Saturday, March 5, 2016

Wilson Island

It starts with waves
Lapping at and sliding between the smooth gray cobbled rocks on shore

That stony beach gives way to a tangle of shrubs
That claw at tender legs passing through them

Then forest
Mixed at first, with conifers and broad-leaved trees mingling together at the party
Patches of sunlight warm the forest floor

Deeper in, light filters out and dark boughs of spruce and fir draw closely together
They interlock their needled fingers and stand tall to challenge any passer-bys

Trying to follow the four-legged journey of a deer in a line through the deep woods
I am no match
Those dark branches like arms hug me closer
       Wrap around my backpack straps
       Slip inside my belt loops
       Slyly pull my sunglasses right off my face
They tug me backward while I struggle forward

In the distance I see light penetrating the shadows
And march one leg at a time toward it
Ignoring the grasping hands at my ankles

Beneath my feet the forest floor turns into a moss carpet
A plush emerald cloud that bounces under me
My footprints disappear as quickly as I leave them

At last I burst out of the forest's dusk and meet the light
      The blue sky
      The puffy white clouds
      The golden sunshine
And an expanse of indigo inland lake alive with singing birds, splashing fishes, and buzzing insects

I watch. I write. I rest.
Then I steel myself for my return journey to the big water
And all that lies between


A different world exists under the water
Many people will pass their entire life believing
The opaque dark surface of a lake
Hides a cold, empty barren planet beneath
      But I know better

Underwater, gravity seems to shift
Instead of falling quickly and fighting to rise
Even the hardest kicks aren't enough to propel one to the ground
     Down here
And the surface calls, beckons, vacuums
Humans always forced back to that interface
After only mere moments allowed exploring

For the wily ones who can stay under a little longer
The passport to this new world unveils the strangest sights

Schools of fishes - forty, fifty person classrooms
Eye me warily from the side of their heads
As they dart left, then right, then down, then back
Moving as a single unit
Away from this limb-ed, awkward intruder

The sand of the lake bottom trickles wetly through pruned fingers
Gurgles of oxygen and carbon dioxide,
     Trapped in snow globe bubbles
Escape blue-tinged lips and race to the surface
To explode in a panicked burst

Tiny creatures, no bigger than the head of a pin
With transparent bodies, and huge black eyes
Rise passively through the water column, looking at me
They are mixed with even smaller beings, unidentifiable particles
That illuminate like dust floating through the living room air in the afternoon sun
Only to be extinguished again as they pass out of the beam of light
That has penetrated the water's surface

The orange feet of a family of ducks sends ripples along the lake's glass tabletop
Webbed toes kicking effortlessly to propel plump feathered bodies away
The biggest feet lead the brigade of many pairs of smaller ones
They quickly put distance between themselves, and me
But I don't take offense

Crayfish, leading with oversized claws
     Blend seamlessly with the sodden sand bottom
They scurry forth, then disappear again into their surroundings
Underwater chameleons

Tall leafy plants stretch their long necks
Reaching and climbing, battling toward the sun
Their slimy hands grab at my bare legs, asking for help to the top
While I wonder instead how far I can swim down

A splash of a heavy body with a heavier shell
    Over in that weedy bay
Reminds me of the snapping turtle whose head rises above the water from time to time
Interested in a variety of prey found in the shallows
Including human toes?  Only he knows

Reluctantly I kick, rising up, up
       The water warming with my ascent
I gulp sweet summer air and squint into the sun
While my legs and feet continue the dance in that other world
Not ready yet to say goodbye

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Nature Close to Home

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

**This poem was originally a submission to NCC's July 2012 Time for Nature project; as such rights for this poem belong to the Nature Conservancy of Canada