Thursday, May 22, 2008

Keji 2008: fire, land, and water

Kejimkujik has a seaside adjunct, which is not part of the main park, but rather just over an hour’s drive away. It is right on the Atlantic coast, with white sand beaches and turquoise water. I got to spend the entire day at the seaside adjunct, with a number of other staff (new and old), which was awesome. Cormorants were seen drying their outstretched wings on rocks, and harbor seals basking on another. The day included an interpretive hike, lunch on the beach, and observations of the piping plover, a shore bird that is at risk in Nova Scotia. We were with a warden, who took the group onto the protected plover beach (closed to the public). We saw a number of pairs, and discovered a nest near the lagoon (where salt water runs in behind sand dunes, a very productive area) I’ve always been a fan of the ocean, and can’t wait to go back!
I got my first taste of Keji’s backcountry when I went out with one of the scientists to investigate a wetland area – we wanted to see if it was a fen or a bog, for water quality samples, data logging, etc. Him and I had to drive about a half hour along this unmaintained gravel road to a portage point. From there, we had to canoe to a location by gps that was taken from a satellite prior to the trip (but satellites can’t tell if an area is a fen or a bog). We had lunch in the canoe, in the middle of a lake so quiet that the loon calls were amplified all around. It was pretty neat! Unfortunately, the wetland turned out to be a fen (has different vegetation and less water in it than a bog), and we had to return with all our gear and no samples.
Keji’s visitor centre has four “head start” blanding’s turtles, which means hatchlings of these endangered species are incubated so that they mature quicker and have a head start in comparison to their counterparts in the wild. These turtles have to be hand fed every other day, which means they have to be separated and put in individual enclosures outside of their tank. They get fed frozen fish concoctions (scraped into slivers with a razor), and fish food. It’s interesting to watch them, and I have to hang around until they are done feeding, to put them back into their large tank and get fresh water from the lake for the next feeding. Blanding’s turtles are about the same size as the common painted turtle, but has a black shell with yellow speckles and a yellow throat/underbelly. I will be doing various things related to the blanding’s turtle this summer, and have been learning lots about their ecology etc.
Over the long weekend, I went out for a paddle with a few people from the area – 3 canoes. We left around 10:15pm, paddled for about 2hrs on the Kejimkujik Lake, with a portage in the middle. Canoeing on the Keji lake at night was a completely different experience. The water, already naturally dark from tannins leached from the surrounding wetlands, looked black. It looked to me like I was canoeing on top of an oil spill, and could vaguely see the ripples of the water ahead. The only sounds I could really hear were crickets and the lapping of the water, which was really peaceful. At one point, the moon was clear of clouds and was amazing with its reflection on the water.
At one end of the park, a few km’s from the visitor’s centre is an old fish hatchery, right on the Grafton River and wetland. Park interpreters and heritage presenters share this pretty old building. The fish hatchery was there before the park came into existence (back in 1967, the hatchery itself in the 1930’s). The surrounding area is a prime site for blanding’s turtles, ribbon snakes and coastal plain flora – all species at risk and this is where my office is located! It is complete with a document library, kitchen, and a fabulous view. The house I’m staying in is just beyond the entrance to the park, by the warden and ecologist buildings. There will be six of us, three rooms… one bathroom.
I had a very easy going and pleasant day with a few other parks staff at a place called the Stone Bear Lodge, on the Bear River Reserve, nearby the park. It is run by a retired Mi’kmaw chief more or less as a retreat. The day consisted of reflective talks, sage snuffing, sitting around a wood fire, interpretive walks with insight into a native view of nature and wildlife. The place was beautiful, with a lush mossy cedar/pine forest, and a brook running through it. There were several teepees and log cabins for various uses, including a traditional sweat house. All of us were somewhat surprised at how the atmosphere brought out a different side to us, revealing personal and sometimes emotional details that we often wouldn’t share with strangers, with a serene calming effect associated with it. It was like a trance came over us once a feather was passed, and words just flow out while everyone else listened and reflected. Afterwards, everyone felt refreshed and at peace with the world. This experience I had just goes to show that all of us can get quite caught up in the fast pace of the world, worry about the future, dwell in the past, but not so much live in the moment. A piece of advice to all of you – take some time out for yourself, and reflect.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Keji 2008: the end of an era

With summer rapidly approaching, and many changes in my life as of late, it’s about time that I sent an update around to all of you! Since I sent out my final Wapusk update last August, I’m sure you can imagine that much has happened since then. Leaving off from way back in August 2007, it was a long drive home, from Thompson, Manitoba to Guelph, Ontario, for more reasons than I care to elaborate on in this email. Yet, it was a pretty one, with the coniferous forest and natural landscapes on each side of our Northern route, instead of the mass urbanization seen in Southern Ontario. No doubt, it took some getting used to, back in the old routine at home, although wonderful to see family and friends again. Not long after I arrived home, I moved into an apartment with one of my previous roommates, Jill, for our fourth year at U of Guelph. We had a great time living together, with I admit, more fun and games than any other year. These final two semesters as an undergrad flew right past, and I can officially say that I have a Bachelor of Science degree, with honours in Zoology, and a minor in Psychology. What a good feeling, to be done after a stretch of 20 or so years of school. I’ve said good-bye to the good friends I made throughout university, whom I consider friends for life. I’ve come to realize that this is the end of an era… there is so much more to be seen and done in this world, so many new people to meet and a new chapter to begin in life.
Anyways, back to what I was up to over the last few months… Over the Christmas holidays, I returned to Churchill for 2 weeks. Returning was like coming home again, the familiar faces and company was awesome. The town and the people may have been familiar, yet the winter season there was a whole new experience. Daily temperatures of -25 and below kept me in 4+ layers, top and bottom, but certainly not indoors. The scenery was of course white with snow, barren and beautiful. Most of the days were sunny, and the air clean and crisp. The Churchill River was frozen over by then, and the belugas and polar bears gone. Yet, there were still some hardy animals that stuck out winter in the area. By four-wheeler and snowmobile, Leonard and I were able to cross the river to hunt ptarmigans (Arctic chickens), keeping warm with Baileys and tea. Ptarmigan was not the only interesting meat I had during my stay. Canada goose from the fall hunting season, Arctic Char from North of Churchill, and caribou steaks were part of the menu too. One weekend, three of us spent at a cabin in the bush, to hunt caribou. It was there, that I shot a caribou, for the first time! It was shot with a rifle that had a scope, something I’d never used before. The cabin we stayed in was small, but cozy with its wood stove. We melted ice from the river, to drink, and ate meals of fried balogne and potatoes, a hearty meal that tastes the best only in the bush. Spending time completely in the wilderness took some getting used to, but I believe I’m hooked – I can’t wait until the next time I get to spend a few days in isolation. Those two weeks up North were over in no time, and it was once again I left the arctic for the South, and look forward to returning again.
In March, Leonard came to visit in Southern Ontario, all the way from near Yellowknife, NWT. The three weeks he spent here were filled with activity. From nightlife in Guelph, to skiing in Ellicotville, New York, visiting in Burlington/Waterloo, Toronto Rock Lacrosse and the Toronto Hockey Hall of Fame, an NHL game in Ottawa, and a visit to the Museum of Civilization, in the Gatineau of Quebec, Leonard got the whole 9 yards of this part of Canada! We had a great time, and his visit was a great distraction from that last drag of university :)
I said good-bye to Melody at the end of March, since she has been contracted on a year’s lease to a very kind woman, named Denise. Denise aims to enjoy having a horse, and riding dressage at an immaculate private farm, not far from Guelph. I have no doubt that Melody will be in the best of care, and will be absolutely lavished with love during her stay. It will be a welcome and different lifestyle not being in the saddle, or rather an equestrian saddle, for a year. I plan to be in the seat of a mountain bike - I have yet to break it in, but I look forward to the adventures I hope to have with this cool new bike. I never thought that I would be giving up riding to any extent, but it just goes to show that life goes on and things change.
After exams, I went back to Manitoba for 2 weeks. The first weekend, in the Forks of Winnipeg. The Forks was a well-landscaped national historic site right in the heart of the city by the river. It was a somewhat busy weekend shopping and visiting others in the city, but fun! I was lucky to have had another chance to party with people from Churchill, at a wedding, which of course was a good time. After the wedding weekend, I flew to Flin Flon, Manitoba to visit with Leonard. I was in this mining town that sits on the border of Manitoba and Saskatchewan for the next couple of days. I took the time there to relax, sleep, and enjoy reading novels, watching movies and just hanging out in a quiet place, for a change. On one of those days, we took a day trip to Wanless and the Pas, which are other towns not far from Flin Flon, visited people along the way. I was in Ontario for a few days after my trip, to speak at a conference for VOICE for hearing impaired children. Shortly after, Jill and I drove East, to Nova Scotia. We stopped in Montreal to say hi to Stu (cousin) and Matt (old neighbor), stopped for lunch in Quebec City, saw the famous rocks on the Bay of Fundy (not far from Fundy National Park), took a ferry from St. John, New Brunswick to Digby, Nova Scotia and drove to Kejimkujik National Park.
So yes, this summer I will be at Kejimkujik National Park! I will be taking part in various research on species at risk in the park, and interpretive hikes/paddles. My first few days have been basically an introduction to the park and its people. It has a rather large staff for a park of its size, but naturally everyone is quite friendly. On my first day, my boss took myself and a few others on a canoe excursion on one of the rivers. It just so happened that it was a rather windy day, and being an inexperienced paddler with a flat-bottomed canoe, myself and a colleague, Heather, fought to keep the canoe upright… yet sure enough, the wind caught the edge of the canoe and the canoe tipped right over on top of me! It was somewhat of a shock going into not so warm water, but funny more than anything.
Geez… I’ve practically written a novel here, and have so much more to tell, but I’ll save that for another time. Take care guys!