A loving reflection on the changing faces of Fresh Water in Ontario, through photography, poetry and an invitation to immerse yourself in swamps, marshes and lakes.
The dark pools of water in the swamp are not stagnant
They are still, tranquil, reflecting life as it is.
For you see, swamps are where water comes to rest
Water that has tired from flowing in rivers, crashing as waves and falling as rain
Eventually finds its way into the cradle of the bottomland
Where rest and stillness are possible
Water can finally recharge, and dream of being a cloud again.
A wetland is a mysterious dreamscape
When human beings visit a swamp, marsh or bog
They can reimagine and recharge themselves too
For this is a place where the mystery of life whispers a chorus of secrets
Under the influence of fragrant White Cedars and dancing Red Maples
Our life in dry land appears as a reflection in a vernal pool
Quietness enters the soul, if we can accept the mystical nature of the swamp
Our nervousness blossoms into trust, reverence and calm
For this is not a scary land, it is gentle, slow moving and refreshing
A place to rest and quiet your mind, and a place that few people understand deeply.
The Minesing Wetland in early Spring, Eagles, Silver Maple and other wonders of life await..
Once you are inside the swamp, you are the swamp creature
You have nothing to fear, the wisdom of the place becomes available
To the mindful wanderer, your life and the wetlands life are one.
Why do wetlands scare people?
Because they cannot be conquered, they are not easily boxed into rigid categories of dry land or open water.. Because they are silent, and they remind grasping humans that water and land are wild and free, they will not always manifest in hospitable ways. Nature is not always bright and sweet, nature is also dark and acidic, muddy and hard to move through... And we belong to all of nature’s expressions. If you only stand on the edge of the swamp, it may remain a damp land of nightmares and ogres. When we walk or paddle into the wetland mindfully, we can experience being a conscious animal on a mysterious planet, and we will understand that we don’t need to be afraid of stillness any longer. Even a being as powerful and free as water needs a quiet place to rest and dream...
Above, the crown of an ancient Black Gum tree in Southern Ontario tells a mystical story of a quiet wetland life, some of the slow growing Gums in this swamp forest are 500 years old... Below, an old-growth Silver Maple soaks up some sunshine on the edge of a vernal pool in Backus Woods.
Old Growth is a feeling as much as a technical classification of an ecological state. Ancient energy permeates the land, a myriad of species collective voice tells you that they have been here for a very long time. a biodiverse, ancient ecosystem welcomes you like an old friend, embracing you tenderly, offering you medicine to restore your relationship with Earth.
Though we have drained, developed and paved over most of the once abundant wetlands of Southern Ontario. A few still remain that can be quietly and mindfully visited. Backus Woods in Norfolk County (pictured above/below) contains some of the last old growth forest, and most biodiverse deciduous swamps left in the province. This site contains a large network of trails, some of which pass through these wet forests where Black Gum, Red and Silver Maples, Swamp Oak, and Cottonwood live among enchanting Vernal Pools. The abundant mosquitoes spawning from the still water add another dimension to this near wilderness experience in Southern Ontario. While they ravage your skin and swarm your face during summer in Backus Woods, do try to remember that their presence supports the populations of songbirds, bats, frogs, salamanders, among others, and contributes to the overall balance of the place... This is a practice of appreciating that which is causing you to suffer, and this can help you have a more grounded, joyful experience in beautiful harsh environments.
Vernal Pools are a characteristic feature of Ontario's Swamps, and provide critical habitat for breeding salamanders and frogs, as well as Fairy Shrimp, a small species of freshwater crustacean. Pools like this beautifully reflect the trees that surround them
Another Exceptional Wetland Complex is the Minesing Swamp near Barrie Ontario. During the spring flood you can paddle a canoe or kayak through the sprawling marshland along Willow Creek, and experience the magic of a flooded Silver Maple and Black Ash forest along the tranquil Nottawasaga river. Home to an abundance of Beaver and Muskrat, along with Mink and Fisher, Deer, Hundreds of thousands of birds including Bald Eagles and Sandhill Cranes. Numerous species of snake, Frog, and turtle (including the endangered Wood and Blandings Turtles), even the occasional transient moose and black bear, this Wetland Complex is called the Everglades of the north for good reason. Southern Ontario’s largest intact wetland, all 4 major wetland types are present.
1. Deciduous and Coniferous Swamps. Forested Wetlands dominated by Black Ash, Maple, and Hackberry. Or Cedar, Spruce and White Birch).
2/3. Bogs and Fens, Characterized by the presence of sphagnum mosses and Sedge grasses gradually filling in a water table, creating an Acidic Environment where only specialist plant species can thrive like the insect eating Pitcher Plants, rare Orchids, and coniferous trees like Tamarack and Black Spruce.
4. Marshes, wetlands dominated by standing water and aquatic plants such as american water lily, Cattails, reed grasses, and Wild Rice..
An abandoned Bald Eagle nest, in a standing dead tree in the Minesing Marsh.
To visit the Minesing Wetland in harmony with the sensitive environment, stick to established canoe routes along Willow Creek and the Nottawasaga River, don’t approach wildlife or disturb bird nesting sites, and be quiet to respect the birds shyness. The best part about being quiet as you can is more wildlife reveal themselves which adds so much magic to your experience and lets you know you are being a respectful visitor. It is best to go at a time of year when water levels are high so you can paddle lightly without tearing up the vegetation and sensitive creek banks. This way we can ensure that the Minesing Wetland remains a sanctuary for rare and shy species, and thrives in good functioning health for future generations to enjoy.
Waterfowl are keystone species of wetlands, enriching and balancing the complex web of life.
A Word about Ducks:
Ducks are ambassadors of peace
Effortlessly, through graceful movement
They communicate the essence of the Dharma
Full of mystery, they fly to us from the far north
Unwavering, undefiled expressions of life
They bring magic into our hearts
We can live our life in reverence
Of our little diving friends
A life dedicated to worshipping
And immersing ourself into the world of ducks
This is already good enough
Our journey is complete
we have arrived at the ultimate destination
Bufflehead, Mergansers, Mallards and Scaups
Have guided us back to the present moment
That all living beings belong to.
Ducks perfectly embody the connection between water and air. Their jaw dropping flight patterns, the way they throw themselves under water creates captivating ripples on the still pond or lakes surface, they dive and resurface as a family.. the way they glide through the water side by side, and huddle together for warmth in an interspecies bond on the coldest winter nights.. These are some of the miracles these little Buddha's express, and how graciously they let me into their world, though they are timid, they put on a spectacular show for the quiet, mindful observer. Along with the Beaver, it is hard to think of a more characteristic wetland species who you are sure to encounter in your wetland travels!
Wood Ducks and Painted Turtles, Beavers and Great Egrets, the concentration of wildlife found in Wetlands is unrivalled. I hope this ramble waters your appreciation of Ontario's invaluable wetlands, and inspires you to get out on the land yourself to experience the mystery of the Swamp and Marsh!