My Watermark is Thames River, Ontario.
At ten, I moved with my family away from the city, leaving my friends behind. The relative isolation of our rural property could have made adjustment difficult. But with fewer neighbours to play with, I was drawn to explore the shallow river flowing through the valley below. Living so near this branch of the Thames, or Askunessippi (Antlered River), meant a wet muddy, adventure was always just out the door.
Each season had something to offer. My sisters and I would climb down the soft banks to catch pollywogs in inlets and nearby vernal pools. Summer saw us search for iridescent mussel shells, yelping when an overturned rock revealed a crayfish, blue claws raised in defense. Come autumn, pooling water harvested the russet and gray-green reflections of surrounding maples while overhead, the call of geese offered a raucous reminder that longer nights were in store. Sometimes, in the winter, the river froze spectacularly. Nothing was as exhilarating as sliding over crystal-clear ice while fish swam beneath our feet.
Looking back, I understand what a privilege it is to know a stretch of river intimately. This had practical advantages: one recognized what rocks offered firm footing, how to avoid leech-infested mud patches, and where rapids could sweep you off your feet. It also offered less tangible benefits: we were able to experience the textures, sounds, functions and character of this riverine world without an agenda or textbook in mind. This grounding with a strong sense of place may have influenced my later decision to dedicate a career to conservation.
Fast forward three decades. My children, now four and six, are old enough to explore the river on their Grandparents’ farm. Together we seek mussels, wade through rapids, and flip rocks. As my past and their present collide, I realize how grateful I am to be able to explore my watermark with them. This precious time may never be adequately captured through a camera lens or in words. But I will always remember how, knee-deep in the current, we all share the unmistakable feeling of pure joy.