This issue I’ve asked our columnists to focus on the environment. One aspect that often gets overlooked, with much focus given to global warming, is the actual environment – the land, the trees, the marshes and wetlands of Canada.

I grew up on a small apple farm in Southern Ontario. Across the road from our farm was Hilton Falls Conservation Area, where many of my childhood adventures were carried out. The area had everything from a marsh to forest, with a few tiny meadows scattered through it.

The conservation area was my playground, it was the place where my dreams set sail – filled with wildlife, it was also the place where my feet were most grounded in the world around me. It was there that I learned to appreciate the beauty in nature.

I remember watching the birds come to the marsh every spring on their way north. There were dozens of different bird species; from the trumpeter swan to the blue heron and red-winged blackbirds. Those memories seem so fused to the woman I am now. The gracefulness of a swan swimming through the water connected me to the beauty of dance. The stillness of a blue heron helped me understand the importance of patience. The call of a red-winged blackbird made me aware that a soft voice can fill a room.

I learned to listen to the forest; the birds always warn of danger and I would climb up into a tree when a certain kind of stillness came over it. I followed fox tracks for miles in the snow just to learn that he was following me. The life lessons that land taught me were priceless.
The older I became the further and further from that conservation area I moved. From the farm, to the suburbs; I married and moved right into the heart of Toronto. I walked home yesterday and wondered how far below the surface of asphalt and concrete the earth actually was.

Even life at the cottage has changed. There are now so many people on the lake in the middle of summer that it is rare not to hear a motorboat. When I think about the history of the lake, it is hard to imagine only a few cottages dotting the shoreline, or swans nesting in bulrushes along the far shore.

The population has grown so much in my lifetime that I wonder if my children will get the chance to learn the lessons I did from nature. Will they get the chance to be in a place where the stillness can make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end? Will there be land that is free from the din of highway traffic?

The economy is thriving, but with this growth there is a cost to the natural world. But I have hope – I discovered Nature Conservancy Canada (NCC). It is a private non-profit organization working for the direct protection of Canada’s bio-diversity through the purchase, donation, or placing of conservation easements on ecologically significant lands. They state that “90% of Canadians live and work in an area covering only 10% of the country along the Canada-U.S. border. This 10% of Canada is also home to over 70 % of Canada’s species at risk. It is on these highly threatened lands that NCC focuses its work.” Their web site

I don’t usually plug an organization in this space, so I hope you’ll forgive this shamelessness, but with more and more of the natural land disappearing, each one of us must try to make a difference. And if there is one thing I’ve learned from running this newspaper, it is that one person can make all the difference in the world.

Sarah Thomson can be reached at


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