I’ve lived in three different cities over the past five years, between undergrad, grad school, and the summer in between them. Two of them are big cities by Canadian standards and the third is the city in which I grew up. I have no sentimental attachment to my hometown; but for the fact that my family and many of my friends still live there, I wouldn’t willingly visit it. It probably has the worst air quality in the country; it has virtually no natural habitat left; it’s unfriendly to pedestrians, cyclists, and most people who like to do things outside; it’s just a little bit too small for a quality museum, despite some interesting history; what few cultural events it hosts are often the first to fall to budget cuts when times get tough. This is not to say that there aren’t wonderful things going on there; to say so would do a disservice to the many people who do try very hard to bring a little bit of art and poetry to a town that doesn’t naturally lend itself to the picturesque, unless it’s the picturesqueness of urban decay.
And yet I have a connection to this place. Having spent most of my childhood and adolescence there, and having had the good fortune to have parents who made exploring the natural world a high priority, I have a sense of the cycle of the seasons in that part of the country. I know when to expect the first robins back in spring, when to listen for spring peepers in the ditches and when to look for their tadpoles, when the milkweed seedpods open and where to look for garter snakes on a summer day.
The city in which I now live, although it’s much more scenic and conducive to outdoorsiness, is still foreign to me after more than a year. I don’t recognize every bird species I see, even many of the common ones. I have absolutely no idea what kind of butterfly I’ve spotted or what kind of flower it’s feeding on—they could both be unique to this area or noxious pests for all that I know. But I’m about to start field work on the university campus, in artificial ponds near a protected forest, which will continue for the next several months. I worked at this site last year and it was a pleasure to watch the ponds and their surroundings transform from cold and wintry to lush and fecund as spring turned to summer. This year, I’m going to record many of these changes as they unfold and try to get properly acquainted with the wildlife in my own backyard. I’ll share these experiences here as a sort of modern Sand County Almanac. Along the way you’ll also hear about the progress of my research there—and I promise to try to keep the whining as things inevitably go wrong to a minimum.
Right now the ponds seem dormant, with only a few rosettes of green algae beginning to sprout. If you dredge some of these up, you’ll spot a few backswimmers and chironomid larvae. A few of the fish—stickleback, introduced for the purposes of various experiments—are foraging in the shallows, and swim away at anyone’s approach.
The weather forecast calls for several days above ten degrees this week. The sleeping ponds are about to wake up.