Our first winter back in Ottawa after 27 years in warm Sri Lanka has been quite eye-opening. Watching all of the plant and animal life adapt to the freezing cold; seeing the plants and seeds fight to stay underground; witnessing the roots sprout as the ice thaws—all of these things were magical for us to experience again. The ways nature adapts to the cycles of the seasons, when left undisturbed, is truly amazing.
Canada is blessed with vast space and a small population, which allows it to keep much of its biodiversity healthy and thriving. Since our return, my spouse Samantha and I have been revelling in the beauty of Canada’s nature, so we take every opportunity to be close to it.
Our latest adventure was a 25 km walk on the Rideau Trail, in Eastern Ontario. This 387 km trail (in total) goes from urban, to semi-urban, to rural farmland and then continues through rugged wilderness to the serene Boreal forests in the Canadian Shield between Ottawa, the capitol of Canada, and Kingston.
The trail is preserved and managed by the volunteers of the Rideau Trail Association, a non-profit organization. It’s marked by red-orange isosceles triangles, which keep hikers on track. Yet finding the markers is a challenge, at times, because of their ever-changing natural surroundings. Some signs even disappear altogether, which makes it fun to divide and conquer to find the markers, hidden by unruly growth. What a lovely, literal reminder of the evolving nature along this trail.
We joined our neighbor, Paul Weber, and his friend, Bill Dare, on the 25 km portion, which to our amazement was all forest. We did not encounter any other human beings or any farmland in the entire eight-and-a-half hours of hiking.
As we walked through the deep wilderness between the towns of Perth and Westport in Eastern Ontario, we came across peaceful creatures like deer, rabbits, and partridges. The most fascinating animals were the beavers. The way these little critters have defined the geography of this area by building their famous Beaver Dams is remarkable. There are many a dam made of mud and wood for reinforcement to marvel at. We encountered more than ten bodies of water and lakes of varying sizes, direct results of the beavers’ impressive handiwork.
In her book, Water: A Natural History, Alice Outwater talks about how integral beavers have been to the entire ecology of the North American continent. Over 10% of the land has been directly modified by them. The wetlands they create purify and recharge the groundwater, and all their good work even impacts the ecology of the oceans. Human encroachments, however, have unfortunately changed a lot of this, especially south of the Canadian border in the USA. Thanks to organizations like Rideau Trail Association and the personal commitment of volunteers, local ecologies in Ontario have been aptly protected.
This is precisely why Samantha and I encourage our children to spend time in the wilderness to get close to nature. We want them to understand that we are all part of one system, interconnected and interwoven.
Spending time in nature, walking through forests, watching birds and animals, discovering how landscapes and water bodies are formed, learning how soil is protected…and so on…should ideally play an integral role in all of our childhoods even be infused in our educations. This is a way to ensure future generations gain an appreciation for the complexity of nature’s balance. These young people—educated, enlightened, and sustainability-conscious—will enter the worlds of business, government and so on with the knowledge and sensitivity necessary to make informed decisions about the future for all of us.
By Lalith Gunaratne