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Paths to Nature

robins egg ANA little girl of about 5 years old, hops along the stepping stones of her Grandmother’s garden. Stopping under a coniferous tree she spies the lovely blue of a cracked egg shell. “Look! a Robin’s egg!” says Grandma. It is around this time that the little girl decides, blue is my favourite colour, Robin’s egg blue.

Later on Grandma laments the small, dark and speckled birds, “Starlings, those awful things. They’ll kick other bird’s young out of their nests Somewhere in the mind of that little girl the concept of an invasive species takes a very rough form, waiting to be molded and put to good use.

The next day while watering the garden, Grandma finds a fuzzy bee buzzing helplessly in a pool of water. Little bright eyes watch with wonder as Grandma gently lifts the bedraggled bee onto a stone to dry. “Let’s call her Isabelle the Bee.” Every time a particularly plump and fuzzy bee is spotted in the Garden, it’s considered a visit from Isabelle the rescued bee. Perhaps, Isabelle was in fact a male worker bee, but what the child remembers most from this is that bees are good, bees are not scary.

A single father who loves to hunt and fish, takes his little girl out to forests and lakes in search of game. She loves to reach into the water, sometimes leaning in a bit too far. “There’s not a lake in the CRD you haven’t fallen into,” says Dad.

This outdoorsy Dad takes his growing little girl fishing on the ocean, but she is more interested in what she can see and less in what she can catch. Sea stars, Dungeness Crabs, Spot Prawns, Rock Cod, Salmon, Seals, wow! “Can we stop along this beach, Daddy?” Among the beach rocks the little girl stands holding a sun-bleached jaw bone. “Look at those flat teeth for grinding, it’s a deer’s jaw,” says Dad.

Ranging across hill, bluff, and meadow the not so little girl follows deer trails in the Sooke Hills collecting wildflowers. One of every type, until she can’t hold anymore, to make a bouquet for someone special. She creates her own names for plants along the way. Squid Flower is her common name for Miner’s Lettuce with its pink to green radiating tentacles of foliage. Proudly presenting her collection to Daddy, he remarks, “Those flowers are beautiful, but you shouldn’t pick them.” After that, she learns to take photos instead of plucking flowers, and then later to learn their proper names.

***

It turns out, this little girl was me. Today, I am glancing back at the tracery of paths that brought me to nature. Everyone has their own paths to and through the land. Whether you are an outdoorsman, a gardener, a biologist or a parent, there are so many wonderful ways to connect with nature that we can all share. There are many ways of appreciating and finding the common ground to protect these natural places that bring enjoyment and health to us all.

I first became involved with Habitat Acquisition Trust (HAT) two years ago, at the end of my degree through the University of Victoria, when I went out listening for the Western Screech Owl with biologist Christian Engelstoft. Alas, after two nights of listening and waiting, we were not rewarded with a single call in return. This was a testament to the rarity of these once bountiful creatures. I heard Professor Starzomski’s words echo in my mind, “No data, is still data.” I came away from the experience glad to have learned the calls of our local owls and to have contributed to important, local research.

That same summer, I jumped at the chance to count bats as a HAT volunteer team leader. With eyes skyward and clicker in hand, my volunteering partner and I took in the pleasant fragrance of Mock Orange and delighted as each bat thrust itself out against the dusky sky. Sometimes two at a time! How kind of the family that lived on that property to welcome us to their backyard, to help them count the bats and care so much for their bat neighbours.

By the end of 2015, I was a full-fledged HATter and member of the team. Was this a dream? The best kind, a dream come true. Now, after one full year as a staff member of Habitat Acquisition Trust, I have had the pleasure of helping people find ways to connect with their own paths to nature. It is a source of great pride to be able to say my mission is to conserve natural habitat on the land where I grew up, on South Vancouver Island, and to do something tangible to protect the place that we all call home

Tail dropper ovaska3One of my greatest memories so far with HAT, was in January 2016. I was at a Ruby Creek restoration party. I reached down to pull up a small Laurel-leaved Daphne Plant and saw something incredible: a little blue-grey slug. The slug was no bigger than the tip of my pinky finger. Dr. Kristiina Ovaska confirmed it was one of only 15 sites in Canada documented to have the rare Blue-grey Taildropper Slug that HAT has been working so hard to protect and study. I was overjoyed!

At another restoration party, I met the incredible woman protecting Camas Hill in perpetuity. One of the most inspiring places in the Sooke Hills that I’ve visited is this HAT protected covenant. I spent all day removing broom enjoying a sweeping view all the way out to the Sooke Basin, loving every minute of it. As it turns out, several of the amazing places I marveled at and explored growing up are also protected by HAT covenants on public lands in the Sooke Hills: Mt. Quimper, Sheilds Lake, and Grassie Lake.

Ensatina Kristiina Ovaska 03 2015 2On a rainy night in early spring, I went out with Dr. Ovaska to survey amphibian road mortality. In all my forest wanderings, I had only ever seen Rough-skinned Newts, Red-legged Frogs, Western Toads, and Pacific Chorus Frogs, and then only as a rare treat. That night I saw dozens of squashed amphibians, and learned the sad truth about driving country roads on rainy nights. Amazingly, for the first time I saw a live Ensatina Salamander and a Long-toed Salamander too. Although it was difficult to see so many injured and dead amphibians, it was really gratifying knowing that we were working to better understand local threats to these important creatures.

These are a few of my special nature moments from 2016. There are so many more to tell, and I encourage you to reminisce on some of your own. I also welcome you to join me in 2017 to create some more together. As we spend time outdoors, we come to better understand nature’s wonders, and appreciate what it means to care for these special places, plants, and animals. I have many people in my life to thank for nurturing an interest in the great outdoors. You never know when you might become someone else’s role model for appreciating nature. From hopping along stepping stones in my grandmother’s garden to the work I do with HAT today, I continue to pursue my passion for wild things in nature.

Looking back, what were your paths to nature? Where have they led you, and where would you like to go with them?

If there’s a way that you’d like to connect your path to local conservation with HAT, let’s be in touch. This year HAT will be focusing in the Metchosin area looking for Good Neighbours that are interested in how best to manage your land for the future as we aim to care for natural areas through small acts of conservation. If this sounds of interest, let’s get in touch: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 250-995-2428.

Alanah Nasadyk, Community and Development Coordinator, Habitat Acquisition Trust

Ensatina (Ensatina enscholtzii) and Blue-grey Taildropper (Prophysaon coeruleum) photos taken by Dr. Kristiina Ovaska

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