It’s not a stretch to say that my love affair with the natural world began at birth.
At the time, my parents were living in Onanole, Manitoba, a small hamlet only a few miles south of Riding Mountain National Park. Mom’s parents lived just outside the Park’s south gate. Grandpa was the foreman of the golf course crew and Dad was one of his grounds-keeping crew.
Mom spent a lot of time with Grandma while the two men were at work.
One day while I was still a baby, Mom laid me down on a blanket underneath a few aspen trees that grew near the backdoor. She then turned to her knitting expecting me to fall asleep lolled by the rustle of the leaves in a mid-summer breeze. Instead, I became completely entranced by the magic happening above me. With each gentle puff, the silvery-green leaves would shimmer brightly against a background of intense blue. I’m sure that this is when the hunger to know these trees and the forest beyond took root.
Within a few months, I could be found attempting to crawl towards the thick tangle of beaked hazel that grew along the edge of the forest next door. Mom, Dad or one of my Grandparents would easily scoop me before I could even get close.
As a toddler, I presented more of a challenge. Now I could wander off quite quickly, but never fast enough to escape notice of my parents or grandparents. According to my Mom, my first sentence was the reassurance of ” I come back.” Something neither she or the others accepted. More than once, black bears had roamed through the yard and they feared that I might become a snack for one of them. As a consequence, I was put into a halter and tethered to the clothes line that ran from the backdoor to a sand pile a few yards away under the close surveillance.
But in a few short years, my little legs were strong enough to go for walks with Grandpa in the woods that had captured my imagination from birth. During those walks, he always carried roasted peanuts in the shell in one of his pockets. And we usually ended our wandering with a frosty mug of root beer in the little store at the foot of the hill below my grandparent’s home. But way more important was his considerable knowledge of the natural world. From him, I learned why grouse bed under the snow in winter instead of roosting in a tree or how to use aspen trees to tell directions. And, of course, my passion for the natural world grew deeper and stronger.