Category Archives: attitudes to land

Befriending Wildflowers (the quiet version)

“Nobody sees a flower – really – it is so small it takes time – we haven’t time – and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.” Georgia O’Keefe

“Befriending Wildflowers” was a two day art retreat which gave us time to “really see a flower” and to befriend some of the  wildflowers who live on the slopes of the Qu’Appelle Valley. By spending time with the wildflowers on the hills, by painting and drawing the flowers that called to us, we came to know a few flowers more intimately.

We were so fortunate to be able to hold this retreat at the Qu’Appelle House of Prayer  which is

Photo by Tania Wolk

nestled in the hills above Echo Lake. We painted under the shade of trees during the hot days, and hiked through woodland trails up to the top of the hills where grasses and flowers bloomed profusely in the early mornings and evenings. We were so warmly welcomed and cared for by Glenn, Margaret, Kathy and Tim.  Silence and quiet are encouraged and allow us to connect with nature more deeply than usual. For those who wished, Eucharist and “silent sitting” enriched our experience. The Qu’Appelle House of Prayer is a sacred place.

some of our “cat flowers”…instructor Kami Jo second from right

While the land (and the flowers) were our greatest teacher(s), we also learned so much from each other. Our youngest participant, Kami Jo, led a session on creating cat flowers which was fantastic. Tania helped us draw flowers in their simplest shapes, getting to the essence of the flower, and helping us see flowers in fresh ways. We painted with dominant hand, non-dominant hand, standing, sitting, upside down,  and we sometimes timed ourselves to get the feel of a flower rather than the details. We did flower yoga, and played flower charades, and  did breathing exercises. We laughed frequently. We moved  very slowly (to Kami Jo’s frustration). We called our unhurried pace “wildflower time”. We learned how painting on the ground in a meadow was a completely different experience from painting a vase of flowers.

Wildflower Joy! Photo by Tania Wolk

Photo by Elizabeth Gavin

Photo: Tania Wolk

Speaking for myself, It was pure joy to be with others who take notice and delight in wildflowers. Being with others  who are totally absorbed  in trying to get the feel of a particular flower on paper is very settling, calming and joyful. I saw wildflowers in new ways, and sometimes through the eyes of others, I saw familiar wildflowers in completely unfamiliar ways. I treasure my friendships with wildflowers – through the presence and teachings of my companions, my friendships continue to grow and thrive.

Once upon another PLAYshop, this one focusing on trees, hypnotizing chickens became the most fun thing to do. During our Befriending Flowers time, the most fun thing for Kami Jo was having the chance to drive Margaret in the golf cart! You have to scroll to the bottom for photos of that one.

I feel gratitude for the sacred place that is the Qu’Appelle House of Prayer, for the people that care for it, and for us; for the beautiful hills, grasses and wildflowers; and for each of those who took part so wholeheartedly!! Thank you.

Diane getting to know gaillardia

Gaillardia seed head, Diane

Gaillardia sun and shadows, Liz

Gaillardia, photo by Tania Wolk

Gaillardia Seed Heads by Tania

Purple Prairie clover, first impressions, Liz

Purple Prairie Clover, Photo by Tania Wolk

Cat flowers, Kami Jo

Purple Prairie Clover, Tania

Trying with marker, Kami Jo

Wild Rose, early morning meditation, Diane

Wild Rose, early morning meditation, Tania

Wild Rose, after the petals fall and before the rose hip forms. Beauty in every stage. Tania.

Liz’s flowers…gaillardia, bergamot, wild rose

Cat Flower, Liz

Wild Bergamot (using Tania’s shape method), Sue

Wild Bergamot makes us go wild and free, Diane

And the wind blew, and the bergamot got wilder!  Whoohee!!

Dancing in the Meadow, Sue

Kami Jo’s flowers, photo by Tania Wolk

Who painted the fastest of us all? (Kami Jo)

Early morning painting in the meadow

Totally absorbed as we “befriend a wildflower”

Mai Jo befriending Margaret, Margaret befriending Kami Jo. Margaret is one of the co-directors of the Qu’Appelle House of Prayer, along with Glenn Zimmer. Photo by Tania Wolk.

Saving the best for last!! Finally we are speeding up, says Kami Jo. Photo by Tania Wolk.

through the looking glass, Northern Bedstraw, photo by Tania Wolk

 

Tree Hugger (1)

 

 

Trees I have loved: White Pine, Christie Lake

The year was 1974. I was 17, and lucky enough to be a Junior Ranger in the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resource’s inspired summer program that ran for 68  years and has over 70,000 alumni. The place: McConnell Lake, northeast of North Bay, Ontario.

I couldn’t have been happier. First off, I was away from home. I loved the trappings of the Junior Ranger program – the yellow construction hat, the steel toed boots, the myth that after 6 nicks from an axe in the steel toe of your boot and you would be sent home. The plaid lumberjack shirts. Young women, all 17, from all parts of Ontario. I felt tough and strong and invincible! I loved the wilderness, a northern lake with 24 resident loons, more blueberries than we knew what to do with. The beautiful forests.

For the most part, our work was outdoor physical labour. We used our handy sandvicks (pictured right) to chop down brush, small trees and  to widen roads and trails. We had a particularly beautiful canoe trip where we  worked on portage trails along the fast flowing Mattawa River.

Towards the end of our summer, we made a baseball field. I remember wondering about that. It felt like a “make work” project to me – there didn’t seem to be anybody close enough to play baseball. It kept us busy. We learned about hard physical work, we sweated, we learned about repetitive tasks. I have happy memories of each of us taking turns hiding in the huge piles of brush for a break, with our work buddies keeping  their eyes open for supervisors.  To break up the monotony as we tossed logs down the line, we would identify each log as a type of food. “Ice cream sundae”, “Mars Bar” , “Buttered Popcorn” rang out over the drone of chain saws as we tossed  logs down the line to the ever growing wood pile.

Trees I have loved. White cedar, Christie Lake.

During this project, I noticed a frantic mother robin who had a nest in a tree. I remember asking one of the foremen if we could just leave that tree and come back for it later. A hard-bitten, retired lumberjack, he dismissed my suggestion with a terse no. I felt so foolish. Yet, that robin plagued me. I remember losing sleep and trying to decide if I should take a stand. I believed that if I did I would be sent home. How could I leave what was the best summer of my life? Maybe I was wrong. Maybe the old lumberjacks knew best. Weren’t old people wise?  Maybe I was being romantic. Maybe I needed to be tougher. After all, I looked tough.  I didn’t speak up. The tree went down. The mother robin mourned the loss of her children. It was probably too late in the season for her to begin a new family.

I didn’t speak up but I have never forgotten. Each time an opportunity to speak up against an injustice has arisen , I remember this story.

Trees I have loved. Birch Tree, Lake Superior

Now I know better. While the bigger justice story might have been the wastefulness of creating a baseball field where none was needed, it is my inability to have taken a stand for the robins that I remember.  I knew I wouldn’t stand a chance with a whole baseball field. The lumberjacks may have been wise in some areas of life but they were not the sage old characters I liked to imagine back then. I invested them with a wisdom and an authority that they did not deserve.

It would have been so easy to leave one tree up and come back for it later. Imagine the message that leaving one tree up would have sent? We can leave this tree standing, so we will. In a few days, the robin family will have left its nest.

But instead, it was knocked down, and another message, the prevalent message of a culture that often “takes” without thought was reinforced. Chop chop.

Trees I have loved: Willow Tree, Kerry Farm. Photo by Brenda MacLachlan

 

I am grateful for that summer. I am grateful for that story. I feel compassion for the young woman who noticed a frantic mother robin. I am grateful especially for the trees and the robin family and what they taught me then and what they teach me now. I feel a lingering fondness for our supervisors but I would no longer give them that much authority or assume they had wisdom. I am less obedient. I am learning to speak up. I am proud to call myself a tree hugger now.

 

 

This is a companion post to Letter to the Editor: Elegy for the Trees and Tree Hugger (2)

Trees I have loved. Beech tree, Christie Lake.

While writing this post, my daughter shared this book with me. From Kalevala: Heroic Tales from Finland by Ursula Synge, Bodley Head, 1977

Paraphrased from pages 11, 12 .       Vainamoinen the Wise Singer found seven precious seeds by the ocean but knew that they would germinate best in the forest. So he took his axe and he toiled, felling trees. At every stroke of the axe, the birds flew up and away. “If I clear all the forest, these birds will have no resting place. ” So he left a beech tree standing.  An eagle flew down to ask him why he had spared the beech tree.”So that the birds may perch upon it. One must have a care for every need.” replied Vainamoinen.. The eagle  said that because he had cared for the relatives, he would help him. The eagle produced flames and the cleared land (except the beech) was burned. Vainemionen took the seven precious seeds and planted them in seven furrows, calling on the Earth Mother to bless the sowing and to support and cherish each blade as it grew. He then asked Ukka to assemble the rainclouds and drive them above the field.

 

Letter to the Editor – Elegy for the Trees

Letter to the Editor of the Fort Qu’Appelle Times, December 2016

I am concerned about the practice of removing trees, “pushing bush”, and draining sloughs that is happening at an unprecedented rate on farmland in our area and beyond.

I walk our road almost daily. This gives me a chance to observe the wildflowers, the varieties of wild creatures including butterflies, dragonflies, bees, deer, coyote, fox, skunks, frogs, snakes and birds of all kind who make their life here. 

Last fall, a landowner bulldozed a group of trees that I have come to know very well. Not only do yellow lady slippers bloom in the shelter of these beautiful aspen, but many other creatures find refuge there as well. This was just one of a group of aspen bluffs and low lying sloughs in this area that was bulldozed. A year later, the piles of brush were set on fire and left to burn for a few days, then buried under the ground. Walking past now, it looks as if there never were trees there.

I called the landowner to share how sad and distressed I felt about the loss of these trees, as well as the scale of the destruction of similar places. He listened respectfully and thanked me for sharing my thoughts.  I invited him to come for a hike with me next spring to see how these wild places are brimming with natural life. I cannot tell another landowner what to do on his land, but I can share how I feel about it. Having a conversation with my neighbour may not change anything but at least he knows how I feel.

I know farmers who love the natural world and think hard about how their decisions affect the environment. I acknowledge that farmers sometimes do need to remove trees on their land. It is the  increased scale of “pushing bush” and draining marshy areas that disturbs me. Some will argue that before settlers arrived, the natural prairie did not have these aspen bluffs, although there were certainly many more sloughs and potholes than we see today. While that is true, in this radically altered landscape,  these small areas of bush and marsh not only provide refuge for a diversity of natural life but they add pockets of ecological richness that we desperately need.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, the Great Plains region lost more grasslands (including bluffs and marshes) to agriculture in 2014 that the Brazilian Amazon lost to deforestation. When roots systems are removed, the water holding capacity of the land is reduced significantly, affecting us all during both drought and flood years.

I urge landowners to think carefully before altering or destroying the natural landscape. The loss of these areas impoverishes us all. I want to be able to show my grandchildren a clutch of yellow lady slippers. I want them to hear the now rare sound of a meadowlark singing. Each small wild place matters.

Sue Bland, Abernethy, Sask.

Listen to a western meadowlark sing!