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the thirty years later expedition   no comments

Dr. Fred Schueler (left), and Adam Zieleman (right), in the 30 Years Later Expedition vehicle

With the exception of my couchsurfer-visitor from France, the dogs and I have spent almost the entire summer at Round Hill in our own company. We occasionally wander over to visit our closest neighbours, but apart from that, we pretty much stick around home while I work on the house. However, the alone streak was broken a couple of weeks ago when the Thirty Years Later Expedition rolled up the lane to spend a few days working in this area of Nova Scotia.

Before I write more, I’ll let Fred and Aleta introduce themselves in their own words from their website:

Biologist/artist team Fred Schueler and Aleta Karstad revisit the landscapes they have traveled over the past 20 to 40 years, checking the condition of ecological communities and populations of plants and animals, some of them now Species At Risk. Aleta will paint and draw enroute as Fred adds valuable new data to historical records, in a database partnership with the Canadian Museum of Nature. Building on a database of over 86,000 records, this is a rare long term study in an age of short term projects.

I first came to know Fred and Aleta about 30 years ago. Don and I were keeping dairy goats at that time, and somehow or other, Fred and Aleta were referred to us in their search for a good milking doe. They acquired a wonderful goat, and we gained what was to become a long term friendship. Although we may go a year or two between seeing each other, our lives continue to intersect from time to time, and in between, we keep in touch by email and through our postings on the eastern Ontario NatureList. Over the year’s, with Fred and Aleta’s encouragement, I along with many other naturalists in eastern Ontario, began recording and contributing our observations to the NatureList. Once again, I refer to their words on the value of ecological monitoring:

Naturalists often complain that species and phenomena are neglected unless they are of direct economic interest. So many aspects of natural history are ignored that “everyplace” is effectively unknown. Environmental change makes everything different than it was before, and requires re-exploration of every territory. The more we learn, the more detail and complexity unfolds to us. Henry David Thoreau ‘travelled a good deal in Concord’, providing an unparalleled public record of the species he recognized and their relationships in natural communities, and making major advances in theoretical ecology simply by constantly re-exploring his ancestral ground.

Anyone can do for their home range what Thoreau did for Concord: notice, record, monitor, analyze, and publicize natural phenomena. Many people are out there enjoying Nature, but relatively few of them record what they see. Every one who goes out as a serious observer, with a field notebook or journal, is adding to what we can know of nature.

Many observations go unrecorded, and many scientific datasets not included in publications languish in files. Fragile Inheritance is mandated to support long term ecological monitoring, as well as archiving and databasing the observations of both amateurs and academics, historical and current. Beyond the tasks of gathering and keeping data, it supports and encourages the essential tasks of analysing, publishing, and disseminating the results of long term monitoring, both to the general public, and to decision-makers.

And so it came to pass that Don and I became more serious about recording our observations – mainly in the form of Don making notes while I would take photographs – and then I would write up field notes to post to the NatureList. In recent years, with the many complications that took place in our lives during Don’s illness, our record-keeping eventually diminished to naught, but I do hope that situation will change once I’ve got more of a home base established here and also become more adept at traveling alone as I criss-cross the continent each spring and autumn. Anyhow, more about my friends.

Aleta Karstad, working on a plein air painting in my garden

As part of the expedition work, Aleta Karstad has been creating plein air paintings at the rate of almost one per day. I will refer you to her website, Biodiversity Paintings for the 30 YEARS LATER PROJECT: adventures in the colour of Canada where you can see the paintings alongside of Aleta’s notes and natural history observations associated with each site. In the above photo, Aleta is working on a painting of one of the old Black Locust trees that shade the front garden of my house and seem to be providing food and something of a gymnasium for a family of Pileated Woodpeckers. You can read Aleta’s notes here.

a small sampling of Aleta Karstad’s plein air paintings from the expedition

One afternoon, while Fred and Aleta, and their very able assistant, Adam Zieleman (the go-to tech guy who has put together their solar power system and other wondrous things), were busy working at their tasks, I checked out Aleta’s storage box filled with recent paintings. I laid them out on the grass to photograph a few. Aleta paints in oils on 5 x 7 inch canvases. Each is a wonderful jewel-like vignette of nature, capturing the essence of the time and place where it was created. To see an array of them spread out upon the grass was like being given a kaleidoscopic glimpse into their travels (click on all photos in this post to see larger views). In addition to recording that which is seen during the expedition, the sale of Aleta’s paintings also helps to defray some of the costs associated with their field work which is only partly funded by the Canadian Museum of Nature. If you’re interested in her works, please do visit her website.

Aleta Karstad’s painting of a Phoebe on the Moira River in Ontario (see her notes about it here.

It’s been nice to have old friends visiting at my new-old place – especially friends who are quite “self-contained” and used to roughing it in the bush, so to speak, as I’m not able to provide much in the way of accommodations as yet. This week, I’m in the process of wrapping things up for this season. In some respects, I’m a little disappointed with not having finished up the exterior of the house, but with the weather as it has been – rain every third or fourth day – progress has been continuously interrupted. I could just slap some paint on the upper sections that remain unfinished, but I don’t think that’s the best strategy. Instead, I’ll try to be happy with what has been accomplished, take a break over the winter months, then pick up where I left off when I return next spring. Now I’m down to the wire with making a few last-minute repairs, putting tools and materials away for the winter, and packing my van for the long journey that lies ahead this autumn. This afternoon, I’ll be taking Sabrina to the vet’s office for a “going away” laser therapy treatment which should hold her over until we arrive in Arizona at the end of November. She’s getting around so much better these days. I can only conclude that the treatments have made a difference to her mobility. Yesterday, I actually found her part way up the stairs to the second floor of the house – twice! As I pack the van, she’s becoming more and more concerned with sticking to me like a burr. I think she’s worried that I’ll drive off without her. Not a chance of that! I’ll try to post at least once more before I depart from the house. After that, watch for new posts written along the way – by which route, I still don’t know. The weather and my mood will sort that out once we’re on the road.

NOTE
Just a bit of time-sensitive information for those who are interested in Fred and Aleta’s work. On September 22nd, 2010, Fred and Aleta will be presenting a lecture and exhibition at the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History, in Halifax, N.S. It is entitled Stalking the Wild Conspicuous – a Schueler/Karstad presentation on 30 Years Later Expedition research, illustrated with Karstad’s biodiversity paintings, original paintings on exhibit. Then, on September 25th, Aleta will be giving a painting workshop entitled Plein Air Painting with Aleta Karstad Out-of-doors painting in oils or acrylic, also at the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History.

Thirty Years Later Expedition as it rolls away to its next destination

Written by bev on September 16th, 2010

about Don   21 comments

Posted at 1:40 pm in being alone,Don,friends,sabrina

Don pausing to stroke Maggie, a fellow adventurer on many a canoe trip.

This evening marks the second anniversary of Don’s death. Over the past two years, I’ve written about the attempt I’ve made to carry on alone with my dogs Sabrina and Sage. Today, I’d like to write about Don, to give those of you who never met him in person, a better idea of who he was and why he still means so much to me.

Don and I met through our work and married very young. He was 21 and I was 18. Here’s an old photo of us working on our first vegetable garden. My childhood dog, Frisky, is in that photo – a theme that is repeated in just about every photo that I have of Don – there’s always a dog, a horse, a cat, a goat, or even a chicken in the picture. Don loved all creatures great and small. During our time together, we had 6 dogs, 2 horses, a rather large herd of dairy goats, several cats, geese, ducks, and chickens.

When I first met him, he did not really know how to ride a horse, but before long, he was loping around on my horse and enjoyed that so much that we soon bought him his own horse. As in almost everything he attempted, he learned quickly and had a natural athletic ability. One of my favourite anecdotes concerns a work-related convention in Arizona which he attended a couple of years before he died. One of the social events was some kind of barbecue at a ranch. Part of the event involved a hay wagon ride, or the option of driving some cattle with the ranch wranglers. All of the managers with the exception of Don and another one or two fellows, rode the hay wagon. Don rode with the wranglers and had a great time, reporting to me on how they gave him a wonderfully trained cutting horse and that the wranglers were wowed at his riding abilities. I guess they weren’t too accustomed to convention goers who were so at home in the saddle.

with Chik-Chik, the tiny, outcast chicken who regarded him as her hero

I had hoped to find the photo album with our dairy goat photos, but it’s stashed in a box somewhere upstairs. I’d wanted to post a photo of Don showing one of our dairy goats. A couple of you who are reading this post will probably be able to remember the days when we showed goats throughout eastern Ontario. Don was an excellent showman, able to show any goat to look its very best. He frequently pitched in and showed for friends who needed an extra showman and would do his level best to win, even when he was competing against me showing one of our own animals! He enjoyed participating in and quite frequently won the showmanship class whenever there was one offered for adult competitors. We had a lot of fun and made many friends during the 20 or so years that we exhibited our herd.

All of our animals loved Don. He was an exceedingly kind person and I think that most creatures knew this. At one point, we had a little hen that we named Chik-Chik and made a pet of as she was so tiny and something of an outcast from the flock. She took to wandering up to the house and perching on the front porch railings and would sit on Don’s shoulder or arm whenever he sat outside on his lawn chair in the shade to read a book. In the above photo, Chik-Chik is rubbing her head on Don’s arm (click on all photos for larger views).

with Tara and Sheena, the two wonderful Collies who were both sadly lost to a mysterious and very aggressive form of cancer that took both of them away from us in the spring of 1994.

Don and I were both dog lovers and kept mainly Rough Collies for the 34 years we were together. Over those years, we did a great deal of hiking, snowshoeing and canoeing and our dogs were an important part of our very active lives. The dogs in the above photo were about 3 and 5 when we lost both of them within the space of 8 weeks to a very mysterious and aggressive form of lymphosarcoma. It was a very heartbreaking experience for both of us. I make mention of this as the loss of these dogs, and another to bone cancer, and another to a non-specific form of cancer, then my father’s death, and then Don’s death to cancer, has left me with strong feelings of the ephemeral nature of our lives and how seemingly healthy humans and animals can be gone in just a few weeks or months. This feeling has changed absolutely everything about my views on life, living, and death. I now find it impossible to take much of anything seriously, or to hope or care too much for the future.

attempting to stare down a young Sabrina and an aging Maggie

Anyhow, back to Don, the topic of this post. I worked with Don occasionally over the years. We both started out in the automotive parts business and for a number of years, we even worked on the same parts counter in a busy car and truck garage. He went on to become the parts manager at a car dealership out near our farm. I worked elsewhere, managing the office at an auto parts recycler. Later, I went back to university to earn an M.A. and used to do freelance writing under contract to organizations and government. However, occasionally Don would ask me to come and work with him when he had employees on long-term leave of absence for illness. That industry is fast paced and often difficult – a lot of stress and everyone wanting their stuff yesterday. Don had a great attitude and regardless of how unreasonable and annoying other people behaved, he rarely treated anyone badly, although I did see that change in later years when he felt he’d had enough of that business. After deciding that the time had come, we made plans to retire in 2008. We intended to sell our farm and move to Nova Scotia. Unfortunately, a few months before all of this was to take place, Don was diagnosed with cancer and our plans were immediately destroyed. The rest is history – Don fought the cancer for several months, but died in September 2008. And, as you know from reading this blog, I have struggled to pick up the pieces of our shattered lives. I did sell the farm and did end up buying a place in Nova Scotia. Everything else about my life is still just a strange and murky shadow, but I carry on as that’s about all you can do when these kinds of things happen.

with our canoe at the start of one of our countless canoe trips

Anyhow, one thing I’ve learned over the past two years is that it’s best not to think too much about how things turned out. Instead, it’s probably better to focus on what was good and try to ignore the bad. What I now remember most about Don is that he had his priorities straight. People he worked with probably never realized that, when he shut the door behind him, he tuned out all of the crap and did whatever he felt like doing. To him, his job was just a job and nothing more. Once he was home, that was it — he would do what he liked. He loved nothing better than tossing the canoe on the roof of the truck, or packing a lunch and taking off to go canoeing or hiking somewhere. Even the coldest days of winter would not deter us from snowshoeing for many miles at favourite haunts. Mill Pond Conservation Area, Murphy’s Point, and Charleston Lake, were just a few of the places that became our second homes. Over the years, we paddled everything from the narrowest creeks to the largest lakes in eastern Ontario. We were both strong hikers and flat water paddlers and could cover many miles during a day. I’m very glad that we had all of those years spent on the trails and waters as those were very special times for both of us. We often talked about just that thing when Don became ill and could no longer get out and about. I don’t think two people could have squeezed much more out of our lives than we did, so at least we were not left with the kind of regrets that haunt so many people whose priorities are badly misplaced.

with Maggie at our farm in winter

I should mention that a side of Don that few people knew about, was that he loved theater and enjoyed taking in everything from local fringe festival performances, to Shakespeare at Stratford. He had a wonderful knowledge of art, and more particularly of Inuit art. He could often recognize the sculptures of one or another Inuit artist at a glance. He also became an excellent naturalist, knowing the names of many of the plants and animals that I photographed. In time, he became incredibly adept at finding even the smallest creature when we were hiking the trails.

On a personal level, what I valued most about Don was that, for the most part, he was a very easy-going person. Although he was quiet and serious, he also knew how to have fun. He was always ready to drop everything and go somewhere – anywhere – in a minute. Some years we would decide it was too expensive to go to Nova Scotia for our vacation, and then on the day that he was to start holidays, one or the other of us would call and say, “Hey, let’s just take off and go to Nova Scotia. What the hell.” I’d spend the afternoon packing the van and making salads, and within hours, we could be on our way out east. Vacations were always great fun – camped in our tent with our dog, walking the beaches, hiking favourite trails, and stopping at roadside stands so that he could buy a big order of fried clams (I was a vegetarian, so skipped the clams and went for the fries). We were not only husband and wife, but best of friends and had so many terrific adventures together over the years.

Of course, all of that has ended now. Anything I do from this point onwards, I do alone with the dogs. Our canoe is loaned out to friends who, I hope, have been putting it to good use this summer. Next year, I’ll probably see about picking it up, but things won’t be the same without my most excellent canoe partner. In truth, nothing is, or will ever be the same again, but I attempt to carry on as that’s what Don would have wanted.

To Don. I miss you. I will always love you.

NOTE: A few more photos of Don may be found in this gallery.

ALSO NOTE: Comments seem to be taking awhile to actually show up on my blog at the moment. I think it’s some WordPress glitch. Just go ahead and leave them. I ‘m seeing them in the Admin screen, but just not below the post. I expect they’ll all show up later. Sorry about that.

Don and Sabrina leading the way on a trail at Charleston Lake Provincial Park

Written by bev on September 6th, 2010