with this region and the possibilities it offers, but this doesn't mean I can't be surprised too!
I want to highlight one particular place in the Kawarthas - Eels Creek - about 45 to 60 minutes to the north of Peterborough. This patch of land is owned by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, it can be access from Northeys Bay Road, and is a short way down the road from Petroglyphs Provincial Park. I want to highlight it because, first it is a nice park, and second because it surprised me on my Kawarthas weekend expedition.
When I lived in Peterborough I visited Eels Creek countless times at all times of the year and made numerous observations of an array of plant and animal species there. In fact, it was one of the first places I visited in the Kawarthas while on a bus trip for a first year physical geography course. We stopped at the creek, a couple students put on waders and ambled into the middle of the creek so we could do a simple ball drop and time experiment to measure stream velocity. I wasn't looking at the flora or fauna that time, but I knew it would be a good place to do so and was excited to have the opportunity to visit again and explore. And I did revisit it a lot, but never in all my visits did I observe Indian paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea) until last weekend.
This is one of the reasons I recommend visiting the same park, and doing so often, because you will always be making new discoveries. And I think that this is one of the greatest joys of getting to know nature.
A comment made to me by a friend on a hike a couple months ago has sent my mind racing with ideas. We were walking and chatting along a trail back from Belle Island in Kingston. My eyes were darting up and down and all around and my ears were listening for any interesting sound amid the cacophony. This behaviour is involuntary.
An acute awareness of my surroundings and recognition of what I am seeing has been learned from the countless hours I have spent outside. And the ability to do this was learned from generations earlier as people moved across the landscape, it would have been evolutionary advantageous to our hunter gatherer ancestors to be able to do this.
Anyway, we were walking and talking about this and that, and I kept pointing out birds and snakes and frogs and more, and of course distinguishing plant species from one another. Eventually, after hearing me excitedly report the next thing that we encountered, my friend suggested that I would be great at teaching people to see in nature. It sounds so simple to say - teach people to see in nature - but I think this is the starting point of a rather complicated ongoing exploration that needs to be nurtured continually.
I think the motivation for knowing is important too. I am often frustrated by people who ask me whether plants are edible. Yes, I forage some plants myself, but I also care about the biological and cultural histories of those plants. I know the plants for more than just some purpose. I think that seeing in nature is a first step to knowing nature, and that should be the goal. There are different ways to relate to nature, just as there are different ways to relate to people. But exploitative or extractive relationships are not good in any instance, and so we should strive to know plants for more than just some purpose. This reads as kind of preachy, I know, but I think this is good to establish unequivocally.
My friend's comment keeps coming up in my mind and has made me reflect on how I relate to nature. It's given me ideas for things to share here and ideas for other associated projects in the future. And then over the weekend my closest friend unexpectedly came over, which is always the best kind of surprise. We had to pick somebody up and as we waited for them to arrive we walked the perimeter of the parking lot. Parking lots may not be the first place one thinks of to botanize, but there was nature there too. And so the same message keeps coming back: look around, adopt explorers attitude and recognize that nature can be found in even the most mundane of places (like parking lots), and get to know what you see.
I don't get sick often, but when I do it's always a nasty one. I have low energy days now and again, as I imagine most people do, and I try to stay attuned to my body to keep the real nasty ones at bay. So a couple weeks ago when I found myself tired for no real reason, I made sure to sleep well that night. The following day I woke up feeling refreshed. Typically I would repeat the next night, as this usually does the trick, but I had plans. I had a commitment to spend time with my closest friend who I hadn't seen in a little bit, and not wanting to disappoint someone who's friendship I treasure I was hopeful that one night's solid sleep was enough. I knew she would understand if I had cancelled and there would be no hard feelings, but I was optimistic! And we had a great time together, as we always do. We enjoyed a hike at Macaulay Mountain Conservation Area, chatted about our lives, ate delicious food, and joined up with a great group of women to dance barefoot in the dunes and chase the sunlight from peak to peak at Sandbanks Provincial Park (stopping of course to botanize along the way).
But... now I have been out and in bed sleeping, coughing and sneezing for nearly two weeks.
Being sick is incredibly boring, but I am very happy to have had a really good time beforehand, and am also very happy to be on the mend! I haven't quite the energy for a foray into the forest, though I know I will be reinvigorated when I do. But this afternoon I have ventured to my favourite café, it's a short walk from my house in Kingston and has a lovely patio on the waterfront, and that is a good start.
Last weekend I travelled to the Niagara Region. This is where I am from, where much of my family and some of my friends still live, but I don't get there too often. This is partially for logistical reasons - I don't drive and it's a tedious trek by transit. And partially because it's not the same home as when I was a child - people have moved and changed, and I have too of course. This visit was prompted by the closing of my high school and its fifty year anniversary. A new building will be erected that is more appropriate for the declining student body. There seems to be declining enrollment trend in all schools but the French public school system seems especially low. Because we assign values and memories to places I wanted to visit the building. And my friends from high school were insistent on my presence! There was a big to-do at the school and later in the evening at the French social club. While in the Niagara Region I visited St John's Conservation Area, Mud Lake Conservation Area and Nickle Beach.
St John's Conservation Area is along the Niagara Escarpment in Fonthill. The terrain is hilly at times, with small peaks and lowlying wetlands. The trees are diverse, mature and several of them tower quite high, like the stand of tulip trees we spotted in a valley. I had been here a number of times growing up with my parents and with my elementary school. On this hike we spotted a number of spring ephemerals (including trillium, spring beauty and marsh marigold) that I had not yet spotted in Kingston. I also saw some plants (like bloodroot) that had finished flowering here that I had yet to see open at all. Some areas were such a vibrant green from all the skunk cabbage (pictured) gone to leaf!
The following day my mother and I set out for Port Colborne. We had planned to go to Nickle Beach and I convinced her to stop at Mud Lake as we were passing by it anyway. Mud Lake, as the name suggests, can be a rather wet park with its numerous ponds, wetlands, streams and other transient water bodies and features one expects in spring. There are also some dry areas (pictured), where the sun scorches the earth. Red-winged blackbirds were abundant and vocal, but there were also large flocks of cedar waxwings and a pair of rose-breasted grosbeak, both of which were pleasant surprises. On our way in to this conservation area neither my mother nor I looked at the map, as we walked by it she was telling me about my father and her strolling through here. I assumed she was familiar with the trails. This was not the case, we got a little turned around and what was intended to be a short stroll ended up being a longer trip. Fortunately the park is not particularly large and it is bordered by a highway and canal on two of its sides, making it relatively easy to find your bearings. It is also fortunate that neither of us minded having to spend more time in nature!
Nickle Beach has become a regular stop for my family. It is a pleasant walk along the shore of Lake Erie (pictured), there are a number of polished pebbles of all colours along the beach. Waterfowl can be seen bobbing up and down with the waves. Seagulls are calling out to one another. In the dunes there are more birds still. When I was visiting my parents in the winter and we walked this beach we had seen a bald eagle flying high above, but there was none today.
I was happy to have gone - it was nice to catch up with friends, family and other familiar faces - and to make some time to walk some of my favourite trails once again. It is a joy to see old friends, whether these are people or parks.
After having been invited to speak to the Peterborough Horticultural Society, last night I had the great pleasure of addressing an eager crowd of about a hundred fellow flora appreciators. I spoke about my favourite places to wander in and around Peterborough and all the wildflowers that flourish in the various habitats across the landscape. I hope that my introduction to local flora and enthusiasm for exploring the outdoors sparks an interest in you and that you are inspired to search out wildflowers in local parks. And I hope that you will all share your findings and experiences with others, that you will in turn inspire them to get outside and stop to see the wildflowers.
There is much to see!
Thank you also to the Peterborough Horticultural Society for inviting me to speak. I have spoken to a number of groups and at conferences over the years, but am not often asked to speak on this topic. While I have an extensive academic background in biology and geography, and have spent countless hours familiarizing myself with the natural landscape, I am not a professional botanist, horticulturalist, or holder of any such title. Often I speak about more specialized topics relating to my formal skills, training or study - things like spatial data analysis or habitat niches - but it is an immense pleasure to speak about my passion. Thank you for inviting me and thank you for your attention, thoughtful questions and kind words to all those in attendance.
Last year I made a move - both physical, from one place to another, and metaphorical, as in life changes - from Peterborough where I did my undergraduate studies at Trent University to Kingston to pursue graduate studies at Queen's University. I talked about change in my previous post, it was the thread that held the last year together and I feel it will be the theme of this year as well. And with changes come adjustments.
There was a park right around the corner from where I was living in Peterborough. I was in a newer subdivision at the north end of the city, right at the urban-rural fringe where just beyond the manicured lawns in my neighbourhood were untouched areas and farmland. There was a park around the corner from me; it wasn't particularly big, as far as area goes, but it was packed full of wildflowers from snowmelt to snowfall. Now I live in Kingston, in an older area near the university with the lake right across the street. This area has been developed for a over a century with rows of brick or limestone homes. There are parks nearby, but they are more the pristine city park type with playgrounds that limit the activities a child can imagine, benches that prescribe where you are meant to sit, grass kept short and if there are gardens they are filled with easy to grow ornamental flowers. Regrettably, these are not the wilder lands, filled with possibilities and surprises that in turn fill me with excitement. There are other parks, the kind of parks that I favour, but they are farther away. I did visit Marshlands Conservation Area - a gem of a park to the west end of downtown - the other day, and I look forward to cleaning up my bike when the weather gets a bit warmer so I can visit it more frequently.
While I find the nearby parks disappointing, I admire the gardens in my neighbourhood. The gardens at homes in the newer subdivision I lived in while in Peterborough were also new, if they had been put in at all. It was a clean slate of a neighbourhood, what had been there before had been razed and nothing new had yet established itself.
Here in Kingston my neighborhood is full of older homes, with the majority easily standing at least a century, and these old homes have old gardens. Plants have had a chance to establish themselves in these gardens, and may even have escaped the confines of the garden and stolen away into yards, in this neighbourhood. Any new plans a person may have for their gardens this year must consider, incorporate, and adjust to the decisions from years past in this neighbourhood. I like the idea of gardens in this neighbourhood. There is a continuity with history. The clean slate that existed long ago, when this neighborhood was new, has been filled as the years have gone by.
There are snowdrops in this neighborhood. And I like these too.
I did little exploring in my neighbourhood when I first came to Kingston. The first month I was here it rained every day. The following month I was away at conferences and when I was here it was raining still. The subsequent two months I was doing fieldwork elsewhere. And then it was it was September, school started. While I had a break over the winter holiday the sidewalks were treacherously slippery.
Now that the spring sun has melted the snow I crave the outdoors. But with the end of the semester rushing towards me I find myself with little time to seek out the wilder parks I prefer, at least not on a daily basis. And so I find myself strolling around my neighbourhood for the first time. And I find myself gaining a deep appreciation for this place that I have made my home. While my local parks disappointed me instantly, I love looking at the gardens of these century homes and look forward to observing them throughout the seasons.
News, reflections, notes and other ramblings from the trail by PTBO Flora founder Rachel.