Saturday, 29 June 2013

The Gossamer Adventure

As the sun rose, Lila would search for a great spot hidden beneath the leaves where she would spend a motionless day of watching the comings and goings of the residents of Bluegate Pond. She was much like any of the other dwellers that lived by, around and in the pond. She knew about family histories, and had witnessed both joys and tragedies. But Lila didn’t have the luxury of time like some of the others to learn about all the stories that made up this vibrant community of beings. Rather, her knowledge came from patient observations during her daytime “thanatosis”, otherwise known as “death feigning”. As the sun would break through the clouds, Lila would fold her legs and antenna close to her body so as to mimic a stick. This position helped keep her safe from her many predators around the pond.

In the early morning hours when Lila was settling in to her safe spot for the day, she began her routine of motionlessly watching the other beings as they went about their daily regimes. On this particular morning, it was a nice breezy day at the pond and two male spiderlings were preparing for their aeronautical adventure. Lila remained still, and watched as each spiderling slowly and gently extended a limb as though to test the wind direction. As they stretched out “tiptoed” on the tip of a cattail, both spiderlings raised their abdomens to the air and began to release their gossamer silk threads, creating the parachute that would balloon them to their new destination. 

Sunday, 16 June 2013

The Trumpet of the Swan

The Trumpet of the Swan
The Trumpet of the Swan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
“An egg, because it contains life, is the most perfect thing there is. It is beautiful and mysterious” (E.B. White, The Trumpet of the Swan, p.23).

The stories we read as children and young adults can follow us into adulthood and shape our beliefs about the world that surrounds us. There are two seminal works that have shaped my connections with nature. The one I will write about here is E. B. White’s The Trumpet of the Swan.  

For those of you who are not familiar with the story The Trumpet of the Swan, it is the tale of how a mute cygnet finds his voice and his relationship with a young boy named Sam Beaver. As you begin to read the first few pages of the story you are drawn into Canada’s wilderness. White describes in vivid detail the song of the different birds, many of which remain in my subconscious as symbols of my childhood, such as the chickadee and the iconic red wing black bird.

As a young child both my brother and I would spend our days outside, whether we were in the city in the winters or at a cottage by the lake or my grand-parents’ farm in the summers. Like Sam, we would embark on long hikes and explorative journeys watching, observing and delighting in the environment around us. If we were in the city, there were many parks nearby; or even our backyard where you could find fascinating caterpillars and various other insects. Whereas when we were in the country it was a setting that offered a cornucopia of larger, furrier, feathered or amphibious character to appeal to both our yearnings to explore these worlds beyond our own. My brother and I carried our sketch pads with us wherever we went. We could spend hours drawing and creating stories while observing the vivacity of the beings within our sight. As such, Sam’s escapades were a wonderful way to revive the fond memories of the day as I lay in bed reading. Although The Trumpet of the Swan was intended to be read by young boys, the character of Sam that E. B. White created for his story was an integral reason that I was so drawn to the story.

Mute Swan

Mute Swan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
My father was raised on a farm and his background influenced how we were brought up. Even in the city my father had a garden bursting with flowers, fruit and vegetables. As such, the chance to be close to nature was at arm’s length. As children that spent a great deal of time in natural settings, my brother and I also loved to care for nonhuman animals, and as a consequence, we lived with many different types of companion animals. We had fish, mice, rabbits, newts, cats and dogs, to name a few… I was also quite shy as a child, and I preferred to observe than to speak. And while our pets never could respond in English, these companions always had a patient ear to which we could reveal our secrets and share our sorrows. In this way, the character of Louis (the mute swan) was both like a mirror for my own sense of feeling voiceless and how I would express myself through art.

Throughout the story of The Trumpet of the Swan there are several mentions about the different expeditions in the Canadian wilderness that provide a rich canvas for Sam to fill his notebook with his numerous observations. There are also countless references to the friendship between Sam and Louis. In several passages White describes ways in which we must be aware of our holistic place in the world and respect the space of nonhuman nature. The story touches on the concepts of species extinction and how humans can play a part in contributing to the protection of endangered wildlife. Moreover, White brings to the forefront the idea of equality between species. This is best illustrated by the example when Louis is shot and the town-folk fetch the ambulance to save the injured swan.

The Trumpet of the Swan is a beautiful guide for young readers that truly fosters a deep connection to nonhuman nature through a narrative that is engaging and entices one to want to go out and experience similar personal adventures through respect and observation. Now there is no doubt that Louis highly anthropomorphized but this lets a younger reader connect more easily which allows one to foster empathy for the character of Louis…

Saturday, 8 June 2013


After the frantic realisation that she had been lost, the running through one forest to another and along unknown paths, Molly was exhausted from the day’s adventures. As she drank and quenched her thirst all she could muster up the energy for was to find a safe and comfortable spot to sleep. She took a few more laps of water and stepped back from the pond. The sun had almost completely set at this point, and the sky was a deep red on the horizon. She stood quietly by the water for a moment and looked around. The moonlight reflected on the pond enabling Molly to see her surroundings a little bit better. She could also see that the bird that had led her to the pond was just a few steps away. He was wading in the water and taking a drink himself.

“I don’t think I told you my name, but I’m Molly” she said.

“Well, it’s nice to meet you Molly. My name is Jet” replied the bird.

“Where are we?” she asked.

“Why, you are at Bluegate Pond!” Jet replied.

“I am so tired, is this where you meant for me to sleep?” she asked, her body slumped from fatigue.

“Look over there, there is a hollowed out tree where you can lie down and rest” answered Jet.

Molly glanced over to the wooded area next to the water and made her way to the hollowed out tree that that Jet had brought to her attention. It was dark and the air was damp. She sniffed at the inside walls of this natural den that would be her bedroom for the night and started to circle and scratch at the ground. As Molly patted down a bed for herself with this circular dance, beetles and spiders scurried for safety towards the edges of the hollowed tree. A few more steps should do it, and around she went once more until she plopped down and sank into the softness of the decaying vegetation beneath her.

“Hrrmphh!” Molly let out a wearied breath as her eyes gently glanced upwards to the open sky and the twinkling of fireflies above…
It had been a long day, and with all the uncertainty of being separated from Lucy, Molly was relieved to be lying down for a rest. Tomorrow she would continue on her quest, but for now she desperately needed to sleep. Closing her eyes, Molly could hear the gentle sounds of rustling leaves, the croaking of the toads in the pond and the rhythmic chirp of crickets. Gently she faded away from the outside world and welcomed a deep slumber. Molly’s legs began to twitch and she let out a few little whimpers as she relived the day’s adventures in dream.

“Kronk! Kronk!” Jet called out.

Molly woke with a jolt. Looking from side to side her gaze finally fell upon Jet. It felt as though she has only closed her eyes a moment ago but the sky was beginning to brighten with the new day. She felt an empty pit in her belly. She was famished!

“Kronk! Molly!” said Jet. “Up you get! If you want to settle that hunger we have to be up early to find something to eat!” he ordered.

Molly got to her feet, stretching her legs one at a time and then she took a deep bow and stretched out her neck with a relaxed groan. A little shake, and she was ready to go!

“Where are we going to find something to eat?” she asked.

“Well that is where the search begins, and you have to be up at the crack of dawn before everything is gone!” Jet informed Molly.

So off they went to circle the pond when Molly caught a glimpse of something in the reeds. Her head sunk and paralleled her spine as she took gentle calculated steps toward the edge of the pond. Jet watched closely thinking that perhaps she may know more than he thought. As she approached the reeds she carefully gauged each step until, pounce! She disappeared into the stalks and stems that lined the water’s edge. Jet swayed back and forth in quiet excitement of her hunting prowess when suddenly Molly’s head popped up with a big toad whose webbed feet dangled from her mouth.

“Kronck!” shrieked Jet.

In tandem with Andrei’s deep bark as he witnessed the scene.

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