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.
News, reflections, notes and other ramblings from the trail by PTBO Flora founder Rachel.