Remember the milkweed plants that I mentioned were nearly as tall as me and growing by the door to enter our house? Well, they keep coming back. When we moved in 2015, my husband yanked them all out, and they came back in the spring of 2016. I decided to leave a few to grow for a little while, at least until they flowered, and then I would decide their fate. What I didn’t expect was that my husband would tell me one day that there were some caterpillars on the leaves. I rushed outside to see for myself, lifting up the leaves to see their undersides, and I was pleasantly surprised to see Monarch butterfly caterpillars!
Of course, I couldn’t resist finding a container to care for them. It was late August 2016 and there were mud wasps buzzing all over the place, with their tunnels under all the rocks near the entryway to our house. We eventually found something to take care of that problem, but in the meantime, I knew that they prey on Monarch caterpillars, so I had to ensure whatever I could find would survive and have a chance to make the long trek to Mexico.
Obviously, I was thrilled to see all 6 of my finds mature, pupate, and transform into beautiful Monarch butterflies (all males). Bear with me on the videos of the pupation. It was fuzzy at the beginning, but I was recording it through hazy plastic. I could only stop and start the recording again, and the second part below is much clearer. In fact, I was incredibly lucky to have caught the whole 2 minute process. Every other time I’ve tried to witness this, I’ve missed it, and only came on the scene when the green pupa was already formed but still wriggling.
The following summer, being this year (2017), I found more than 25 caterpillars over time. I had 22 at one time, and released them as they emerged from their chrysalises (or chrysalides), and I added a few more, totalling 25 in all. The mud wasps were back, which had to be dealt with. I couldn’t keep any more caterpillars, as I didn’t have room, so even though I kept finding more on the plants, I left them as a test and they disappeared. They became the breakfast of either the ants or the wasps, maybe even some spiders. But, I can claim to have promoted the population of Monarch butterflies, by my small part. My husband was starting to call me “Larvae Lady.” Oh boy.
I’m planning on harvesting some milkweed plant seeds this year, as soon as they are ready in their pods. After the frost, I will be able to attempt to make a successful milkweed garden on the side of the garage, so that I won’t need to keep the plants by the entryway to our house. The plants do get rather tired looking after they have finished flowering.
Hopefully, if the new plants come up, the Monarchs will find them, but we will see. I’d hate to remove plants that they “expect” to find when they return. Just how do they know? If any of the ones I released makes it to Mexico (for its first time), how is its great-great grand-butterfly supposed to find my garden (for its first time)? It is all certainly an incredible mystery.
I suppose I’m not that different sometimes from the elusive wildlife of Muskoka. If I could live farther into the woods and near water, I would, but I’d still have to venture into town for supplies, and of course, to connect with people from time to time. Well, I say sometimes, because I probably don’t get enough time to myself to create. Every week day, I come home from the busyness of full-time work and find it difficult to wind down and create art or write. The best I can do is get my gardening gloves on and tend to my gardens surrounding my house, and then relax and take in the peace and harmony of the perennials, the butterflies, bees, hummingbirds and other birds. When winter sets in, however, I have only the bay window that looks out back.
When we moved to Bracebridge a couple of years ago, we chose a home within the city limits that offered the best of both worlds, country within the city. We had enough of 40′ wide city lots, but we enjoyed the benefits of municipal water and sewers, versus ending up with poor well water and septic issues. We were just basing this on past experience, our own or others we knew. But we really didn’t know what to expect in this new area to which we were moving, as we didn’t know anyone except my husband’s sister and her family, but they live on lakefront property. Within Bracebridge, some homes are equipped with natural gas heating as well, so that was another draw toward the home we purchased. We figured on fixing up this home and eventually finding a rural property. We didn’t expect to grow to like this place so much.
When I am home on the weekends, I spend a lot of time in our backyard. As mentioned, my gardens surround the house, but there is a garden in the back that goes 16 feet up a hillside and it spans over 50 feet wide. This garden just looks better all the time as the new plants become established. Beyond it is forest, and beyond that is the yard of a home on the cul-de-sac behind us, but we can’t see it in the summertime when the woods have filled out. Our yard is private enough that we don’t see our neighbours beside us when we are in the back.
In the past year, we have had many sightings of other wildlife, more unexpected visitors than we thought were possible within the city, but our home is very much on the outer edge of Bracebridge. Several times, we have seen black bears come through, last October especially, but we also saw one this past July in front of our garage. These sightings inspired me to create a few paintings for the Muskoka Arts & Crafts’ Spring Members’ Show earlier this year, two of which are below.
Each piece is 36″ x 36″. As usual, I try to create something very different from what I see other artists are doing. I enjoy being innovative and exploring with mediums. These were made with acrylic paint and acrylic fluid and gel mediums. I used a matte gel to build up the fur and I shaped it with sculpting tools to give the fur texture. Most people want to touch the fur when they see the paintings. Viewers notice the curiosity in the eyes of the fox pup and the anxiousness of the bear cub, as they look out from the canvas. The mother fox and bear are confident and aware, seeming to ignore the human viewer, but ready at a moment’s notice to call their young and protect them.
When we see these fantastic creatures on our property, or the evidence of their passing, we respect them and keep our distance. I’ve missed getting photos of them, for obvious reasons, as they are gone before I can get my camera (except the deer and the wild turkeys). We don’t leave out any garbage or compost for them to encourage them at all, but in the wintertime we can’t stop the foxes from checking for mice in our window wells, not that we’ve had any mice get in our house, but maybe they are keeping the population down.
If we do ever have the urge to move from our current property, the next place will need to promise as much, or more, in way of nature sightings. We may not live on waterfront, but we do currently live across the road from the Muskoka River (in the front) and near a swamp (across the road in the back).
For nearly 20 years, we had been vacationing in the north, before we decided to live here. To be more clear, I should explain that my idea of the north was really Central Ontario, not Northern Ontario. A 4-hour drive was long enough for this South-Western Ontario-born, small town girl who does not love the cold. But it really does take at least a 4 hour drive from London to “arrive” in Ontario’s Cottage Country. The air itself always seems to change not long after we drive past Orillia (on Hwy. #11), and there is a brighter “blue” to the sky. Granite boulders become commonplace, the trees grow thicker together, and lakes and rivers are abundant. It is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream, not to mention that of photographers and artists of all kinds.
My first visit to Algonquin Park had me hooked on the geographical features of the Canadian Shield, along with its abundant flora and fauna. We returned to Algonquin Park on our honeymoon in October of 1997, but we stayed in a resort just outside the east gate of the park, which allowed us the best of both worlds. At the resort, we canoed on Galeairy Lake, where I took many photographs with my old Fuji camera (below is obviously a scan of a printed photograph).
When you take that long of a drive to enjoy the sights and adventures, it’s difficult to leave for that return trip home. We tended to leave as late as possible, and we’d often fit in a visit to see one of my husband’s sisters and her family. Our brother-in-law has operated a business in Bracebridge for the past 25 years, and they have lived on many different parcels of lakefront property on Lake Muskoka. Sometimes, we would visit Muskoka for long weekends and stay at their large (year-round) cottage home for the duration, while taking day trips in various directions to explore the area.
There was always more to enjoy, whether it was simple, dockside relaxation or activities to be had on the lake. Other times, we went on excursions to make memories. Back in 2004 on one of our trips to Lake Muskoka, we took our kids out for a daytrip to a wildlife sanctuary, not far from Orillia. We saw nearly every large animal from this habitat that you could imagine (wolves, bald eagles, moose, wolverine, etc.), all of which had been rescued for one reason or another. Other excursions included the canopy walk in the Haliburton forest, and many, many artist studio tours.
When we moved to Muskoka in September of 2015, we were expecting another adventure of sorts, but it unfolded a little differently, because we now lived in Muskoka year-round. Previously, we always visited during the summer months or up until the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend in October. That September was a busy month of unpacking, helping the kids settle in to new schools (grades, 10, 9 and 7), and getting our house ready for the long winter. The breezeway was being converted to a fully insulated and finished “mudroom” entryway with laundry and a closet for a family of 5. There was no way we could deal with all 5 of us using the front door with all our boots and coats, not to mention the dirt, snow and salt. And our boots and coats would have become frozen in the old breezeway, the way it was.
Well, it was a far cry from the in-laws’ lake house, but we saw its potential. See all those thistles that already went to seed in the front garden? When we moved in on September 1st, they were over 6 feet tall and they took the garden over from the perennials. Common milkweed was growing, nearly as tall as me, by the breezeway door. On the inside, however, the house was mostly move-in ready.
Much love and determination went into the transformation of our house and property. To make a long story short, here are some of pics of the house after a couple of months. It is very picturesque in the wintertime.
And here it is now:
I’ll save the garden photos for another time. I love my backyard!
Suffice it to say, we are still enjoying Muskoka. My art studio is still in its early stages, but I have art hanging all over my house. That’s also for another post.