Wednesday, 14 October 2015


A few days ago we participated in a nature walk at Awenda Provincial Park. It’s become a tradition, regardless of the weather, participating in Awenda's last nature walk of the season.

This years nature walk was lead by Tim Tulley, the park’s Natural Heritage Education Leader, or in other words, the park’s Naturalist. Tim is a professional naturalist, one of the best in Ontario. Professional naturalists would seem to be a dying breed, what with everything going on line, and information about all things natural being only a touch, or a swipe away. However, to walk with a real person such as Tim, and to share in his enthusiasm about the natural world, is a world above anything that the swipe or tap of a finger can ever provide.

Mushroom Shapes  Watercolour
Despite being quite cold the sun made an appearnce encouraging some 15, or more, persons to meet up with Tim in the parking area at the trailhead. It was to be a mushroom, or fungi, hike. Now the subject of fungi is not to many considered very exciting. But, with Tim in charge, exciting it became. Looking around it seemed that there were few mushrooms in plain sight, but with Tim’s encouragement, and his infectious enthusiasm, it was only moments into the walk that we began to see fungi everywhere. We not only learned about the identification of various species, but we were amazed to learn that beneath our feet through the seeming magic of symbiosis everything in the forest is connected, and that through this connection trees are actually able to communicate with each other.

Now, this is something that I long suspected, but being a naturalist-artist of a lower order I had no way of proving my theory. Instead, some years ago, I wrote, more or less to myself, the following:-

I have a thing about trees. All things living for that matter, but trees, well, I simply find them intriguing.

That they don’t run about and proclaim their existence as we humans do, but stand and face abuse and attack from a multitude of creatures, and continue to survive is actually quite amazing.

If we could communicate with trees think of the things that we could learn. Think of the history to which some long lived trees have been witness. Of course some will be quick to point out that not being sentient creatures we could never hope to communicate with trees. But, they are sentient, just not sentient on our terms. Think about it for a moment. If we prune a tree it senses what we’ve done, and believing that its very life might be in jeopardy, it’s stimulated to produce new growth. Trees sense and track light. Trees sense the change in the seasons and promote, or stop growth. Trees under attack from an insect in one valley produce pheromones that alert trees in another valley to produce chemicals to discourage attack by the insect. Cut a tree down and it will attempt to regrow itself. Marvelous, when you stop to think about it. A creature with its consciousness beneath the ground, blindly stuck and unable to run away from danger, has learned to survive against threats that would be our very end. I’m quite aware that trees can’t talk, or sing, but when I walk through a forest I listen, and if there’s a breeze, a gentle wind, it’s as if the rustling of the leaves and the knocking of branches are trying to tell me something.

Tall Pines - Algonquin                                                 Watercolour Painting


Tree groaning in the wind,
What forces dwell within?
Like a sentry standing guard,
What have you sensed, what have you heard?

Twisting your branches with sightless eyes,
Defenseless against your demise.
Tortured by insects and animals alike,
Do your groans reflect your fright?

Or are the groans heard in the wind,
Your means of telling us what lives within?

I could go on and attempt to explain this phenomena, but I’m quite certain that I couldn’t do as good a job as Tim was able. Instead, as Tim suggested, we should go on line and look up Prof. Suzanne Simard of the University of British Columbia, and her talk about “Mother Trees”.

Amazing, the natural world. It’s so disappointing, that as a species, we’re so out of step with something so wonderful. I do wish that there were more Tim Tulleys to help us to understand the treasure that surrounds us.

It was a wonderful nature walk. Something that I’ll remember.  Should you be visiting the area and discover that Tim is leading a nature walk make a point to join the group. You won’t be disappointed.

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