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flood1

The road to Willow House crosses our little river before turning sharply left and following the riverbank to the house. The river, the headwaters of the South Nation River, is usually little more than a creek, but it responds rapidly to increased inflow from rain or snowmelt. The year before we moved to Willow House, the culverts that carry the stream beneath the road were all replaced with larger and more numberous culverts. The new culverts have always been sufficient to contain the stream’s most active flow.

That all changed on Tuesday. With a few mild days, our extensive snow cover has been melting rapidly, and on Monday night a heavy rain supplemented the snowmelt. The engorged river overwhelmed the culverts and began creeping across the road.

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RailGuy moved a vehicle to the far side of the bridge so that we wouldn’t be trapped, and then we watched with fascination as the river continued to rise across the day. The water never exceeded 6 or 8 inches in depth over the road, and we were able to walk to the other side, but the power of the flow was impressive. The current soon began to erode the gravel on the roadway. The line of rills along the road mark the edge of excavations in the gravel.

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Whirlpools marked the spots where water was being sucked into the culverts below the surface.

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By Wednesday morning, the flow over the road had fallen to a trickle and we were able to survey the damage the water had done.

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Viewing the effects of just a few inches of water flowing over 24 hours gave me a much more visceral understanding of the forces that must have created the Grand Canyon! Here’s Pookie, looking over the main channel the flood grooved into the road, about a foot deep.

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On Thursday morning, workers from the Township arrived with several loads of gravel and a tractor to repair the damage.

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It didn’t take them long to tidy things up and we were able to drive over the bridge again.

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This Friday morning, the river is still flowing strongly, and is higher than the culverts, where whirlpools are still swirling. But it’s well below road level, and ice-free.

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Here’s a short video of the river in full flood on Tuesday afternoon.

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These days, there’s scarcely a retail store you can enter without being confronted with a collection bin for a local food bank. Even the LCBO has one! (The liquor store. Are they hoping for donations of beer? The poor could probably use one.) And every time I see a collection bin, I wince. It’s embarrassing. I feel so ashamed of us Canadians. Here we are, one of the most fortunate of nations, and yet we expect our poorest citizens to beg for food from strangers.

The biggest problem with food banks is that they simply can’t meet the needs of the hungry. Many food banks are so overwhelmed that they must limit households to one hamper per month. The supplies they are able to provide do not insure users will have nutritious diets. Food banks can only supply what is donated, often canned and boxed goods, with few fresh items.

Further, food banks only reach a minority of those in need. A survey by Human Resources Development Canada showed that only one in four “hungry” Canadians used food banks. Others would rather go hungry than accept charity, or they choose to leave what is available for those who they believe ‘really’ need it. See It’s Time to Close Canada’s Foodbanks by Elaine Power)

Beyond feeding the hungry, food banks serve less conspicuous functions. Food banks unintentionally divide citizens into ‘Haves’, those who make donations, volunteer or participate in food drives, who can feel good about helping out, and the ‘Have Nots’, who may be demoralized at having to accept handouts. This reinforces an old charitable model, where one group of privileged people helps the underprivileged, perpetuating an us-and-them atmosphere.

Food banks are good for corporations, especially food corporations, who may use food banks to offload edible food they can’t sell while advertising themselves as caring businesses. Grocery stores invite shoppers to buy extra supplies to donate in their collection bins. Some even offer pre-packaged bundles you can purchase for donation. Corporations may thus be content with the status quo.

In providing a band-aid solution, food banks allow governments to sidestep their obligation to look after the well-being and security of all citizens. The failure of governments to deal with poverty has been a growing problem in Canada, with income inequality, the gap between the rich and the poor, increasing every year.

In Ontario, 375,814 people were assisted by a food bank in March of 2013. Of those 35% were children. That compares to 314,258 in March of 2008, an increase of 19.6%. This is not a problem that is going away. (Numbers from Food Banks Canada’s report Hunger Count 2013, linked here.

No one wants people to go hungry. That’s what prompted the establishment of food banks in the first place. But they were only ever intended as a strategy to hold things together until better solutions were found. Now here we are, decades later, and things haven’t improved. Food banks represent our failure as a just society. It’s time for governments to start tackling the real issue behind food banks: poverty.

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trip8

Brewer Lake, Algonquin Park

Thanks to daughter Seabrooke, who kindly volunteered to animal-sit for a couple of days last week, we were able to make a little jaunt out to the Bruce Peninsula to visit relatives. We followed a loop through Algonquin Park in the hope that we might be able to stop and do a bit of hiking. Alas, it was not to be. The sky was overcast when we left home, and by the time we reached Ottawa, it was raining. At the outskirts of Algonquin Park, the rain had become snow. The weather deteriorated and we drove straight through to Huntsville on some sometimes slippery roads.

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Lake of Two Rivers, Algonquin Park

We were glad to reach our hotel and settle in for the evening. The morning brought better weather, but it was still cold, and the ground was covered in snow. Here’s the view from our hotel room over Fairy Lake, Huntsville.

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Fairy Lake, Hidden Valley, Huntsville

I enjoyed watching these geese foraging in the snow.

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Snow Geese

We continues on our way via the road that follows Georgian Bay from Wasaga Beach to Owen Sound. We stopped in Collingwood briefly so that I could take a few shots of the water. Wow! The wind blowing in from the water was icy cold.

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Nottawasaga Bay, Collingwood

Later in the day, the sun triumphed and all in all, we had a pleasant drive out to Wiarton. The next morning, we enjoyed the sun shining on Colpoy’s Bay.

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Colpoy’s Bay, Wiarton

I like the way the trees line the edge of the Niagara Escarpment.

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Niagara Escarpment, Wiarton

These icicles attest to the fact that, though the sun was shining, it was still cold.

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Niagara Escarpment, Wiarton

We had a very pleasant, if too short, visit with family. It included a little outing to see Sauble Beach dressed in snow…

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Sauble Beach

…before heading home the next day.

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Sauble Beach

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On the long weekend, we had some rain on Saturday and Monday, but Sunday was a beautiful day, and we took advantage of the good weather to attend the Perth Fair. Over the years, we have been to most of the fairs in the area, but this was the first time we made it out to the Perth Fair.

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There’s always lots to see at a country fair. Most feature classes for various farm animals, sheep and cows and sometimes poultry and pets. There are classes for the best vegetables, the biggest pumpkin, the tallest sunflower, the best hay.

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There are displays of handiwork and I like to look at the quilts. The skill and creativity always amazes me. All the quilts were beautiful, but I especially liked this fishy design, a bit out of the ordinary as patterns go.

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And of course there is a midway, with rides and games and lots and lots of booths featuring hot dogs and cotton candy. I like to check out the horses on the merry-go-round. These were well-maintained and pretty, but rather unimaginatively painted, with all the horses white.

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But it is the horse show that I enjoy the most. On Sunday, there were three separate events underway. The Team Penning is held in a pair of circular rings joined by a gate. A herd of eight cows waits in one of the pens and each cow is numbered. Pairs of riders wait at the gate and when the judge calls out the number of a cow, the team must separate that cow from its mates and move it into the empty pen.

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Additional cows must then be cut out and moved, in successive order from the first number called, with the goal of moving as many cows as possible in the correct order in 60 seconds. If a cow with a wrong number slips into the second pen, the team is disqualified.

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In another ring, an Obstacle Race attracted a lot of competitors. Each horse and rider is judged as they tackle a course of obstacles and tests. Above, a horse and rider walk through a screen of streamers.

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Horses have a very sensible aversion to stepping into or onto surfaces that might be dangerous, so crossing a hollow bridge can be scary.

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Horses had to back through a U-shaped pathway without dislodging the barriers.

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The horse is required to stand still and wait while his rider moves a wheelbarrow between two points. It’s fun to watch each horse’s reaction to each of the tests. Many did very well. Others clearly thought that their riders showed a distinct lack of judgement.

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And then there was the harness show, that featured heavy draft horses, lighter commercial drafts, and miniature horses! The mix of classes allows competitors time between events to harness their teams. Here is a four-horse team of heavy draft horses.

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Here is an eye-catching four-horse entry in the commercial class for lighter draft horses.

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And here are the four-horse minis!

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It really was a pleasant day of horse-watching. I’ll leave you with a couple of photos of the six-horse hitches, a very impressive sight indeed.

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I followed a round-about route home from Peterborough. It brought me through Marlbank, and I stopped by Dry Lake for a few minutes. It was very quiet and serenely peaceful. You’d never guess that this was once the site of a large factory employing 200 people.

There are a number of short histories of the town of Marlbank to be found online, varying slightly in their details. The local soil type, marl, determined much of its early development. The marl was ideal for making Portland cement, and in 1891 the first cement factory was opened. It conducted business under various names until it closed its doors in 1914. At its height, the factory employed 200 people and supported a busy town.

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Photo: Municipality of Tweed website

Explanations for the closure of the factory vary, but Marlbank supplied some of the cement used in the construction of the Panama Canal. Perhaps demand for cement fell after the completion of the Panama Canal in 1914, and more remote and thus less economical operations were forced out of business. A few remains of the old buildings can still be seen as they succumb to new forest growth.

The area from which the marl was dredged now forms Dry Lake. When I stopped, there was a family of loons close to shore. They quickly retreated and I was only able to get a distant shot. Still, I was pleased to think that they were now the beneficiaries of that long-ago human enterprise.

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Here I am, posing with the Great Pumpkin at The Royal. The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, that is. Now in its 90th year, every November The Royal brings a little bit of the country to the city of Toronto. I first attended the fair many years ago with my parents. Tickets to see the horse show were my birthday treat. Later, I took my own kids. And this year, my sister and I enjoyed a night out together at the fair.

The Royal is a bit more commercial, a bit less agricultural than it once was, but you can still see cattle and sheep and chickens and prize-winning pumpkins and many other great displays. This pumpkin from St. Thomas, Ontario took first place in the largest pumpkin contest, weighing in at 1414.6 pounds.

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This piggy on his scooter took first prize in the butter-carving contest.

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All the enteries were well-done. I particularly liked this goose.

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The third place entry presented an interesting juxtaposition of babies.

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After we had had a good look around the displays, we moved on to the horse show.

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The horse show offers a good assortment of classes. On the night we attended, we saw the six-horse percheron class. I was pleased that a team from my region, the Wilson’s of Vankleek Hill, took second place against stiff competition.

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The coach-and-four class is a spectacle you don’t have a chance to see most anywhere else.

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This year, there was an exhibition by the Lit Dressage Quadrille, who performed to James Bond theme music. You can watch the whole performance, complete with music, on Youtube, linked here.

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The 48th Highlanders were on hand for a brief Remembrance Day ceremony.

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The highlight of the horse show evening is always the international jumping class. On the evening we attended, the $50,000 Weston Canadian Open was featured. This is a timed event in which horses must jump a challenging course of huge fences. The best combination of low faults and time secures first place. The winner was young American rider Kent Farrington and his horse Voyeur, who had one of just 5 clear rounds in the field of 18 entries, and a blazing time. As the winners, Kent and Voyeur took home $16,500. You can read more about the class here.

I forgot to take my camera. Doh! Thanks to my sister for allowing me to use her photos and sharing a fun evening with me.

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river1

Over the last week or so, I have been preoccupied with assorted small trials, including the extraction of a couple of wisdom teeth. While I have been distracted, the season has moved inexorably onward, with the leaves first changing colour and then falling to carpet the ground. One positive event has been the return of our small river. As the drought we suffered through this summer deepened, the stream began to dry up until, by mid-September, I was able to walk more than a kilometer up the dry stream bed.

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I took the opportunity to see what lies hidden from the eye most of the time. The mud-bottomed river is perpetually cloudy, and one can’t enjoy watching the fish and other small waterlovers. During the drought, any fish were confined to small, increasingly oxygen-deprived puddles, where they were easy prey for raccoons. There were plenty of raccoon tracks along the river course.

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Near our house, where there have been human inhabitants living near the river for more than a hundred years, the river bed was littered with broken glass and bottles. I took a couple of buckets and collected up a couple of large pails full of garbage, mostly glass but also a few shoe soles and sheets of plastic.

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I soaked the glass in water for a few days so that I could clean up the glass a bit and put it out for recycling. When I was cleaning off the mud, I was surprised by a crayfish! He was perhaps hiding in one of the bottles. I put him in a pail and returned him to a puddle of water. He matched the colour of the muddy bottom perfectly.

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The area north of here was hit harder than we were, and many farmers experienced a diminished harvest. With global warming bringing rising temperatures, it is likely we will experience hotter and drier summers more frequently.

Farming must be more dependent on reliable weather patterns than just about any other occupation. Unless you have been living in a hole at the bottom of the sea, you know that our current Conservative government has turned its back on Kyoto targets and is now failing to even meet their own downsized goals for emissions reduction. You might expect farmers to be circling their tractors on Parliament Hill, demanding action! But you would be wrong. At election time, rural areas are a sea of Conservative signboards. In effect, the farmers voted for drought. Very strange. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot with your unregistered long-gun.

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It has been a comfort to see the river slowly return, first to a trickle and then to a small stream. I’m certain that all of those creatures who depend on its water for their very lives are unimaginably relieved. Here’s a Great Blue Heron that has returned to search for a meal once again. He watched me warily as I walked down the laneway, ready to make a quick escape.

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hike15

We have hiked out to the Rock Dunder lookout several times and promised ourselves to get back in the autumn to view the fall colours from this spectacular platform. A combination of bad weather and competing events postponed our return visit until this weekend. With the autumn leaves now rapidly giving way to the forces of rain and wind, we made a hike a priority and revisited the Rock Dunder trail last Friday.

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It was interesting to visit the rocky woodland in a different season. The reindeer lichen (Cladina rangiferina), which was shrivelled and dried up in the summer, is now springing back to life in brilliant silver patches.

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With less vegetation attracting attention, the trees themselves were more conspicuous. I hadn’t noticed this Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata) on previous hikes.

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The green fronds of Rock Polypody ferns (Polypodium virginianam) brighten rocky surfaces.

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Patches of Pale Corydalis (Corydalis sempervirens), also known as Rock Harlequin, were growing amongst the lichens and mosses. This dainty looking plant is actually very tough. It produces pretty, tubular pink and yellow flowers held on long stems across the summer.

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The effects of our hot, dry summer could be read in the number of dried out oak seedlings and brown juniper shrubs along the trail. Those junipers that survived the summer were now thriving after recent rains.

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I noticed this patch of silk in a half-curled leaf on the trail. It’s probably a hiding place constructed by a spider.

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Finally, we reached our destination, the Rock Dunder lookout, and were rewarded with a beautiful view. It was a cool day, so cool that we spotted a few snow flakes, and the open rock surface was windy, but we stopped long enough for a quick lunch and a hot cup of coffee. Here are a few photos taken from the lookout. Rock Dunder looks out over the northeast arm of Whitefish Lake, north of Gananoque, Ontario.

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susan1

Not every town has a cemetery that is written up in guide books such as Fodor’s. A few come to mind, the most famous being Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, where Jim Morrison, American singer and songwriter with The Doors, (amongst others) draws many visitors. Another, closer to home, is Rochester’s Mount Hope cemetery. Dedicated in 1838, it is America’s first municipal cemetery.

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We stopped by the cemetery for an abbreviated visit one sunny morning when we were in Rochester, New York, this summer. This little map is mounted near the entrance, and the Friends of Mount Hope Cemetery offer tours. We weren’t there on the appropriate evening, however. A visitor’s guide is also said to be available at the cemetery office, but we didn’t have time for a long visit, so didn’t check.

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The original Gothic Revival Chapel, with an underground holding vault, was built in 1863. The crematory was a later addition. Both are now out of use.

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The 196 acre cemetery is in part sited on an eskar, an outcropping of land left behind by a retreating glacier thousands of years ago. Some mausoleums are set right into the hillside and gravestones climb the slopes.

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Mount Hope is the permanent resting place of over 350,000 people and has an annual growth rate of about 500 burials per year. The first to be interred at Mount Hope was William Carter, who was buried on Aug. 18th, 1838. However, 4-year-old Samuel Miller, who died on the day of the dedication ceremony in October of that year, became the first official burial after the consecration of the new cemetery.

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Famous residents include suffragist Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906) and abolitionist Frederick Douglass (1817-1895).

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The memorial above commemorates Dr. Hartwell Carver (1789-1875). Carver was an early promoter of what would become the transcontinental railway. He participated in the hammering of the Golden Spike that officially joined the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads on May 10, 1869 at Promontory, Utah. His memorial was erected by the Union Pacific Railroad.

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There are many interesting sculptures throughout the cemetery.

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I especially liked this bas-relief grieving angel.

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And the clean lines of this fine art-nouveau figure.

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Some of the most touching monuments aren’t grand at all, such as this little stone, simply engraved Our Twin Boys.

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Or this stone, remembering My Lottie.

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May they all rest in peace.

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trail1

A couple of weeks ago, RailGuy and I headed up to Arnprior, north and west of Ottawa, to hike the Macnamara Nature Trail. The trailhead is just outside downtown Arnprior, in an industrial area. The trail runs in part through the property of Nylene Canada Inc. At the trailhead, you can pick up a helpful guide. It highlights 19 stops along the trail with information about the natural and human history relevant to each location.

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The four kilometre long trail (five if you include the optional sidetrail to the marsh lookout) is well-marked and nicely maintained, with benches thoughtfully placed at the top of a few modestly demanding climbs. Near the trailhead, there was quite a bit of traffic and commercial noise, but we weren’t far along the trail before the sounds of industry fell away and the quiet of the forest prevailed. Comprised mostly of deciduous trees, the woodland is open and pretty.

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A section of the trail travels through the upper reaches of the wetland and features a sturdy boardwalk. At the edge of the boardwalk, we spotted the red berries of Jack-in-the-Pulpits (Arisaema triphyllum). You can readily see the source of its scientific name, three-leaves, triphyllum.

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The remains of an old lime kiln provide evidence of early industrial activity in the forest. The kiln was built by the McLachlin Lumber Company in the mid-to-late 19th century. The rocky ground, part of the Canadian Shield, is mainly marble and limestone. The igloo-like kiln was stocked with firewood and used to heat broken chunks of rock. When water was added to the burnt rock, it produced slaked lime (Calcium hydroxide), a product used as mortar in brickwork or as paint (whitewash).

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Not far from the lime kiln remains, a set of stairs allows hikers to get a close-up look at the rock face.

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There are a few points of interest here. In the little den formed by the facets of rock, there are piles of oval droppings. They are evidence that the den has been popular with porcupines over many years.

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But the main attraction is the colony of rare Walking Ferns (Asplenium rhizophyllum). Their name is derived from the manner in which they reproduce. Whenever the long, pointed tip of a leaf-like frond touches down, a new frond can sprout up. A parent plant can thus create several generations of fronds via vegetative reproduction as it ‘steps’ across the rock. Walking Ferns are calciphiles, lovers of calcium-rich soils. Walking Ferns can be found in shady spots on limestone ledges and in limey forest places.

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The rock also features a foliose lichen, perhaps an Umbilicaria species, known as Rock Tripe.

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Back on the main trail, I notice this burl, or burr, high up on a tree. It looked for all the world like a small animal with its limbs wrapped around the tree. Burls are tree growth in which the grain has grown in a deformed manner. They are the result of some sort of stress suffered by the tree, perhaps from an injury, virus or fungus.

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We followed the sidetrail to the marsh lookout. To the east, the wetland is more marshy, while to the west, it is swampy, with trees growing into the wet area. Off in the distance, you can just make out Goodwin’s Bay and the Ottawa River. The marsh floods in the spring when the Ottawa River rises, carrying a flush of nutrients into the wetland.

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There were splashes of bright yellow flowers sprinkled through the wetland, Nodding Bur-Marigolds (Bidens cernua).

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There was quite a bit of diversity in the forest groundcover. Some areas of the forest floor were dressed in a variety of ferns, while other regions featured a groundcover of club moss. One section of the trail was bordered by the heart-shaped leaves of Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense).

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When we came to a stand of Eastern Hemlock trees, we looked for the work of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. We had a family of sapsuckers nest in a large, old maple tree this summer, and I often saw them flitting about the garden, where their preferred tree to tap was a little locust. I didn’t know that sapsuckers are partial to hemlock trees until I read it in the guide. Sure enough, the neat rows of sap wells that the sapsuckers drill were readily apparent.

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After passing through the hemlock grove, we continued back to the parking lot. These are just some of the highlights of our hike. The Macnamara Nature Trail was named after Charles Macnamara (1870-1944), a naturalist and photographer who loved these woodlands. A gifted amateur, he identified six species of springtails (Collembolans), and one species is named after him. The trail is a wonderful memorial to Macnamara. The guide book, provided by the Macnamara Field Naturalists’ Club, really enhances visitor understanding and enlivens the hike. This was one of our favorite hiking trails, and it is well worth visiting.

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