Remnant Wildspace (oil on canvas 4 x 6 in.)
Yes, bright blue shopping carts - festooned with drifted grass and marooned in tangles of driftwood. We thought there might be access to the ravine from the back of this Highway 7 shopping centre on the west side of Markham, and there is! My artistic eye was entranced by the colour and composition - the gesture of dry branches and the contrast between muddy browns and the bright plastic blue - but my naturalists eye was caught by deer tracks in the muddy bank, and paw prints of Raccoon and Mink.
Under the ravine-bank spruces, near the footbridge I discovered finger-nail pink Cepaea shells, and yellow ones with brown stripes hide like easter eggs midst the dry leaf litter, with pinky-tip-size Succineid shells, weathered chalky white. Cepaea snails with pink shells are not as common as the striped form, but here they are 50/50, with very few pattern variations among the striped ones.
Garlic Mustard is the dominant vegetation on the west bank, and Fred also noticed a clump of Swallowwort ("Dog Strangling Vine") and thick knobby dead stems and patches of germinating seeds that he suspects to be Pink Jewelweed.
As we retrace our route through the parking lots around the perimeter of the shopping centre and resume our course east along Highway 7, I am appalled at how recent most of the development is, all along the highway - on land that must have been wild or agricultural only a few years ago. Mink, Raccoons, and Whitetailed Deer have now had their habitat restricted to the ravines, and share them with shopping carts.
The place that was here before the mall is called Brown's Corners on the map, and the creek that I have painted is the Rouge River, the headwaters of the Rouge Park, North America's largest urban park. Fred found one golf ball per square metre on the rocky, muddy bottom, and no fresh water mussels. He has often commented that the Rouge Park stewards have never replied to his offers to survey the river for mussels - perhaps this is because they have none...