Springtime can be a dangerous time. Not solely because Spring is purported to be the season when “love is in the air,” though that remains a good reason to be on guard. Nor do I mean it is dangerous simply for the snowmobilers who like to test the lake ice, sledding out on the thin glass beyond a time when it is reasonably safe – though caution should be used to avoid tragedy. No, what I mean is that this beautiful season is a critical time in nature’s scheme.
For nature, springtime is not just a time of rebirth, it is a season of great peril. With winter’s surrender, creeks and rivers swell and flood, pouring down hillside and ravine into Muskoka’s lakes and ponds. Ice and debris are swept swiftly along as this raging tumult undercuts banks and bulldozes all that is in its path. The silty, leaden water throws mud along creekside and spills over onto grassland. The erosive power of the moving water is unparalleled.
Out of this destruction comes new life; green shoots spring from the wet soil and beautiful wildflowers grow. It is also at this unsettled time that nature’s young are being born; from the tiniest insects that rise like a cloud over wetlands at dusk to the river and lake fry that dart wildly about in the shallows, from the salamanders that find new life in the over-flow pool to the bear cubs and moose calves. Millions of creatures are born in the Spring – grouse chicks, beaver, muskrat, mink, marten, mice, otter, deer and wolves.
The migrating birds have returned and gather their sticks and twigs for nests. Some settle for the cottage eaves, holes in trees, or the sweeping branches of the beautiful shade trees that support our hammock. Others will move into the nesting boxes that we charitably supply. Water birds have hidden in the waterside thickets that fringe our cottage shoreline, mothers sitting cautious and still. Their chore is unflinching, daunting and dangerous. Their will must be strong, their task is constant. They must bravely sit and protect.
Soon, broods of goslings, ducklings, merganser chicks and baby loons appear, gracing our serene bays, following clumsily after their mother along shores, hitching a ride on a parent’s back, or swimming single file behind their guardian.
While nature struggles in a battle for new life, we humans sit comfortably in our cozy cottages, watching the process through binoculars. On the warmer days we venture out to the deck for the first barbecue of the season. We head out on the lakeside trails and river walks, now dry after a season covered by a snowy blanket.
Our pets accompany us, happy to be back at the summer place. As we admire nature’s beauty, the ecstatic dog bounds about, racing along the flooded riverbanks and splashing through the trail-side wetlands. We are happy to see the birds and animals that present themselves, flushed out by the activity. We only wish we had brought the camera. Sometimes we are too busy with the chores inherent in opening up the cottage, so we let the dog out to run free through the forest or the cat to slink around our picturesque lakeside property – and isn’t this freedom of space why we love to escape to Cottage Country?
Perhaps we have no canine companion to join us on our springtime sojourns. We scout for wildlife in our canoes, happy to be back on the water, paddling after the mother loon and her young one, enchanted by her haunting wails of distress. We tune up the outboard motor and enjoy the exhilaration of getting the runabout out – the wind and spray in our face. The high water allows us to roar into the areas that in later summer will become off-limits.
During springtime walks along the Muskoka River I have seen canoeists following and upsetting waterbirds with young broods, and stray dogs storming nesting sites, sending their occupants frightfully fleeing to the skies. Much of the beauty that has attracted us to this Muskoka paradise struggles against our indiscretions, and our naivete adds to nature’s peril during this very dangerous time.