Growing Up Wild: Witnessing Magic in our Own Backyards

By Jan Hudson Krueger

 Coral Fungus, Photo by Jan Hudson Krueger

Coral Fungus, Photo by Jan Hudson Krueger

Cute little baby things: the videos of puppies and kittens flood the internet and make us smile...or cringe. They are adorable, but sometimes it gets a bit much. What about tiny, new saplings? Or itty bitty perch fry? Or a little fungus pushing it way up through the pine needles? Anywhere that you have life, somewhere close by, you can find a nursery for it.

Over a quarter century ago, before current bylaws existed, we cleaned out quite a few scrubby cedars from our shoreline, topping some and dumping the branches into the shallows in front of the trees. That action met with disapproval from a few corners. But within ten years, we noticed an abundance of minnows flashing about among the submerged branches. It turned out that they were perch and bass fry, hundreds of them, growing up in greater security in their twisted sanctuary. It also turned out that this is now an accepted practice by various conservation groups.

Years ago, our beloved 'Old Pine,' the grand old lady of the back bay, sadly was toppled by a microburst. Now, a decade and a half later, her children are growing around, and even on her reclining trunk. Closer to the cottage, there are new saplings popping up around the stump of the pine that had to be felled a while back. It doesn't take long. Or as Jeff Goldblum's character in the original Jurassic Park film, was wont to say, "life finds a way."

 Polliwogs, Photo by Jan Hudson Krueger

Polliwogs, Photo by Jan Hudson Krueger

The shallows and the quiet waters of the bays provide adequate shelter and food for mosquito larvae. On the bright side, these wetlands give the same to dragonfly larvae and frog and bullfrog tadpoles, all of which, when grown, eat many mosquitos and provide some buffer against pesky bugs.

On still, warm evenings, beavers will take their kits out for a swim past the dock, admonishing them to ignore us as they glide by. During the day, the loons sail past with their one or two fluffy brown tykes settled on their backs. Often, around the edges of the lake, long streams of wee mergansers play follow-the-leader with their mother. As they get older, their numbers dwindle somewhat, due to predation by snappers, pike and hawks to name a few, but the remaining teenagers lose their much-deserved panic state and develop chatty, party behaviour. They become quite the clowns of the lake.

Back into the woods, male birds create a cacophony of songs while the lady of the nest broods her chicks. Robins are welcome harbingers of spring but I sometimes worry about the wisdom of their decision-making skills: each year, a pair builds their nest either above the shed door on the crosspiece, or on the rung of the old wooden ladder hanging right outside the back door. When we first come up to the cottage, as the weather warms, we have to endure the indignant squawks and alarmed whistles and the occasional dive-bombing from one or both parents as they try to ward us away.

 Milkweed seeds, Photo by Jan Hudson Krueger

Milkweed seeds, Photo by Jan Hudson Krueger

The parental minks that nest under the discarded swim dock do the same thing. The mice that nest in the barbecue scamper out in a panic when we lift the lid, until we relocate the clutch in the old rabbit cage. And red squirrels have been known to clutter up the air filters of our various vans with twigs, leaves, moss and other nesting materials - seemingly overnight. This is a double threat, being a dangerous place for their babies, and being potentially damaging to one's automobile. All these creatures are quite convinced that the cottage property is theirs alone and thus, share poorly.

Wild flowers, other plants, fungus and lichens all beget more of their same when conditions are favourable. It's a treat to manually disperse the milkweed seeds from their drying pods in the fall, and it is encouraging that the plant has finally been removed from the list of noxious plants in this province. Fungi and the accompanying fruiting bodies have an extremely complicated science attached to their reproduction, but it can be fascinating finding a colony of one species or another where none existed the day before.

This topic is vast and I have no intention of exploring each and every class, order or genus. Suffice it to say, it's just a great adventure to look around the property and the lake each year in the warmer months to see what's new and growing up in one's own backyard.

 

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