Ottawa's Southern Corridor at Hunt Club Woods
A Year in the Meadow

There are many wonderful places and people in our world, but my heart lies in a meadow. It is home to so many friends who bring me comfort amongst the hustle and hassle of urban life.

Brown thrashers whose songs echo from one end to the other to silent blue azure butterflies, sheets of waving smooth brome grass to microscopic stitchwort, wild grape vines that cover an acre to ground-hugging specks of wild strawberry, soggy depressions to bare limestone ... there is space and sustenance here for all who accept the adversity of nature as well as its bounty.

Every day there is something new: the first yellow warbler singing from a bloom-laden bush, a monarch butterfly searching for milkweed as her ancestors have for so long, a puzzling plant that turns out to be an old friend in disguise, a new location for wild strawberry, a new crunch to the snow ... the cycle of the year drifts by here in peace.

It's a meadow that gives my world a soul.

week 1: 22 December - the sun rises on a new year.

2: vole tracks are found when the snow is too shallow for tunnels. Small rodents are almost non-existent on the meadow - these were the only tracks I found the whole winter.

3: hidden life in the meadow - pupae and larva in a goldenrod gall, and the wasp that hatched indoors a month later.

4: snow falling.

5: squirrel tracks in fresh snow.

6: the lack of snow this year doesn't stop determined skiers.

7: 20 below is a safe time to investigate wasp nests.

8: at last the snow is deep enough for snowshoes to be useful.

9: bird nests have top hats of snow.

10: snow dunes form in windy areas.

11: the NCC ban on motorised vehicles doesn't stop snowmobiles from private entrances.

12: an early warm spell produces moisture-compacted snow and wet spots in depressions.

13: ground fog results when warm air meets cold earth where wind has blown away insulating snow.

14: snow collects on mullein stalks on the east side, our prevailing wind direction during snow storms.

15: spring thaw resumes.

16: the snow is almost gone from sunny areas, but -6C nights ensure that only lichen and mosses can use the sun.

17: an Isabella caterpillar is looking for a place to pupate

18: smooth brome is the first grass to start growth.

19: the first flowers of spring: Tussilago forfora near a stream attract early pollen lovers.

20: wild strawberries are in bloom.

21: blooming shrubs abound with the promise of fall fruit - these are wild apples.

22: nannyberry provides delicious late summer berries.

23: silvery cinqfoil brightens paths in dry sunny areas.

24: wild madder turns many areas gleaming white, wild caraway others.

25: the spectacular seed heads of goatsbeard rise above speckles of blue vetch; the foreground is bladder campion, our longest-blooming meadow flower.

26: waving fields of smooth brome flowers appear. Brome and timothy were grown over much of the area when it was farmed.

27: monarch butterflies replace their lookalike viceroy once milkweed begins to bloom.

28: raspberry season begins.

29: viper's bugloss, Queen Anne's lace and red sumac in a dry area.

30: honeysuckle berries are eaten by birds such as cedar waxwing, who spread the seeds effectively; most are toxic to mammals like us that don't.

31: a song sparrow uses a mullein stalk still standing from last year as a territorial watch point.

32: Queen Anne's lace lines the southern path.

33: a magnificent bull thistle will provide seed for small finches even through the deepest snow.

34: milkweed has gone to seed.

35: goldenrod and loosestrife begin to bloom.

36: wild cucumber along the south path.

37: the promise of crabapple jelly.

38: smooth brome puts on its fall colour.

39: a solitary Japanese barberry flaunts its scarlet fruit.

40: normally nocturnal, red-bellied snakes can be found sunning themselves on cool autumn days.

41: October brings fields of New England asters.

42: wild grapes are ready for harvest.

43: the surrounding trees are changing colour.

44: milkweed fluff briefly covers the meadow.

45: a clump of asparagus keeps its colour late.

46: a grey fall day.

47: rain drops add sparkle to leafless twigs and berries.

48: bird nests, so carefully hidden during nesting season, are easy to find now.

49: the meadow is covered with the soft brown seed heads of asters, which normally disperse here over snow but this year will land directly on damp earth.

50: the first snowfall glitters in the sun.

51: the freeze-thaw cycles of early winter make the paths treacherous, but lesser-walked areas are firm.

52: even noon shadows are long on the shortest day of the year.

John Sankey
ORCID
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