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Sharing and protecting Muskoka
My Muskoka moments are all tangled up with place, sharing that space with the animals that have lived here and introducing people to this magic. We have lived on this property, 600 acres of mostly wilderness called Bondi, since my grandparents came in 1905. They tried to pry a farm out of the Canadian Shield rock, and celebrate musical theatre on the front porch (grandpa was with Gilbert & Sullivan in England and Australia). My parents branched out more into tourism than farming, but still maintained the two. You have to diversify to live here.
So, my Muskoka has always included the happy voices of kids dock jumping, running barefoot, learning. We learned to water-ski, behind a 10 horsepower boat. We also learned to find the quiet places where the creatures are. Hiking in the woods with Dad, learning the trees – which were best for winter fuel, which housed owls, raccoons, which sheltered deer in winter.
Our back fields now home a Frisbee golf course alongside the horses’ cross-country fences, a wolf den and a spruce bog, rife with pitcher plants and other treasures. You can find lots of blueberries here, along with wild sage and tiny sweet strawberries. I take kids hiking here, loving their reactions when they find such delights near the old apple tree planted by a settler over a century past. It still bears apples and attracts bears that announce their presence with broken branches and scat. There’s a wonder on people’s faces when we find beech trees, the base heavy with nuts, the trunks marked by bear claws. Those trees are going now, falling to beech blight. I wonder what the animals will eat then?
Along the resort’s many ski and hiking trails, we hunt for mushrooms, ferns that grew when dinosaurs roamed, the remains of fences that once marked open fields now returned to forest. From our lookout trail, you can see the Dorset tower across the sweep of forest and lake. I try to bring people to the wild but more softly than my Dad, who once draped a bearskin over a sawhorse outside the tent where the boys were sleeping. I still recall the yell, and the dash back to the cottage that would have made an Olympian proud.
Now it is more about showing them who else shared the space. The local wolf pack will often honour me by answering my call, out on the lawn with guests from around the world, shivering with delight in the clear night. I trace constellations with a laser pointer, stars they can never see from the over lit and over built cities. When the next summer comes around, and they can remember how to find Draco, the Andromeda Galaxy, it is a bigger thrill for me than perhaps it should be. I teach about owls and their calls – and the owls’ reply. The temperature according to crickets. Where loons nest and how vulnerable they are. This is lore that should be for everyone, but is increasingly rare. Like discovering that a fresh laid hen egg is warm to the touch – you would be surprised how many adults are taken aback by that.
My Muskoka is about the silent places. Deer in the morning mist. Kayaks on a river finding waterlilies, otters, where the beaver is building. Putting up birdhouses for the swallows that return like clockwork but are decreasing in number. Long may they fly. The first loon of spring is a benediction. Butterflies, milkweed – the need for both. Bees in the garden, so drunk with pollen you can pet them. Water so clear you can see all the way down to where the snapping turtle rests. The tracks of fox.
Yes, people have always crowded to this place, turning the lake into a playground but my Muskoka is about teaching them to see, love and appreciate the lives with whom we share this land.
We are seeing and making many changes to this fantastic place. My prayer is that we always keep space and welcome for the wild that also calls this place home.
As a lifelong Muskoka girl, Nancy Tapley shares the management of Bondi Village Resort with her brother, sister-in-law and the next generation. Also sharing the property are horses, chickens, two bad cats and one wonderful dog, which alerts her to everything, including empty bird feeders. As deputy mayor of the Township of Lake of Bays, Nancy has worked hard to bring in policies to protect the shorelines and preserve the qualities that brought people to Muskoka in the first place. Chair of the heritage advisory committee, she is kept in touch with the area’s unique history while her brother’s innovations and solar arrays keep her in touch with the future as she just tries to hold a course that keeps the wild here.