Poems for Trees: Nature close to home

Eastern painted turtle (Photo by Greg Schechter)

Eastern painted turtle (Photo by Greg Schechter)

July 4, 2016 | by Kristyn Ferguson

This poem originally appeared in Kristyn Ferguson's blog Poems for Trees and is reposted with permission on Land Lines.

The early morning sun sizzles orange
Rays flicker across sleeping faces
Roused by light, warmth and anticipation
It’s time to begin my journey: nature, close to home

Five summers of travel - by air, by car, by boat
To see the furthest reaches of beautiful Ontario
Superior lakes, soaring white pelicans, shimmering alvars
Shade-filled boreal forests, winding rivers, the tropics of Pelee Island...
I have been there. I have done that. I am perhaps the luckiest biologist of all time.

But neglected, uncharted, unloved lies my lovely home: Guelph.
It’s time to explore

Standing on the edge of downtown at the Eramosa River,
A spot I pass every week but never linger at
A line of canoes are paddled out like baby ducks
I step into the river eagerly
And cool water swirls between my toes

Within moments we are transported to the depths of nature
A thick swath of trees separates the river from Guelph’s downtown
For all I can tell those trees are a mile deep - we are far from civilization and immersed in the wilderness
Steps away from home

A tall heron warily eyes our approach as our paddles slice through the water towards him One giant leg takes one elegant step, then the other
Then with a swish of massive wings
He is gone

A painted turtle stretches his river-cooled limbs across a sun-warmed log and tilts his face to the sun You can practically see his smile
We approach cautiously and he lets us delight in his striped legs, patterned shell and relaxed outlook on life
I turn my own face to the sun, warming my jet-lagged soul

A buzzing rattle ensues
Above me a cloud of kingfishers are singing a song that sounds of electricity
Their mohawked heads match their carefree flight
And I swear one cocks an eyebrow at me
Saying: “this is what you’ve been missing here”

Exploration continues: by canoe, on foot, on bike
Revealing my home’s hidden jewels
One by one

Bike tires swerve deftly on a gravelled path
Surrounded by the waving, reaching grasses and glowing flowers of a seemingly endless meadow
A garter snake wiggles gracefully away
And disappears into the outstretched arms of green

My feet crunch along sun-dried grass, crispy with the long day’s heat
A fog rises above a stormwater pond whose waters ripple in the evening wind
Families of geese co-parent along the shores
“Flood control turned habitat, eh?” a bullfrog burps at me
A green frog plucks a banjo string in agreement

Our canoe glides noiselessly down the Grand River as we stop paddling to watch a deer
Cooling down on a hot day with a sip from the river
Surprised by our presence, she watches, frozen and wide-eyed as we slide by
Both of us locked in a staring contest; me wearing a grin the size of her white tail

Mallard ducklings caught close to the boat’s bow
Protest as only baby ducklings can
With a barely audible “mah mah mah”
Their mom ushers them to safety, casting a sidelong glance as delighted paddlers watch on

Humongous fish flop and flail at the waters’ surface A flurry of fins and tails
They stop and sink quietly below the surface as we pass by
I peer into the dark depths of the river after them
But see only my reflection instead

Only now the eyes in the reflection look a little wiser
Seeming to say: Do you get it now, Kristyn?
You can travel far and wide. You can “see it all”
But nature always has, and always will be
Just outside your door

Kristyn Ferguson with a twelve-spotted skimmer (Photo by Mike McMahon)

About the Author

Kristyn Ferguson is the Nature Conservancy of Canada's (NCC's) program director for large landscapes in Ontario.

Read more about Kristyn Ferguson.

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