Audubon Draws a Nude: A Commission He Couldn’t Refuse, Part Two

Portrait of Audubon by John Syme.

I spent a year at the University of Toronto reading the epic poem Beowulf in the original Anglo-Saxon. The prof for that class was Laurence K. Shook, a Basilian priest who had a special interest in the riddles contained in an Old English manuscript called the Exeter Book. These riddles all take the form of … Read more

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Audubon Draws a Nude: A Commission He Couldn’t Refuse, Part One

Portrait of Audubon by John Syme.

When she stops him on the Rue Royale, she’s wearing a dark veil that makes it impossible to see her face. Even so, he can tell she is “a femelle of a fine form.” She speaks to him in French because she knows it’s his native tongue. Is he the man who draws the birds … Read more

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Fragile Forktail: The Most Elegant of Damselflies

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All damselflies—the tiny, slimmed-down cousins of dragonflies in the order Odonata—are elegant creatures, but the Fragile Forktail (Ischnura posita) is in a class by itself. Is it the name alone that makes me think so? Fragility can make anything—whether it’s a bug or a piece of furniture—seem more graceful and refined; and the Fragile Forktail’s … Read more

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Spring Flowers: Bloodroot, a Native Knockout

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When I’m outside in early spring, I find myself not so much longing for the sight of something green as lusting after the color yellow. The rich yellow on a Meadowlark’s breast, the goldshine of Dutch Master daffodils, the chalky yellow of Forsythia flowers—these slake something so strong that it feels like a physical need, … Read more

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Green Is the Color of Hope: Stalking the Black-legged Meadow Katydid

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I.              The photo This all started at the end of September 2019, when a friend emailed me a photo she’d taken of a Black-legged Meadow Katydid. My friend and I are birders, and we share a subsidiary interest in butterflies and dragonflies. But katydids? I’d never seen one, so had never felt the urge to … Read more

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One Woodpecker: A Photo Essay

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Most birders I know have a weakness for woodpeckers. It’s partly the drumming that seduces us: that monotone hammering woodpeckers make every spring to claim a territory and find a mate. But it’s also their shape and color. Shape because every part of a woodpecker’s anatomy—bill, skull, ribcage, tail feathers, and feet—has been adapted to … Read more

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Two Eiders: A Photo Essay

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I biked down to the Leslie Street Spit the other day to look for winter birds and brought a camera with me in case anything good turned up. “The Spit,” as it’s known in Toronto, is a former landfill in the east end of the city that juts into Lake Ontario for about five kilometers … Read more

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Two Owls: A Photo Essay

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With the approach of winter, the owls have returned to Toronto. Every year at this time, they come down from the boreal forest and northern tundra looking for food. They like to hang out in forested areas near the Toronto lakeshore, where they find a plentiful supply of rabbits, squirrels, meadow voles, field mice, and … Read more

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Butterflies of the Carden Alvar: Part Two, the Commas

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My problem with Commas is one of disappointment. Three species of Comma—the Eastern, the Gray, and the Green—appear in Southern Ontario; but in Toronto, where I do most of my butterflying, I’ve only ever seen the Eastern. Each time I find another Comma, I hope it’s something different. But when I come home and examine … Read more

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The Coronavirus Conundrum: You want I should hibernate in spring?

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Two weeks ago, I biked down to the allotment garden in Toronto where my wife and I have been tending a plot for the better part of twenty years. On the gate where I usually enter, I found a sign stating that the allotments were closed indefinitely, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s possible to … Read more

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