Category Archives: Leisure

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.

Cottage time!

It’s a bit like having a magic portal when ‘going to the cottage’ requires no packing or travel, just a determination and discipline to embrace our home as we would a rental and ‘not do’!

A dear UK friend asked us what made us think to do this but, in truth, I know few people who live in this amazing area we call our home who regularly choose to go away during the summer. Instead, we head for the water and move lazily from hammock to gazebo or fire pit!

We kayaked on Loughborough Lake, a 20-minute drive to the dock at Battersea; at times it felt almost like wilderness and at others what we term rural suburbia but always beautiful, blessed by loons and herons and so quiet! It was lucky that Paul snapped his paddle before we set out and even luckier to be able to get a new one just 12 minutes’ drive away.

We explored the south end of Dog Lake in our underpowered metal tub, Tin Lizzie, running out of fuel just at the tip of Carrying Place – we paddled over to a neighbour who kindly ran us up the road to fetch the extra fuel.

These minor adventures are the true stuff of Canadian cottage time!

The 'Cottage'
The ‘Cottage’

We learned more about the origins and build of our house over a cream tea here with the original owners and about the past and renovation of the beautiful Arts and Crafts home on Beaupre Island, truly a piece of living history.

The house on Beaupre Island
The house on Beaupre Island

We ate out a couple of times (at the Holiday Country Manor and the Opinicon Pub – both in local villages), just enough to feel we were ‘away’, with simple cottage BBQs and salads the rest of the time.

And we were blessed with 10 days of probably the best weather this summer so far – golden and hot without being suffocating.

Mostly what stays with me is time to just sit and soak up the sights and sounds, the delight of being distracted from my book by the whirring wings and peeping of the hummingbirds and the orange flashes of the Monarch butterflies, and the sense quiet companionship – with Paul and with all that is.

Hummingbird

It was so tempting just to ‘stay at the cottage’ . . .

Nature, connection and homecoming

Our first year of living in rural Ontario has been truly special. I have had a sense of homecoming, of re-connecting more fully with nature. And, for me, that connection is the source of much wonder and joy.

Cranberry Lake in Fall

So I put together a book, A year in the life of The House at Turtle Pond. A kind of journal, it seeks to capture our response to the newness of living through the turning of this first year, looking out over Cranberry Lake on the Rideau system in Southern Ontario, Canada.

It speaks to a deep connection with nature, the rhythm of the seasons and the interconnectedness of internal and external realities.

I wrote it first and foremost so as not to lose sight of the newness as the years pass and familiarity potentially dulls our awareness. But it has been lovely to find that at least a few people find in it something to feed the soul. It makes it even more worthwhile!

The book

Below is a link to A year in the life of The House at Turtle Pond as it appears on the Blurb website. Here you can glance through a preview. If you happen to be interested in having a copy and live locally, please feel free to contact me direct. Blurb often offers discounts to the creator of a book, which makes it significantly more affordable.

A year in the life of the house at Turtle Pond
A year in the …
By Gina Bearne
Photo book

By the way, it was our predecessors who named our wetland between the house and road Turtle Pond. And our neighbour noted that this was therefore The House at Turtle Pond,  like The House at Pooh CornerThis seemed apt, especially when I came across this:

And by and by Christopher Robin came to the end of things, and he was silent, and he sat there, looking out over the world, just wishing it wouldn’t stop.

A.A. Milne

(Originally posted on my other blog, Passage to Joy, but so much a part of our Canadian journey that I wanted to include it here!)

Martello Tower, Kingston

Landed immigrants – eight years on

Our personal ‘Canada Day‘ falls a little early; we celebrated 8 years since we arrived in Canada as ‘landed immigrants’ on Sunday June 25 (of course, since then, we became Canadian Citizens in 2014).

In honour of the occasion we took in some history at Bellevue House, briefly home to Sir John A. MacDonald (Canada’s first Prime Minister), an unusual and rather impractical house built in the 1840s in the Italianate style. We were delighted that this visit included an exhibition of Indigenous Art in recognition that celebrating Confederation, particularly Canada 150, carries some discomfort about what it is we celebrate. 

We went on to the Agnes Etherington Art Centre at Queens University, particularly delighting in a ‘Road Trip Across Canada with Alan C Collier’. It seemed both appropriate as we reflect on what it is we celebrate about Canada and as we look forward to our own road trip east.

And we rounded the day off with a walk along a wave battered shore to one of Kingston’s Martello towers. Awesome day!

Google Album (more photos!)

Winter wonder and magic – art and nature

Yesterday we returned from three magical days outside time in Wakefield, just north of Ottawa on the edge of Gatineau Park; days in which to wonder at the way winter transforms the landscape.

‘A Modern Indigenous Master’

First, though, we took in some magic of a different kind; a fabulous retrospective of the work of Alex Janvier, one of Canada’s most acclaimed contemporary artists, at the National Gallery.

As an indigenous artist who himself was torn from his family and culture and sent to a reidential school at age eight, some of Janvier’s work references very directly the suffering experienced by indigenous people in Canada. At times it is, quite rightly and very movingly, political and outraged. But there is also huge vitality, spirituality and joy. I felt with many of his works that I could sit and be with just one piece for a long time and keep finding new elements and insights. 

Winter – transformation and meditation

Wakefield MillOur destination was Wakefield Mill, a lovely converted 19th-century flour mill on the banks of the Gatineau River, surrounded by 24 acres of forest.  We arrived the day after a minor ice-storm; the roads had been cleared and the journey was fine, but, without significant subsequent snow-fall, even the day after we arrived was exceptionally icy and treacherous. Despite this, we managed to try out our new snow-shoes on a short trail behind Wakefield’s covered bridge.

 

 

I find the light and sparkle of snow, the dampened sound cut through with the crunch of a crisp crust cracking underfoot, the distorted forms of rocks and trees, the transformation of running water into constantly changing sculptures, entrancing.  

This is the best of meditations; I am effortlessly present,  ‘just being’. For me, winter makes it easy to access the child’s wonder and joy.

 

A second outing before we started for home saw us climbing fairly steeply up through woods to a peak above the village where we could look out across the white expanse below – stunning! We looped back down a gentler trail, the first folks through after six inches or so of snow the day before.

pano_20161230_121746-1

 

Of course, every homecoming is also a gift living here; today we were gifted Alice in winter pastels . . .  (Alice is the first island we see as we look out across Cranberry Lake!).

Alice in winter pastels

 

Google Album (more photos!)