Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Caring for the not-so-cuddly creatures

Frog populations are dwindling all around the globe, while amphibian and reptilian populations in general are under serious threat as more and more wooded and wetland habitat is lost every year. It’s harder to encourage concern for these creatures who creep, crawl, slither and slide. Most humans seem to have a preternatural revulsion to them. Of course, they can’t be cuddled, and they have faces that clearly only their mothers can love. Our snapping turtle is downright ugly, if truth be told. But there is beauty in that creature, if you take the time to really look. Remember that when you are gazing at that carapace and observing that thick tail, you are getting a privileged glimpse at our prehistoric past. It’s actually a real gift and a blessing that these creatures still live among us.

Now consider the much-reviled snake. As a child, I was terrified of them. As an adult, having learned about the web of life and the delicate balance that the natural world must maintain, I have come to respect these creatures for what they are, and in doing so, I have lost my fear and lost my distaste. It is an extraordinary rush to feel empathy for something that you once loathed. It is cathartic - an emotional release.

Last week while filming at White’s Wetland, I caught sight of a lovely little snake. Of course, he vanished into the tall grass before I could see his head, but I did see the length of him: he bore yellow striping down his dark back. Once home, I tried to identify him by using Ministry of Natural Resources information.

(Here’s a good link, by the way, for Ontario residents interested in amphibians and reptiles: http://cfs.nrcan.gc.ca/subsite/glfc-amphibians/study)

Judging from the description, the photo and the habitat, I believe I saw a Northern Ribbon Snake.

But was it really?

I recalled another snake sighting, a few years ago, not fifty yards from where I spotted this fellow. He too disappeared very quickly into the grasses, but I saw a very long snake with an entirely black back, two characteristics of a now rare snake, the Black Rat Snake. If this was so, then it was indeed a privilege, as this snake’s numbers have declined considerable in southwestern Ontario due to loss of forest cover.

But seeing the striped snake last week so close to where I saw the black snake puts my identification in question because lo and behold there is another snake that fits both the profile and the habitat: Butler’s Garter Snake. According to the profile of this snake, found only in southwestern Ontario, some individuals lack striping and may be entirely black!

So what did I see?

I am just an amateur naturalist and these shy creatures slip away so fast, so I cannot claim any scientific certainty. But the good news is that White’s Wetlands is evidently home to a snake or two … or maybe three or four … or five or six…

This is a good thing. A very good thing. It means there is a healthy ecosystem present, one that can sustain both large four-footed creatures as well as amphibians, reptiles and insects.

It was a thrill to see the snake last week and it is a thrill to know that, hidden from us, they are there, living out their own lives with their own agendas completely and blissfully separate from ours, until we casually cross paths on a sunny summer’s day.

While it does matter what kind of snake I observed – stats need to be gathered to monitor populations – I am just glad at this point that they are there at all. A sense of balance has been restored. I am grateful for their presence because I have come to understand how precious and crucial they are. I feel protective of them because, as with all the wild things, they are vulnerable.

Whether evidence will ever confirm that a Black Rat Snake, or a Butler’s Garter Snake, or a Northern Ribbon Snake resides along the southeast rim of the wetlands where the flat, open stretch of field meets the creek, I will continue to watch for him, eager to catch sight of a flash of movement near my feet and happy in the knowledge that we share this space. Named or not, he exists. Therein lies the real joy.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Virtual Walk II - The Stream

There's something about the sound of a babbling brook that calms
the mind and soothes the soul. Enjoy a zen moment with us ...

Friday, July 24, 2009

Take a Walk with Us

Take a virtual walk in the woods. Just before the rain started today, the sun was shining and the birds were singing. Join us ...

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Wetlands and Space Exploration

Do these two have anything in common? Of course they do! As John A. Murray wrote, “Nature is the universe.” The entire universe—from the tiny fireflies that spark and glow like miniature earthbound replicas of the stars to the distant red glow of Jupiter low on the eastern horizon this July night—is one.

And we are part of this magnificence.

I started thinking about this as my father and I stood in the dark last night near the edge of the cornfield, waiting for the International Space Station, and the shuttle, to approach from the NW at 31 degrees. The serenity of this unusually cool summer evening was only punctuated by the throaty grunts of the frogs in the pond. Would they be looking up too? Hardly likely. But it was interesting to consider all of the creatures of the wetlands—slumbering or awake at this hour—and think about the wholeness of it. The sparrows had long since tucked their new brood into the nest for the night, the rabbits had hunkered down in the garden, and the deer were again safely sheltered in the woods after their nightly crossing at dusk.

And there we were, dad and I, under the constellations again, and waiting for our second sighting of the ISS. Thanks to a NASA site, we had all of the coordinates. And right on cue, there it was. When it came into view, it was unmistakable. Not a plane, not a star, most certainly not a UFO. For we had the coordinates and we knew what we were seeing: an example of what great and fine things we humans are capable of when we put our minds to it and rise above our petty but destructive squabbles here on earth. Whether or not one supports the notion of manned space exploration, one can’t help but feel a thrill of achievement.

Yes, we need to clean up the planet and take care of business here on earth. That's a given. We should be doing this, and we must be doing this. We need to protect these wild areas and these wild things. Sleeping here under the stars, they are every bit as precious as the acquisition of new knowledge. But I believe that science and technology can save us—and them. For science—opening the mind to the true nature of things—is the only way forward to saving planet Earth.

This is the best of us, up there. Learning, exploring, gathering knowledge. And perhaps most important of all, there is the cooperation and the camaraderie we could have here on earth. Are these not fine examples of noble endeavours? Now, if we could only drag some people away from their reality TV shows and make them look up. Way up.

We need to look after the entire universe. And by look after I mean, learn about it, respect it and revel in it, for this is our home. All of it. The solar system and this ecosystem. We need to think better and dream big. With optimism. We need to take it all in with wonder again. Like children. Say Wow! now and then. Isn't this something!

Because it is. It is our magnificent blue and green planet in the vast ocean of the universe. And it is all wondrous and awe-inspiring, from the constellations to these little fireflies, flickering in the dark above the cornstalks.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Welcome to White's Wetland and to our inaugural post. More pictures, more history, more information and more links will be added in time.

It is summer in southwestern Ontario and that means the trees are green, the vegetation is thick and lush, birdsongs fill the sky during the day, frogs croak a chorus in the summer night, and dawn or dusk brings sightings of deer,coming down to the pond to drink. Turtles bask on the rocks,soaking up the rays after a long winter. Swallows swoop and tease. Hummingbirds gather in the gardens.

Everything seems to be at play, enjoying the sun and the warmth. Animals and birds, reptiles and amphibians - all welcome summer, just as we humans do.

In the days, weeks and months ahead, I hope to share stories about our wetland, introduce you to some of the main characters who share our space and talk about the importance of wild spaces in general. Everyone these days seems to talk about the environment and about being green; but when I come home to the Wetland, I see firsthand why it is so important. It's not just an agenda for me. This is a living, breathing entity, a wondrous space that I want to see preserved. As long as it is in my power to protect the species that also call this tract of land home, I will. They deserve to be here as much as I do.

So I won't be on the pulpit about the environmental movement every day, although I do want to convey the importance of wetlands. Most of all, I want people to feel something. I believe that we have a real chance of saving species and preserving biodiversity the sooner we humans realize that we are all connected.

You have to care about something in order to protect it. The wild world deserves our care, attention ...and respect.

So until the next post.