Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Return to Twin Bays

Finally I have returned to Twin Bays, after a long cold winter away. 

Sunrise OverTwin Bays. © Margaret Buffie

(I imagine this is what the recent fire in our area would have looked like if 
it had actually made it to the shores of our lake. So glad it didn't.)

We were not allowed to return to our cabin until just a few weeks ago because of a fierce wildfire that came very close to our lake. The fire was caused by something called dry lightning - striking an old part of the forest which had many old decaying trees  - waiting, like tinder,  for a chance to explode into flames. Dry lightning is just what it sounds like. Clouds full of fire and no rain. 

The photo below is not mine, but was taken by someone at a nearby lake and used in the media (no credits given that I could see) to show the wild fire moving closer and closer. This photo has almost a painterly quality to it. 

We were, of course, extremely concerned for almost a month. Not just for the wildlife, and the destruction, but also for the looming possibility of losing the old log cabins my dad and grandfather built, my paintings, our gathered treasures over the years, the journal my husband has kept about the lake since we were married, and many more things that meant so much to our family. 

Eventually the fire stretched to about 20 miles in length and licked against outbuildings on the lake next to ours. At first the fire was too hot for water bombers to get close enough to spray it  -  and of course ground crews were not allowed near it. People were evacuated from four different lakes, including ours. But eventually with cooler weather and some rain,  water bombers were finally allowed to fly over. Ground crews then moved in and used water devices to pump water from the lakes onto cottages, cabins and the homes of permanent residents in the area, as well as trying to clear-cut areas to keep the fire at bay. Finally, after weeks of worry, the all-clear was called for the lakes, including ours, even though the fire was still burning in an uninhabited area. 

When we arrived at the marina at the end of the lake we were so happy to be back! We were told by another camper loading his boat, that they had had what is referred to as a"pollen" storm a few days before we arrived.  A hard winter, a slow spring, and many of the species of trees released their pollen at the same time. The pollen waves covered homes, cottages, boats, docks, and waterways.  When we arrived at the end of the lake in our boats, remnants of it had been driven by south winds into one of our small bays. The next morning, I took a shot of it. It covered everything in the marsh, beaver dens, trees,  lily pads, the water .... and as the wind picked up, me! I sneezed my way back home in my canoe!

Pollen on the water in Bay One © Margaret Buffie

As soon as I could, I explored my usual paths, and paddled my canoe each day checking out my favourite places and celebrating that we still had our beautiful lake intact.

Early that first evening, I paddled toward the largest beaver lodge I have ever seen. I had noticed the previous September that an energetic beaver was starting on a new den. And it appears that during the nice autumn weather, he worked diligently to show the other beavers how it is done! It's huge.

Giant Beaver Lodge © Margaret Buffie

Usually in that bay the lily pads are so thick I can hardly paddle, but in early June they are rising up from the clusters of leaves growing on the thick layer of mud about four feet below the surface. The beavers create these wide ledges of mud as they groom and plan their own deeper secret waterways - something that I have learned how to find so I can move more easily on the water. Most of the lily pads are red below the surface but once they rest on top of the water, they turn green.

Lily Pad Rising © Margaret Buffie

Everything seemed to be in bloom in both bays. After a good rain most of the remains of the pollen had washed off the plants. Bog Rosemary below is a sturdy and pretty plant - and its buds are round and a pale pink shade with tips that look like pursed lips (with a darker lipstick). Sadly it does not have the fragrance of domestic rosemary.

Bog Rosemary © Margaret Buffie

I suspect that a lot of of the pollen on the lake came off big Jack Pines like this one in Bay One. In spring the cones from the previous year are hard and dry or cracked open and seedless. In spring, however, the new male ones look like pale baby corn or teeny bunches of bananas. It is the male cones that create the ripe pollen. Apparently there are also female cones on the tree. I did not know this until I read up on it. As a kid, I wondered at the sight - on slow blowy days - of gusts of yellow pollen wafting off Jack Pines trees and drifting over the water. From the centre of this bunch of cones, you can see the beginning of the new needle growth in the middle, which will soon grow long and more upright. They call this stage "candling" and when they are all pointed skyward, they look like candles on a Christmas tree. The females fruit in May and look like tiny reddish pink pineapples. 

Jack Pine Candling.  © Margaret Buffie

Below is the lovely Bog Laurel. One of my favourites. They are gorgeous flowers and the buds are as pretty as the flowers. These plants were all around the edge of the marshes when I was a kid, but one year, the trappers were allowed to trap the beavers on our lake because they kept rebuilding a dam that interfered with the level of the lake. After that, to my eyes, the marsh became static - the lily pads slowly began to thin more and more. After a few years, we rarely saw laurel bushes. Now we have a different way of keeping the lake level, the beavers are not being killed, and with four active beaver dens in our twin bays, the bog laurel is appearing again, as are other plants that I haven't seen for a long time. The marshes are clogged with huge and varied lily pads with their white and yellow flowers. It is as if the marsh has come alive again. We now have muskrats, and swirling families of otters as well. The beavers are cutting into the marsh, moving it around and refreshing it. I sometimes wonder if the beavers will be taken again  - but so far, they are left in peace. I think the awareness now, that beavers actually keep lakes and marshes alive, is part of the reason why. Live and let live seems to be the consensus - which makes me happy.

Bog Laurel © Margaret Buffie

Here is another plant I had not seen in a number of years and was excited to see this year. The elegant Marsh Calla (Calla palustris) or Water Arum 

Marsh Calla or Water Arum in all its beauty. © Margaret Buffie

The flowers below belong to the Leather leaf plant. Its leaves are thick and leathery. It blooms very early in the spring , so these blossoms are almost ready to drop their petals. And when they do, they leave rather attractive seed pods behind. This plant is at its most beautiful in the fall  - when its leaves turn a variety of beautiful subtle fall colours. The third photo in this line up I took last fall. 

© Margaret Buffie

© Margaret Buffie

Leather Leaf  - Chamaedaphne calyculata © Margaret Buffie

When you walk past an old stump, stop and look closely at it. It can hold some amazing little treasures that look like they come from the bottom of the sea. I paddled past a stump that I've watched age and break down over the years. As I drew closer, I spotted a sun dew plant smack in the middle of it - which means the wood is succulent enough now to carry a water plant! It is also encrusted with various lichens, as you can see. I  usually search and find sundews embedded in the wet water mosses along the marsh. They are a carnivorous plant, with sticky tipped "tentacles" that trap small insects. The tentacles are highly sensitive and the leaf will then fold over, bringing the insect into contact with the sticky balls of the plant's digestive secretions. 

Sundew plant and lichens on an old dead (but very alive!) stump. 
© Margaret Buffie

© Margaret Buffie

Old Bearded Stump. Isn't he a beaut? © Margaret Buffie

After my canoe visits around the bays, I went for walks in the woods. I almost stepped on this tiny cluster of mushrooms fruiting across the old trail.  I recognized them, but didn't know their name. I have a new book I bought about Ontario mushrooms and after some discussion with my daughter, and a bit of an autopsy on a few I'd removed, I am sure, now, that this is the Omphalina ericetorum mushroom. No common name that I can find. Like pretty little umbrellas in the misty rain. It had been raining for a couple of days, so they are quite translucent. They fruit on moss and wood. Not edible. Apparently they are very bitter. 

Omphalina ericetorum  © Margaret Buffie

This is another fruiting plant I found on the same day as the umbrella mushrooms. The rain that day brought out all kinds of surprises - mushrooms, mosses in seed and more. These are the seeds or fruiting bodies of the pretty juniper moss. It is called Juniper Polytrichum or Polytrichum jiniperipun. They look like lit birthday candles to me! Eventually the white and orange tips will dry and send out seeds with long white tresses. This group of seed heads has a thread of water drop silk from a spider swung across them  - if you look closely. It was so quiet in the forest. No wind at all. Just the sift of light rain.

© Margaret Buffie

There seem to be a plethora of moccasin slippers (also known as lady slippers) this year. The one below is in its early stages of growth and is a soft green and looks fragile and new. I almost missed it because it blends so well into the foliage around it. But further along the higher path, I found a few more - dotted with pollen - and wearing their grandest colours.


© Margaret Buffie

© Margaret Buffie

Later, I slowly paddled into Bay One again. It has some logs laying half in and half out of the water. I took photos of a male and female Mallard standing side by side on this very log last year, looking rather like an old married couple posing for a photo. But this time, I found someone else visiting the log. I call this photo "A Reflection on Turtles". Heh, heh. "I've looked at them from both sides now from up and down and still somehow....." sorry Joni Mitchell! .... I really don't know turtles at all. 

We have a friendly turtle with a deep gash in his shell, clearly from a propeller accident, who comes to visit us when he feels like peckish, but he also comes up to us if we splash the quiet water with our hands. He's been floating into our shore for many many years. You see his head go up and down as he moves in for the food. He gets oatmeal and whole meal crackers.His name is Timothy. But this sleek beauty has a lovely shell. I wonder if they know each other? And if so, do they swim together? Have baby eggs together? She was clearly reflecting on me, too. She slipped off her log after I passed her by.

© Margaret Buffie

And this little creature greeted me as she always does every year - buzzing every window in my cabin ordering  to me to get that hummingbird feeder set up. NOW!

© Margaret Buffie

Hope you all have a great summer!