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Wetlands talk brings back childhood memories

Here’s a pleasant view along the Twenty Mile Creek, a place that captured Owen Bjorgan’s imagination as a kid visiting his grandmother, and is now a professional playground for him.
Here’s a pleasant view along the Twenty Mile Creek, a place that captured Owen Bjorgan’s imagination as a kid visiting his grandmother, and is now a professional playground for him.  (Owen Bjorgan)

Last Wednesday, I was grateful to be the guest speaker at the Niagara-on-the-Lake community centre.

The event, hosted by Friends of One Mile Creek, requested that I talk on wetlands, particularly, the state of wetlands across the Niagara Region and the health of such ecosystems in our hometown.

Driving home after the presentation, I was reflecting on what got me there that evening. Feeling so fortunate to have just spoken in my local area about something I’m so passionate about, I dug into the mental archives and pieced together some entertaining memories.

Turning into an outdoors enthusiast by passion and profession happened because I was apparently already trying it on for size from as early as I can remember. Sometimes in really quirky and outrageous ways. 

Most boys in Grade 5 had pictures and keychains of Britney Spears and some beach babes in their room or backpack. I had a poster of Steve Irwin, and a bland picture of a northern pike (my favourite freshwater fish to catch). 

My first childhood books that I didn’t have read to me were nature field guides. Battered by dirty hands and abandonment in a couple rainstorms, my Collins Gem pocket guides are still alive and legible to this day, in case you want to read about snakes, spiders, and fungi of the world.

One time my field guide antics got me into some trouble in Grade 5 French class. I was supposed to be focusing on the verb “aller,” but instead, I was writing down a meticulous list of cloud formation types.

Cumulonimbus, the one that brings heavy thunderstorms.

And although mammatus clouds are named after a Latin term for breasts, the only thing inappropriate about the list I was making was that it was during class. The teacher confiscated it in front of everyone, and then pinned my list of clouds to the board where I was allowed to retrieve it a day later.  

Imagine your uncle and your dad installing satellite TV for the first time in the early 2000s. Suddenly, this plethora of channels becomes available to your viewing, and better yet, you can even search for your ideal program. Once the cords were connected, my uncle asked me, “Owen, what do you want to watch?” I remember replying “something about mushrooms or fungi.” I wonder if he remembers that, and if he’s laughing, that’s okay because I am too. He searched endlessly, and for some strange reason, couldn’t find a show about such a thing running that afternoon. 

I remember being at a cottage with my family somewhere in northern Ontario, and I had lugged along some typical rainy day activities like most 10-year-olds.

I had this enormous three-ring binder containing pages of colourful images and tight-knit paragraphs describing animals from all over the world. I could have played gameboy or board games, but I was more determined to memorize the scientific (Latin) names of rare primates from Madagascar. 

At a Halloween party this weekend, someone had reminded me of how I once did a talent show piece at St. Davids with reptiles. I remember having a corn snake, two ball pythons, a bearded dragon, and a couple of other scaly guests to educate the crowd about. 

My Grade 2 classroom down in Queenston had a chalkboard, and it still might. It might also still have the feces stain from my pet corn snake, which I brought to class for show-and-tell once upon a time.     

The snake awkwardly propped its tail up against the chalkboard while I was presenting at the front of the class, when an unusual projectile poop shot out onto the board. I remember it was impossible to wash off, and to this day, I don’t know if it ever was. Rest in peace, Corny. 

Sitting in the van with my parents heading to Fort Erie and Wainfleet for hockey games during my youth, seeds were being planted that I didn’t know would later sprout. I kept a nature journal of all the observations I could make on the drive to the rink. Deer? Four tallies. Red tailed hawks? Five tallies. Why are there so many more wetlands out here than back near my house? Why do I hear more frogs out this way in the spring? I would later learn that these early inquiries from the van-side window would be met with answers in my later studies and personal leisure. 

I also held a birthday party when I was just a tiny one at the base of “Big Tree” on the Niagara Escarpment. I requested that my parents would lead my friends and I to this massive eastern cottonwood tree, where we could eat snacks and enjoy the outdoor playground. 

To come full circle, it looks like my days of keeping salamanders in my pencil case and making maps of the forest came to fruition. It’s exciting to find space and time to talk to the community about things that unify us all, such as the wellbeing of our natural environment.