12 September finds me painting at our "Long Lake campsite" south of Cochrane, Ontario. This is the old highway between the spots where I painted the lake and the new forest. Fred and Jim Rising happened to camp here in 1972 while looking for birds and frogs. Fred and I visited the site coming back from out west in 1977, and began to camp here on a regular basis, looking for Wood Frogs, in 1983. In 1992 Fred's father died of a heart attack where this road meets the highway - right at the spot where the road disappears against distant trees in this painting. He had so looked forward to returning since he'd camped here with Fred and our first daughter Elsa in the spring of 1983, and he collapsed within minutes of arrival.
Looking back up the road toward the highway, my eyes rest on the spot to the left of the road where his little truck stood until it was towed away for scrap. The gentle sunset has closed so many days since then, at the end of this loop of the old highway, and camping here now has the comforting feel of returning home. As I sit in the middle of the old abandoned highway to paint, Fred has walkedup the road behind me to a track through the woods that we call "the transect", which ends at the south end of Long Lake, called "Warrick Lake" on the maps (a name nobody around here has ever heard).
The pond on the right (hidden by bushes) is enclosed by cattails and full of water. In the spring of 2010 we came to check on the local population of Wood Frogs and found most of their eggs killed by a late, hard frost. This year they've had a hot, dry summer, though not the severe drought that we've had at home, and we wonder if the scarcity of Wood Frogs on the track along the transect may be due to dry weather, or to the absence of the frogs which never hatched in the unseasonably cold spring in 2010.
In the north where temperatures are cooler, small, cold-blooded creatures like frogs mature more slowly, and so must live a few years longer to reproduce successfully. Overall, the population of Wood Frogs here seems to be declining, but we don't know whether this could be due to problems with the ponds and reproduction, or the surrounding woods growing up in what were open spaces, reducing the diversity of ground-level insects.
We hope that lots of young Wood Frogs survived this past summer, and that they have a safe winter with good snow cover and a normal spring next year. In this time of increasing unpredictability in seasonal weather, all amphibian populations may be considered "at risk".
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