Find your true north

Ottawa River

One of the many things that makes this country great is the natural beauty of our landscapes, rich resources and biodiversity.

This summer, why not explore all Canada has to offer by visiting a Nature Conservancy of Canada property?

The NCC was founded in 1960 by naturalists who decided to take action to protect natural spaces and promote conservation. Today they have thousands of acres of natural properties across Canada and offer volunteer opportunities for Canadians to help in conservation efforts. They recently launched a new website naturedestinations.ca and are inviting Canadians to explore their properties.

There is probably a Nature Conservancy of Canada property near you and you don’t even know it. I just learned about three properties close to me: Whitefish Lake nature reserve, a 120 acre property along the shores of Whitefish Lake here in South Frontenac, Brighton Wetland, one of the last undeveloped shorelines on Presqu’ile Bay, and a property with the longest underwater cave system in Canada under the Ottawa River.

Some other land parcels worth exploring are the Green Mountains Nature reserve in Quebec’s Eastern townships, Cockburn Island in Lake Huron and the Eastern Georgian Bay Coast Natural Area.

Want to learn more about the work of the NCC? On August 23rd the NCC is looking for volunteers to restore habitat in one of their Warkworth properties in the Rice Lake plains.

You can also sign up for their blog.

Today’s #HappyAct in honour of Canada Day is to explore all this great land has to offer this year. Happy Canada Day!

Ed. note: If you are in Eastern Ontario, another great property to check out is the Depot Creek Conservation Area at 6329 First Lake Road. This 71-acre property was purchased from artist Kim Ondaatje who still lives next door in Blue Roof Farm.

The cottage life

I can’t imagine anything more Canadian than heading to the cottage for the long weekend.

Life is definitely sweeter at the cottage. It’s as if the kaleidoscope of life’s daily challenges stops turning the moment you turn off the paved highway onto the cottage laneway.

You roll down the window to drink in the fresh pine air, and slow down to a normal pace (and to avoid the potholes and washboard).

The moment you step out of the car, you leave the city and its troubles behind you. All that matters is whether you have enough wine, ice cream and bug spray for the weekend, whether it’s going to rain, and who the best Rummoli or Boggle player is.

I live on a lake but the lure of the cottage has never left me. I’ve been blessed over the years to have wonderful friends who have kindly shared their cottages with my family. They are always my most favourite weekends of the year.

Time stands still at the cottage. No one cares if you sleep in til 10, eat lunch at 2, nap at 3 and declare cocktail hour at 4. There is time to actually read…books of all things.

There’s more time outdoors, kayaking, swimming, boating, and playing horseshoes. And then there’s eat and drink (and lots of it).

But the thing I love the most about cottage weekends is the precious time spent with family and friends and the warmth and camaraderie of these gatherings that have created so many wonderful memories over the years.

This week’s #HappyAct is to experience the cottage life this summer. Here are some pictures from last weekend and our annual girls’ spring get-together at my best friend’s cottage north of Minden. It was the first time we invited Grace and Clare, “the next generation” to join us for a girls weekend.

Young girl on dock

Girls and dog at cottage

Girl in boatLake at sunset

Shut up and fish

Author with fish

I remember driving home years ago listening to the CBC, when this song came on the radio. It was about a guy whose wife gave him an ultimatum, saying if he went fishing that day, she’d pack up her bags and leave him. That was the first time I heard Brad Paisley’s The Fishing Song. The lyrics go something like this.

“Well, I’m gonna miss her,
When I get home.
But right now I’m on this lake shore,
And I’m sittin’ in the sun
I’m sure it’ll hit me
When I walk through that door tonight
That I’m gonna miss her
Well lookee there, I gotta bite…”

I mean really. Can you blame the guy? I would have went fishing too.

We went fishing tonight to cap off Father’s Day. Dave always said his favourite time to fish was Sunday nights, when the lake was quiet and he knew the cottagers were stuck in traffic on their commute back to the city.

It was a beautiful evening—still blissfully warm with blue skies and feathery clouds. A deer meandered down to the shore to drink in the cool lake water on our neighbour’s property as we cast in the weed beds. Owls serenaded us with their nightly calls in the distance.

Deer at lake

 

 

 

 

 

One of the many things I love about fishing is it is a time to be still and quiet. It’s great to talk and spend family time together, but sometimes it’s even better to just shut up and fish.

Clare and I each caught a rock bass; Dave had better luck the night before. Murphy sat on the dock and howled. It was a good night.

girl with fish

This week’s #HappyAct is to shut up and fish. Here is a video clips of Maddie and Tae’s Shut Up and Fish to get you in the mood.

Stop and smell the lilacs

Lilacs in front of author's house

Washington is known for its magnificent cherry trees. Ottawa is known for its tulips. In my region, the unofficial flower is the lilac, and there’s no better time to come visit the area north of Kingston than now, when the roads and trails are infused with the intoxicating smell of our lavender treasure.

When I moved to this region more than 20 years ago and experienced my first spring, I was delighted and entranced to see the fields burst into soft purples and whites as the lilac bushes bloomed to life. Hundreds of years ago, wise farmers planted lilacs as wind breaks beside the roads and in fields. Today, if you choose your routes wisely, you drive down country lanes where the lilac bushes stretch in hedgerows for kilometres. It’s breathtaking.

I don’t remember ever seeing so many posts on Facebook and social media as this year of lilacs. I follow Jeff Scott who shares post from his blog, The Countryside View on Facebook. Scott and I need to get together because he blogged about this same topic last week, calling on Kingston and the Township of South Frontenac to explore how we could capitalize on the beauty of the lilacs in this region for tourism (you can read his blog post here.)

Several communities have lilac festivals—I’ve been to two in this area. Warkworth, a charming upcoming arts village near Peterborough hosts one every May. They created a Millennium Lilac Trail, (which is still maturing), and hold all kinds of events, including concerts, street sales and gardening forums to celebrate the lavender flower.

The Franktown Lilac Festival is a one-day event on the last Saturday in May, featuring wagon rides and walks through a field full of lilacs, a pancake breakfast, craft sales and more. Both festivals are a fun day for all ages.

Let’s hope one day soon, we’ll have a lilac festival in our region. The only thing that would make it even better, would be to combine it with a butter tart festival, featuring Mrs. Garrett’s butter tarts!

This week’s #HappyAct is to go for a drive north of the 401, find a country road, and roll down your windows to breathe in the beautiful aroma of lilacs.

lilac trees

white lilacs

 

 

 

 

Explore nature in a bioblitz

Wintergreen bioblitz banner

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last December we participated in the annual Christmas bird count, North America’s longest running citizen scientist project. We recorded all our sightings and reported it to the National Audobon society, which uses the data to study trends.

The Christmas bird count is one example of a bioblitz—an intense period of biological surveying that records all living species in a designated area.

Next weekend, Wintergreen Studios near Westport is hosting its fourth annual Land Art BioBlitz for five days, from May 30th to June 3rd. All five days are free, and they invite you to come and explore their 200-acre property and learn more about sustainability, and the biodiversity of our region. The idea is to bring together scientists, naturalists, and the general public to track and learn about wildlife identification and explore the outdoors.

You can drop in any time—no registration is necessary and the events are geared to all ages. Over the course of the five days, there are workshops, guided hikes, music jam sessions featuring sounds of nature, art installations and forest therapy walks. Matt Ellerbeck, the snake man will be there and they’re even holding a square dancing session/astronomy lesson under the stars.

If you’ve never been to Wintergreen Studios, it’s a marvel and a treat. The main lodge is straw-bale construction. There’s a small cut-out in one of the walls so you can see the thickness of the bale. We’ve mainly attended dinner concerts there and have always had a wonderful time.

This week’s #HappyAct is to get back to nature this spring and learn something new about sustainability and the biodiversity of your region.

More happyacts on biodiversity

Leave a legacy

willow trees
Trees I planted 30 years ago

“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die.”

Ray Bradbury, author of Farhenheit 451

I’ve never thought much about what my legacy to this world will be. My children, perhaps. I live a small life so I highly doubt my name will appear in any history book or there will be a statue erected somewhere in my honour. I’m just one of a billion ordinary people in the world going about their ordinary lives.

Recently, I spent the afternoon in Mississauga strolling through JC Saddington Park by the lake. Many residents of Port Credit may not be aware that JC Saddington was actually a landfill site before it was converted to parkland.

I helped plant all the trees in that park as a summer student working for the City of Mississauga forestry department. The soil was clay and the conditions were terrible, but I marvelled as I strolled through the winding paths to see that the little wispy willow whips I planted more than 30 years ago had grown into beautiful graceful trees providing much-needed shade to the park goers on an unusually hot September day.

This week’s #HappyAct is to do something that will leave a mark on this world. As Mr. Bradbury said, “It doesn’t matter what you do, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it.”

If you’re interested in planting a tree to leave a legacy, join the legions of volunteers who will be planting trees this week (September 27 is National Tree Day). In Kingston, there’s tree planting at Lemoine’s Point next Saturday, September 30th at 9 a.m. at the south entrance.

 

Stand on a rocky outcrop

Girl on mountain topAt the Summit

Is there any better feeling on earth
Then touching the sky

Clear, cool mountain air
Fills my lungs

Majestic peaks, pristine lakes and blue skies
Envelop me in a blanket of beauty

Bald rock
Worn smooth from centuries of leather boots scraping its surface

The orange berries of a mountain ash
Gleam on a stunning canvas of lush green pines

A tiny flotilla of miniature canoes and kayaks
Steam up the crystal blue waters of the Fulton lakes below

Two eagles play hide and seek in the clouds
Kings and court jesters of the mountain

Like Horton Hears a Who
We are all just mere specks on this great earth.

It is ours to cherish and protect
At the summit.

This week’s #HappyAct is to stand on a rocky outcrop. My poem, The Summit was inspired by our trip last week to the Adirondacks. The pictures are of Grace on Bald Mountain, near Old Forge, New York.

Bald mountain, New York