The Last Great Forest

A great gray owl in the forestA great gray owl in early winter in the forest
It is a cold, windy morning. The cool fall air reaching each inch of my body as I walk quietly through the forest the sun not yet risen. My mukluks made by my friend and Cree elder Ruby make barely a sound on the forest floor. Deep in the heart of the forest I come to a clearing. At first glance, there is nothing to the average person the forest seems unoccupied. I find a spot near the edge of the clearing three black spruce trees bunched tightly together provide a natural wind barrier and I drop my mat and camera. I unroll the small yoga mat I am carrying and place it on the ground. I sit feet with my feet out in front of me on the mat and wait. I am not sure if it is 10 minutes or 2 hours, but the forest comes alive. I can hear the rustling of the leaves on the ground as a snowshoe hare starts to show white on its feet forages under some trees nearby. Overhead a squirrel making its way down the side of the tree to its stash of acorns buried at the base spots me. He natters angrily at me before running back up into the canopy of the tree lost to my view.
A red squirrel on the side of a tree A red squirrel coming down a tree
I am in my happy place, the Boreal Forest the last great forest on earth. A place that billions of birds in the summer months and millions of mammals call home. Here I am connected like no place else to mother earth. The Cree people say we are all connected and sitting here, listening, watching alone with the land, the animals you feel that connection you understand that connection. You are not only connected to place but to its past and to its future. I want to stay forever lost in this vast wilderness and yet so alive each and every moment I am in it. That is the power of the forest. 

A cow moose on a frosty morning A cow moose on a cool fall morning
As I sit quietly in my spot the sun just now breaking over the horizon, I can hear loud noises in the bush to my right. The sounds of a few branches cracking, fallen leaves breaking under the weight of something moving over them, and then I see her. A cow moose enters the clearing. She takes a few cautious steps into the opening, sniffing the air with her long nose, and then feeling assured it is safe starts to graze on the tall grasses, I watch her as the sun starts to rise. Although it is still fall it is frosty this morning, you can see her breathe when she pauses from grazing and the edges of her hair are glistening with frost in the morning sun. 

My camera ever at the ready is resting on my knees as I sit and watch. I flip out the viewfinder so as to not move my gear and by chance startle the moose and take a few photos of her. Eventually, she moves back into the forest. Songbirds that have not yet started their migratory journey break the silence every now and then with a short chorus. The squirrels become active as the warmth of the sun starts to melt the early morning frost.

A quiet lake in the forestA loon swims on a quiet lake in the Boreal Forest
I stand rolling up my mat and tucking it under my arm with camera in hand I follow a trail. I know where this trail will take me, I have walked these woods for decades.  I make little noise as I move the soft soles of my mukluks prevent my presence from being noticed for the most part. After a while, I reach another clearing. A space opens to tall grasses and another 30 or so feet past the grass a small pond fed by a creek that runs to a large lake. It has been a while since I was last here and I see the beavers have been busy. A new house is in the works as the family has been preparing for the cold dark winter months to come.
A beaver surfaces from the water A beaver surfaces from below water
I try to move slowly, cautiously to the edge of the pond. The ducks are gathered in large numbers on the still water as they begin to come together in preparation for their long flight to southern regions. Here most wildlife does not experience people and their response when they do is one of two reactions, curiosity or caution. Ducks are also cautious never curious. They easily flush as these waterfowl have not been habituated to humans as their counterparts have been in city parks. Getting close to take a photo is challenging. I see a spot away from the majority of the ducks on the far right of the pond and I crouch in the tall grasses methodically step after cautious, slow, and quiet step making my way to the water. I stop a few feet from the edge still unseen by the ducks in the tall grasses and put down my mat. Kneeling I lean forward and part the last few grasses that hide me from the ducks so I can see the water. There I sit and I wait. Once again for how long I am not sure, and I do not care. I can feel the warmth of the sun as it reaches over the trees, the ducks feasting on small freshwater shrimp and aquatic plants plentiful in this small wetland area. Unaware of my presence occasionally a few ducks will swim close by allowing me to snap some photos. A red-tailed hawk lands on a tree nearby but is gone almost as quickly as it landed. Other ducks arrive as others leave, the small pond a hub of activity. At the far side across the water, I see a coyote with its every lopping gait trot into the opening. Not pausing it carries on to the other side and disappears back into the forest. Deer make their way in and out of the opening, the beavers still unseen as they rest in their home not likely to become active until close to sunset.
A red necked grebe familyA red-necked grebe family
I have no words that can describe the peace my soul feels being here. The Boreal Forest to me is the last great forest on Earth. There is such a feeling of tranquility and serenity being here and being connected. You feel a part of this world and in these moments, I also worry about it. I care deeply about its future. Over my more than fifty years of existence on this planet, I have seen the acidification of the oceans, the rapid shrinking of the rain forest, the warming of our planet, and the uncertainty of this forest’s future scares me. To the average person here in North America it's just trees and wildlife we generally see and take for granted but do not spend time thinking about. It does not hold magnificent lions or majestic polar bears. Its lakes and waters do not breach whales that are found in the oceans that we travel to see but the animals that live here, their stories, are just as important and just as majestic and deserve to be shared.
A clear field in the Pantanal with ostrich and a cowPart of the amazon rainforest cleared for pasture by ranchers
I was profoundly awakened to the risk posed to my beloved forest on a recent trip to Brazil. There I witnessed the deforestation of the rainforest firsthand. Seeing wide open expanses of land for kilometers where once forest stood saddened me. Mankind’s need to develop and grow rarely considered the impact on the environment until very recently. Only now is Brazil truly realizing the impact of the clearing of the rainforest not just on the environment but on their economy. It is the impact on the economy that now drives efforts to reforest areas and reestablish wildlife diversity in many regions. The country is beginning to understand that ecotourism led primarily by interest in seeing jaguars is a lucrative industry and cattle ranches are making way for tourist lodges through the Pantanal. Sadly, though it is still money that is driving the decision to protect the habitat and wildlife and not us being good stewards of this world.
A log pile A log pile a reminder of the impact of human activity on the Boreal Forest
I wondered as I reflected on this history of destruction and now reforestation in Brazil if we are walking the same path here in Canada. Will development of the natural resources in our country that drive a large portion of our economy see our forest near destruction in the next few decades? Compound this with increased impacts due to climate change, the forest is under attack, yet I am not sure many realize, and I fear when they do it will be too late. The Boreal Forest is beginning to show signs of the struggle and so is the wildlife in it. I lift my lens and I capture it all, the stories the wildlife face, their challenges, and their triumphs. My camera tells a story that I hope inspires change. Change to save the last great forest on earth.

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