It was late April, the first time I’d ever laid eyes on the mighty St. Lawrence River. I was standing under a dimly lit lamp post well after dusk gazing out towards Grindstone Island, wearing a winter coat (to my surprise) while the cool wind whipped my hair. After a few minutes of trying to decipher the width of the River and where exactly Canada began, I gave up and decided to just breathe it all in. There was something to this place. Perhaps it was how wild and unyielding the River seemed or that I lost count of how many trees I could see in a matter of seconds. It was breathtaking – even in the freezing cold, even if I was surrounded by snow in spring. After a few more moments, I peeled myself away from the River and began walking back to my room for the night. After all, I had a job interview the next day.
My first summer in the Thousand Islands was a blur of sunshine, activity, wild spaces, and friendly faces. I heard stories of the wicked winter that preceded, always told with a hint of modest North Country pride in carrying on despite chilling temperatures and mounds of snow. I learned the folklore of how the islands were ‘carved out’ and after numerous conflicting stories, where Thousand Islands dressing was really made. I discovered that when someone on the River tells you: “my family has been here forever” they actually mean it.
That last part has always intrigued me the most.
What a magical connection to have - being able to share the distinct bond of ‘River life’ from generation to generation. Being assured that the character of this special place has been maintained in an everchanging world. Knowing what it feels like to live on the edge of wilderness. Sharing this space not only with one another but with thousands of wild critters, from songbirds to muskie to porcupines.
I was told many times that first summer: “It gets in your blood, The River.” They weren’t wrong.
Throughout, and possibly in spite of, my suburban New Jersey upbringing I’ve always been drawn to nature. I remember spending summers as a kid, running outside barefoot and catching lightning bugs. Racing my brother while bike riding along the Delaware & Raritan Canal. Helping (okay, watching) my dad care for the many trees in our yard, discussing how impossibly tall they seemed to grow year after year.
My love for this Earth has never been a question. Still, the Thousand Islands snuck up on me with an awakening I experienced on a deeper, more personal level as I was surrounded by abundant natural spaces on a regular basis. The full realization and accounting of how my face beams when I step onto a farm, how my mind quiets walking through the forest, how my soul lights up as I float my kayak into the water. As though I was drawing back on an ancestral memory of spending long hours on the farm or navigating through unexplored territory, I fully realized that these open, wild spaces are not just something that I love. They are my home.
It’s apparent to me that being immersed in the beauty of the natural world on a scale as grandiose as the Thousand Islands isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. While green spaces no matter their size or where they are, play a vital role in connecting people to the land, in creating habitat, and in providing fresh air – experiencing large ecosystems that are quite literally bursting with dynamic, diverse life puts our role as humans into a greater perspective. In how we should care for our Earth, how disconnected we may be from our natural world, and how to begin our own “re-wilding”.
Whether it’s a park, a mountain range, a farm with rolling hills, or the River, protecting these spaces becomes important not only for wildlife, for water quality, or for fresh air but as a key component to better understand ourselves, our role and our impact on this planet.
It’s been four and a half years since I was first introduced to the powerful grace of the St. Lawrence River, and I’m still mesmerized by it all:
- The pride that all residents of the River hold for this special place, and how that pride is passed from generation to generation.
- How quickly a brush with nature and a River breeze can revitalize the human spirit.
- The wide diversity and number of wildlife species that I can’t even begin to count, who call this place home.
- Feeling like I’ve rediscovered a piece of this human-Earth connection that was buried deep within.
- And that it takes FIVE WHOLE bridges to find where exactly Canada begins.
- Rebecca Dahl, Zenda Farms Program Director