The Eastern Mountain Avens is a very particular plant, preferring uncrowded soils with poor nutrition and excessive moisture where it thrives in a near complete lack of competition. This flower is adapted to harshness, it’s fair to say, at one time thought to have populated the alpine and tundra zones of the Canadian north until its eviction during the last ice age.
Knowing Prince Edward Island, one doesn’t expect a rich natural history. Surrounding provinces contain regions of surviving wilderness with larger examples of life, while visitors to the Gentle Isle might easily assume it was always an expanse of farmland and pasture with the occasional vacant lot. At least that was my impression, upon my first youthful visit over a decade back – a province of exceptional beauty, but with very few surprises.
Dan Dupont is a fourth generation forester from the Gaspesie region of east Quebec. An “Islander by choice” since 1997, he’s made it his business to re-imagine the woodlots of his adoptive home.
In many ways Island forestry was born from the second world war, he said, back when 70 per cent of PEI was dedicated to agriculture. This historic conflict called away Island farmers and in many cases, they never came home, leaving their properties without a permanent caretaker. Others still returned from the war entranced by the technological advancements of the age, forsaking rural living for urban opportunity.
Tracking down a specific tree in Nova Scotia is like hunting a grain of sand on Prince Edward Island or a cob of corn in southern Ontario, but I found it all the same, on an undisclosed dirt road in Nova Scotia’s Hants County. Its species once accounted for a full quarter of all tree in the mixed deciduous forest of eastern North America, conquering habitat from southern New England to the Appalachian mountains and northward into Ontario. In front of me was the king of the forest, as it was known, long since deposed – the American Chestnut.
It’s easy to lose yourself in old growth forest, your neck craned back to admire the towering canopy and your voice kept low as to not disturb the silence. Stepping into one is like entering a cathedral, and having its defining features pointed out is like an initiation into some exclusive club. And the more you see, the more lofty your membership.