I’ve recently read a wonderfully written book of contemporary Canadian nature writing called Northern Wild. The editor, David R. Boyd, an environmental lawyer, chose essays from twenty authors for the collection. The writers all share a love and knowledge of land, water, sky and wildlife. Because we are in a time of intense destruction of nature, their stories are both ones of beauty and of loss. Many are poetic, others are humourous.
One of the amazing things that stands out that I learned from this book was in the essay by Wade Davis. In it, he speaks of the Inuit and how they navigate on cloudy days in the arctic. They study the reflections of the ice on the undersides of low clouds. From these reflections, they can tell where open water appears, where sea ice is, where ground is covered, or not, by snow. Imagine such attunement to one’s surroundings. Now that I think of it, in one form or another, many of the essays speak to moments of such attunement, calling on us to be attentive to and nurture our connection to nature.
This book is out of print, but I borrowed it from my library and then found a copy online that I’ve since purchased. It’s the kind of book that asks to be reread.
Last Friday I went to Todmorden Mills, a heritage site in Toronto adjacent to a wildflower preserve. Todmorden Mills is off Pottery Road, near Bayview Avenue and the Don Valley Parkway, so this visually beautiful place has a backdrop of rushing traffic. Often I cannot shut out the distressing sound of the cars, but was able to accept them this day and focus on the physical scene. Indeed, a disturbing part of living in the city is the necessity of shutting down senses at times as a form of self-preservation.
However, last week as I walked around the grounds I did enjoy the snow that hadn’t fully melted in the valley, the trees, shrubs, stream and old buildings. I imagined what the land this city sits on might have looked like in the late 1700s when a sawmill and grist mill were built here. The strangeness of roaring cars and trucks adjacent to the remains of this old community brought forth feelings I’ve had before about being in two worlds. And, at the same time, I felt refreshed by spending an hour or so in this bit of preserved nature and history in the midst of the city.
Earlier this week, a dear friend of ours, Ron Silvers, died. A few days later I was out walking down Pottery Road, along the edge of Todmorden Mills in Toronto. There I came upon a tumble of dried plants at the side of the hill which I confess I cannot identify. (I have much to learn.) The plants reminded me of Ron with their, and his, humble beauty—and of the province of Saskatchewan where he lived during the last years of his life. At that moment by the road, I felt Ron’s presence strongly.
Ron, among the other hats that he wore, both literal and figurative, was a fine art photographer. His photos of Tibet, the Antarctic, the Yukon and the first sun of the millennium from Ellesmere Island are deeply felt, haunting images. You can see them at www.photographicexplorations.ca.
This is for Ron, who remains in our hearts and thoughts, in the grass and wind and in whatever of nature speaks to us.
Yesterday I took the 505—Dundas—streetcar into Toronto’s downtown. It had snowed and rained all day on the 27th, leaving some wet snow on the residential streets. However, downtown it was hard to tell there had been any snow the day before.
Here’s some of the photos I took showing the grey day, sometimes through grey areas of the city, winding up near the Art Gallery of Ontario. Downtown, the occasional tree softened the gritty scene.