Return to Reason

“In the presence of nature, a wild delight runs through the man, in spite of real sorrows. Nature says — he is my creature, and maugre all his impertinent griefs, he shall be glad with me. Not the sun or the summer alone, but every hour and season yields its tribute of delight; for every hour and change corresponds to and authorizes a different state of the mind, from breathless noon to grimmest midnight. Nature is a setting that fits equally well a comic or a mourning piece. In good health, the air is a cordial of incredible virtue. Crossing a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurence of special good fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration. I am glad to brink of fear. In the woods, too, a man casts off his years, as the snake his slough, and at what period soever of life, is always a child. In the woods is perpetual youth. Within these plantations of God, a decorum and sanctity reign, a perennial festival is dressed, and the guest sees not how he should tire of them in a thousand years. In the woods, we return to reason and faith.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature)

Favourite Readings

The writings of Edward Abbey *
Jim Brandenburg, White Wolf
Lois Crisler, Arctic Wild and Captive Wild
The writings of Loren Eiseley
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature
Constance Helmericks, Down the Wild River North, and Jean Aspen, Arctic Daughter
The writings of R. D. Lawrence
Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac
Barry Lopez, Arctic Dreams , Of Wolves and Men, and About This Life
L. David Mech, The Wolf
Adolph Murie, The Wolves of Mount McKinley
The writings of Sigurd Olson
Henry David Thoreau, Walden and Walking

Special Places to Visit

There are countless special places on Earth, some of which can be glimpsed in the pages of National Geographic and some of which can be visited vicariously through the words and photographs of other travellers. The special places in my list are some of those that I have been fortunate enough to have seen first hand; they are listed alphabetically as they are all of equal importance to me.

Alaska is a magical place, especially Denali (the mountain, not the national park, which has too many people) and the Top of the World Highway (highway in name only — the track closes in September because the caribou migrate across it). On the Alaska Highway, the roadsides are bedecked with Icelandic poppies (and the road itself with boulders that are called gravel — you don’t make good time on this road!). What towns there are boast few inhabitants (except Anchorage, which looks a lot like Seattle) — my favourite was the town of Chicken, which had a “welcome to” sign describing the population as “34 nice people and one old grump”. According to legend, the town got its name because, when the first settlers arrived, the ground was thick with ptarmigan. Since no one could spell ptarmigan, they called their settlement “Chicken”!

The pace in the Maritimes hasn’t changed as much as in Ontario, and most of the inhabitants still know what’s really important in life. Perhaps the beauty of the land is what keeps them from being dragged into the maelstrom of “modern” living. Nova Scotia, all forest green and cobalt blue and burnished gold, is where my sister lives. From the rugged highlands of Cape Breton to the rich farmland of the Annapolis Valley, from the wind-scoured rocks of the South Shore to the waving grasses and burgeoning wildfowl of the salt marshes, Nova Scotia is a place apart. My favourite location in New Brunswick is the St. John River Valley, with its soft green hills rolling to the river. Prince Edward Island is as green as Ireland is reputed to be, and the rich red soil makes the green of the fields even brighter; houses are butter yellow, with white trim and black roofs and shutters, and the gentle yellow of the sun dances on land and sea alike, effervescent on the eye and heart. I have heard that Newfoundland is an extraordinary place as well, but I regret I have not yet visited it.

Southern Ontario’s Dundas Valley is special, in spite of its proximity to the major centres of Hamilton and Toronto. The Niagara Escarpment, which is a protected greenbelt area stretching for miles, loops several times in and around Dundas, making the mid-19th century town a mecca for hikers from around the Golden Horseshoe.

The canoeing areas of Northern Ontario are magnificent, and too numerous to list here. One 24th of May weekend, my husband Grant, my aged Scottie Hamish, and I went to Algonquin to see the moose in Hailstorm Creek. The 50+ moose we saw in those two days were so absorbed with munching on the first fresh greens of spring that they paid no attention whatever to us; Kodak was certainly happy! Killarney, near Georgian Bay, gained provincial park status thanks to the members of the Group of Seven who recognized in the area special artistic merit. The park includes two ancient mountain ranges, one of pink granite and the other of shining white quartzite; the beauty of the stone is enhanced by deep turquoise lakes and mixed hardwoods, which in the autumn blaze red, orange, burgundy, and gold. In the summer, my all too brief refuge from the cares of the world takes the form of a two week canoe trip in Temagami, a virtually unsettled (and unprotected!) area of pine and birch forest and crystal clear lakes in a rugged area of the Canadian Shield. There are still wolves and bears living there, as well as fisher, beaver, mink, fox, and moose. The lakes are alive with loons, mergansers, ducks, geese, and gulls, and the skies yield glimpses of ravens, ospreys, vultures, and eagles. I won’t get into political issues here — see my canoeing page for a glimpse of those! The Old Growth Forest is a cathedral and a tiny remnant of what it must have been (I have hiked the main trail in it in just under two hours, and I’m old and the trail rough, so you get an idea of how small a remnant it is); it is threatened by logging interests. I urge you to see Temagami while you still can.

The Yukon is Canada’s answer to Alaska, and a wonderful one at that! There are no bullet holes in the highway signs, and no nuclear-armed fighter-bombers flying in the skies above you 24 hours a day as there are on the American side of the border. Instead, there are hours of aloneness, the breathtaking beauty of the Kluane Mountains (black stone, white snow, incandescent arctic light, blue sky, pink clouds), the stillness of Kluane Lake in the rosy glow of an 11:00 p.m. sunset, the stark silver and black of Teslin Lake illumined by a brief flare as the sun pierces leaden clouds near the close of day, and the utter silence of an open and untrammelled land. The distance, the vistas, the feeling of being the first human to step upon the land (unlikely, but romantic), the wind that sweeps through you on its way from the Arctic Ocean to more southern climes, the last stand of wilderness — these are my remembrances.

Web Sites to Visit

As you will probably gather by my list of links, I have a particular fondness for wolves, although certainly not to the exclusion of all the other species on Earth! My fascination with lupus dates from a chance meeting with a young male wolf during a backpacking trip along the north shore of Lake Superior. Contrary to all the stories, he displayed no aggression when confronted by a very startled human in the early hours of the morning — in fact, he seemed to be as intrigued as I was! When I returned home, I read everything I could find on wolves. Except for the books written at the end of the 19th century (which tried to justify the slaughter of the species), what literature there was indicated a well adjusted social creature, intelligent and organized, with a strong sense of family responsibility and loyalty — and a profound (and justifiable) fear of humans. I append the following list of wolf links for your pleasure (and mine, as I suspect that my experience was a once-in-a-lifetime event):

Canadian Centre for Wolf Research
International Wolf Center
North American Wolf Association
Timberwolf Information Network
Wolf Education and Resource Center
Wolf Information Center
Wolf Song of Alaska
Yellowstone Wolf Report

There are countless approaches to nature study, and thousands of species (millions, if you count insects) that share the planet with us. For your own special species, do a Google search — you’ll be amazed what you can find!

Most of my involvement with nature is daylight oriented, but my husband Grant prefers the night and astronomy. The skies in Southern Ontario leave much to be desired, but when we go canoeing, I begin to see why he is so interested in the heavens — there are more stars reflected in the lakes in Temagami than are visible in the skies over Hamilton. In the north, the stars are so bright and plentiful that they cast shadows! For a “virtual” look at the heavens, click here.

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