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Gatineau Park

by Mike Pedde

I come to this place at dawn, particularly eager to start the day. It seems that I come here less and less often, and yet here within the wall of this forest is my sanctuary. All around are the reds and yellows, blues and greens of nylon, and yet the occupants of this mass of tents still sleep. In their stead I share my company in the presence of others - deer and beaver and a great blue heron. I prefer it that way as they do not ask for conversation to break the silence of the morning, only a respect for their right to be there as well. Even more than mine, this is their home. We greet each other quietly in passing and continue, each on our own way. A tone of understanding runs between us, they know that I come today not to ask of them but simply to enjoy the colours that nature’s paintbrush has left.

Botanists can talk at length of how the leaves change colour - it has to do with a decrease in chlorophyll production, and the absence of green highlights the colours of the carotenoids and other isomeric hydrocarbons that were always present. That may be, but I prefer the old native way: in the autumn as the trees prepare for their winter sleep, they change their leaves to the colours of fire - red and yellow and orange. As the wind gathers the leaves from the trees, it uses the leaves to form a thick blanket over the ground. When the icy winds of winter blow and the snow covers the ground, the leaves work to protect the lives of the little people, the insects that live on the forest floor. Without the help of the insects and others, tree flowers could not be pollinated and the trees’ roots would not receive the nutrients that the breakdown of the leaves provide. A magical circle - the tree people and the insect people provide for each other, and in turn for others. The flowers, once pollinated will begin to conceive fruit that will nourish migrating birds, squirrels and many others. The insects will survive the winter to continue their work when the spring thaw comes.

There is a road here at first, hard packed and rutted from years of use. The road seems out of place here in the dawn light, much too large for what is required for feet to walk on the Earth. After a bit the road changes to a trail, but this too has been groomed for unsteady feet. An interesting paradox - I used to think that cities were great for other people, for it kept them out of the woods. Unfortunately, if people don’t experience this place they won’t care for it and it will be okay to cut it all down. So, I tolerate the presence of others in ‘my’ woods; they must likely do the same of me. I have a destination in mind though, somewhere those of tender feet won’t follow.

Past the picnic spot that has been so carefully laid out, I continue to follow the creek that flows here, heading upstream like a salmon returning home. Continuing past the beaver ponds (there are three, but at this time of year the water is so low that the lodges are almost on dry ground) I arrive at the spot to which I have come so many times before. Far from the maddening crowd as it were, I am alone. Not truly alone, but rather away from humans. In a way, I live for these moments; here I am at home. I have no great dislike for all humanity, only those who have placed themselves in front of everyone and everything else. We live in a web of life, by exploiting the Earth we ultimately do damage to each other, ourselves. It may be that we will realise this too late to change, having passed the fulcrum point on our way to a steep downhill slide. Still, I remain hopeful for the coming generations; maybe they will take the control of the Earth from our hands and admonish us for tampering with something of which we have little understanding.

For now, I can be at peace with myself, in the presence of the friends who are gathered. There are many young trees here, ash and maple, but few parent trees. The birch and poplar looked after them while they were young, and then left them to their own. I have found no evidence of fire, and even fire would have left some of the elder trees to counsel the seedlings as they grew. Therefore I am forced to surmise that the trees were all taken from here before we managed to protect it from ourselves. Maybe these trees will live long enough to offer the proper words to the younger generations.

As the sun starts his long climb across the sky, the wind comes by with its basket to collect the leaves from the trees. Occasionally a leaf will jump from the basket and fall slowly toward the creek. There, the fallen leaves provide a bright contrast to the darkness of the water. The current tugs at the ropes of the Lilliputian boats, and they glide effortlessly across the surface of the pool. Here the grade changes, and the leaves are whisked swiftly through the tiny rapids. Caught with fear, some of the leaves clamour for shore and pull themselves from the flow. Others, more adventurous, ride the center current, daring the water to go faster so they can go bumping, careening over the rocky path. Some will end their ride in a side-pool, or trapped finally beneath the water and held pinned against a rock. Others, however will take the high ride through the caves and over the falls and rapids down to the lake below.

I ache for such a journey myself, and so I step tremulously onto the center of one red maple leaf and pull up the stalk to make a sail. The wind obliges my request, and a puff of breeze sends us quickly to the end of the little pool. Here the current takes reins from the wind and pulls us down the steep incline of a waterfall. Through the lobes of the leaf, droplets of water reach up to snatch me from my perch and I am forced to hold tightly to the edges of my maple host. Using the leaf stalk, I manage to manoeuvre the leaf away from the rocks that lean over to block our way. None of us are serious in this endeavour; it becomes a joyous game for all.

At the next pool, I step from my leaf and return to the edge of the stream. It is becoming midmorning and the campers will be arising soon. These games they would not understand. I turn briefly to wave to my friends, then turn back to the stream that will guide my journey out of here, back to my house and away from my home.


Copyright Mike Pedde
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