Common Ground


“Surprise is the greatest gift which life can grant us.” 

Boris Pasternak

It was certainly a surprise to most of us that we received such a huge amount of rain this spring.

I don’t think I have ever seen a spring with so many shades of green and so much verdant growth. After last year’s heat and drought and garden triage, the rain is most welcome here.

In the woods, the hepaticas were very showy this year. These little and usually inconspicuous ephemerals which are done by the time the trees leaf out obviously liked all the rain. Shades of white, pink and purple carpeted the woods for about a week.

After the hepaticas come the trilliums which I always associate with blackflies. It seems that when the trilliums are at their peak, so are the blackflies. Every year I have good intentions of walking through the woods where the trilliums are thick. But the bugs always end up driving me back inside.

For the last few years I have enjoyed having a pond big enough to canoe on and I was grateful to nature’s engineers, the beavers, for their dam. But the heavy rains washed a huge hole in the dam and the engineers have moved upstream rather than fix it. I was shocked when I discovered that the pond was gone. The water had dropped at least five feet and I was looking at a lot of black muck where the pond used to be. I should not have been surprised, of course, as nature gives and just as easily takes away.

The beavers are often maligned as just being destructive but that hasn’t strictly been the case here. There are very few dead trees where the pond used to be. Several large cedar trees whose trunks were under water are green and healthy this year. And dogwoods that were mostly under water leafed out almost as soon as the water level dropped.

Close to my house I have a Zumi ornamental crab tree which was chewed off at ground level by the beavers several years ago. The tree was undeterred by this and grew right back with three smaller trunks instead of one. It puts on a beautiful display every year in spite of its beaver pruning.

Whenever I look at it, I am reminded of a hilariously inaccurate MNR brochure about beavers that said that they don’t venture far from water. They would have had a good hike up from the creek to get to this particular tree.

The short spring break up this year meant that I had at least a month to do garden preparation before the bugs appeared. I don’t remember ever having that much time to get things ready. It’s a lot easier to do fiddly jobs like putting up bean poles without blackflies swarming all around your face.

Pruning the forsythia actually got done at the right time this year. The larger varieties of forsythia need a massive haircut right after they flower to avoid them growing to monster proportions. I neglected my Northern Gold for a few years and it grew right into the side of a neighbouring spruce tree. That should not have happened so now I try to stay on top of the pruning with no excuses.

It was great to be able to clear away weeds and get vegetable beds ready for planting at a more leisurely pace for a change. That only left planting to do once the swarms arrived.

Finally, on May 27 I attended the dedication ceremony in Port Hope of a section of the Ganaraska Trail to two local environmental activists, Pat Lawson and Jack Goering. The last time I saw Jack he was standing on my front lawn with a group of enthusiastic hikers. Both Pat and Jack worked tirelessly to make the world a better place. They will be missed.

By Jill Williams

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