Harbingers of Spring – the first wild-flowers of the year

Coltsfoot
Coltsfoot

As an immigrant from the UK, initially the delicious, slow unfolding of the English Spring – Snowdrops in February, then Daffodils and Primroses, and Bluebells in April – was one of the few things for which I felt a nostalgic yearning. In Toronto, I blinked and missed the greening of the trees. Trilliums enchanted me, but I had to go look for them.

Living here, I’ve learned Spring’s more subtle nuances, and that the more you see, the more you see!

When the Coltsfoot turns its yellow face to the sun, I feel the excitement of beginning. In our yard I’ve pulled much of it out as a non-native invader but I admit to delighting in its radiance along the roadside.

Bloodroot
Bloodroot

Soon after, I check the bank in our woods for Bloodroot, like many of the Spring ephemerals a dainty flower that opens to the sun and closes at night. As the term suggests, Spring ephemerals are seen only briefly as the canopy’s rapid greening blocks out the light. Many disappear completely, hiding beneath the forest floor ready to grow back next Spring. I think part of the pleasure I now feel is in knowing when and where to look, an appreciation of their transience.

Great White Trillium
Great White Trillium
Red Trillium
Red Trillium

Already, I see Trillium leaves, though the flowers will take another week or two to appear. I love the purity of the Great White variant but covet the Red Trillium too.

Dutchman's Breeches
Dutchman’s Breeches

Dutchman’s Breeches always make me smile, the name so apt yet somehow comic. It seems as if each year they carpet the woods along Pine Point more densely.

Now we’re really getting started! As I walk, I look for Sharp Lobed Hepatica and Virginia Spring Beauty, tiny but so pretty. There are swathes of Long Spurred Violet as well as patches of Common Blue Violet. For the first time, I also spotted a Downy Yellow Violet and a patch of Pussytoes!

Spring Beauty
Spring Beauty
Long Spurred Violet
Long Spurred Violet
Hepatica
Hepatica
Downy Yellow Violet
Downy Yellow Violet
Pussytoes
Pussytoes
Common Blue Violet
Common Blue Violet

I’m less happy to see Siberian Squill. Whilst its blue flowers may be attractive, it is another very invasive non-native that can crowd other plants out. And, however much it reminds me of my grandmother, I’ve removed Lily of the Valley from my list of desirable plants for the same reason.

Siberian Squill
Siberian Squill
Lily of the Valley
Lily of the Valley

As I write at the beginning of May, the Trout Lillies are adding their dainty yellow blooms to the mix, and the Large-flowered Bellwort are also beginning to open. It brings me special joy to see these abundantly intermingled with Trillium and Spring Beauty.

Bellwort
Bellwort
Trout Lilies
Trout Lilies
Trilliums, Spring Beauty & Trout Lily
Trilliums, Spring Beauty & Trout Lily

We are fortunate that some of these first flowers of the year occur naturally on our land. But I am gradually adding more under the trees and at the wood edge. I am excited by the first flowering of the Hepaticas I planted last year. And I am loving the combination of blue Virginia Bluebells and yellow Wood Poppy, both native though not local.

Virginia Bluebells & Wood Poppy
Virginia Bluebells & Wood Poppy

In this beautiful rural setting, wildflowers can be a wonderful addition to a garden. And, by definition, native plants once established tend to do well with very little attention, as well as benefiting the local ecosystem.

Written for the Dog & Cranberry Lake Association Newsletter, May 2023

Our meal at Taberna Clandestina, Cascais

Authentic food

For us, one of the joys or travel is tapping into authentic food experiences.

Something that struck me on our recent trip to Portugal was the shift in my perception of authentic food.

The last time I was in Portugal was over 25 years ago. Back then, I looked almost exclusively for traditional Portuguese food, though even then the restaurant I remember most vividly was fusing those traditions and the local ingredients with a California vibe.

Now it would seem to me somewhat patronizing automatically to choose only traditional food. Our culture, particularly city culture, has become so much more complex in that intervening quarter century. How, then, in an internationalist age, do we define authentic food experiences when we travel?

I think that what I look for is the use of good local ingredients and a dash of inspiration. But I no longer focused solely on ‘Portuguese’ food, which opened the door to some delightful discoveries. On this trip this ranged from the traditional village fish restaurant, through more upmarket but still ‘family’ home-cooked styles, to fusion (sushi) and a high gastronomy tasting menu. Like many things, it is possible to savour and delight in both simplicity and sophistication in food. Part of the pleasure lies in that variety.

Monks, nuns, eggs and sugar

Traditionally, as long ago as before the C18th, monks and nuns used egg-white to clean and starch their habits.  They used the leftover yolks to make sweets so as not to waste them, and in order to raise money for their religious communities. Such were the beginnings of two quintessentially Portuguese delicacies, Pastel de Nata and Ovos Moles – truly authentic food!

We were excited to find that one of the most lauded Pastel de Nata bakeries, Castro – Atelier de Pastéis de Nata, happened to be just opposite our Porto apartment. Then, during his scavenger hunt, Paul visited Manteigaria, their main competition for the title of best Pastel de Nata in Porto. Of course he brought a box back with him. The tarts from both were melt-in-the-mouth delicious, with a slight brûlée crispness to the top. I loved that the Manteigaria box included sachets of cinnamon to sprinkle on just before serving.

[As usual, if you click into a gallery you can see the photos at full size and with descriptive titles]

Ovos Moles are a specialty of Aveiro. There is even a monument to them in one of the parks.

Monument to Ovos Moles, Aveiro

Although I have heard the classic Ovos Moles described as ‘very eggy’, I actually quite liked them. But there are also some wonderful variations on the theme. One of the benefits of using egg yolks in this way is that it can preserve them for fifteen days or so without refrigeration.

Long before we arrived in Portugal I had scheduled a stop at Confeitaria Peixinho, which opened in 1856 and specializes in Ovos Moles. It is a magical place redolent of a bygone age. Our beautiful selection box served as supper and more.

Delectable discoveries

On a day when Paul was fully committed elsewhere in Porto, I treated myself at lunchtime to a new and delightful food discovery; pintxos or pinchu, small snacks originating in the Basque region of Spain.

Backtracking slightly, I had walked down to the Ribeira waterfront with the intention of eating on the square. I even sat down at one of the pavement restaurants. But the menu confirmed that this really was not a place for authentic food. I wanted better and headed back up the side-streets towards our apartment.

We had previously noticed what at first glance we thought was a café-bakery. As I walked past, Sagardi once again caught my eye. I’m so glad I decided to explore. Their pintxos brought together fabulous combinations of texture and flavours. My special favourite was a tart filled with smoked cream cheese and apple that wasn’t quite sure if it was sweet or savoury, though everything I tried was delicious. I made a return visit a few days later – it was lovely to be able to introduce Paul and some of his colleagues to something different before we headed to the WordCamp After Party. We discovered that, in the evening, there are also delectable hot snacks straight from the oven. My only regret is that we didn’t have time to try their main restaurant.

Gelados d Portugal

To round off my lunch-time treat, I followed up with Portuguese ice-cream from the supermarket next door to Sagardi; chestnut with port and Portuguese custard tart were my flavour choices. I did take my ice-cream back down to the Cais da Ribeira, the waterfront, to soak up the atmosphere. Perfect.

Authentically fishy

Not unexpectedly, fish featured strongly in so many of our restaurant choices.

At Adega Sao Nicolau, an excellent family run restaurant in Porto specializing in classic, home-style cooking, I chose bacalhau (salt cod). This is quintessentially Portuguese, definitely authentic food.

Then there were a couple of village fish restaurants. Onda Sol in Torreira was a ‘local’ restaurant of a kind that one finds all around the Mediterranean. Nothing beats the delicious simplicity fresh Sea Bass with salad and chips. The food at Restaurante Portelas just outside Sao Jacinto was a little more sophisticated, with a stunning array of home-made desserts on offer and particularly friendly service.

After a few days of traditional fare, we stayed with local fish during our excursion to Aveiro but in the form of delectable fusion sushi at Subenshi Sushi. We ate surrounded by colourful swimming fish and sculptural ceilings, a really stylish and fun environment, and thoroughly enjoyed our departure from the traditional.

Taberna Clandestina in Cascais ticked all the boxes for me. It epitomised my earlier definition of what I look for in authentic food as being ‘the use of good local ingredients and a dash of inspiration’. In addition, the lively, street atmosphere and great service made this a highlight. We put together a meal of shared smaller plates; truffle ravioli, swordfish carpaccio, mixed fried seafood and a fabulous salad. Everything had that wonderful freshness and ‘zing’ that makes food memorable.

Memories Experience – ‘The inspiration that comes from the sea’

In choosing to eat at the Michelin starred restaurant at Fortaleza do Guincho, we understood that this would be about story and spectacle as much as about gastronomy. This kind of meal is what in the 70s was termed ‘a happening’, a kind of sensory performance art. Visually stunning, creative, bringing out flavours, textures and temperatures in ways that go beyond the experience of every-day ‘eating’, this was a meal as memorable as I could have hoped.

When the restaurant first gained its Michelin star in 2001 under Chef Antoine Westermann, it offered French fine dining. In 2015 the concept drastically changed with the arrival of famous Portuguese chef Miguel Rocha Vieira. Then, in 2018, after 3 years of dedication and lots of creativity as Miguel Vieira’s Sous-Chef,  Gil Fernandes took the helm. His focus is a menu inspired by the Atlantic and the surroundings of the Fort. It is based on Portuguese products and traditions, especially fish and seafood. That coveted star has been retained throughout this evolution.

“The experience at the table of Fortaleza do Guincho continues to be the one of discovery around the Portuguese culture, traditions and history”

I’m not sure I can fully do justice to the ‘performance’. I can’t remember all the nuances or the subtleties of the storytelling, though our waiter was an excellent guide. But it went something like this.

Amuse Bouche
Guincho Sports: Cuttlefish Surfer – Childhood: Drip Irrigation System – Pandemic: Vaccine

Cuttlefish surfer (as we looked out at the kite surfers) – cuttlefish ink in tempura was spectacular. Irrigation; and vaccine – the first time I have had a waiter advance on me brandishing a syringe with a scary looking needle! I think I was too startled by the sight of this to think about capturing a photo. It had real drama and humour.

Oyster
Night Scents: Oyster Pastel, Ginger, Curry, Curry Plant

The edible crisp shell was particularly delightful.

Clam
Sand Comb: Sea Broth, Wild Clam Fricassee, Honey, Codium

Was this a reference to beach-combing? I’m not sure. The clam broth was wonderful.

Flannel
Interval

Even the flannel to wipe our hands after these initial Amuse Bouche was dramatic, swelling in response to water added at table.

Octopus
Olfactory: Octopus Salad, Fermented Sweet Potato, Quinoa

Octopus salad with fermented sweet potato. I went without the crisped quinoa as quinoa and I don’t get along! I wish I could recall what the sauces were. Throughout the meal, though, there was a wonderful range of flavours from subtle to intense.

Prawn
Algarve: Scarlet Prawn from the Algarve, Water Cress, Citrus

Scarlet prawn from the Algarve, with radish, watercress, citrus – intensely in that golden line and more delicately in the salad below the jellied surface.

Eel
River: Aveiro’s Eel, Broad Beans, Wild Fennel

Aveiro eel, with a smoky sauce, young broad beans and fennel. Very beautiful and delicious. I love that visual sense of the river. I’m never sure whether I like eel, but when I eat it I often do.

Between
“3 Parte”: Boiled Bones, Homemade “Alheira”, Bean

‘Boiled bones’ and beans; intense ‘between courses’ flavours rooted in family food.

Corn bread, seaweed bread and walnut and fig bread with a strong goat cheese, a curry butter and lardon and red pepper butter, served as pebbles.

Sea Bass
“Domingueiras”: Line Caught Sea Bass, Cabbage, “Cozido a Portuguesa” Broth

Sunday lunch – sea bass, various forms of cabbage, turnip and a pork broth.

Leftovers
Leftovers!

Seabass, in a much more flavour intense broth, pasta. This was almost better than the Sunday lunch!

Sorbet
Ice Melting

Climate change. The ice round the sorbet and apple was dramatically melted with warm raspberry, vinegar and elderflower.

Pork
1692: Iberian Prey, Carrots, Pear, Pork Cheese

Iberian prey – pork (or maybe wild boar) tenderloin, carrot, pears poached in red wine. Followed up with a strong cheese from the Azores that is matured for three years (stunning), over a really intense pork stew.

Strawberries, very intense sesame cookies (in the background and second photo), more a shortbread, with crème anglaise and very intense rounds of gelled strawberry and sesame ice cream.

Pineapple
D.O.P: “Queijada de Evora”, Tras-os-Montes Biologic Olive Oil, Pineapple from the Azores

Pineapple from the Azores – the dried pineapple formed a delicious ‘cracker’ with drops of rich pineapple flavour. The tart had a wonderful crispy filling, the ice cream was olive oil, drizzled with basil and the little cubes were an olive oil jelly.

Our Surroundings: Mignardises

And to finish . . . Particularly unforgettable were the squares of white chocolate with red prawn powder. Very strange, but I could definitely see that they would grow on me with repeat exposure!

I didn’t think I could handle the full wine pairing but asked the sommelier to pick two glasses of wine for me. Both were exceptional. This was not a surprise given that the Fortaleza has the reputation of having one of the best wine cellars in Portugal.

What a meal! What an experience! Although this is about as far from every-day food as one could get, for me this still qualifies as authentic food in its attention to surroundings, to personal story expressed through fabulous local ingredients in inspired ways.


How do you define authentic food in the context of travel? Please feel free to comment!

Torreira Beach

Portugal reflections – life is not either/or

During our two weeks in Portugal as we emerged from Covid seclusion, so many times and in so many ways my perceptions were run through by the thought ‘it’s not either/or’. Writing about my experience of WordCamp EU 2022 for our business blog, I ended on just this note:

Yes, remaining a recluse certainly has its attractions. But WCEU 2022 , Porto, was a welcome reminder of the joy and energy that can be generated when like-minded individuals are able to spend time together. Perhaps Covid may have given us an opportunity to understand that, in the best of times, both have value. It doesn’t have to be either/or.

City – sociable AND solitary (not either/or)

Haven in the heart of the city

Porto is a vibrant, bustling city, currently on the travel hot list so teeming with tourists. It is so very different to life on the lake. Our Airbnb, Mouzinho 134, was right at the heart of the city on Rua Mouzinho da Silveira, yet it provided a surprisingly peaceful and very comfortable haven.

[For all photo galleries, click onto the first photo to scroll through the photos at full size and with titles – in the preview they are often cropped.]

An explorer’s bubble

I love retreating into a quiet bubble within the crowds to photograph a city. So this was how I spent most of my ‘alone time’ while Paul was occupied with pre-conference activities. On Wednesday I wandered north of our apartment, taking in many of the best-known sights, the beautiful tiles and vistas, alongside quirky back streets, and personal discoveries.

On the river

Just as I reached ‘home’, Paul ‘phoned – from just across the street. Synchronicity or what! I ended up meeting his XWP crowd for lunch. As they had a couple of spaces, I was invited to join their boat trip down the Douro. It was a genuine pleasure to get to know some of the people Paul works with. It was an opportunity to interact in a way that has not been the norm for too long now.

Party in a Palace

Arriving back at around 6pm, a quick change and drive through the suburbs saw us at Palácio do Freixo. Classified in 1910 as a National Monument and a unique example of Baroque architecture, this was the venue for the first of the ‘parties’, hosted by Codeable.

Though the appetizers were delicious and the band excellent (if a bit loud) we gravitated to the courtyard, not wholly comfortable with being indoors with so many people unmasked. Dinner was at least rather more spaced out.

‘Get lost’!

One of the best pieces of advice I had heard about Porto was to ‘get lost’ in the Ribeira. So the next day I mostly focused on the wonderful back streets (and steep climbs) of the oldest parts of the city. This included two mediaeval buildings likely dating from the C13th and C14th. The contrast between the throngs on the waterfront and the solitude of these atmospheric, narrow, cobbled alleys was astonishing.

Another palace and a cathedral

I finished my day at the Cathedral and Bishop’s Palace. It reminded me that austerity rather than opulence is what soothes my soul. It was the stone passages of the Palace and the Cathedral cloisters that resonated for me.

Conference time

The following two days were all about the conference. No more time for sightseeing! That said, the Jardins do Palácio de Cristal that surround the Super Bock Arena are delightful, with beautiful views of the city.

We did manage to make Friday night, before Paul’s talk first thing on Saturday, a quiet meal just for the two of us in a restaurant noted for its homestyle Portuguese specialties, Adega Sao Nicolau.

The crowds, the socializing, just being in a city felt a bit bizarre after the seclusions of Covid. It was fun but a little scary and also somewhat overwhelming at times. I’m not used to that many people! It’s interesting to observe the way I oscillated between solitary and sociable, tapping into both my introvert and extrovert tendencies and taking pleasure in both (not either/or!).

See our Porto Google Album for even more photos!

The Aveiro Lagoon – bustling city and empty shores (not either/or!)

Sixties classic on a sandbar . . .

I consciously chose the Pousada da Ria as somewhere we could catch our breath after what I knew would be a very hectic time in Porto. It met the need perfectly. Located on a sandbar peninsular a short ferry ride from Aveiro, it is just slightly off the beaten track. Something of a sixties classic, the building sits on pillars above the gentle lapping of the Aveiro Lagoon. In contrast, a short distance away the Atlantic throws all its force at the sandbar’s western shores.

Beaches that go on for ever . . .

The beaches here are definitely my kind of beaches. There were no concerns about social distancing. Just miles and miles of golden sand and just the odd figure on the horizon.

At the beginning of June when we were there, much work was going into redistributing the sand that had formed drifts during winter storms. It was very strange to see beach bars still partially buried and to watch the dumper trucks changing the profile of the beach in preparation for summer visitors.

We got the impression that this is an area in which Portuguese city dwellers have their holiday homes rather than one which focuses on attracting foreign visitors. I’m guessing that July and August would be much busier.

Sao Jacinto’s dunes

A glorious 8km hike through the dunes at the Sao Jacinto Dunes Nature Reserve offered more insights. It was fascinating to discover that the peninsula on which we were staying did not exist 600 years ago. It is a sandbar created by those pounding Atlantic waves and winter storms that is part of an ongoing process of transformation. Here, in the reserve, this process is supported and protected by human intervention. It was interesting to think back to the ‘reshaping’ of the beaches and realise that this is more about humans holding back nature to preserve something they value, in this case long sandy beaches attractive to tourists!

There was a diversity of habitats in the Reserve, with real variety of plants. Again, it was so interesting to see how the trees and other plant life gradually transform dune sand into something more like ‘soil’ and how this then supports new and different life.

Stalking lizards is a habit from my earliest Mediterranean holidays. I didn’t notice, though, till I went through my photos that the one pictured is missing part of its tail!

Our hike was was so solitary that, when we did encounter one other couple, Paul quipped to me, ‘Did you give them permission to come on our walk?’

Art Nouveau and canals – Aveiro

A short ferry ride across the mouth of the lagoon made for a pleasant trip into Aveiro itself. A small but growing city, Aveiro is famous for its canals navigated by colorful boats (barcos moliceiros), traditionally used to harvest seaweed. I had read that many of these barges had somewhat risqué artwork on their prows. I get the feeling, though, that contemporary sensibilities are seeing this tradition fade.

Aveiro is also noted for its many Art Nouveau frontages. We found interesting juxtapositions of old and new, especially in tiles. It was delightful both to see the city from the canals and just to wander, only somewhat guided by a map of the Art Nouveau buildings.

From fort perched above pounding Atlantic waves to Royal summer playground

Fortaleza do Guincho

The Fortaleza

Our three nights at the Fortaleza do Guincho were a gift to ourselves courtesy of all the Avion points we’d managed to collect during Covid. As well as the romance of staying at a fort looking out over one of the best beaches in Portugal, there was the promise of a meal at the Michelin starred restaurant – it was wonderful! My post on authentic food details that adventure.

The fort is largely ‘re-constituted’ but very atmospheric. I’ve never before stayed in a room with a loggia. And, of course, its position is stunning, if wind-blown.

Again, during our stay, we rejected either/or and revelled in the contrasting experiences of bustling seaside town and relaxing beach.

Royal Cascais

We chose on our first full day to a meander along the coast road into Cascais, an attractive coastal town that was originally the summer destination for Lisbon’s royalty and nobility. It was very busy, especially as we were there on Portugal Day, but we were glad to see it.

Paul particularly enjoys strolling marinas and ogling the boats these days. He also rather liked The Queen’s Beach (Praia da Rainha), where we almost swam in the sea (I got above waist level, Paul just to his knees).

Although much simpler than the extravaganza of the previous night, we had a particularly delicious meal at the back street Taberna Clandestina.

Guincho Beach

Our final day was the perfect do-nothing-day’s end to our time away. We spent all day on Guincho Beach below the Fortaleza where we were staying. Paul even got to play volleyball, always a favourite beach activity for him.

The water is too cold and the waves too wild for swimming here, but sea and sun worked their relaxing magic.

See our Aveiro and Cascais Google Album for more photos!

Reflection

Reflecting on our time away, I have a heightened awareness of the abundance of experience available when one chooses to interact with the world from a variety of perspectives and in a variety of ways.

I loved my city time, both from within my ‘photographer bubble’ and when soaking up the hustle and bustle, the colour, and the social interactions. I also savoured the solitude of our hike and the empty beaches.

Similarly, I enjoyed embracing both the extrovert and the introvert in myself and the sense that I don’t have to be one or the other. One of the joys of getting older seems to me to be the ability to own and relish the apparently contradictory in ourselves and to be increasingly open to all life’s riches.

It really doesn’t need to be either/or!

Stories in the snow – tracks

I’ve always been fascinated by the stories of lives otherwise unseen that winter reveals. So it was a real treat, on Saturday March 5, to join Shirley French at her property on Cranberry Lake as she led a session for DCLA (Dog & Cranberry Lakes Association) members on Tracks in the Snow.

Illustration of animal tracks

I  think someone must have had what my grandfather used to call ‘a hotline to the clerk of the weather’! Certainly, we were blessed with an almost perfect day – snow fresh enough for distinct tracks, cold but not too cold, dry, and reasonably bright.

A group of a dozen or so intrepid trackers, including two delightful young girls bursting with enthusiasm and curiosity, gathered on Shirley’s land for an initial briefing on what we might find. Helpful illustrations of the tracks we were likely to see supplemented what we had already gleaned from a video of winter visitors that Shirley made available before the event.

Intrepid trackers

A story of a fox, a weasel, and a snake (and other animals)

Unsurprisingly, the first tracks we spotted were those of the ubiquitous white-tailed deer, as well as squirrel and rabbit.

However, there was real excitement when we spotted some intriguing tracks leading up over a rock. Of course, we had to investigate! Skirting carefully up the slope behind the rock we discovered the partially eaten remains of a snake, likely a water snake. Who dragged it there? At the time, we didn’t arrive at a clear answer. But later Shirley went back and measured the footprints on the rock. The narrative that emerged was that it was a fox who left the snake’s remains. The fox likely stole the prey from a weasel, an animal that could access a snake hibernaculum, perhaps in the side of a small island just offshore across the ice.

The ongoing story, as captured by video footage in the days that followed, included visits to the snake by a leery crow and a nibbling racoon; fox and porcupine also passed by.

It’s worth noting that this rock was already of interest as Shirley had previously identified a mink den beneath it, sharing some lovely footage of their comings and goings in her preliminary video.

Further explorations

We continued our explorations, edging out towards the lake and clambering up rocky paths, all the while noting the evidence of abundant life written in the snow. The distinctive tracks of porcupine often include the sweep of their dragging tail alongside their clawed toes – four at the front, five at the back. Turkey tracks are like direction markers, though they point back in the direction they’ve come from rather than forward to where they are going! We saw both of these.

It was truly exhilarating to forge a path through the snow to one of the highest points above Cranberry lake. What a view!

What a view over Cranberry Lake!

Many thanks to Shirley for her leadership, the sharing of her knowledge and the invitation to walk her land and to all the participants, especially the youngest ones, who helped make this a captivating and magical experience.

Written for and published in the Dog & Cranberry Lakes Association Newsletter, June 2022

Last year for the DCLA Newsletter I wrote about my attempts at getting to know our trees in The Year of the Trees

The year of the trees

Ever since we moved to Cranberry Lake five years ago, I have been promising myself that I will catalogue, as far as possible, the trees on our 2.25 acres of land. For a British immigrant of twelve years, I’m surprisingly good at recognizing birds, animals and wildflowers despite an English country childhood in a very different ecological environment. But I don’t feel I know my Ontario trees quite so well and I am amazed by the diversity I see around us. I am embracing 2021 as the year of the trees!

i-naturalist – a useful tool

My project page on i-naturalist

Back in December 2020 Dog & Cranberry Lakes Association offered a helpful webinar on how to use i-naturalist. This prompted me to create a project (The House at Turtle Pond · iNaturalist) where I am gathering together all our observations of the incredible variety of life around us. My experience has been that this has further sharpened my ‘seeing’ and boosted my knowledge. Be warned, though, that contributing to i-naturalist can be addictive! I felt that this was a tool that might provide me with way of bringing together what I discover about our trees as well as assisting me in identifying them.

As the deep cold of winter began to wane, I thought I’d start by looking at some of our evergreens. In all honesty, I’m finding it a lot harder than I imagined to arrive at definitive identifications. Who knew that there are so many different varieties of Pine, Spruce, Fir, and Cedar?! And the same is true of the deciduous trees. It’s a little overwhelming!

One of the issues I have found is that, to have confidence in your classification of a tree, it is helpful to be able to bring together observations from the different stages of the annual cycle. Unfortunately, i-naturalist doesn’t facilitate this. So, I have created a spreadsheet where I can record flower, leaf, seed, bark, and overall shape of tree as well as seasonal shifts. I also have started a simple list on this blog under Rural Life – Trees and Shrubs at the House at Turtle Pond.

Although i-naturalist can point me in the right direction or occasionally confirm something I’m already reasonably sure about, in many cases I am going to have to turn to books and additional online resources. What I really need, once we have a little more freedom to interact, is a local expert. Are there any volunteers out there, I wonder?

Seeing anew

Trees - autumn on our bay

If my ability to catalogue our trees is, as yet, still somewhat limited, my awareness has shifted significantly.

I have become conscious that, in an area where water is all around us – constantly changing, taking our breath away on a daily basis – it is easy to relegate the incredible beauty of the woods to a supporting role. Yet looking at our photos it struck me that, if the lake is the backdrop to our lives, the trees provide the framing.

Trees - bare winter branches frame ice and snow

Never, until this year’s slow sidle into Spring, have I realized quite how beautiful is the flowering of the trees! It’s easy to be uplifted by the obvious blossoming of Cherry trees, Magnolia or Serviceberry. But, perhaps because so much of the action takes place far above our heads, I think many of us miss the delicate beauty of the blooms of Maple and Basswood, Oak and Elm, Willow and Birch; tiny explosions of colour, curled catkins, soft Pussy-Willow puffs!

Trees - the beauty of their flowers

We are barely into the growing months of the year and already there is a deepening intimacy in my relationship with trees that will only increase with the shifting seasons. I can’t wait to make the connections between flower, fruit and leaf, to witness the greening with newly heightened senses, then later the florid fullness of Fall.

I’m reminded that, when we choose to focus in a specific direction, there is invariably a richness to be discovered that, once found, will never wholly be lost.

Stewardship

As we moved to this beautiful place, I was startled by the unexpected strength of a sense not of ownership but of stewardship of the land; of a deep love and great desire to do right by it and by all the beings with which we share it. This sense of responsibility underpins my life here. There are many ways in which we try to put this into action, including supplementary planting of native species, particularly those supportive to pollinators and wildlife.

As part of this, we have tried to make sure we plant at least a few trees and shrubs each year. After less than stellar attempts amid last year’s uncertainties, we have big plans for 2021. We will be adding to an existing grove of White Pine with seedlings courtesy of the DCLA 2021 Spring Tree Sale. (There will be further availability in the Fall – keep an eye open for mailings to get your order in!)

Having struggled for the last few years to find a relatively local source for a wide range of native plants, I was like a kid in a candy shop when I discovered Natural Themes Native Plant Nursery in Frankford. My order, to be picked up in the latter part of May, includes eight native species of trees and shrubs. We have more Serviceberry in our woods than I had realized, but all our other purchases are supplementary to what is already here.

I am writing this on Earth Day 2021. At a time when many of us have moments when we feel as if it is difficult to breathe, how apt it seems to focus on appreciating the trees that are often described as Earth’s lungs.

A friend recently asked what the motivation is to plant trees knowing you will never see them reach maturity. There are so many good, practical ecological reasons. More than that, though, I think that every tree you plant is a statement of hope, of belief in a future in which you will no longer play a part and an act of love for the planet and future generations.

Trees in sihouette against a sunset sky

Gina Bearne, April 2021 – originally written for the Dog and Cranberry Lakes Association Newsletter, Summer 2021 (well worth reading), though with some additional photos added for my blog.