Taking Photographs That Match Your Mind

Nina scoping her shot with her iPhone (photo by Merridy Cox)

You see something breathtaking and say to yourself: I have to take a picture of that! You snap it with your camera or phone, happy that you’ve captured the moment. When you return home and review your shots on the computer to share, you get to that breathtaking scene and your first thought is: why on Earth did I take a picture of that?!

The shot is nothing like what you remembered. That dull and lifeless scene is the farthest thing from breathtaking. What happened?

Nina checks her photo on her iPhone (photo by Merridy Cox)

When Your Mind and Your Camera Don’t Agree

We see with our eyes, but we feel and process meaning with our brain. And it’s the brain that determines what we finally see. What we see is our brain’s interpretation of the scene. We adjust what we see with meaning.

The camera doesn’t interpret. It is a tool that works based on principles of light, focus, depth of field, breadth of field, and resolution & detail. What a DSLR camera set on automatic, a compact camera and a smartphone have in common is that they are all set to capture the best shot, given the right conditions of light, contrast and motion. If you shoot with a camera set on automatic, it is acting as your brain, but without the interpretation of meaning. You’ve given away that power. Like a benevolent dictator, the camera/phone is boss of your shots, dictating what it was designed to do to get the best shot in those particular conditions. The trouble with that is the camera doesn’t see with your brain. It’s idea of the ‘best shot’ is based on a set of criteria created by a manufacturer. It works great only in certain conditions—those best anticipated by the manufacturer (e.g. optimum light and distance). But, make no mistake: you will not get what your brain sees. You might think so, but you won’t.

A short while ago, when I was visiting a good friend in British Columbia, we got into talking about photography and I mentioned how I had returned from using a tablet and phone (for convenience) to my Canon DSLR camera (for quality); I’d ditched the camera in favour of the light convenient iPhone, which I found easy, particularly when travelling. But I soon became frustrated and disappointed at not achieving what my brain saw. Returning to the DSLR camera allowed me to significantly improve my shots. My friend’s daughter—an avid picture taker with her mobile phone—challenged me: “Are you sure your camera takes better pictures?” I wanted to laugh, but then I realized that she was serious, born from the confidence of her own pictures—which I’d seen and must acknowledge are very good for composition and sharpness. Closer inspection reveals that these were all achieved within a boundary of conditions. The lighting was optimal, the distance was good, the composition sufficiently simple to accommodate the camera’s limitations; so what her brain saw, the camera reflected, at least fairly well.

Nina (decades ago) with her Minolta SLR and long lens (photo by H. Klassen)

But it is impossible for a smartphone or any automatic camera to achieve certain effects that only my DSLR camera set on manual or semi-manual can provide (e.g. setting my depth of field, adjusting for that right bokeh, playing with exposure, achieving natural light and a high resolution image in a low-light situation, getting very close or zooming far away with a dedicated lens). In addition, DSLR cameras outperform smartphone cameras because their sensors are much larger, let in more light, and produce more dynamic range in low-light scenarios. This allows them to capture greater detail than smartphone cameras or compact cameras. Ultimately, as Smartframe acknowledges, “the gap between what’s possible on the smartphones and dedicated cameras remains significant.” The argument is similar for a regular camera set on automatic vs one set on manual or semi-manual.   

I’ve been there. Automatic settings on a camera and smartphone (which is basically like a camera on automatic) can only do so much to match what your brain sees. And they can be mighty annoying—particularly when the camera’s brain prefers to focus on the wrong thing.

Above: automatic setting went for background focus; below, setting corrected for foreground focus (photos of Earthstars in a cedar forest by Nina Munteanu)

If you truly want to get what your brain sees, you have to take over the brainpower of the camera. That means either tricking the automatic setting or going off automatic to manual or semi-manual on a camera (no smartphones currently come with manual settings, nor will they; although they may have some correcting software, which isn’t the same thing.) For the past decade the market is changing for phone cameras and compact cameras—there is Nikon’s Coolpix S800c, which combines an Android OS with a long zoom lens and touchscreen-based interface and Panasonic’s Lumix CM1 blends a traditional smartphone with a 1-inch sensor. Samsung’s Galaxy Camera 2 integrates an Android OS with 3G capabilities and a 21x optical zoom. They all remain limited with respect to matching what your brain sees to what your camera takes.

Getting Your Camera To Agree with Your Brain

Successfully getting your camera (or smartphone) to match your brain-sight starts with recognizing the various aspects of a captured image. These include:

  • focus (sharp or soft): what’s in focus and what isn’t in focus
  • depth of field: how deep the focused region is
  • lighting: colour saturation and contrast
  • resolution (sharpness)
  • motion (or lack of it)
  • composition (what is in focus and what isn’t and where everything sits)
  • bokeh (the look of the unfocused part)

All of these, once recognized, can be manipulated on your camera. On a smartphone or auto-camera, most of these factors must be addressed as best as you can by shifting your position or aim, changing the time of day or lighting when you take your picture, or changing your subject and surroundings. In other words, by manipulating what your brain sees.

I won’t lie; it’s not easy to manipulate what the camera takes to match what your brain sees. It takes dedication and time. But it starts with recognizing what needs manipulating: training your eyes and brain to really see what you’re taking a photo of and understanding what your camera has to do to achieve it.

Nina photographing a tributary of the Otonabee River, ON, with her Canon DSLR (photo by Matthew P. Barker, Peterborough Examiner)

How Our Eyes and Brains See

It helps to understand how our eyes see and how our brains process what we see, particularly what is different from what a camera does. This includes angle of view; resolution and detail; and sensitivity and dynamic range. 

Angle of View: Our angle of view isn’t straightforward like a camera with a particular lens with set focal length (e.g. wide angle vs. telephoto lens). Cambridge in Colour tells us that “even though our eyes capture a distorted wide angle image, we reconstruct this to form a 3D mental image that is seemingly distortion-free.” Our central angle of view—around 40-60º—is what most impacts our perception. “Subjectively, this would correspond with the angle over which you could recall objects without moving your eyes,” says Cambridge in Colour.

Rendition of what eye / brain focuses on (image from Cambridge in Colour)

Resolution and Detail: Cambridge in Colour tells us that 20/20 vision is mostly restricted to our central vision; we never actually resolve that much detail in a single glance. Away from the centre, our visual ability decreases and at the periphery we only detect large-scale contrast and minimal colour. A single glance, therefore, mostly perceives the centre in resolution. Because our brain remembers memorable textures, colour and contrast (not pixel by pixel), our eyes focus on several regions of interest in rapid succession, which paints our perception. “The end result is a mental image whose detail has been prioritized based on interest.” It is our interest that dictates what we see and ultimately informs our memory of that image.

How our eye / brain integrates depth of field and exposure for background and foreground (image by Cambridge in Colour)

Sensitivity & Dynamic Range: According to Cambridge in Colour, our eyes have the equivalent of over 24 f-stops. This is because our brains integrate background and foreground to create a mental image that integrates these.

Matching the Camera to Our Brain

The next step is to learn how to manipulate the camera to achieve these. This means learning how to use the f-stop, how to manipulate the shutter speed, how to change the ISO setting, and what all these, in turn, produce in terms of focus, depth of field, lighting, exposure, saturation, resolution, bokeh and more. Taking a course in photography is a good way to start. Experiment with settings. Learn about the equipment. Lenses. Filters. Tripods. Go on a camera shoot with a photographer who knows about these. It promises to be ultimately rewarding and fulfilling.

I wanted the entire foreground group of Shaggy Main mushrooms to be in focus and the background less focused but recognizable; I therefore set my f-stop at 18, which gave me a slower shutter speed (and I had to stabilize my camera) with sufficient depth of field (photo by Nina Munteanu)
I used a higher speed and smaller f-stop of these cardamom pods and seeds to create a more shallow depth of field that focuses attention on a particular aspect of interest and keeps the image from looking flat (photo by Nina Munteanu)
A medium f-stop allowed me to freehold my camera and capture a crisp shot of the person and sled but a motion-blurred shot of the dog–achieving a sense of motion in the shot (photo by Nina Munteanu)
I oriented my camera for a portrait (vs landscape) shot to showcase the height and gigantic size of these red cedars in Lighthouse Park, Vancouver, and ensured a person was in the shot for perspective (photo by Nina Munteanu)
I used a low f-stop (which in good light does not appreciably reduce depth of field) to achieve high speed in capturing the three divers off the cliff (photo of ocean cliff in BC by Nina Munteanu)
I used a high f-stop and stabilized camera to achieve a softer look to the moving water and also get higher depth of field to see both stationary foreground and background (photo by Nina Munteanu)

I’ve been on my journey for over a decade and I’m still learning. From my son, from others, from my own experiences. That’s the fun part, after all. It’s an adventure of discovery…

My Canon camera on its tripod (photo taken with tablet by Nina Munteanu)

NINA MUNTEANU is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit  www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press(Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” was released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in June 2020.

My Autumn World… An Ekphrastic Poem by Bev Gorbet

Sugar maple tree with fallen leaves in autumn, ON (photo and rendition by Nina Munteanu)

My world: most wondrous, mystic shelter, 
Holy meridian of a life’s overwhelming mystery,
Magic center of hope
Haunting universe of a deepest longing…

Reflections of trees on outlet of creek into Otonabee River, ON (photo and rendition by Nina Munteanu)

My autumn world, tormented season
And still time of the calm pastoral moon:
Skies overhead, windtossed wildernesses,
Seasons of joy, seasons of a bittersweet discontent
Time’s last flowering before a fierce winter of silences

Snowing in treed meadow, ON (photo and rendition by Nina Munteanu)

Autumn ‘s last reflections midst storm ravaged skies…
Last songs, the changing lights,
Amber and golden hours
Windswept calls, wild cry, surge, a windswept rage
Rising lights, moving shadow across far spread field,
Across wide spread glade…

Creek flowing into Otonabee River, ON in early winter (photo and rendition by Nina Munteanu)

A sacred bend and flow this existential time,
Rhapsodies across a dying land
Rain and storm riven sky songs,
Windsong days, wild  blasts to ravage and torment

Horizontal snow in a strong snow storm, ON (photo and rendition by Nina Munteanu)

The high windstorm prophesies:
Promises of a fierce unmanning;
Storm and lost days, winter and last days’
Their  return too soon presage….
Haunted universes of a deepest longing.

Marsh at lagoon of Otonabee River in winter fog, ON (photo and rendition by Nina Munteanu)

Bev Gorbet is a Toronto poet. She has published several poems with the Retired Teachers Organization and most recently in “Literary Connection IV: Then and Now” (In Our Words Inc., 2019), edited by Cheryl Antao Xavier. 

Moss-covered rocks and leaf fall in Jackson Creek, ON (photo and rendition by Nina Munteanu)

NINA MUNTEANU is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit  www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press(Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” was released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in June 2020.

The Verge–When the Water Sprites Dance…

Jackson Creek just before sunset, ON (photo by Nina Munteanu)



It was early evening in late summer, when the sunlight was gentle and rich with the promise of golden light. I was walking in one of my favourite forests—the pine-cedar woodland that smelled of needles, bark and loam. This was Jackson Creek forest. Where some time ago I’d glimpsed a blue forest sprite

The water in the creek was low, in places exposing its bones—boulders and cobbles that emerged out of the stream into the dry light. I walked along the creek bank, beside tranquil glades and chortling riffles. The creek trickled with the most delicious sounds, like chatty water sprites having tea, watercress sandwiches and fresh scones with jam …

Sunlit water cascades over rocks of Jackson Creek, ON (photo by Nina Munteanu)

I set up my camera on the rocks to capture the silky green and gold reflections of the overhanging trees in the water. Oak, beech, and ironwood along with shrubs and grasses crowded the banks of the creek in a parade of leaves and flowers. Long arms of the cedar tree bent low over the creek as if reaching out to touch water’s skin.

Cedar tree overhangs Jackson Creek, ON (photo by Nina Munteanu)

In the gladed pools, the water swirled as if in slow motion in a fluid mosaic that mirrored the riparian forest. Each tree gave the water its unique shade in a diurnal dance that heralded the coming dusk and nightfall.

I walked the ythlaf, that remnant stretch of half-dried river bed, revealed by ebbing water. A place in-between land and water. I teetered on rocks and cobbles covered in dried periphyton, and angled the camera for long exposures up to f32. I crouched, squatted, crawled and kneeled on the cobbles, boulders and snags to position the camera just right. At times I danced to keep from falling in knee-deep water and laughed with thoughts of how the sprites were watching from below and taking bets on my possible spill into the water. I imagined their chortling giggles of anticipation.  

Water cascading over rocks in Jackson Creek, ON (photo by Nina Munteanu)

Then, with the patience of a heron, I captured the various faces of the creek during its golden hours. The water’s silken threads sparkled in the raking sunlight and hugged the rocks in swirling clouds.

Water swirls around rocks of Jackson Creek, ON (photo by Nina Munteanu)

We were nearing that in-between time, when all nature hushes for a life-breath as time descends for the briefest moment into a deep stillness. We lurked like thieves in that intermediate place of becoming, a diurnal ecotone poised on the threshold between night and day. The gloaming verge of a forest where dark and light danced with uncertain intent.

Glade of Jackson Creek, ON (photo by Nina Munteanu)

Immersed in the cheerful melody of the creek, I imagined the water sprites again, playing in the watercress forest, among the spinners, caddises and stonefly nymphs. I imagined them, plump gilled water-babies or slender creatures with winking faces, diaphanous wings sparkling in the slanting sunlight as they stirred up algae and organic detritus.

Were they dancing?

NINA MUNTEANU is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit  www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press(Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” was released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in June 2020.

Walking in the Rain: Part Two

Flooding creek in Trent Nature Sanctuary during a rain, ON (photo and rendition by Nina Munteanu)

One morning, in late spring, I went walking in the rain through the Trent Nature Sanctuary forest. Looking for magic…

Moisture covered everything. It coaxed out vivid colours and textures in a tangle of stable chaos. I felt like I’d entered a Tom Thomson painting…

Moss-covered cedar trees after a soft rain in Trent Nature Sanctuary, ON (photo by Nina Munteanu)

The rain intensified the forest’s mosaic of unique scents from pungent, heavy and sharp to floral, fresh and sweet. The gossamer morning light favoured photography with a gentleness that softened and deepened everything, and invited intimacy. Mist hung low and rose like steam from the damp earth, slowing time. It felt as though I was walking through a cloud. The forest emerged ghost-like in glimpses of tree, shrub and grass. The brilliant red of the osier dogwood. The vivid greens of mosses and leaves. A tangle of blue-green lichens and bright red cedar roots. I was witness to a chaotic tapestry of Nature’s art. Infinite shades of green, brown, grey and yellow created a fluid landscape that water painted into a vibrant watercolour scene.

I moved through it, boots squelching along the spongy loam path, as though wrapped in a moving artwork.

Dew drops on hawksweed, lichen fruiting bodies in background, ON (photo by Nina Munteanu)
Moss with spore capsules in the rain, Trent Nature Sanctuary, ON (photo by Nina Munteanu)
Cedar roots and ferns in the heavy mist of a morning rain, Trent Nature Sanctuary, ON (photo by Nina Munteanu)
Cedar root and moss during a mild rain, Trent Nature Sanctuary, ON (photo by Nina Munteanu)
Cedar root and moss shortly after a rain, Trent Nature Sanctuary, ON (photo by Nina Munteanu)

The moisture carried the warbles and fluting chirps of lively bird song amid the hush of raindrops on vegetation. Each surface had a unique voice. And the rainfall—from light drizzle to hard pour—carried its own tune, rhythm and percussion. A symphony of diverse frequency from rich infrasound to beyond. 

Nina’s Canon EOS Rebel camera on its tripod, ready to take photos, Trent Nature Sanctuary, ON (photo by Nina Munteanu)

I kept my camera, attached to its tripod, tucked under several water-proof bags and walked with deliberate steps through wet duff, decayed leaves and mud. I had a hood but couldn’t stand to keep it up—I needed to hear and feel all of it: the rain sizzling through the vegetation, the red-winged blackbird’s conk-a-lee! The robin’s cheerily-cheer-up-cheerily-cheer up! The crow’s caw and rattle. The primordial shriek of a blue jay or kingbird. All were out, though not visible, as I navigated the huge puddles and slippery mud-leaf mix. Hair dripping, face in a grin.

Rain falling on the marsh to the Otonabee River, ON (photo by Nina Munteanu)
Pond lilies in the rain, ON (photo by Nina Munteanu)
Rain falls on the Otonabee River, ON (photo by Nina Munteanu)

I felt elation in Nature’s celebration of life.

I was the only person in the park and thoroughly basked in that feeling of humbleness that comes with a kind of knowing: of being part of something far greater than oneself and yet in some way being that greater ‘self.’ Like I belonged there. Hard to explain. But it felt truly awesome and eternal.

Nina Munteanu
Boardwalk over the forest swamp, Trent Nature Sanctuary, ON (photo by Nina Munteanu)
Fence post with marsh in the background during a steady rainfall, ON (photo by Nina Munteanu)
Country road in the rain, ON (photo and rendition by Nina Munteanu)

I could have stayed there, wet in the rain, for hours. But I felt sorry for my camera and headed home, thinking of a warm cup of tea… 

NINA MUNTEANU is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit  www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press(Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” was released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in June 2020.

A Late Autumn Snowfall–An Ekphrastic Poem by Bev Gorbet

Otonabee River glints in the sun as it snows, ON (photo and rendition by Nina Munteanu)

An autumn’s last days, fierce snowfalls, fall lights and storm
The autumn landscape now full of wild moods,
Hints of a magic wilderness and an encircling cold,
The bitter winds, the fast falling hail:
Landscape echo and retreat

Mallards contently swim the marsh under a heavy snow, ON (photo and rendition by Nina Munteanu)

Snow veil mists over the receiving marsh lands:
Somber cloud grays, shades of amber glow…
Mallard ducks unconcernedly paddling 
On the smooth black marsh waters
The snows above falling in majestic blizzards:
Powerful bursts of snow over treetop
And bended bough,
Moody haze lit skies high falling away
In blasts of snow and wind

Heavy snow falls in the riparian forest, ON (photo and rendition by Nina Munteanu)

Snowy reflections over high treetop above…
Snowy days and last messages of a fading autumn’s glory:
Detritus of bronze leaf, the withered beauty of a fading goldenrod
A final sadness, autumn’s last messages, 
Haunted promises of a brilliant winter sunshine
On snowy fields, velvet days and gold

Snow flies horizontally in a fierce wind, ON (photo and rendition by Nina Munteanu)

Now the forests bend, overwhelmed by the flying snow
Thick tumbling down, shards of ice and rain
Clouds of snow falling everywhere
Forest pathways now covered in a lucent white glow,
The shaded greens of cedar and fir picked out in a forest landscape;
The continuing deluge, wild nature’s primordial powers: 
Mad windstorm and snow drift

Sun emerges over Thompson Creek marsh after the snowstorm, ON (photo and rendition by Nina Munteanu)

The still marsh waters now reflect the gray cloud, the  sky high above
All the windstorm madness, the bog detritus on the still marsh 
Now snow covered and silent, the snowfall ended
The marsh now a sacred retreat: worlds of a glorious and gentle reflection,
A tender, and radiant peace overall.

Bev Gorbet is a Toronto poet and retired school teacher. She has published several poems with the Retired Teachers Organization and most recently in “Literary Connection IV: Then and Now” (In Our Words Inc., 2019), edited by Cheryl Antao Xavier.

Thompson Creek marsh after a first snow in late autumn, ON (photo and rendition by Nina Munteanu)
Nina Munteanu revels in a snowstorm in Ontario (photo by Merridy Cox)

Chasing the Blue Forest Sprite

Cedar forest and extensive roots amid glacial erratics flank Jackson Creek on the right, ON (photo by Nina Munteanu)

It was a cold November day, after a light snow, as I wandered the Jackson Creek old-growth forest. Centuries-old cedar, pine and hemlock towered above me, giving off the fresh scent of forest. The trees creaked and cracked, swaying in a mischievous wind.  I left the main path and descended the leaf-strewn slope toward the river. My boots pressed through a frosty crust into the spongy ground of dead leaves and organic soil. I stopped and breathed in the fresh coolness of the air. A damp mist huddled among the trees, adding wisps of mystery to the ancient forest. It was as though I’d entered an enchanted forest in some fanciful fairy tale.

Cedar forest on slope of Jackson Creek Park in early winter, ON (photo by Nina Munteanu)

Not far from the river, I approached an old yellow birch tree, large trunk rising as tall as some of the cedars and pines around it. Golden flakes of bark curled and formed craggy patterns around the girth of the old tree. Radiating out from the tree, moss-covered roots snaked out like tangled ropes in a profusion of brilliant green. This was fairy country, I suddenly thought.

I dropped to my knees, crouching down, and set up my tripod and camera to capture this magical tree from the perspective of the forest floor. Head almost touching the ground, I inhaled the scent of loam and decaying leaves. The fresh pungency of cedar, pine, and humid moss hung in the air. Nearby, the river chortled and bubbled in a content symphony of motion. A curious red squirrel parked itself on a log nearby to watch me. It didn’t scold me like they normally did when I entered the forest; like it understood… It then occurred to me, as I set up my equipment under the squirrel’s careful stare, that I was in the presence of an enchantment. Like I was peering into a secret dance of feral celebration. But being there and appreciating it, I had now become part of it; I was Alice going down the rabbit hole into a true wonderland…

It was then that I glimpsed it as I carefully took my timed pictures. A blur of blue. What had I witnessed? A motion? A colour? Then it was gone. But in that moment, I’d felt the spark of an elation that comes with a glimpse into a secret world.

Old yellow birch tree and moss-covered roots with approaching blue sprite from left (photo by Nina Munteanu)

When I returned home to look at the images I saw that my camera had captured a wispy blue entity that flowed into its view and peered around the old birch at me with a kind of curious though mischievous grin. 

Had I just captured a blue sprite? Something was unmistakably there!

Forest sprite peers around a yellow birch tree, Jackson Creek Park, ON (photo by Nina Munteanu)

I read up on sprites. According to European lore, a sprite is a supernatural entity. They are often depicted as fairy-like creatures or as an ethereal entity. The word sprite comes from the Latin spiritus (“spirit”), via the French esprit.

Given that the sprite I’d observed was blue and we were close to the river, I wondered if it was not a forest or wood sprite, but a water sprite. According to alchemist Paracelsus, the term ‘water sprite’ is used for any elemental spirit associated with water. They can breathe water or air and sometimes can fly. They also possess the power of hydrokinesis, which is the ability to create and manipulate water at will. Also known as ‘water nymphs’ and naiads (or nyads), these divine entities tend to be fixed in one place. Slavic mythology calls them vilas. Sprites are not corporeal beings (like selkies, mermaids and sirens) given that they are not purely physical; they are more like local deities than animals. This explained the wispy nature of the being I’d seen peering at me from the tree.

“Dancing Fairies” by August Malmström

After consulting with several friends—some who purported to know much more about sprites than I did—I concluded that this sprite was, in fact, a forest sprite and it was blue because it was near the water. Friend Merridy suggested that “forest sprites, normally green, may turn blue if a nearby brook calls to them.” She added that “water sprites can be distinguished by their chatty nature. They rarely go beyond the banks of a river or brook. Forest sprites are mostly silent.” Which this one certainly was. Friend Craig then pondered, “Are digital sprites in our world or in an electro-magnetic world? Or something else?” He was referring to them showing up on my camera without me even noticing they were there. When I told him I would return in search of them he observed, “if you’re looking for them that might be when they hide. Or maybe not. Any type of sprite is probably good, mischievous or friendly.” Thanks, Craig! That was helpful…  

Glacial erratic boulders in Jackson Creek, ON (photo by Nina Munteanu)
Century-old beech tree, decaying and moss-covered in early winter, Jackson Creek Park, ON (photo by Nina Munteanu)
Ancient cedar tree stands next to an ice sheet on the path beside Jackson Creek, ON (photo by Nina Munteanu)

I visited the forest many times after but saw no sign of any sprites. Perhaps Craig was right; they were hiding from me.

Then, on a foggy late December day, after a light dusting of snow, I returned to document the ice forming in the river. Islands and columns of ice had created a new topography for the flowing waters of Jackson Creek. Ice sheets also covered the forest path in places—making the walk somewhat treacherous. At times, I had to scramble and seize hold of branches to haul my way up precipitous banks from where I’d captured sculptures of ice ‘pearls,’ ‘platforms,’ and ‘columns’ on the river. 

Ice forming on Jackson Creek in early winter, ON (photo by Nina Munteanu)
Ice ‘pearls’ forming on shore by rushing river, Jackson Creek, ON (photo by Nina Munteanu)

The fog grew thick as my walk eventually led me into an area of eccentric lopsided cedars in a ‘drunken’ stand by the river bank. The cedars sent out a tangled tapestry of gnarly roots I had to negotiate. I could feel the earth-magic. I dropped to my knees again and set my camera and tripod to the level of the roots. That is when I saw the blue sprite again! This time the sprite wasn’t playful; it appeared startled and disoriented. But, I managed to capture it as it fled the scene in wisps of blue smoke. As I left the forest, my thoughts returned to this serendipitous moment. Had I interrupted the wood /earth sprite in its work in the forest? These sprites are known to have the power of chlorokinesis, the ability to grow and control plants at will. When I checked my images at home, the sprite appeared to float near one of the cedars.

 

Blue forest sprite floats by cedar tree, Jackson Creek Park, ON (photo by Nina Munteanu)

When she saw the image, friend Merridy asked, “was the sprite entering the tree?” Thinking of incantations, friend Dyana asked if I’d had my recording feature on, which I’d never thought to do. On second thought, she decided that it might be dangerous. Not a good idea to anger a sprite. Friend Gabriela then challenged me: “did you ask what message they have for you, Nina? They keep showing up in your way, they might have a message for you or to be delivered through you to…” whoever… I hadn’t thought of that either. How would I hear their message when they were silent and so fleeting, I challenged back. She wisely responded, “Just ask yourself the question; you might be surprised when your next thought brings the answer. Since everything is energy, and you saw them at least twice, you’re probably connected with them.”

Sprite vaporizes behind tree, Jackson Creek Park, ON (photo by Nina Munteanu)

I didn’t tell her that the question that came to mind after seeing the sprite was: I wonder what’s for dinner!

I must ponder this more, however. 

Cedar forest on a misty winter day, Jackson Creek Park, ON (photo by Nina Munteanu)

Thinking of Gabriela’s interesting remark, I am reminded of a rather sad but evocative tale by Vladimir Nabokov entitled “The Wood Sprite.” Told in the first person, it recounts the narrator’s experience when he was visited at his desk by an old wood sprite, “powdered with the pollen of the frosty, starry night.” The creature tells of his exile from a country wood in Russia, all cut down and burned amid the treachery of war. 

I was pensively penning the outline of the inkstand’s circular, quivering shadow. In a distant room a clock struck the hour, while I, dreamer that I am, imagined someone was knocking at the door, softly at first, then louder and louder. He knocked twelve times and paused expectantly…

His shabby little coat seemed to be buttoned wrong – on the female side. In his hand he held a cap—no, a dark-colored, poorly tied bundle, and there was no sign of any cap….

Yes, of course I knew him – perhaps had even been fond of him, only I simple could not place the where and the when of our meetings. And we must have met often, otherwise I would not have had such a firm recollection of those cranberry lips, those pointy ears, that amusing Adam’s apple….

With a welcoming murmur I shook his light, cold hand. He perched like a crow on a tree stump, and began speaking hurriedly.

“It’s so scary in the streets. So I dropped in. Dropped in to visit you. Do you recognize me? You and I, we used to romp together and halloo at each for days at a time. Back in the old country. Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten?”

His voice literally blinded me. I felt dazzled and dizzy—I remembered the happiness, the echoing, endless, irreplaceable happiness….

No, it can’t be: I’m alone….it’s only some capricious delirium. Yet there really was somebody sitting next to me, bony and implausible, with long-earred German bootees, and his voice tintinnabulated, rustled-golden, luscious-green familiar – while the words were so simple, so human….

“There—you remember. Yes, I am a former Forest Elf, a mischievous sprite. And here I am, forced to flee like everyone else.”

He heaved a deep sigh, and once again I had visions of billowing nimbus, lofty leafy undulations, bright flashes of birch bark like splashes of sea foam, against a dulcet, perpetual, hum….He bent toward me and glanced gently into my eyes. “Remember our forest, fir so black, birch all white? They’ve cut it all down. The grief was unbearable – I saw my dear birches crackling and falling, and how could I help? Into the marshes they drove me, I wept and I howled, I boomed like a bittern, then left lickety-split for a neighboring pinewood.

“There I pined, and could not stop sobbing. I had barely grown used to it, and lo, there was no more pinewood, just blue-tinted cinders. Had to do some more tramping. Found myself a wood – a wonderful wood it was, thick, dark, and cool. Yet somehow it was just not the same thing. In the old days I’d frolic from dawn until dusk, whistle furiously, clap my hands, frighten passersby. You remember yourself – you lost your way once in a dark nook of my woods, you in some little white dress, and I kept tying the paths up in knots, spinning the tree trunks, twinkling through the foliage. Spent the whole night playing tricks. But I was only fooling around, it was all in jest, vilify me as they might. But now I sobered up, for my new abode was not a merry one. Day and night strange things crackled around me. At first I thought a fellow elf was lurking there; I called, then listened. Something crackled, something rumbled….but no, those were not the kinds of sounds we make. Once, toward evening, I skipped out into a glade, and what do I see? People lying around, some on their backs, some on their bellies. Well, I think, I’ll wake them up, I’ll get them moving! And I went to work shaking boughs, bombarding with cones, rustling, hooting….I toiled away for a whole hour, all to no avail. Then I took a closer look, and I was horror-struck. Here’s a man with his head hanging by one flimsy crimson thread, there’s one with a heap of thick worms for a stomach….I could not endure it. I let out a howl, jumped in the air, and off I ran….

“Long I wandered through different forests, but I could find no peace. Either it was stillness, desolation, mortal boredom, or such horror it’s better not to think about it. At last I made up my mind and changed into a bumpkin, a tramp with a knapsack, and left for good: Rus’, adieu! Here a kindred spirit, a Water-Sprite, gave me a hand. Poor fellow as on the run too. He kept marveling, kept saying – what times are upon us, a real calamity! And even if, in olden times, he had had his fun, used to lure people down (a hospitable one, he was!), in recompense, how he petted and pampered them on the gold river bottom, with what songs he bewitched them! These days, he says, only dead men come floating by, floating in batches, enormous numbers of them, and the river’s moisture is like blood, thick, warm, sticky, and there’s nothing for him to breathe….and so he took me with them.

“He went off to knock about some distance sea, and put me ashore on a foggy coast – go, brother, find yourself some friendly foliage. But I found nothing, and I ended up here in this foreign, terrifying city of stone. Thus I turned into a human, complete with proper starched collars and bootees, and I’ve even learned human talk….”

He fell silent. His eyes glistened like wet leaves, his arms were crossed, and, by the wavering light of the drowning candle, some pale strands combed to the left shimmered so strangely.

“I know you too are pining,” his voiced shimmered again, “but you’re pining, compared to mine, my tempestuous, turbulent pining, is but the even breathing of one who is asleep and think about it: not one of our Tribe is there left in the Rus’. Some of us swirled away like wisps of fog. Others scattered over the world. Our native rivers are melancholy, there is no frisky hand to splash up the moon-gleams. Silent are the orphaned bluebells that remain. By chance, unmown, the pale-blue gusli that once served my rival, the ethereal Field-Sprite, for his songs. A shaggy, friendly, household spirit, in tears, has forsaken your besmirched, humiliated home, and the groves that withered, the pathetically luminous, magically somber groves….

“It was we, Rus’, who were your inspiration, your unfathomable beauty, your age long enchantment! And we are all gone, gone, driven into exile by a crazed surveyor.

“My friend, soon I shall die, say something to me, tell me that you love me, a homeless phantom, come sit closer, give me your hand….”

The candle sputtered and went out. Cold fingers touched my palm. The familiar melancholy laugh pealed and fell still.

When I turned on the light there was no one in the armchair….no one!….nothing was left but a wondrously subtle scent in the room, of birch, of humid moss….

Now that I think of it, I know the blue sprite’s message. And now you know it too.

Cedar forest and roots amid glacial erratics in Jackson Creek Park, ON (photo by Nina Munteanu)

Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press(Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” was released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in June 2020.

Nature as Poet … Country Roads in Winter

Undulating hills of a farmer’s field in Kawartha countryside, ON (photo and dry brush rendition by Nina Munteanu)
Country road in Kawarthas during snowfall early winter, ON (photo and dry brush rendition by Nina Munteanu)
Farmer’s field by country road in early winter, ON (photo and dry brush rendition by Nina Munteanu)
Country road viewed from Kawartha drumlin during snowfall, ON (photo and dry brush rendition by Nina Munteanu)
Small farm in Kawartha countryside in winter, ON (photo and dry brush rendition by Nina Munteanu)
Country road in winter on a sunny day, ON (photo and dry brush rendition by Nina Munteanu)
Farmer’s field during snow fog of winter, ON (photo and dry brush rendition by Nina Munteanu)
Country road during snowfall, ON (photo and dry brush rendition by Nina Munteanu)
Farm and field during heavy snowfall, ON (photo and dry brush rendition by Nina Munteanu)
Country road in Kawarthas in winter, ON (photo and dry brush rendition by Nina Munteanu)
Farmer’s field aglow at sunset in winter, ON (photo and dry brush rendition by Nina Munteanu)

Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press(Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” was released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in June 2020.

Nature as Poet … The Forest in Winter

Woman and her dog walk the cedar swamp forest, Trent Nature Sanctuary, ON (photo and dry brush rendition by Nina Munteanu
Trail through cedar forest in first snow, Trent Nature Sanctuary, ON (photo and dry brush rendition by Nina Munteanu)
Moss covered roots and trunk of yellow birch after snowfall, Jackson Creek Park, ON (photo and dry brush rendition by Nina Munteanu)
Young marcescent beech tree among moss covered glacial erratics in Jackson Creek Park, ON (photo and dry brush rendition by Nina Munteanu)
Snow-covered marcescent beech leaves in Jackson Creek Park, ON (photo and dry brush rendition by Nina Munteanu)
Heavy snowfall at bridge in Trent Nature Sanctuary, ON (photo and rendition by Nina Munteanu)
Cedar pine forest after first snow, Jackson Creek Park, ON (photo and dry brush rendition by Nina Munteanu)

Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press(Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” was released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in June 2020.

“Postlude to a Winter’s Day” by Bev Gorbet–An Ekphrastic Poem

First big snow in Thompson Creek marsh, ON (photo by Nina Munteanu)

A winter’s rapture
White crystals piercing the envelope
Of the sheltering sky
Soft, slow falling down
Out of the cool receiving airs…

First snow, Rotary Trail, ON (photo by Nina Munteanu)

Sacred nocturne, a  gentle windfall:
All the pristine light of a still winter’s night
Stars fallen, reflected on snowy harvest field
and bough
Streetlight images dancing in rainbow
glow,
Blue and lavendar haze skies,
over a dark pine forest, over moonlight…

Pine tree in winter snow, ON (photo by Nina Munteanu)

The cool mists of a winter’s day
Veiled branch and bough 
everywhere down bent, pure weight
snow fall held close
Oh! sacred winter, season of stories:
Wedding of the earth to the stars

Restaurant in Zermatt, Switzerland (photo by Nina Munteanu)

Let us remember you well
When again the spring
will be upon us,
the winter rest over
and life now dormant will awaken;

Rural house in Bridgewater, NS (photo by Nina Munteanu)

The eternal cycle renewed
and all our love, all the living world…
Life renewed out of a purest silence:
Holy season of solitude, season of dreams.

Bev Gorbet, November, 2020

Snow path near Manning Park, BC (photo by Nina Munteanu)
The Matterhorn seen from Zermatt, Switzerland (photo by Nina Munteanu)
First big snow at outlet of Thompson Creek, ON (photo by Nina Munteanu)

Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press(Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” was released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in June 2020.

A True Rocky Mountain Gem: The Antique Forest of Robson Valley

In my novel A Diary in the Age of Water (Inanna Publications) the diarist writes about the huge reservoir complex that was built in the late 2020s in the Rocky Mountain Trench to create an 800 km long reservoir system to rehydrate the United States. Of course, it’s science fiction, but it was based on real plans (NAWAPA) that went all the way to congress in the 1960s. That reservoir might have drowned the rainforest conservation corridor of Robson Valley—a conservation area that continues to experience existential risk due to development, resource harvest, and other disturbance.

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Friend Anne walks the boardwalk of the ancient forest park

In Robson Valley—tucked between the Rocky and Cariboo Mountains of East-Central British Columbia, the Fraser River nourishes an ancient rainforest matched nowhere on Earth. Massive Western Redcedar (Thuja plicata)—some over 1200 years-old, 3.5 meters in diameter, and 45 meters high—thrive in this valley, nurtured by abundant groundwater flow and high humidity for healthy tree growth and reduced fire risk. “Unfortunately, this requirement for growth in wet toe-slope positions has had negative consequences for ancient cedar stands. Historically, roads and railroads were placed at the base of mountain slopes, where easy access on level roadside terrain meant that ancient cedar stands were often among the first sites chosen for logging. Ancient cedar stands now represent less than 5% of forested landscapes within the Upper Fraser River watershed.” (UNBC Plant Ecology)

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Moss-covered giant Redcedar in foreground to boardwalk

This valley contains the most extensive inland rainforest in the northern hemisphere and is the only valley in the Rocky Mountains where grizzly bears still feed on wild ocean-going salmon.

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Western Redcedar with wide buttresses

The Save-The-Cedar League also tells us that the Robson Rainforest is oroboreal: mountain-caused with boreal biome characteristics—unlike typical rainforests which are temperate-coastal or tropical. “Antique Forest” is a term used for ancient cedar-hemlock stands that have endured for more than 1000 years. One stand in Primordial Grove can be seen via a well-constructed boardwalk in a small park off Highway 16.

When I entered the ancient forest of magnificent giants with wide buttressed bases, a deep reverence came over me. No other word comes close to describing what I experienced or felt. I was enthralled and humbled by these magnificent trees, silent giants that rose into the mist like sentinels, piercing the heavens. It had rained that morning and the forest dripped with living moisture. Greens of all shades created a living mosaic of hue and texture. Moss covered everything. Lichen dripped off branches and clothed trees in crenulated patterns. The fragrance was intoxicating, a fresh pungency that woke something inside me. The smell has been variously described as “lingering”, “fresh”, “sweet”, “like pineapple when crushed”, or “almost like fresh water.” Even the breeze took on a different voice inside this living cathedral. A kind of deep hush that whispered of sacred grandness.

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Western Redcedar

I knew I was in a sacred place.

This ancient forest had been here at least a millennium; long before the arrival of Christopher Columbus to the Atlantic shores of North America. Long before us. Referred to as “the cornerstone of northwest coastal Indian culture,” the Western Redcedar is known as the “tree of life” and “life giver.” Groves of ancient cedars were symbols of power, and gathering places for ceremonies, retreat, and contemplation.

I kept to the boardwalk—to help prevent unwanted trampling and soil compression. The boardwalk snaked past giant buttressed trees that towered several stories high and formed a feathered canopy way above me. Whenever the boardwalk came close to a giant cedar, I had to stop and touch it. The reddish bark was smooth. I smiled; many others had done the same. In unavoidable reverence.

Breathing in the tree’s exquisite fragrance, I scanned my surroundings. A rich understory of red-berried Devil’s Club (Oplopanax horridus), huckleberry, fern, moss, liverworts and dense ground cover painted the forest floor in varying form and colour. I imagined the diversity of invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals that flourished here. I’m told that scientists are still finding new species in this rainforest. UBC scientists tell us that arboreal lichen communities of the inland rainforest, especially the epiphytic cyanolichen assemblages on conifers, are among the richest in the world.

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Nina Munteanu leans against a well-loved giant Western Redcedar

 

Gentle Giant of North Temporate Rainforest: Western Redcedar (Thuja plicata)

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Western Redcedar

The Western Redcedar (Thuja plicata) is one of the most magnificent conifers in Pacific Northwest forests (both coastal and inland); it flourishes along the coastal fog belt from Alaska to northern California, and inland from the Pacific Ocean to Montana. The Western Redcedar is actually an arborvitae—not a true cedar; acknowledged by its name “redcedar”. True cedars only grow in the Mediterranean regions of the world. “Thuja,” is the latinism for the ancient Greek word for a now unknown, long-lost aromatic evergreen wood; “plicata,” means “folded into plaits,” which may refer to the tree’s characteristic foliage or its furrowed, stringy bark. The heartwood is pink- to red-brown to deep warm brown and highly resistant to moisture, decay and insect infestation due to the oils and acids (polyoxylphenols) it produces; it’s the phenols, in fact, that give the cedar its distinctive and pleasant aroma.

Given their extensive root system, cedars can remain standing long after they die. Western Redcedar snags (standing dead trees) can remain intact for up to 125 years. The large snags provide habitat for many cavity-nesting birds and mammals. Many species that require snags for habitats also prey on insects that use trees in a fine balance of a functional ecosystem. Examples include the pileated woodpecker, squirrels, weasels, martens, bats, owls and ducks. A fallen cedar can remain on the forest floor for over a century. “This durability is the result of a natural preservative that is toxic to decay-causing fungi. This ability does not decrease with age; in fact, it increases,” writes Jeri Chase, Oregon forester.

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Devil’s Club

Several of these live ancient cedar trees grow out of the trunks of other live ancient cedars, following a 180 million-year-old pattern observed in the closely-related redwoods (Sequoia). Basal shoots of the trunk yield genetically-superior mature trees when compared to seeds, root sprouts, other shoots or other layering phenomena.

Western Redcedar reproduces from root or branch development on fallen trees—the classic “nurse logs” often seen in northwest forests that also nourish other forest species. The magnificent bark of the Redcedar ranges in color from grey to reddish brown, and is deeply furrowed, forming long flat fibrous plates that peel and shed easily. Wildlife use the cedar in many ways. The foliage is an important winter food for elk and is browsed year-long by deer and rodents. Black bears den in the hollowed-out trunks of old trees and the cedar-dominated old growth forests provide valuable habitat for spotted owls and Vaux swifts.

Functional Ecosystem & Symbiosis

red-backed_vole

Red-backed vole

The Robson Valley cedar-hemlock rainforest supports a diverse and efficient ecosystem from apex and keystone predator—the grizzly—to black bear, gray wolf, cougar, lynx, wolverine, coyote, and seven ungulate species (including the Mountain caribou); all feeding on a diversity of prey and primary producers. The Mountain caribou feeds on mountain boxwood shrubs which are sheltered by the cedar and hemlock canopy layer.

An example of the symbiotic nature of the old growth cedar-hemlock forest is the red-backed vole, which resembles a large plump mouse. This forest mammal eats truffles—a type of fungus that lives underground. After digesting the truffles, voles spread the fungus around the litter layer of the forest through their droppings. The truffles help tree roots absorb soil minerals and the trees produce sugars necessary for the truffles: a win-win symbiotic relationship. The cedar and the hemlock require this alliance with truffles and voles to grow so large in the nutrient-poor soil.

The Inland Sea of the Rocky Mountain Trench (NAWAPA)

Diary Water cover finalUna stopped the car and we stared out across the longest reservoir in North America. What had once been a breathtaking view of the valley floor of the Rocky Mountain Trench was now a spectacular inland sea. It ran north-south over eight hundred kilometres and stretched several kilometres across to the foothills of the Cariboo Mountain Range. Una pointed to Mount Mica, Mount Pierre Elliot Trudeau and several other snow-covered peaks. They stood above the inland sea like sentinels of another time. Una then pointed down to what used to be Jackman Flats—mostly inundated along with McLellan River and the town of Valemont to the south. Hugging the shore of what was left of Jackman Flats was a tiny village. “That’s the new Tête Jaune Cache,” my mother told me.

If villages had karma this one was fated to drown over and over until it got it right.  Once a bustling trading town on the Grand Trunk Pacific railway, Tête Jaune Cache drowned in the early 1900s when the Fraser naturally flooded. The village relocated to the junction of the original Yellowhead 16 and 5 Highways. Villagers settled close to where the Fraser, Tête Creek, and the McLellan River joined, all fed by the meltwater from the glaciers and icefields of the Premiere Range of the Cariboo Mountains. The village drowned again in 2025. I imagined the pool halls, restaurants, saloons and trading posts crushed by the flood.

“This area used to be a prime Chinook spawning ground,” Una said. “They swam over 1,200 km from the Pacific Ocean to lay their eggs right there.” She pointed to the cobalt blue water below us.

The reservoir sparkled in the sun like an ocean. Steep shores rose into majestic snow-capped mountains. The village lay in a kind of cruel paradise, I thought. It was surrounded by a multi-hued forest of Lodgepole pine, Western red cedar, Douglas fir, paper birch and trembling Aspen. Directly behind the village was Mount Terry Fox and across the Robson valley mouth, to the northeast, rose Mount Goslin. Behind it, Mount Robson cut a jagged pyramid against a stunning blue sky. Wispy clouds veiled its crown. I couldn’t help thinking it was the most beautiful place I’d seen. And yet, for all its beauty, the villagers had lost their principle livelihood and food. The reservoir had destroyed the wildlife habitats and the fishery. And its people with it.

Una pointed to where the giant reservoir snaked northwest and where towns like Dunster, McBride and Prince George lay submerged beneath a silent wall of water. Her eyes suddenly misted as she told me about Slim Creek Provincial Park, between what used to be Slim and Driscoll Creeks just northwest of what used to be the community of Urling. She told me about the Oroboreal rainforest, called an “Antique Rainforest”—ancient cedar-hemlock stands over a 1000 years old. She described how massive trunks the width of a small house once rose straight up toward a kinder sun. The Primordial Grove was once home to bears, the gray wolf, cougar, lynx, wolverine and ungulates. It was the last valley in North America where the grizzly bear once fished ocean-going salmon. Now even the salmon were no longer there, she said. Then she bent low beside me and pulled me close to her in a hug. She quietly said to me, “This is what killed Trudeau.”

I stared at her and firmly corrected, “but that was an accident.”

“Yes,” she agreed. Then added, “a planned one.”

A Diary in the Age of Water

tall cedar-moss2 copy

Moss-covered Western Redcedar

 

NAWAPA (North America Water Power Alliance)

The original NAWAPA Plan was drawn up by the Pasadena-based firm of Ralph M. Parsons Co. in 1964, and had a favorable review by Congress for completion in the 1990s. The plan—thankfully never completed—was drafted by the US Army Corps of Engineers and entailed the southward diversion of a portion (if not all) of the Mackenzie and Yukon rivers in northern Canada and Alaska, now flowing into the Arctic Ocean as well as the Peace, Liard and other rivers flowing into the Pacific by creating massive dams in the north. This would cause the rivers to flow backwards into the mountains to form vast reservoirs that would flood one-tenth of British Columbia. The water would be channeled south through the 800-km Rocky Mountain Trench Reservoir into the Northern USA, and from there along various routes into the dry regions of the South, to California and reaching as far as Mexico.

NAWAPA copy

Expanded NAWAPA XXI plan to hydrate the USA with Canadian water

NAWAPA was envisioned as the largest construction effort of all times, comprising some 369 separate projects of dams, canals, and tunnels, for water diversion. The water diversion would be accomplished through a series of connecting tunnels, canals, lakes, dams, and pump-lifts, as the trench itself is located at an elevation of 914 m (3,000 feet). To the east, a 9 m (thirty-foot) deep canal would be cut from the Peace River to Lake Superior. Its largest proposed dam would be 518 m (1,700 feet) tall, more than twice the height of Hoover Dam (at 221 m) and taller than any dam in the world today, including the Jinping-I Dam in China (at 305 m).

Conspiracy theorist and convicted fraudster Lyndon LaRouche was a principle proponent of the environmentally destructive NAWAPA plan. Although the plan was scrapped in the 1970s due to environmental concerns, it resurfaced in 1982 particularly by Parsons engineer Roland Kelley, who wrote a report called NAWAPA Plan Can Work. LaRouche and his movement revived interest more recently. In 2012 the LaRouche Political Action Committee released their NAWAPA XXI special report, which contained a detailed plan for the revival of an updated and expanded version of NAWAPA. The LaRouche movement continues to promote this outlandish plan today with support from various American politicians and industrialists.

In his book Cadillac Desert, environmental writer Marc Reisner described the plan as one of “brutal magnificence” and “unprecedented destructiveness.” Historian Ted Steinberg suggested that NAWAPA summed up “the sheer arrogance and imperial ambitions of the modern hydraulic West.”

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Old growth Redcedar-Douglas fir forest near Vancouver, BC (photo and illustration by Nina Munteanu)

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Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press (Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” will be released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in 2020.