A Natural View: How To Recharge One’s Soul

Terry Sprague

Several participants on a guided walk to the Salmon River relax before heading back.
Photo by Terry Sprague.

[This article ran in the April/May 2012 edition of The SCOOP.]

We came upon it suddenly along the Salmon River as we rounded a corner in the trail. There was no doubt that it was as much startled as we were that morning. It was a fairly large black bear and we could feel the vibration as it took off and crashed through the forest litter and disappeared out of sight. Still, despite its size, only a few of us managed a glimpse of it, so quickly did it vanish. The bear encounter was soon forgotten as we marvelled at smaller things while we worked our way along the trail.

I shall always remember the story a fellow author told me about the time he was going for a leisurely stroll at Rock Dunder, located near the village of Morton, about a half hour’s drive north of Kingston. Walking, as a form of therapy after his mild heart attack, was suggested by his doctor who advised him to walk, but to “exercise in tolerance.” Anyone who has ever been to Rock Dunder knows that “exercising in tolerance” and “Rock Dunder” are not terms that are synonymous. Anyway, at one point in his mindful stroll, he sensed a presence behind him and glanced over his shoulder in time to see a black bear casually ambling along behind him. The bear continued to keep its slow pace for some distance and eventually lumbered off onto a side trail. My friend’s heart survived the sudden jolt and he has been healthy since.

Every year I am invited to accompany a group of outdoor enthusiasts as we make our way across a piece of property just north of Tamworth, towards the Salmon River. I keep remembering our bear encounter from a previous walk and actually hope that we may see one again. I am generally quite comfortable among bears and have done flora and fauna inventories on remote properties while in their presence. I knew they were there, and I am sure they were quite aware of my presence. I am not much of a proponent for bear spray since one needs to check for wind direction before using and wait until the bear is but 10 feet from you before activating the spray! So, I have willed myself to accept their presence.

I plan my visits so as to arrive early in Tamworth and head directly for the bakery, the moment it opens. I had been told long ago about their hot cinnamon rolls, and the thought of one after the hour drive always sounds pretty darn good to fortify us on the hike ahead. No stop in Tamworth is complete without spending at least a little quality time at the Tamworth River Bakery.

Spring is the season for wildflowers and nesting birds on our leisurely walk. If we time it right, both yellow and orange hawkweed will be in fine form. There is something special about hiking in the Canadian Shield with its granite rocks, crevices, gullies and small beaver ponds and creeks which seem to spring up magically around each corner. At one such pond, a distant great blue heron was all but hidden by the tall grasses in which it stalked its prey, menacingly, at times totally disappearing as it craned its neck even lower to peer into the waters. A green frog bonged its banjo-like notes nearby from another small wetland.

It is also the land of snakes, likely lured into the open by the sun-warmed rocks. We have found several garter snakes on our walks, and a possible water snake that slithered away far too quickly for identification. A pair of sharp eyes came upon the emerald green of a smooth green snake once. I continue to hold my record of having never observed a live smooth green snake. All those I have ever seen have been quite dead. Even this one managed to give me the slip.

In some spots along the trail, it feels like being at a major migration point in the spring. Chestnut-sided warblers always call from several separate locations, probably nesting birds at this latitude, although we do get them in the Bay of Quinte area in summer too. Common yellowthroats pour out their “whichity-whichity” notes from wet areas, and we always hear at least one black-throated green warbler and one black-throated blue warbler, along with several yellow warblers on the territory, and ovenbirds bursting from the woods. If we are lucky, a distant scarlet tanager may call out its hoarse notes - described by a colleague once “like a rose-breasted grosbeak needing voice lessons.”

This chestnut-sided warbler is always present on our walks.
Photo by Greg Barteluk.

From up on a high ridge, accessed by a detour off the trail, the Salmon River is somewhere down below, masked among the conifers and deciduous trees. In the dry crevices of the barren rocks, harebells, sheep sorrel, and sprigs of pale corydalis fight bravely to bloom. Yet, down below in the moist lowlands, ostrich fern and sensitive fern take on a much different struggle - mainly to stay erect, so heavy are they from excess foliage due to their own little microclimate.

For some on the hike, it is the adrenalin surge of seeing bear scats, reinforcing that we are not alone, or the individual wood lilies peeking above the grasses or the plaintive whistled notes of a distant pewee. For others, it is the eventual sight of the river, still rushing over the granite rocks on its long route to the Bay of Quinte. For me, it is always the veery, its haunting flute-like notes filtering through the deciduous forests, hidden but eerily present.

All of us need walks like this from time to time, a break from our normal routine, where we can recharge our batteries. Nature can do that for us, directing our thoughts and energies in more positive directions. What do I get out of it, as a hike leader who does this for a living? It is the thrill of sharing information and seeing the enthusiasm and excitement from both young and old on these treks, and the interest in that almost overworked word, “biodiversity.” How everything we come across interconnects and functions in the natural scheme of things. We hike for different reasons, I suppose. If there is any common purpose in our goals, it has to be that lightly warmed cinnamon bun to prime our engines.

For more information on birding and nature, check out the NatureStuff website at
www.naturestuff.net

Bear track: the wildlife we don't always see leave behind proof of their presence.
Photo by Terry Sprague.

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