There were five of them growing in close company, dominating a gentle slope of explosive greens and soft moss, tall and wide and straight as arrows, each tipped slightly apart as though to avoid direct competition for sunlight. One look at their tableau of co-existence would be enough, even for the layman, to tell that this ongoing compromise had played out over several centuries.
It wasn’t her size that impressed me so much as her silence. Female moose can weigh just shy of 800 pounds, but to watch that mass of mammalian muscle tear through the waist high brush and stunted spruce of the Cape Breton Highlands without the slightest impression on the ambiance of early morning was…startling. She paused in a frame of golden hour light, her ears swiveling like antenna, and I became very aware of the empty space between us, the primal mechanisms for self-preservation turning in my mind. And then she was gone, passing effortlessly through walls of vegetation which would mangle the human skin. I resumed breathing.
Our canoe was laden with all the necessities of outdoor life, and sloshing with water carried in by our socks, soaked every time we were obliged to leap overboard and carry our craft over rocks and beaver dams and the simple shallows of August. The intense sun of afternoon scattered the clouds and laid claim to Sporting Lake ahead and around us, the easiest paddling of the day, its depths presenting few if any hazardous boulders through red tinted water. In this lake I saw an island, drawing my eyes with supernatural sureness and speaking to a deeply spiritual segment of my rigidly rational mind.
I’m something of a campsite aficionado, or, if you like, a snob. Upon arrival my judgy eyes scan the facilities, the placement of playgrounds, the space between sites, the design of the cast iron campfire and the proportions of garbage mingling with the grass. Nothing offends me like a coin operated shower, and nothing disappoints me like a tent unshielded from its neighbour by even a couple trees.
For years now, members of the conservation community and even anonymous government employees have expressed to me their worry that exactly this would happen – that years of lethargy from our provincial government would result, finally, in their abandoning the Parks and Protected Areas Plan.
It was too cold even for insects, the glassy surface of Lake Superior faithfully reflecting a ruby sky as the sun rose over Pancake Bay Provincial Park, crisp beams of light cutting through the branches of old growth maple, birch, oak, spruce and pine. The mist burned away and birdsong swelled to fill the open chambers of this lakeside wood. I was alone.
It took nothing short of a billion years to craft Gros Morne National Park, its mountainous conglomerations the result of ancient continents colliding and breaking apart, of ice ages and glaciers shaving away soil and carving out fjords, and of course human beings, our contribution at times destruction, regenerative, even humane. It’s a place steeped in grandeur, infusing an Atlantic Canadian humbleness with earthen majesty. It’s enough to stagger us modest Maritimers, and yet it feels like home, a conundrum with which I grappled this past July.
Point Pelee has always been unique among Canada’s national parks. It was the first to be established for primarily conservation purposes in 1918, its importance to the migratory songbirds of North America made evident by local ornithologist Jack Miner and others. Because it jutted so far south into Lake Erie from southern Ontario, it offered birds flying north their first opportunity to make landfall in Canada, sharing unorthodox company on this 15 square kilometre spit of land for a few weeks before scattering across the Canadian north.
It was the 3rd of June, 2018, when I drove a rental car four hours into the central wilds of Vancouver Island, searching for a single gigantic tree. Stories of this arboreal titan came to me from locals who, at least on the surface, weren’t all that excited or impressed that I was going out of my way to find it, just as a Maritimer might scoff at tourists eager to see the ocean. Who cares about one more giant tree, they seemed to say.
Your average North American can recognize 150 corporate logos without effort or preparation. Our evolutionary gifts for pattern recognition, once wielded by our ancestors to understand and embrace the complexities of nature, are now being clogged by companies from which we purchase the necessities. Most of us are incapable of missing a Tim Hortons on the highway, but are, by the same token, unable to name the vast majority of living things giving our world beauty and diversity.