words :: Ned Morgan.
“Do frogs have teeth?”, my daughter Ella asks as we approach the pond. “No, I don’t think so,” I reply. “I’ve handled some frogs in my time, and not one has ever bitten me. They do have long tongues to catch bugs with…”
When talking to a three-year-old, it’s easy to sound reassuringly knowledgeable. We’re on a short hike in a Conservation Area about a 10-minute drive from our home. On every hike my daughter finds wonder in our surroundings and is never afraid. Then we hear the massed amphibians in their early-summer vocalizing frenzy—bellows and drones louder than a nightclub sound system. “I’m scared of the frogs!” she suddenly decides.
We keep walking. At least she isn’t demanding to return to the car.
The frog pond (formally speaking, a cedar swamp) is not exactly approachable. It lies below a ridge of limestone boulders. We leave the trail and clamber down to the water’s edge and hear a succession of plops as the frogs scatter to safety. Here in the gloom under the cedars the water looks black and the frogs effortlessly fold themselves under it, leaving barely a ripple.
Wetlands are unwelcoming. They’re unfit for human habitation—and that is a plus for wetlands. It’s a lot of trouble to drain and develop them, though this certainly happens. But because of the ecosystem services wetlands offer, including flood mitigation and mass filtration of our water, the consensus is—or was—that they should be widely protected. In Ontario, the 36 Conservation Authorities have been protecting and managing watersheds since 1946. In a move that should alarm all Ontarians, the provincial government recently cut funding to Conservation Authority programs.
On a walk in nature, no storyboarded narrative will entertain you at every turn. Sometimes it rains, the bugs attack you, or the frogs ghost you.
The unwelcoming wetland atmosphere really hits home as it begins to rain, the mosquitoes find us, and the frogs continue to shun our attentions. Now it’s almost 5pm, toddler dinner hour, and time to leave. As I carry her up the rocky ridge to the trail I note that this hike has so far offered no Instagram moment of contact between my daughter and nature. She’s had plenty of such moments in the recent past: rolling on a carpet of moss under an old beech tree; seeing a dragonfly up close; staring at an otherworldly puffball mushroom. She is spellbound, and she isn’t acting. Three-year-olds don’t pretend to be impressed just to humour you. But neither the frog pond nor the fifteen-minute run-walk homeward under the maples offers any rapture moments.
Maybe this is as it should be. A walk in nature is the antithesis of screen time. Outside, no storyboarded narrative will entertain you at every turn. Sometimes it rains, the bugs attack you, or the frogs ghost you.
Yet even when it doesn’t yield a transcendent or even an enjoyable moment, every nature experience should be a win. Ella, for one, scored a win over her fear of frogs. This is called growing up, and it’s an often frustratingly incremental process that adults tend to forget all about. As she grows older she will, unfortunately, acquire better-founded fears—we all do. Today I fear that governments of the future will fail to protect or expand conservation land like the frog pond. Could greed and partisan politics someday kill our investment in the public good? If we don’t allow nature to function with integrity apart from us, we stand to lose everything. This is a fear we should all be working to subdue through positive action.
The next day I’m slightly concerned that my daughter will remember all the imperfections of the frog pond visit and prefer to stay home with the iPad. Yet after picking her up from daycare I ask what she wants to do before dinner and she declares: “I want to go back to see the frogs!”
Through its cuts to flood management and treeplanting programs, the provincial government is defunding Ontario’s Conservation Authorities. Learn how you can support your local CA here: conservationontario.ca