Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

by Chris Hume

Baby Turtle

photo Chris Hume

I thought I would share a story with you from my nature journal today. I find that when I take the time to connect with nature I feel energized and renewed in spirit! There is something amazingly powerful about letting yourself “engage your senses fully in the privilege of being”! Many of us – in the rush of our daily lives – have less and less contact with the natural world. Here is what I found one morning – by spending time outside before work…

“I had an absolutely beautiful morning in the garden to start the day today. My wireless connection is down at home – so decided to just work outside – for the time I would normally be working away on the computer. I decided to take a look at the garden at the front – as the very last thing – and was thrilled to see a very large snapping turtle – digging in the garden beside the sidewalk going up to the front porch. She had very carefully dug up and moved the lavender plant that was in her way – and set it perfectly beside her on the sidewalk!! It had soil on the roots – and was ready to replant somewhere else. And she very slowly and patiently was digging with her back feet – a lovely, deep hole for the turtle eggs. I had my breakfast on the front porch and watched her getting the nest ready. And as I was finally tearing myself away from the garden to head into work – I stopped and tried to see her laying an egg. Which I did! And was even able to look into the nest – and see 7 or 8 eggs that had already been laid. Dieter was able to see her covering up the nest – and then head back down to the Mississippi River – her job was done! So it seems that in 80 to 90 days (from August 31 – Sept 10) there could be baby turtles emerging from our garden! I will be on turtle watch starting Aug. 31st!”

On Friday September 14th at 4:45 pm Dieter called to say that the baby Snappers were emerging from the garden! He came upon six of them – two on the driveway, two on the sidewalk, one in the grass and one just emerging from the nest in the garden – through a perfect one-at-a-time turtle-sized hole. I was still busy at the office – but shut down immediately and started the commute home – hoping to get home to see a snapper hatchling for myself. I arrived in just in time to see turtle #18 make his way into the world. And friends and family were able to come over and share in this magical moment and take some photos. I have sent the photos to a few friends and colleagues – and found that they knew very little about Snapping Turtles – beyond knowing that sometimes see them trying to cross country roads in the early sumer.

Interestingly enough, fewer than one in a thousand Snapping Turtle eggs will survive to maturity, so a Snapping Turtle female goes through this process dozens of times in her lifetime. And it is likely that the Turtles have been laying eggs in our neighbourhood (very near the Mississippi River) for hundreds of years. For everything you ever wanted to know about Snapping Turtles, check out this website.

Snapping Turtle Information

So the moral of this story is – if I had not taken the time to be outside early one morning in June this year – I would not have had this really great experience – and learned what I now know about the Snapping Turtle. Try it – give yourself some time to get outside – and see what you find. If nothing else I guarantee you will feel refreshed and ready to take on the world!

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THE LAST BUTTER-AND-EGGS
By: Joel E. Byrne

The flower in question, Butter-and-eggs, is a common, two shades of yellow, roadside one, Linaria vulgaris, in the snapdragon family. I tracked them this fall at a place… Playfairville rapids… in the Mississippi River not far from Lanark. When there were only a few left late in October, I began to feel an acute sense of the loss of all summer flowers, sunny days, warmth, et al. Thus the poem was born.

I came alone to the riverbank
There to take my ease,
To see the sounds and smell the sights
Of rapids, woods and breeze.

And on that slate-gray autumn day
I found a single flower,
So confident its sunny strength
I marveled at its power
To conjure thoughts of cobs of corn
Rolled on sticks of butter,
Of poking yokes with buttered toast,
Of round things warm and good to hold,

But dark thoughts irresistibly
Crept in with the cold:
There stood a living Butter-and-eggs
Amidst its ruined clan,
A host of shriveled faces,
And death was on the land—
Rank on rank the withered stalks,
And soon there would be snow.

I shuddered in the fading light,
And straightened up to go,
But that solitary flower
With yolk and butter suns,
That stalwart last snapdragon
With me was not yet done;
It drew me down and held me,
The dragon lips did part;

A soothing whisper issued forth,
Most cheering to the heart:
‘Do not lament my passing
Or the dying of the throng,
This is the way it happens—
A sleep, and then ere long
The reappearance of everything:
The leaves, the flowers, the song.’

Joel E. Byrne

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Submited by Sheila Edwards
December 20th 2005

Stromatolites Unknown

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During September’s MVFN meeting, Jim Bendell mentioned the stromatolites near Champlain Bridge. Chris Hume and I were intrigued, so after getting an idea of where they were, off we went. Not really knowing what to look for all we saw were concentric circles, slightly mounded, split by fissures, with odd little tuffs of grass. Not nearly as entrancing as watching a Great Blue Heron or having frogs leaping away while paddling, or spotting a salamander in the glare of a flashlight. The day was nice, the surroundings calm, we didn’t get lost, the picnic went well – just not as earth shattering as it could have been.

Back to the drawing board. What were we looking at? Why were they so important? There are some things one can appreciate without much knowledge, like the butterfly greenhouses at Carleton, or seeing a Great Grey Owl; not so the stromatolites. These odd mounds turned out to be heavily eroded, extremely old fossils; in fact, the oldest type of fossil known.

They are not the tiny fossils found on the shores of Lake Ontario, but a whole connected area of fossils. They were created by communities of cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) and other microbes, when this area was covered by warm salt water. The calcite produced by the cyanobacteria and the normal sedimentation of minerals becomes trapped within the sticky cyanobacteria, which then settle and start to harden each night.

Over time, a solid mound is formed, with a new cyanobacteria colony growing on top. Mounds form on top of mounds, which eventually fossilize. Glaciations and other erosion mechanisms resulted in our stromatolites becoming relatively flat. Looking at the stromatolites one sees concentric circles, indicative of the cycle of colony growth and sedimentation. The pattern of the rocks is reflective of the tides and currents.

There are other, smaller, examples of stromatolites along the Carp River near Fitzroy, along the Ottawa River near Dunrobin Shores, and along the Jock River. Today living stromatolites can be seen off the west coast of Australia and in the Bahamas.

Only by seeing the stromatolites were we led to further study, and through further study we understood and thus appreciated what we saw. Some things one need only see to appreciate but the circular pattern of learning and seeing results in a richer experience; an increasing appreciation of nature.

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WEASELS
By: Cliff Bennett

Weasels are active hunters of our forests, with an abundant appetite for rodents. Usually, they are secretive, slinking through the underbrush, around wetlands and through open woodlands.

Sunday evening, July 7, Lynda and her mother and I were sitting outside under our sun canopy enjoying a late afternoon drink when we started to notice a rustling in the leaves and a slight, plaintive pleading coming from behind the nearby rock wall. Suddenly, pouring around the end stone came not one but six baby weasels, stumbling over each other. The gaggle of light brown and white mammals headed out over the lawn, under the picnic table, between our feet and continued to the wall of the house.

At this point, they paused to regroup and then turned to the left and followed the foundation until they disappeared around the back of the house; all that is except one wee fellow. He stopped short of the corner, turned, looked me straight in the eye and whimpered pleadingly at me as if I were it’s mom. That pause was enough to confuse him and he started back between my legs.

Not wanting him to imprint on me, I barked sternly, hoping to turn it back on the path the others had taken. Not this guy! He rose on his hind legs, turned his head from side to side as if to say “What song is that you are singing?”. Trying to shoo him away, he started a game of touch tag, scooting around the table legs. I had no choice but to ignore him and return to my seat. Eventually, he retreated to the same path the others took and disappeared around the back of the house.

However, that wasn’t the end of things for the young weasel returned to our arena about ten minutes later, stopped, looked enquiringly at us as much as to accuse me of steering him down the wrong path. We ignored him and he retreated back the way he came from behind the stone wall. I’ve no idea where the rest of the litter got to.

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