To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,
And Eternity in an hour.

Blake, "Auguries of Innocence"

Take a second look …

The yellow eyes of the Saw-whet Owl are so startling, their gaze so steady, that we tend to ignore everything else. It’s easy to miss the trace of blood just below the owl’s bill, a smear of something that changes the way we look at the bird, that deepens our understanding of it. What discoveries might we make if we took that second look more often, if we trained ourselves to see?

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

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 examine the coronavirus and the effects it’s having on human society in any number of ways. I’m doing so through the one focused lens of gardening, which is an activity I’ve always associated most closely with the spring. It’s one of the activities that calls … Read more

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The Smell of Skunk: My Madeleine

Unlike most people I know, I love the smell of skunk. This unforgiving mixture of sulphur and alcohol that scientists call butyl mercaptan operates for me like the madeleine did for Proust. It prods to life memories that might otherwise have stayed buried in the past, and by doing so, it illustrates the complex associations between time and place, youth and age, and me, the individual person I am, and the society in which I live. An odor so strong and piercing that every time I smell it I’m transported. It returns me to myself—I feel young again and rooted … Read more

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Feature photo for Algonquin post.

Winter Birding: A photo essay from Algonquin Park

Algonquin Provincial Park is one of the finest places in North America to see winter birds, those boreal species that rarely come down to more southerly locations. Situated in central Ontario, the park is a three-hour drive north of Toronto and about the same distance west from Ottawa, Canada’s capital city. I spent two days in Algonquin near the end of January to photograph birds that, most winters, I can’t find in Toronto, my home town. These included different types of finches, crossbills, and grosbeaks, as well as certain species of grouse and jays. Our main target bird was the … Read more

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