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Gettin’ Down and Dirty

If you buy me some gas, I will take you birding to places you have never dared go before! Terry Sprague photo

Here’s a road you should try sometime. It runs from Carrying Place, along the north side of the Murray Canal. If your vehicle holds together and you don’t disappear from sight in a quagmire en route, you will eventually emerge onto County Road 64, at the next bridge. Appropriately enough, it is called Canal Road. In spring, it is sometimes difficult to determine if you have made a wrong turn somewhere and are actually driving in the canal itself. Certainly in spots, you are much lower than the canal’s water level. I was on that road this spring checking out a portion of Dead Creek Marsh with a prospective volunteer for the Marsh Monitoring Program. As we descended into dips, deep enough to swallow a bathing hippo, the monotonous rocking and rolling was broken only by cavernous sink holes, large enough to float a good sized boat. For more than 30 minutes my passenger kept rocking from side to side, both hands covering her face and murmuring repeatedly, “My God, we’re going to die!” As we proceeded to descend into yet another bottomless pit, water inching up to the top of the grill, I made the decision to reverse, and instead follow a rutted trail where ATVs had wisely chosen to adopt as a detour. With water now seeping into the car after the last of several such ponds, and the quadradrive feature of my Jeep Grand Cherokee engaging all four wheels at one soupy slurry, it triumphantly pulled  us onto higher ground and to an intersection ahead of us and dry land that caused both of us to exclaim simultaneously, “Oh, sweet.” Now, if you know me, you already know that I loathe the trendy word “sweet”, but it seemed quite appropriate and well deserved in this case.

This is an advertisement for Jeep Cherokee and its quadradrive feature which is totally computerized, reading every little slippage and abnormality, and responding flawlessly, and that little computer module was surely burnin’ on this trip. It is a Limited Edition which means it is also a luxury car with a few bells and whistles. Naturally I thought my son would be livid. He is my personal mechanic and keeps the vehicle in top running condition. He just laughed and said, “Well, that’s what they’re built for – as long as you didn’t leave the muffler behind, you just need spray off the mud, and it will forgive you in like a dog who has just been scolded.”

And it did forgive me. It still cleans up well and proudly takes clients on private tours around the County. I have had clients from Calgary, Los Angeles and just last week, Colorado. They love the leather, the comfort and the climate control. But the car is also a workhorse and pulls our 5,000-pound travel trailer with ease and it can still get down and dirty like it did just the other day when I used it to yank out three full grown junipers from a friend’s flower bed in front of his house in Belleville.

Chide me if you will for daring to drive an 8 cylinder four wheel drive vehicle. Not every naturalist is supposed to drive a Smart Car or a hybrid. Some need to upgrade in response to the questionable areas they routinely visit and the work that they do to make a living. We never have to worry about questionable situations, and whenever it snows, we just say, “Bring it on!”  However, I am sure you won’t hesitate to call on me if you need to have a tree pulled out by the roots, or need to get into a so-called inaccessible place. Right now it’s in the driveway,  crouched down on all fours, ready to spring into action upon the next summons.

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About the Author: Terry Sprague became interested in nature at an early age. "Growing up on the family farm at Big Island, 12 miles north of Picton, on the shore of the beautiful Bay of Quinte, I was always interested in the natural world around me. During my elementary school days at the small one-room school I attended on Big Island, I received considerable encouragement from the late Marie Foster, my teacher in Grades 6 through 8. Her home was a short distance from where I lived and through the years she was responsible for developing my interest in birds. The late Phil Dodds, a former editor with the Picton Gazette, also a great nature enthusiast, suggested I undertake a nature column - a column I have submitted weekly since 1965. The column has since expanded to the Napanee Beaver and the Tweed News. Life has been good, and through the years I have enjoyed working with such nature related agencies as Glenora Fisheries Research as a resource technician, Sandbanks Provincial Park as a park interpreter and Quinte Conservation as a naturalist and outdoor events coordinator. As a nature interpreter, currently working from my home office, I now create and lead numerous interpretive events in the area and offer indoor audio/visual presentations to interested groups. Could one who is interested in nature have enjoyed a more exhilarating period in the work force?" Terry's website is

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  1. Louisa says:

    I know that Canal Road you talk of. Only went on it once ever. When I first moved to the Carrying Place area, I saw the posted sign for ‘waterfront trail’ and thought it meant that one. I think it really referred to the 64. So I took my bike on the Canal Road. Somehow the bike made it and is still in good condition, but I didn’t feel well afterwards, and it took several hours to recoup. A person shouldn’t need to take Gravol to go on a simple bike ride! Never mind physically what it can do to a person!

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