I adore the ocean yet here I’ve found myself, time and time again, on a mountain. The wilderness portion of my training weeks was spent in the Canadian Rockies just outside of Cochrane, Alta. Now I am to call the mountain that is Gault Nature Reserve my home for the next three months. When did I fall in love with the mountains? Over our time here my roommates and I will come to have many feelings regarding this place.
The Nature Reserve
The entirety of Mont-Saint-Hilaire was gifted by Brigadier Gault to McGill University in 1958 and is divided into two halves, one public and one private. The line runs straight through the small lake nestled in the large dip between the hills. Yes, the “mountain” is actually comprised of an elevated lake surrounded by rocky hills. My first impression of our accommodation was that the cabin was dark, sparse and located in the middle of nowhere. Luckily this middle of nowhere is a beautiful one. We can see the lake from our front door and have full access to the public network of trails that runs right past our cabin as well as the private overgrown side of the mountain. At all hours we can hear the honking of migrating Canadian geese resting on the lake. In addition to the unruly reserve side of the mountain, the private side has developed spaces: Gault house, two science labs, chalets and one of the largest outdoor experiment sites in the area. Needless to say, I was excited to discover what kind of experiments were going on and how we could jump in and learn about the technical side of conservation and fieldwork.
Over a week later we had not touched any science equipment save for shovels and pickaxes. Yes, pick axes are totally cool when you use them to break two-inch lake ice to install mesocosm bags to monitor rising global temperatures. One feels like a modern Viking while doing this but, dear reader, you will have to skip to my next blog to read about the awesome winter science stuff. The first week, nay almost two weeks, was spent moving rocks and shoveling earth. I learned two new French words that are seared into my brain from over use:
- La Chaudière (a large farm bucket or pail)
- Des fougères (some ferns)
I found the actual work on the trails quite rewarding – many people even stopped and thanked us. However, it was not mentally stimulating. While happy to help landscape the new hiking trail I was concerned that that was all we were going to be doing. I was so focused on how slow the progress was with manual labour that I forgot to look around and appreciate the beauty of the fall. It was not until later that I discovered the hidden opportunities that are liberally scattered throughout this placement.
The People: cookies and coffee
From day one, the people here at Gault have been absolutely amazing. Sonya, who looks after the Gault House, stocks the staff kitchen with cookies every day. Charles, who works with us on the trails, bought us refreshments to welcome and thank us for our work. Everyone stopped and talk to us even though it was a busy time. They also had great patience with those of us who weren’t very fluent in French. The people made the placement a success. Their warmth and positive attitudes towards work made me realize how magical this place is. The pace and treatment of time is so different when you have to work with the seasons. There is a time to rush and there is a time to wait. When it rains, we find indoor things to do, but if it looks dry outside, we ditch any well-planned indoor activities and do what we can outside.
We worked hard on the trails at the start of our placement because they needed to be done before the snows. Once we were able to meet with the assistant director, we were immediately presented with other possible things we could help with: species list, inventory, bat monitoring research, collecting data from temperature loggers in the field, building a weather station. We were also offered continued support and freedom to come up with our own projects. I have really started to enjoy myself here.
The opinions expressed are those of the participant and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Canadian Wildlife Federation.