A Residual Winter Breath

Our temporary “summer” has been replaced by more normal seasonal temperatures.
A windy breath of -10° c overnight drove the waves and spray up on to the sloped shore of this bay resulting in a strange and magical landscape when I came upon it yesterday. Not that long ago the ice fishing huts resided in this wide bay.

The perfectly ice-upholstered and fringed rocks along the shore.

Surreal spaces…

Although this place is quite removed from the city and looks idyllic and peaceful there is a strange juxtaposition of bird song and intermittent rapid gunfire from the nearby rifle range. It all feels rather surreal as I wade through the water in high rubber boots; a strange shore bird among chandelier skirted trees.

Shirley’s Bay, Ottawa River

All images © Karen McRae

Vestiges: Fauna

I have photographed this freshwater mussel shell every way I could think of to bring out the pure beauty of the subtle pearly colour shifts and the worn layers, but until you pull it out of the shallow icy water at the shore and hold it in your hand under a luminously overcast sky you won’t be able to see just how exquisite it really is.

A good-sized bird skull, I don’t know what kind it is. Perhaps the size of a seagull. Found along one of the breakwaters, over wintered and broken beaked.

All images © Karen McRae

The Ephemeral and the Enduring

This is what it looks like walking out to the breakwater. A still quiet morning with the only sounds being a gentle hum of the slightly removed city and the many birds. Misty water and muted colours.

As you walk further out to the boulders another quiet sound becomes apparent. The sound of what is left of the ice gently coming apart as it sways onto the rocky edge of the breakwater. A scattering of pops and cracks. It has turned into candle ice, columns of ice perpendicular to the surface of the water that easily break apart from each other. There is some pushed onto the shoreline and I pick it up and listen to it fall back into the water and onto the rocks. A sound like tinkling glass. A sound, I think to myself, that will not last the day.

The last few sheets of ice are melting quickly in the warmth and moving slowly towards the rapids just downstream. It has been a quick melt.

I am standing on the large limestone boulders that make up the breakwater. In stark contrast to the fleeting ice they are ancient and enduring. They are also generously scattered with visible fossils. Fossils that are of Ordovician origin, which makes them somewhere around 450 million years old!

I only know this because I have had a collaborator for this post. Paleontologist Graham Young and author of the excellent blog Ancient Shore very kindly identified the fossils I photographed along the breakwater. Graham is Curator of Geology and Paleontology at the Manitoba Museum in Winnipeg.

These appear to be rounded bryozoan colonies that have been broken open. Bryozoans are aquatic invertebrate animals that live on the seafloor.

Branching bryozoans are mixed up with a lot of other debris, including echinoderm stem segments, probably from crinoids or sea lilies (these are the little donut-shaped fossils)

The shells are rhynchonelliformean brachiopods (lamp shells)

More bryozoans, again in a bed of mixed fossil debris.

I’m not sure about this circular structure; it is probably a badly preserved bryozoan.

These appear to be burrow structures (trace fossils), which stand out because they are better cemented than the surrounding muddy material. They would have formed as burrows in the seafloor, perhaps made by arthropods.

A large batch of bryozoans. These are very neat because they have been “nested” together, possibly as a result of movement by currents after death.

A large straight cephalopod, related to the chambered nautilus. Imagine a nautilus that has its shell stretched out, rather than coiled.

A glance back.

* Fossil descriptions by Graham Young with some editing by me.
Thank you Graham!

All images © Karen McRae


I will be moving to land soon. I’m starting on a new project that is very land based.
But like anything that is land based it flows back to the rivers, lakes and oceans in some way. Connections.

I was thinking about this as I was walking along the shoreline early this morning, garbage bag in one hand and a delicate bird skull in the other. It is rare that I don’t pick something up, even if it’s just to examine it. After 3 hrs I had a full  bag of garbage and remembered I hadn’t had breakfast yet. Priorities.

It is the first day of spring but it is like we have skipped spring and moved directly into summer. We are entering our 3rd day of +25° c and the next 2 days are to be the same. It feels very strange, in the same way that it was odd when the robins stayed all this past winter. Like they knew what was ahead. Nature adapts so quickly and responds so intuitively.  Instinct.

I’m still on river time, but things are flowing gently and the fog is burning off.

All images © Karen McRae

In A Fog

In my mind I am here, on the breakwater. The lonesome sound of seagulls overhead, thick fog and the early promise of a warm day. Shades of grey enveloping me like an old friend. A thermos of coffee beside me and ancient boulders beneath. Connected.

All images © Karen McRae

Breaking Open

Maybe it’s because I spent the majority of my childhood growing up beside a river, but the river runs through me the way it runs through the city. Like a lifeblood. It pulls me to it. I almost feel like apologizing but I can’t. So here we are again…

It is breaking open. There are places where the rapids keep the water open all winter. But I am drawn to the wide open spaces. The distances. The possibilities.
Especially when it is grey. Or snowing. Or raining.

I could show you that the snow has gone. That rapid changes have been taking place on land. But the river responds slowly and, at the moment, I am on river time.

All images © Karen McRae