Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Widow's Generous Self-giving - A Visit to "La Mer Bleue"

Today's gospel features the story of the widow's mite (the coin in circulation with the least value at that time) and Jesus' praise of her generosity.

Some twenty years ago, during my mother's final illness, we had occasion to chat about many things. One sunny afternoon during a visit to the hospital, I told her that I was working on a commentary concerning the "Widow's Mite" and asked whether she knew of any experiences that could help illumine this gospel story.

She smiled and slowly, quite laboriously, told of a widow whom she had known many years earlier, who had found six-pence on the way to benediction at church one Sunday afternoon.

As it happened, this was a large sum in those days and particularly for the widow in her circumstances of trying to care for a large household.

Still, her personal straitened circumstances notwithstanding, she dropped the coin on the collection-plate during the service, entrusting herself and her concerns to God.

Mom went on to add that soon afterwards the widow received the gift of a five pound note in the mail, adding "for God can't be outdone in generosity."

Mom's final caution, added to the end of the tale, was that the widow's identity was not to be revealed, an instruction I have tried to honour. For true selflessness and largesse in God's service never puts on airs.


Last week, on my day off, I decided to get into the fresh outdoors and head for a conservation area that intrigued me because of its name, La Mer Bleue (the Blue Sea); there's a main street in Orleans with that name.

The weather was autumnal, cool but with a bright sunny sky; the colours of nature had faded, but the walk along a wooden pathway through the bog was illuminating (good descriptive markers), fascinating and the contact with nature was refreshing and renewing.

I've learned that the Alfred Bog, some forty kilometers east is twice the size of La Mer Bleue. The parish visitation program is headed toward Alfred in the next few weeks and, if the weather is fine and the schedule allows, perhaps I'll get to explore that resource of nature too.

On my return home I did a little research on the web and here is some information I have found, not all of which I find intelligble.

The Mer Bleue is a bog situated to the east of Ottawa, part of the National Capital Region's Green Belt (Geographical Coordinates: 45°22'N 75°30'W Area: 3,100ha). Home to many species of birds, insects and various plants, the Mer Bleue has a very interesting history.

Its national designations are as a provincial wetland and an area of scientific interest; on September 26, 1995 it received a "Ramsar Designation" (part of category of world-wide wetlands that have received recognition within a global registry). As of October 15, 2009 there were 159 contracting parties (countries) and there were 1869 sites designated worldwide (including 37 in Canada); the total surface covered by these sites is area 183,681,110 hectares (over 13 million in Canada).

Approximately 50% of the Mer Bleue is a raised boreal peat dome Sphagnum bog, a biotope usually found much further north in Canada (in the northern boreal forest). Peat deposits in the bog proper are up to six metres thick.

The borders of the bog form a typical lagg environment much of which has been transformed into pond and marsh by the Canadian beaven (castor canadensis).

Being a domed bog, water enters the bog mainly from natural precipitation creating oligotrophic conditions. The periphery of the bog is encircled by a mineral-enriched lagg which maintains a base water level for the bog. Drainage is poor due to underlying clay deposits as well as numerous beaver dams. Water eventually drains slowly via creeks. However, water levels remain at or near the surface of the bog for most of the year. Saline groundwater sources are found under the organic overburden. Previously, a number of ditches were dug in the bog for land reclamation or drainage of adjacent lands, however, most are no longer functioning efficiently due to the many beaver impoundments and to gradual sedimentation that has occurred along their lengths.

The marsh areas around Mer Bleue are characterized by plants such as Typha sp., Alnus rugosa, Salix sp., and a variety of Cyperaceae. There are several aspen islands in the center of Mer Bleue consisting of an overstorey of aspen and an understorey dominated by bracken fern. The edges of the islands are surrounded by small bands of Typha sp. and some Alnus rugosa growth. The ridges of the site extend from the centre of the Conservation Area westwards.

There is a wide mixture in the vegetation from early succession poplars and shrubs to some very large mature specimens of white pine, maple and ash. A section of this area includes a variety of hard andsoftwood plantations established by the Canadian Forest Service. The bog has a number of significant fauna because of its relatively undisturbed natural habitat and its uniqueness in representing a boreal habitat which is normally found much further north.

At least 22 mammal species are present in or around Mer Bleue. Aquatic furbearers such as Castor canadensis, Ondatra canadensis and Mustela sp. live in the surrounding marshes.

The spotfin shiner, a regionally rare fish, is found in Bear Brook Creek. Two rare beetles, Stenolophus magnasephalus and Agonum darlingtoni occur here. Clemmys guttata, a rare turtle in Canada, is found in the center of the bog. Eriophorum x porsildii, Listera australis and Torreychloa pallida are nationally significant plants occurring in the site.

The Mer Bleue Conservation Area is part of 14,950ha of greenbelt lands owned by the National Capital Commission (NCC), a Crown Agency of the Canadian government. The area is protected by Federal statute, the National Commission Act.

Within the Province of Ontario the bog is currently recognized as a Class I Provincial Wetland and an Area of Scientific Interest. One of the greenbelt's primary roles is the conservation and protection of natural ecosystems such as the Mer Bleue bog.

A small area of some 73ha inside the Conservation Area is occupied by the Geomagnetic Laboratory and owned by Public Works and Government Services Canada. Approximately 480ha of the bog habitat is privately owned, most of which is located at the southeast corner of the bog. There are also one regional and two municipal roads within the Conservation Area.

Land uses inside the site include recreation (wildlife observation, nature trails, berry-picking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing), research (by universities, government agencies and conservation groups), agriculture (market gardens, cropland, pasture, egg production), residences (less than 30 single family units owned and rented by NCC) and a business. Land use in the surrounding area includes residential properties, agricultural lands, a landfill site and land held for speculation. Damming by Castor canadensis has the potential to convert bog vegetation to marsh communities.

There is a concern about the spread of invasive plant species in particular Lythrum salicaria. This species is highly invasive and constitutes a significant threat to native wetland plant communities. To a lesser degree, other invasives such as Rhamnus frangula and Hydrocharis morsus-ranae are also present.

The bog surface is very sensitive to uncontrolled recreational uses such as berrypicking, and off-trail excursions. As bogs are extremely sensitive to changes in water levels and nutrient concentrations, a number of existing factors in the surrounding area and catchment have the potential to affect water quality and quantity. A landfill site is adjacent to the bog. There is proposed nearby development of urban communities.

Municipal drainage ditches cross the bog. Drainage and filling on privately owned parts of bog ecosystem could take place. Agriculture practices on adjacent lands could have impacts. Recommendations have been made to acquire additional adjacent wetland areas that are part of the natural bog ecosystem and incorporate them into the Conservation Area. At present, the NCC is completing a Master Plan for the greenbelt that includes the Mer Bleue Conservation Area.

Proof of the industriousness of the Canadian beaver ("busy as a beaver") is hard to miss at this dam

1 comment:

  1. Archbishop Terrence Prendergast

    Your Excellency,

    May I request from your good office to please allow us to receive one of your zuchetto (skull cap). We are organizing a small culminating exibit for the Year for Priest in our community chapel. Our aim is to get the complete heraldic and bishop's office. You may ask me why is there a need to contact you if we can get from our local bishop, my answer your excellency is that: we wanted that the collection will come across countries and I hope you understand that. Your excellency it will be a great help for us if you really allow us and it will be stored to our collection in our community chapel. I am really hoping, your excellency regarding this matter. Thank you and God bless.

    Genesis Pineda Guerrero
    Manila, Philippines

    P.S. Your Excellency, you may answer back to my email at

    Again, Thank you Most Rev. Terrence Prendergast