Tag Archives: wildlife

Abundance of life – an invitation to wonder, joy and gratitude

One of the great joys in living where we do is the abundance of life around us. Each day we bear witness to these other lives, the small (and not so small) birds and animals that inhabit and visit our land. I have, on at least one occasion, counted as many as sixteen different species visible at a time.

The squirrels and chipmunks are ubiquitous. Some of our neighbours experience them only as pests and it is true that they can be. We lost a couple of cushions to them last winter. They also have a reputation for getting into motorized equipment and trashing the wiring. And the black bomber spent much of the latter part of the summer pelting us with acorn laden twigs. But I remind myself that this is their land as much as it is ours. I can’t help being aware that mankind is notoriously the most destructive animal on the planet. 

I am awed by our squirrels’ ability to overcome challenges. We have tried at least to limit their access to our bird-feeders, which hang as a smorgasbord on a wire line between trees. Last winter there was little ingress – we seemed to have lost the wily old guard. But this summer there is a new generation of athletes. One black squirrel in particular has an extraordinary ability to jump both up from the ground and out from the trunk of a tree, covering distances equivalent to at least five times his own height. And there are a number of  tightrope walkers – I am fascinated by their seeming ability to eat and swallow when hanging upside down.

Every day, there is some unexpected presence. Every time I open a window or step outside, I am aware of what I think of as ‘the noisy silence’. Every day, there is an invitation to wonder, joy and gratitude.

Carrying Place Wildlife Photo Album

Wilderness, wonder and intentionality

Nestled in the woods just north of Frontenac Provincial Park, Wintergreen is a year-round education and retreat centre. Their focus is education, culture, and the environment and they offer courses and retreat and meeting facilities for individuals and groups.

Wintergreen - the lodgeInside the lodge

This last weekend we had the pleasure of staying two nights in the main lodge, a wonderful, off-grid straw-bale building with a green roof. The lodge sits in a meadow, immediately surrounded by flowers, herbs and vegetables with the forest beyond.

The garden

Wintergreen’s 204 acres features mixed forests and meadows, granite outcroppings, ponds, marshes, and a glacier carved lake – we managed to explore a good part of this during an awesome two-hour wilderness hike.

Glacier carved lake

I watched a beaver slide into a pond and swim across it, my first certain sighting. Less romantically but no less a landmark, I picked my first tick off my clothing as we sat on the dock by the glacial lake. With ticks increasingly present – even in Toronto this summer – and concerns about Lyme Disease, this is something we all need to know about!

Forest trail

I stopped worrying about sticking to ‘the beaten track’ (sometimes we lost the trail for a while) and soaked up the beauty of the woodland, the lake and ponds, the rock, as we explored, occasionally investigating one of the wilderness cabins (including a hobbit house) that dot the property. We did do a thorough tick inspection when we got back to the lodge, though.

Hobbit House (and hobbit?)

Earlier that day, I had joined thirteen other women in ‘Celebrating the Sacredness of Woman’, a workshop led by Julie Vachon a Metis woman who has studied with many elders and has attended ceremonies over the last 18 years. Among other things, we shared a new moon pipe, part of a ceremonial setting of personal intention at Sturgeon Moon, the August new moon. At a moment when my life is literally at the cusp of a major transition, this was moving and profound, as well as joyous.

This was one of those magic times outside time that feels utterly ‘meant’!

By the lake


See also Wintergreen Studios – a piece of heaven at the edge of wilderness – a Google Story for more photos!


On Saturday we went for a walk in the park . . .

OK, the park was Algonquin, the oldest provincial park in Canada, largely wilderness and about a quarter of the size of Belgium. And the walking was on top of 60 cm or so of powder, made considerably easier by snowshoes, though stepping off ‘the beaten track’ pitched one knee deep into the fluffy stuff.

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For Family Day weekend, the Parks service offered guided walks through the winter forest. We now understand a little about fluctuating bird and moose populations. We know that moose and white-tailed deer do not happily co-exist, due to a parasite that is harmless to the deer but which in moose is known as ‘brain-worm’ because it literally eats away the brain, leaving them dazed and confused; in certain summers, they can also be driven crazy by thousands of ticks taking up residence all over their bodies! Interesting to learn that there is observation and monitoring but no intervention in these natural causes of population shifts.

But the abiding image came as we learned about ‘bear nests’, the somewhat messy accumulation of twigs left behind when a bear climbs a tree and pillages it provender.  Someone asked how such a large animal can make its way through such apparently spindly branches. Our guide’s response painted for me a picture of a ballerina bear in a pink tutu poised ‘en pointe’ at the end of a tree-limb whilst gracefully reaching for acorns! This image is only slightly enhanced from the original description. I wish I could draw . . .

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  See all the photos from our weekend in Algonquin and Arrowhead Parks

Expeditions and Adventures

I seem to be too busy living to keep up with making albums of our various expeditions and adventures (a good thing, I think!)

But I have just uploaded photos from a recent escape to a lovely nineteenth century farmhouse, about and hour and a half north of Toronto near Mono Centre – a much-needed retreat. And we saw our first porcupine.

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In the same album are photos from a nature walk filled with natural wonders in Mono Cliffs Provincial last August, a magical day at Alton Mill in the winter and some earlier photos from the area.

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We spent a glorious Spring day at the Royal Botanical Gardens on May 19, just catching the Rock garden saturated with the colour of the tulips, yet still with the pastel daintiness of the cherry blossom. These are a series of gardens that you drive between, though it was too early for some. But we had a wonderful long hike out through Arboretum and beyond, again blessed with an abundance of wildlife and natural wonders. For the first time in 50 years, Bald Eagles have raised chicks on the shores of Lake Ontario – we were able to view the nest from a distance. That so many people were so excited by this is truly heartwarming.

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I`ve also finally posted photos from our trip to the Midland area last August – we particularly liked Awenda Provincial Park.

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(Lots more photos in the Caledon Hills, Royal Botanical Gardens and Midland Area galleries in our  Ontario Album!)

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Whisperwood, July 2012

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[If you click into any photo to enlarge it, you can then page through all of them as an album!]

June 30 Arriving at Whisperwood late afternoon on Saturday – first impressions: green, cool, black-mirror water studded with clouds, air loud with birdsong (so many voices I don’t recognize) and, as evening falls, the acapella twang and gurgle of frogs. Peace does not imply an absence of sound!

July 1 (Canada Day!) Needless to say the dawn chorus is awesome, but, this first morning, we are late risers. Legs dangling from the dock, soaking up the stillness over coffee and cinnamon buns, the peace is punctuated by a yelp of surprise from Paul as a rather large turtle nibbled his toe. Later, we narrowly missed a cottage incursion by chipmunk, even though all our screen doors were closed.

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[Not a valid template]Happy birthday Canada! Canadian bacon in a bun, Kawartha ice cream and free birthday cake (two kinds!) served by sumptuously sequined ladies (not sure what this tradition signifies, but a little like the Cockney ‘Pearly Queens’) on the town-dock in Parry Sound. Then, under an all but full moon, ‘Christmas in July’, a procession of jewel-lit boats (headed by the Police launch) though the thronged harbour – the warm-up act for the ubiquitous but still impressive fireworks. Parry Sound has a population of 6,500; how is it that even these small towns put on such a spectacular show, filling the summer night with stars and magic?

[Not a valid template]July 2 Truly a day on which to enjoy the luxury of doing nothing and then resting afterwards. A pre-brunch swim in the silken water of the dock; hammock-time and a good book, with the delicious distraction of those bird-voices, singers tantalizingly close yet so hard to see. We are now on good terms with our chipmunk (though we have learned to shut the door), handing over peanuts on demand. The ability to carry three shells-ful of peanuts in the pouches of one small mouth is awesome.

July 3 Slob-out day (and itching)! I really could do without being irresistible to biting insects!

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[Not a valid template]July 4 So much water; swimming, kayaks, canoes, docks and a gently sloping sandy bay – and wonderful wildlife. Nosing the canoe into the muskeg to stalk darting dragonflies (deep red, blue and turquoise); another turtle passing by; easing towards a frog-prince, enthroned on his lily pad; then graced by the majestic stillness of a blue heron until our presence prompted him to rise, soaring over the lake and above the trees; and, finally, an otter breaking the surface to leap with a fish, disappearing to emerge somewhere completely different, playing hide and seek with us!

Evening brought the arrival of friends Steve and Paul K, and the joy of good food, good wine and good company!

[Not a valid template]July 5 A day to share the peace and pleasures of this place. Sightings of Ruby Throated Hummingbirds, Wild Turkey and deer were a bonus (though we were quite pleased not to have a close encounter with the mother bear with two cubs with whom we share these woods). Having thought about it, though, Paul K did decide he would quite like to see a bear.

July 6 Where better to spend a scorchingly hot summer’s day than on the waters of Georgian Bay? The M.V. Chippewa III, formerly one of the Maid of the Mist boats at Niagara Falls, took us out through the swing-bridge at Parry Sound into the labyrinthine channels of the 30,000 islands towards the perfect island lunch of Pickerel (fish) and fries (chips) at Henry’s, appropriately enough at Sans Souci on Frying Pan Island – deserving of its reputation as a Muskoka classic.

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On the return cruise (two hours), we watched as a baby black bear swam to shore and clambered out of the water, just across a narrow channel from another island restaurant, Craganmor’s – and, of course, it was Paul K. who spotted it. Life doesn’t get much better than this!

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July 7 As Paul and Steve headed back to Toronto, we reverted to inactivity after a brief excursion to the tip to get rid of our garbage. Lesson for the day; always drive round the tip and observe before leaving your car. It is not unheard of to be surprised by a bear clambering out of a bin!

July 8 Algonquin bound, we stopped in Hunstsville for brunch at 3 Guys and a Stove – great choice! With just a day in which to get a taste of this oldest of Canada’s national parks, we drove east to the visitor centre (really interesting) and fitted in three short (but steep) hikes; to a waterfall and to two lookouts, both with stunning views over the wilderness.

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[Not a valid template]Wildlife seems to be appearing to order (except for the beaver, who remain elusive); I asked for moose and, sure enough, we spotted two just before we reached the Eastern Gate and were able to watch them for a few minutes before they headed back into the trees.

The dusk drive home brought our fifth ever bear sighting, and probably the most dramatic, as a black shadow bounded across the road in front of us and disappeared into the forest – such a sense of the power of this wonderful creature.

July 9 Chill time – with much idle enjoyment in pursuing the perfect chipmunk shot – we now have three regular visitors, though a scrap ensues if more than one arrives at a time!

July 10 Drive time; Muskoka was described to us by a boat salesman as a place where people buy cottages because their business associates have them. Touring the lakes, the small towns and villages, the natural beauty vies with the gloss of the kind of ‘simplicity’ that tends to carry a premium price tag.

There are glorious vistas, millionaire cottages and islands, boats, boats and more boats (I have committed to permanent memory an antique wooden one with the elegance of a vintage Rolls Royce), yet, perhaps because I don’t live that kind of life, I didn’t feel that connectedness that tugs at the soul until we reached Rosseau, right at the north of the lake system. Both of us found a tranquility, a warmth, a sense of community here that we hadn’t sensed elsewhere – and I was seduced by a swim-suit designed as an homage to 50’s glamour and curves, a rather more affordable luxury than the boat that stole my heart.

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Should fortune come knocking, Rosseau just might beckon . . .

Wildlife encounter of the day was a White Tailed Deer that danced across the road in front of us.

July 11 A cottage day; sitting on the dock and relishing the slightly gentler heat; finally beating Paul on a round of Backgammon – and in style, with a ‘Gammon’!

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July 12 After a slight interruption to provide e-mail support for my daughter, Jess (the joys of modern technology pursue one everywhere!), back to the shores of Georgian Bay, this time to explore Killbear Provincial Park. A fabulous day-use beach gives onto the distinctive rocky shoreline – eons ago, so we are told, the Hudson Bay expelled a vast surge of water under the glaciers over a few days or even hours. The force of this smoothed and sculpted the shield rock, also dropping boulders hundreds of miles from their source. Once again I find myself awed by the Great Lakes – I know that I do not ever want to live too far from the ‘big water’! 

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July 13 Our last day; we make the most of it, portaging a canoe to the next lake – very different from our spruce bog, with a small sandy entry and quite a large seasonal cottage community. Poking around among the waterlilies, the air is studded with dragonflies, glinting. We see quite large fish – and then a brown head that I’d convinced myself was a log ducks out of sight; was it that elusive beaver? (The more I think about it, the more I think it was!)

Later, back on our own lake, I finally take out the kayak (my back has been misbehaving, sadly pushing this off the agenda for most of our stay). It eases through the glassy water so effortlessly; I now understand Paul’s disdain for the cumbersome canoe, though it does have its place both for companionability and for carrying the gear.

Today I said I wanted to see a woodpecker; it appeared, to order. A sound below our deck – not quite the normal chipmunk chatter; so I look, and the woodpecker attacking a log on the ground takes flight into a nearby tree.

[Not a valid template]Meanwhile, our alpha chipmunk (there are three regular visitors) has become ludicrously bossy and brave, bullying us for more peanuts and climbing all over Paul to make sure he gets them. It is easy to see that he is bigger, stronger, brighter and more courageous than his peers.

July 14 Time to leave. We nearly had a stowaway – number one chipmunk was racing around us as we packed the car and I half expected to hear rustling and scolding from the luggage as we drove away. I think the mark of a good holiday is that you are simultaneously sad to leave but so re-energized that you are looking forward to returning to ‘real life’! Our two weeks at Whisperwood definitely made the grade.

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 See the Muskoka album in our photo gallery for (lots) more photos!


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