Rain was gently falling by the time I reached the forest. Damp clusters of poplar seeds polka-dotted the forest floor. Because of the rain, few birds were singing, and no insects were out. I had forgotten my camera, but probably would not have used it in any case. I would have to look closely to find anything new compared to my last visit two weeks ago! Especially since the precipitation was probably going to make my visit only about half as long as the last one (one hour, compared to 2 hours).
I did notice that a few new plants were in bloom - Anemones, a few purple peavines, a few early blooming asters - probably fleabanes, and northern bedstraw. It is not as well known as many cultivated flowers, but Northern bedstraw has one of my favourite fragrances. I also noticed a few more mushroom blooms - some were flat-topped, light brown in the centre and dark brown at the edges, and others had tall domed caps - some of those were brown, and others closer to white. High bush cranberry blooms appeared to have closed, and there were small green berries on the trees.
I walked here and there, seeking a spot where I might be invited to spend some time sitting on future visits. One possibility was a relatively open area with a lot of woodland horsetail growing. Just beyond this spot I met a few medium sized spruce trees, with webs hanging from almost every branch. I also saw one tree there that looked like a Manitoba maple, that had been truncated to clear the path I was on, and had multiple suckers growing from the tall stump. I see lots of these in Mill Creek ravine, but the unusual tree shape looked out of place in this forest. I found another possible sit spot where a trail dead-ended, and there were a few logs and trees with thick trunks.
At one point, I saw a small sparrow sized bird fly across the path in front of me, but it was not flying like a sparrow, but rather something like a very large bumblebee. It also did not sound like a sparrow, but was making softer seep like sounds. Another one flew across the path, then another, and then the mother grouse flew over, and I realized they were fledgling grouse! What a treat to see them, and how well hidden they were under the foliage before my tromping flushed them out.
While walking along a path I had walked last week, I spotted a nest in a tree next to the path, about 4 metres up on the branch of what looked to be a Manitoba Maple. Goes to show that if you keep visiting the same spot, you’ll start to notice things that were always there, but you didn’t see at first. It was a medium sized cup nest, woven with mostly grasses and stems of small plants. Now the mystery is to learn whose nest it is!
As I was about to exit the forest, I felt an invitation from a peavine to take in some of the living water from one of its leaves. I clumsily dislodged the water droplet from the leaf that was first calling me, and tried again successfully with a leaf next to that one. Wonderfully vitalizing! I did feel some reproach from the peavine though, as if to say “you had one chance - be more careful next time, and don’t assume you can take a second if you muffed the first!” Plants are like people - they all have their personalities, some more easy going, and some stricter, and navigating boundaries and permission is always a dance.
I can’t conclude this article without touching on the buckthorn. Kelly had asked me to mark the locations of European Buckthorn on a map, so EALT volunteers could remove them the next time they paid a visit. I said I would consider it, but in the end I declined, saying “it feels a bit rude to be marking trees to be killed when I am only just introducing myself to the community.” This is not to say that I am opposed to the project. I have never owned land, so I wouldn’t presume to tell a landowner how to manage their property. Nor am I an ecologist, so I am in no position to gainsay the ecologists; I’m sure they have their reasons for removing European Buckthorn from a forest. I am considering only what is appropriate for my own chosen role as someone who engages with ecologies rather than studying them.
“I’ll say hi to the buckthorn if I see them!” I said to Kelly as she dropped me off at the entrance to the forest, and she laughed. I didn’t see any though - perhaps they heard the news and are hiding.
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.