By Mieke Schipper
As told to a grade two class visiting Gamiing Nature Centre
25 years ago
It is 25 years ago when our family came here to this farm to live. We called it “Paradise Farms”, because we thought it was beautiful. However, the land was rather barren, that means unproductive ; not much was growing there, except rocks it seemed, like large pebbles and small rocks.
We walked the land every day and went into a different direction each day. And we began to wonder. What has happened here? Who lived here? What did they do? We had so many questions and we really didn’t know where to get the answers.
And then, one day, I got it. I thought, the land is telling us something. But how can I find out what it is the land is telling us?
What do you think? How can we find out what the land is telling us?
Listening, that is good. But is the land talking? Well, yes, but the land is NOT talking like you and I can talk and listen to one another.
I had to learn to listen another way, in a way my friend Nancy listens. She is deaf, but tells me she listens with her eyes and nose and hands and mouth and smell. That is how she finds out what it is I am talking to her about.
So, I had to learn to listen like Nancy is listening,
with my ears –listen to the sound of the wind, the birds, the rush of water;
with my eyes – what is growing here and why is that not growing anywhere else, what kind of animals are living here;
with my nose – the smell of flowers, trees and shrubs, the smell of animals,the smell of the lake, which changes with the season;
listening with my hands – feeling the different barks of trees, grabbing a hand of soil;
and with my mouth – tasting what the land is offering me, like berries, lots of berries, roots of plants and young leaves of dandelions.
So when I had finally figured that one out, I started to walk the land in a very different way.
Why was it so barren and rocky?
If you look at this land, right here at GAMIING, you will see many leftovers of the years when people chopped the trees down and tried to farm.
Here, we are on top of a hill. Down there is the lake and the lake is in a valley. The top of the hill is on the west side and the lake down below is on the east side. Most of the winds that blow here come from the west and they blow toward the east. So when the trees were all cut and the grass had not grown yet, what do you think happened to the soil? Yes, that all blew down into the valley. That is what we call EROSION, the soil was wearing off the underlying rubble.
That is how I found the land. Now there are some trees and plants and shrubs that can live on and between rubble. Christmas trees are a good example. So, I thought that is probably what the land would like, getting dressed up again, not laying so naked there.
So we planted hundreds of Christmas trees, spruce and pine, but also hardwood like maple and ash and walnut. The roots of these trees kept the soil in place so it stopped blowing away and under the trees other plants and grasses started to grow, plants that would die down in the fall, then rotted and that became a little bit more soil. Also the wind and the sand rubbed the rocks and that became soil. So after many years, there became more soil of the rotted plants and the scoured rocks each year and the trees started growing and birds came to the trees and they carried seeds from other trees with them and dropped them in the field and that started to grow and the wind blew in seeds and they started to grow.
And in the soil there were still seeds from long ago and they started to sprout and grow. So very slowly we are getting a forest back.
And then the animals came. They found shelter on the edges of the new forests. There is now white tail deer, foxes, coyotes, wild turkeys, grouse, pheasants and many other birds.
And the land is so happy. It gives us so much back every day. But we still have to help the land a bit because sometimes there are trees and plants that are just like bullies. They come in and grow and they want to take over, but they don’t belong here. So we have to make sure that that is not going to happen. We like to keep the land happy.
Now I want to tell you a little bit about a lake that used to be a stream.
Just a minute ago I told you about the wind that blew the soil in the valley. I did not say that it blew in the lake, because there was not a lake yet.
On this old map you can see where Pigeon Lake was and then there was Pigeon River.
Pigeon River still exists but now starts further south, near Omemee.
When the dams in Bobcaygeon and Buckhorn were built, the government went to the farmers along the Pigeon River and told them that their land would be flooded. And that is what happened. So much land along the Pigeon River was flooded that it no longer was a stream but now had become a lake. But remember, the soil that had blown in the valley, well that is now the bottom of the lake, and things started to grow there, cattails mostly.
Lots of people hate cattails and marshes and wetlands and weeds in the lake. But actually if you listen very carefully, marshes and wetlands are the very best thing that can happen to a lake. They work like a coffee filter. The water goes through it but it holds dirty stuff back, like the coffee grinds in the filter. The marshes and wetlands are also home to many different kinds of birds and ducks and blue herons and ospreys and fish. And there are many flowers growing in the marshes. The marshes and wetland here at Gamiing Nature Centre are called Victoria Wetland and they are special. They are an Area of Natural and Scientific interest, a mouth full. Just call them ANSI wetlands but remember that they are special!
So next time when you hear someone complaining about the weeds in the lake, especially about the marshes and wetlands you can tell them that these “weeds” are doing a bang-up cleaning job keeping our water healthy and they are home to many plants and birds and mammals and amphibians.
So, that is to story of the land. I hope when you go out that you can listen to the land and learn from it too.