Rattray Marsh: March 2021

Just before his death in 2001, my grandfather told me that he wished he could visit Rattray Marsh one more time. I thought of him this morning as I walked about here though icy temperatures and a mostly still frozen marsh kept bird numbers low.

Murray with Doris

Marsh views:

Herring Gull (foreground) and Ring-billed Gulls

Some botany:

Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica)
Silver Maple (Acer sachharinum)
Fruiting body of London Plane
Black Knot Gall
Evening Primrose (Oenothera)
Witch-hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)
Trembling Aspen (Populus tremuloides)
Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata)
Black Alder (Alnus glutinosa)
Red Ash (Fraxinus pensylvanica)
Red Ash (Fraxinus pensylvanica)
Trembling Aspen (Populus tremuloides)
Riverbank Grape (Vitis riparia)
Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus)


We were walking the Humber Trail and watching the mallards from the walking bridge that crosses the Humber when we saw this fellow swim across the Humber.  We didn’t know that skunks could swim.  The mallards were a bit aggressive towards him until he turned around and started after them, at which time the mallards decided not to take him on.  Being city dwellers, we didn’t know skunks could swim. 

swimming skunk


Rain-glaze on snow. Mud and ice and snow.

Coyotes feed themselves on gaunt dreams of spring. Then
what comes slowly suddenly he sees.

Light hovers longer in the southern sky.
Brooks uncover themselves. Alders redden.
Grosbeaks’ beaks turn green. Chickadee finds the song
he lost last November, and blue jay abandons
argument and gluttony. He cranes his neck,
bobs his mitered head; he bounces on a naked branch
crying: Spring!

But, like all winter’s keepers
he speaks his dream before
he sees the fact.
Did you hear a phoebe?
And he out again and walking on the earth,
in the air, in the sun, ankle deep in mud.       – David Budbill (1940-2016)

Miles Hearn

4 thoughts on “Rattray Marsh: March 2021

  1. Janet Marche

    Miles your posts have sustained my nature longing through the winter. This is a particularly good one. Your grandfather must have been a wonderful teacher. As I am relatively new to Toronto you have introduced me to the many spaces to explore close by. I hope to join the group again in the fall.
    Thank you for your photos and the poetry is just the icing on the cake.

  2. Trudy Rising

    Loved that skunk on its swim!

    You’ve brought back memories. New to TO in 1969, my husband met and knew your grandfather, and we had the great pleasure of seeing one of your grandmother’s paintings, proudly purchased by someone we knew; she should be much better known than she is. I’ll bet she will be “rediscovered” one of these days, properly cited in that group of painters of which she was a part. Important people in Ontario history for the work they did.

  3. Lisa Volkov

    Thanks for including the pictures of your grandparents. Your grandfather was clearly a wonderful inspiration to you. You must really miss him!
    This is another place I long to see again one day. And no, I didn’t know skunks could swim, either! Thanks, Miles!

  4. Debi

    Rattray was introduced to me by my friend Jan. It’s become one of my favourite places. Thanks for sharing these signs of change and Spring and thoughts of your grandfather.
    I didn’t know skunks could swim either. Maybe they are evolving lol.


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