They told me I wouldn’t see one. The sun was fast setting over the rolling hills and prairie vistas of Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan, and I’d already failed to spot one earlier that day. But given this park’s openness, where great distances and colossal skies are always within view, I was overcome with the possibilities inherent to this place. It was worth a try.
While the wildlife of Atlantic Canada is largely accounted for, from the mammals gracing our forests to the birds filling our skies, there is as yet one class of animal at large in our understanding of region biodiversity – those six-legged laggards we call insects.
I grew up with the Eastern white cedar, with the soothing smell of its lumber and the playful snapping of its waxy leaves when tossed into a campfire. The peeling, almost tissue quality of its bark and the swooping structure of its trunk defined the Ontario swamps I walked through as a young man, and when I moved to the East Coast I felt their absence. So when I saw my first local specimen a few weeks back, after years without, it was like catching up with an old friend.
There can be difficult interviews in my line of work, where a person needs to be prompted with questions every few seconds to keep them talking. There are also easy ones, where a person shares the relevant details with little effort on my part. And then there’s Nick Hill…
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.
Dillon Lorraine might never have hatched without the Friends of Keji, a volunteer association which supports Kejimkujik National Park in its day-to-day endeavours, most notably in the conservation of its resident wildlife.
Together these organizations coordinate their efforts on the endangered Blanding’s turtle, occurring within the park and a few neighbouring watersheds. Last I heard from biologist Jeffie McNeil of the Mersey Tobeatic Research Institute (MTRI), this population of fleeting reptiles numbered between 400-500 in all, Dillon Lorraine among them, their decline the result of habitat loss, poaching, road collisions and predation over decades.
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.
There are no names in this story.
If you’re familiar with the work of Earnest Hemingway you’ll find a piece of his from September 25, 1923 in the Toronto Daily Star beginning with exactly this line, ranking among my personal favourites. As the opener promises, he omits all names from the article, including his own, giving only the professions, genders and approximate ages of everyone he quotes, describing himself only as “the reporter.”
Sometimes us journalists have to write this way, because otherwise there’d be no story. In Hemingway’s case, his interviewees wouldn’t talk unless sheltered by anonymity and that’s the case here, at least in part…but while this literary icon was profiling survivors of a Japanese earthquake, I’m writing about forestry.
Agriculturalists often regard pesticides as a necessary evil, caught between their power to feed the masses and the environmental consequences of using too much, but thanks to the busyness of bees, there exists an alternative.
There are those in the honey business who refer to Prince Edward Island as the “bee desert,” its fields dedicated to crops poor in pollen and its hives left unfulfilled, but some researchers have taken this deficit as an opportunity, reviving old ideas to address problems decidedly new.