The New Jubilee Forest is one the Edmonton and Area Land Trust’s newest properties. An old growth forest on a farm, it has had a conservation easement bestowed upon it. It is a remarkable place, and I feel privileged to have the opportunity to visit here.
I have been an amateur naturalist for six years, visiting a specific site in Edmonton’s river valley 5 hours a week, and learning all I can about who’s who, and how they are related. The day of my first visit to New Jubilee Forest falls on the last day of May in the Gregorian calendar, and 2nd quarter of the Flower Moon, in the Blackfoot luni-solar calendar that I learned six years ago.
As I approach the edge of the forest, I begin to feel overwhelmed with information. I remind myself to pay attention to some basics - who are the main players out here? What is the baseline? What’s different between here and the spots I frequently visit in central Edmonton’s river valley?
One of the most basic factors to notice is the character of the forest itself. I notice that in the areas I visited, aspen and poplar trees predominate, with few spruce, and no manitoba maple, or caragana, which are plentiful in Mill Creek Ravine. The forest strikes me with an undifferentiated presence: no areas stand out to define themselves as clearings, ponds or knolls. There’s no steep slope either, as there is in a ravine, so no opportunity to see the tops of trees, or to see trees from different angles - only the lower sections of their trunks if looking around, or layers of foliage if looking upward. The vegetation is not particular thick, and in many areas lacks a middle story, so my immediate vicinity always feels open and spacious, yet there’s enough vegetation in all directions to make the forest impenetrable over long distances, and to prevent me from casting my gaze on to a horizon, which makes for an interesting and (for me) slightly uncomfortable juxtaposition of sensory impressions. It would be very easy to lose one’s sense of direction, or even one’s sense of self in such a terrain. I become aware of how much comfort I draw from the proximity of a creek, and the walls of a ravine.
There is an understory composed of blankets of low growing plants, predominantly wild sarsaparilla, wild lily-of-the-valley, and Western Canadian Violet, whose foliage closely matches the hues of the aspens and poplars. The sky is overcast, and most of the blooming plants have white flowers, so my field of vision comprises a detailed crazy quilt of green, brown, and white. Some of the open areas have congregations of mossy logs. In other areas, a fairly dense middle story of mostly high bush cranberry has grown up. In these areas, the pathways feel more enclosed, with less of the uneasy feeling of distance without a horizon.
The sounds of the forest also make an impression. There is a constant tuneful bird song. I recognize the songs of the ovenbird and the red-eyed vireo, and other tunes I am sure are warblers. In time I may learn to differentiate them. Notably absent from the chorus are corvids of any kind (magpies, ravens, jays, and crows), and pileated woodpeckers, which I commonly see and hear at Mill Creek (I did see one hair woodpecker here). Also notably absent are red squirrels and their middens - perhaps because they rely so heavily on spruce cones for their sustenance. At one point, I think I startled a grouse, and kir loud wingbeats startled me in turn. At another point I heard a Canada Goose honking as it flew above the forest’s canopy.
Bluets (a kind of damselfly) provided one of the few splashes of bright colour, along with a bright red insect of a kind I don’t recall ever seeing before that landed on my face.
Before embarking, I had noted that a thunderstorm watch had been issued by Environment Canada, and what first registered as distant rumblings approached nearer and nearer as my visit went on. I notice as the thundering increases in volume, the warblers quieten down, but I hear a few wails of seagulls, or perhaps catbirds. A cloudburst accompanies me as I make my exit. I sure am glad I brought rain gear! I receive a very warm welcome and cornish meat pie back at the house.
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Hi! My name is Nathan Binnema. My grandparents are from the Netherlands, and I have lived my whole life in the city of Edmonton, as a settler on this land that I have learned to call Amiskwaciy Waskahikan. Growing up my family attended Fellowship Christian Reformed Church, which is how I am connected with Doug Visser. Around 2012/2013 I joined the public activism to fight the rezoning of the northeast agricultural land, and was introduced to the farm and the forest. I stayed in touch, and a few years later Kelly asked me to do bookkeeping for Lady Flower Gardens. Though I haven’t pursued studies in ecology or biology professionally, I have always been a biophile, and for nearly seven years now have been with a practice called phenological engagement, which involves visiting a small area consistently throughout the year, and trying to get to know all of the living creatures who also visit there, and how they are related.