Oak Hammock Marsh has always been one of the most magical places on Earth for me. I learned how to drive on its backroads, bathed in its waters and it's also where I found myself.
First, a bit of history to the Marsh. Formerly known as 'St. Andrew's Bog' a 470 square km Wetland that was drained for agricultural purposes in the early 1900's. Oak Hammock now makes up 36 square kms and is home to an impressive amount of different species including 300 birds, 25 mammals along with many reptiles, amphibians, fish and invertebrates. Wetlands have the second highest amount of biodiversity in the world!
When I was a kid my uncle would take me to the Marsh as much as he could. He taught me to catch crayfish while bathing in the small rapids they lived in and enjoy the serenity of the North mound. He was fortunate to live close by on Wavey Creek where the waters flowed on their journey to Lake Winnipeg. I look back and think just as the cattails clean the water as it passes by, my soul was receiving the same cleanse as I spent time in that water.
I was busy growing up in a small hydro town in Northern Manitoba and only have these small flashbacks of memories to replay. I went into hockey, nintendo and friends leaving the Marsh a stagnant memory for many years. After moving a couple more times, every time one step closer South back to the waters that raised me I came to wake up on Netley Creek each morning. Another beautiful marsh although much removed from the serene quietness OHM offered. Here I contributed every form of pollution into the creek from boating, seadooing, dirtbiking in the uplands, creating household waste and partying. As a teenager I had forgotten the true purpose behind why this gorgeous area existed and took advantage of the fun to be had frolicking hot summer days away with friends. These times were largely about trying to fit in and I didn't have any time listening to my uncle about more wonderful facts that surrounded me.
In 2008 this feeling of being lost weighed very heavy on my soul and I decided to try and find myself as far away as I could. I booked an open-ended flight, packed a small bag and left for Australia, New Zealand and Thailand alone. The day before I left my uncle gave me his wedding present from his wife, a Saint Christopher pendant so the saint of travel and him would be with me. I witnessed many beautiful places and people, along with horrible environmental disasters and problems I was completely unaware about. I stayed as long as possible and learnt all I could of the world as a complete organism connected all the way back to the creek I was so far from.
After returning home, I was not and would never be the same person who left a year earlier. I was hit so hard by the suffering the environment was going through I fell into a great depression and was unable to return to the wonderful life I was so used to I had taken for granted. During my trip my uncle became very sick with colon cancer and his life was forever changed to a point I don't think I ever realized. Our visits went from long days exploring to long conversations, or long silences enjoying his company. He passed away several years later fighting tremendously hard, again teaching me a lesson I was an unaware student to. It was so unconceivable that he was gone, I could not accept it. I went away instead of participating with my family to spread his ashes which is the biggest regret of my entire life. This was his final lesson for me, that no matter how hard something is you can't run from it. I will never run away again uncle.
During the last few years I was able to spend with him I wanted to honour his love and passion for animals and nature. I started working at Oak Hammock Marsh Interpretive Centre as a Nature Interpreter and would stop by his house after work every day and tell him a new bird species I saw, an interesting fact about the Marsh or anything I could think of to see his eyes light up. After all the amazing things I learned being around all the brilliant people there he could still always one up me with another fact or story of seeing a mating dance or extradorinaiy feat of nature only witnessed by the few who spent as much time as he did within it. My passion grew from wanting to impress him to spreading the love and beauty we have in our backyards to as many people as I could. I found direction in school that I never had before finishing a Bachelor of Environmental Studies for the both of us so I can take over his role and hopefully one day be an influence on somebody like he was to me. He really saved my life in so many ways. Writing this now from his favourite spot in the house he built by himself, I want you to know I will never forget what you've done for me and I will always continue to share the love, patience and wisdom you gave to all living things.