ENGAGING WITH THE LOCAL FLORA AND FAUNA

While out enjoying one of our long walks, my mother and I hiked a nature trail from Fergus to the Shand Dam in Belwood and back again. I’m estimating it’s a 10 KM hike.

The sky was slightly overcast when we started out. Breezy. Cool, but not too cold. My kind of weather. We chose to take along our umbrellas, joking that we probably wouldn’t need them.

It’s amazing what you notice, when you allow your senses to open up to what is surrounding you. Bright and bold buttercups. The succulent leaves of sprouting alfalfa. Sweet pink flowers of clover. The serrated leaves of tansy. Dusty blue-gray blades of timothy grass. The nodding seed pods of wild oats. The spicy scent of flowering viburnum shrubs. Elderberry trees about to bloom. Juvenile walnut trees with their bright green leaves and tender stems. A bold red-winged blackbird, chastising us from the air. Chipmunks scurrying across the path. Robins singing out from the trees. The aerial acrobatics of goldfinches. The muted brown and red feathers of a female cardinal. Ostrich ferns, growing tall enough to reach up to my waist. The sound of waves on a beach as the wind passes through a stand of evergreens. Red pine, white pine, jack pine. Cedar and Tamarack. The dark and silent interior of a dense coniferous forest.

At our half way point, we reached the Shand Dam. Belwood Lake on our left, a river valley to our right. A wide expanse of water and countless shades of green.

Once we crossed to the other side, we heard a round of high-pitched screeching. Looking up, a pair of ospreys flew off, leaving the nest they’d built on the top of a hydro pole. Circling around the area, they would not return until they decided we were far enough away.

The rain caught up with us just as we passed over a small bridge. Down below, a group of men stood in the middle of the river, fly-fishing. I’d never imagined fishing could be considered graceful.

The wind picked up and the rain came down. My umbrella turned inside-out!

Soaked, but not cold, we continued walking back to my mother’s house in Fergus, spurred on by the thoughts of a warm dinner.

Fed and in dry clothing, we embarked on a bit of countryside appreciation from the comfortable seats of my car--a detour on the way back from a local restaurant. Blue skies and sunshine on the fields. You’d never know we’d just experienced a downpour. We spotted a white-tailed deer and a pair of wild turkeys.

When I left Fergus, I came across a vulture at the side of the road. I’m certain you can imagine the reason for its stopover.

Upon returning home, I pulled my damp clothes out of the plastic bag. The mixed scent of sunshine and spring rain rose up from the fabric, an appropriate ending to a day spent engaging with the local flora and fauna.



VISIT TO A LOCAL PET SUPPLY STORE

During one of our visits to a local pet supply store, my daughter decided to get some new chew toys for Abby (chocolate lab). Her full name is Abigail Wisteria. I came up with the middle name. My daughter didn't care for it much at first, stating it sounded too much like "hysteria." If the shoe fits, wear it proudly.

We're both standing there, looking at all these strange body parts; pig's ears, cow's hooves, kneecaps. Lots of weird shapes. Smoked flavours, no less. There's also deer antlers (naturally shed). How do people find 'naturally shed' deer antlers? Follow a herd during migration?

The woman working in the store told us of a time she took her three dogs (two border collies and a two-pound chihuahua) to a park. The chihuahua jumped out of the car and was soon lifted up by a down-swooping osprey. (Ospreys are predatory birds, usually living around rivers and lakes.)

One of the border collies jumped up in the air, fought with the osprey and saved the chihuahua.




IGUANA SIGHTING

Last summer, my sister and I drove out to Port Stanley. Nice little lakeside town. For lunch, we dropped by The Kettle Creek Inn. They served the best fish and chips I’ve ever tasted.

On our way out, we ended up going down a no-exit street, thinking we’d found a scenic route. Just as I steered the car around the curve of a cul-de-sac, I noticed something moving amongst the leaves on the ground.

Something neon green, with spiky bits, a long tongue and tail, sunbathing in a puddle of light. Three feet long from nose to toes, so to speak.

I pointed at the beastie, trying to get my sister’s attention. “Isn’t that an iguana?”

Iguanas running amok in Southwestern Ontario just isn’t done.

The hunt was on to find the owner or a reasonable substitute. My sister ran down the road, her arms waving in the air above her head as if she was trying to find aid for someone requiring urgent medical care.

Turns out, a couple walking along the street knew all about the escaped reptile.

We tried to catch it in a milk crate, but it jumped down from the branch it’d been climbing and scurried up the hill, right under the bared roots of a mature tree.

By this time, the sister of the reptile’s owner knew of our dilemma. She followed the iguana’s trail, wearing an old plaid shirt. Apparently, she’d been able to catch the beastie a short time ago, but not before it had left some awful scratches on her arms.

She couldn’t find him.

Meanwhile, their family cat had been slinking around the plateau of the hill, doing what cats do, while we were trying to find the beastie. The cat led the girl straight to the base of the tree which turned out to be the newest hiding place for the escapee.

What are the odds that some out-of-towners driving down a ‘no exit’ road would turn their car around in a cul-de-sac at the precise moment an iguana-in-the-wild (almost invisible, camouflaged by green leaves) decided to make a move?

I should have bought a lottery ticket.

Strange things happen in small towns. It’s why I enjoy writing about them and the people who live there.




A TRIP TO TORONTO

A few years ago, I had signed up for a one-day workshop (nothing to do with writing). I drove through the fog, along the lakeshore, headlights turned on. Somehow, I missed the high-pitched beep-beeping which would have warned me of my forgetfulness.

Off I went, scurrying along through the underground parking lot, up into the daylight, and over to the hotel to find the location of the classroom. By that time, I was a few minutes late. I abhor being late. For anything. I’m also disinclined to drive on superhighways. The ones with four lanes or more, going in the same direction. Given the two options, I’d decided on the scenic route, hence the fog along the shoreline.

Anyway, back to the classroom. I enjoyed the day, totally oblivious of my draining car battery.

Already dreading the drive back home, imagine my surprise (and dismay) when the engine would not start. I did not have a cell phone. I did not carry booster cables in my car.

Back to the hotel I went, searching for help.

The young receptionist introduced me to one of the housekeepers--a middle-aged woman, who barely spoke English, but gesticulated with her hands in a well-meaning Italian grandmother kind of way. She had a car, but no booster cables.

A few minutes later, the housekeeper returned after locating a young man who had a set of booster cables, but no car.

Both of my “rescuers” met me in the lower level parking, arriving in a butter-toffee-coloured Mercedes, the housekeeper sitting behind the wheel.

You can’t always judge a book by its cover…



A FEATHERED FLASH MOB

When we used to live in Ohio, right around back to school time in the fall, a hoard of starlings congregated under the cover of the large maple tree in our backyard. Their vocalizations resembled extra-terrestial radio static. No melody. Absolutely chirpless. A garbled mess of clicking and tisk-ticking.

Their cacophony began in the early evening, lasting until sunset. It’s likely they discussed their pending flight plan for the upcoming annual migration. A bird’s version of a cross-country road trip.

Stepping out the back door the next morning, hundreds of feathers stuck up from the ground. From a distance, they resembled a wide circle of slender black-petaled weeds. Such a bizarre sight, I had a difficult time believing they’d all landed in a vertical position by coincidence.

A natural occurrence of gravity or the results of a prankster’s twisted sense of humour?

One of those natural mysteries I suppose...