Getting down and dirty with the wildlife…

Lynde Shores MarshThis weekend we finally went to Lynde Shores Conservation Area. Finally, because it is right on the edge of our sub-division and we have been living here for over a year. Anyone who knows us is aware that we like a good walk, they will also tell you that for the first year we lived here without a car, so “liking walking” didn’t come into it. If we didn’t walk, we didn’t eat! We all still talk about the time we walked 10km to the nearest Walmart…that’s quite an achievement for a 3 and a 6 year old. We still talk about the time I thought it was a great idea to leave the trail and off-road through the undergrowth – just me, J & T, with darkness an hour away. But that’s a tale for another day…

Blue JayDespite it’s maddeningly close proximity, the conservation area was always inaccessible to us due to the location of it’s entrance on a busy highway, with no pavements. It would have been irresponsible of us to try to trudge along the gravel shoulder, in single file, buffeted by the drafts from passing vehicles, some of them huge trucks. I remember once, while walking on a narrow path over a bridge, T strayed close to the edge of the path and was almost sucked off it by the slipstream of a passing coach.

It did seem a tad ridiculous, all of us piling into the Jeep to go somewhere just nearby, that we could easily have walked to – but there you go….when in Canada…

Lynde ShoresOnce we pulled into the car park, the next obstacle greeted us: it was Pay & Display! When I’m off out to commune with Nature I don’t usually load up on change, being British we tend to follow the Queen’s lead and travel without cash. Oh bollocks! What to do… neither of us had $2. My suggestion, to an already grumpy husband who was still sulking over being shoe-horned out of his PJ’s, was to go and politely ask someone who was leaving if we could have their ticket, “There’s someone leaving now!” I offered, helpfully. “Go and ask them then…” came the surly reply.

I got out of the Jeep and walked purposefully over to a parked, red station-wagon. It was being meticulously loaded by an individual who had an air of “Headmaster” about him; older, unsmiling, not one to suffer fools gladly. I stopped by the rear lights and said “Hello” in what I thought was a clear, confident voice, but there was no response, and the arrangement of items in the boot continued. Then, as I was thinking of repeating myself with some volume adjustment, he slowly turned his head towards me and sized me up. He still didn’t say anything. Neither did I. Eventually, as I began mentally rehearsing my speech for rude people, (usually delivered in a supercilious tone, more from a desire to retain some dignity in the face of ridicule, than bravery), he seemed to recover his social skills, gave a pained half-smile and said “hello” back. I explained to him that it was our first time here and we didn’t realise the car-park was Pay & Display. We had a car-full of kids, and would-he-be-so-kind-as-to give us his ticket if he was leaving. He appeared to soften slightly and called to his wife (who was settled in the front) to pass back the ticket. I thanked him and suppressed the urge to jump and punch the air as I walked away.

Chipmunk at Lynde Shores Conservation AreaWith the Jeep duly displaying it’s inherited ticket, we headed off into the trees, with J excitedly prancing around, getting in everyone’s way. She had been here on a school trip just the previous week and was ecstatic to be the most “knowledgeable” member of the party. She had got up close and personal with a fox, a skunk, a beaver, a raccoon and a coyote, the fact that they were stuffed only detracting slightly from the Wow Factor…I, on the other hand, had read up on the area and familiarised myself with Bear Encounters (well, you never know).
We took the Chickadee Trail, as we had come armed with seeds and nuts for the birds and soon enough we were surrounded. Chickadees (as named by polite Canadians, goodness knows what they’d think of our UK term for them: Tits!) chirped and swooped, landing on our hands just long enough to grab a nut, their delicate little legs and feet as skinny and scratchy as pine needles. Chipmunks rustled around in the leaves at our feet. I even got a photo of a Blue Jay. It was amazing! Only poor T didn’t get any, but I think that was down to his inability to stand still for more than a few seconds, coupled with his Gollum-like stance, clutching those sunflower seeds as though they were his “precious”. We weren’t the only family out walking, there were plenty of others, pointing out various sights to their kids, taking photos and assuming the “come and get it” pose for the birds: body rooted to the spot, arm outstretched, with muscle-ache rapidly spreading down from the shoulder. There was also the odd dude with serious camera equipment, getting their National Geographic shots, obviously… like that’s going to happen with all these kids!!

Pine needle carpetSomewhere along the way we parted company with the trail – seems to be a family trait – and ended up on another, longer one that took us through little pine groves where our steps were muffled by the carpet of needles and the scent of pine filled our nostrils. It was so peaceful and serene. I have become a connoisseur of both Peace and Serenity since having kids, but don’t often get to indulge, so I had a beatific smile on my face. The trail took us in the direction of Cranberry Marsh, which, as part of a restoration programme, was de-watered in 2001, to allow vegetation to rejuvenate, in turn, providing enhanced wildlife and aquatic habitat. We found plenty to explore including some kind of round concrete structure which J nearly fell into and had to be rescued from. I heard the cries of “Ummi, help! Please save me…!” but thought she was re-enacting some princess/castle game, so happily ignored her, concentrating instead on helping T over some loose rocks. It wasn’t until I saw the two gloved hands hanging onto the metal bar, and nothing else, that I realised she was dangling above a drop of unknown depth. She’s such a skinny wretch, I didn’t know how long she could hold on! That brought about a burst of speed, the like of which has not been seen from me in a while! As it was, the drop was about four or five feet – not fatal, but certainly awkward enough to try and retrieve her from. I dragged her out and gave the usual “Now-I-bet-you-wish-you’d-listened-to-me” spiel, and she was mightily grateful for all of five minutes, then we found a big hairy caterpillar to distract us!

We had a great afternoon. The trail took us back in a loop to the car park and just before we left we took the boardwalk out to the middle of Lynde Creek Marsh. The photographer dudes with their telephoto lenses heard us before they saw us thanks to S, who insisted on howling most of the way there. Not sure which location has the greater wildlife, Lynde Shores or my house!

Whitby Shores, Whitby, Ontario

By Aisha Ashraf

An autistic Irish immigrant in a cross-cultural marriage, Aisha Ashraf is the archetypal outlander, writing to root herself through place and perspective. Published in The Rumpus, The Maine Review, River Teeth, HuffPost and elsewhere, her work explores the legacy of trauma, the nature of being an outsider and the narrow confines of belonging. She currently lives in Canada.

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