at the Slough


Small is Beautiful and Other Slough Considerations

Part of a talk given by Nadeane Trowse at the 13th Annual Art About Finn Slough Show. 

So. Small is beautiful. Maybe we should say significant or necessary. E M Forster said something in Howard’s End about how we forget this. Forester was complaining about a sort of jingoist enthusiasm for growth including urban sprawl in England after the railways were expanded: “…people think that a thousand square miles are a thousand times more wonderful than one square mile, and that a million square miles are almost the same as heaven”.  In other words, small is beautiful and maybe assessments of absolute value are beyond the grid of size. Bigger isn’t better.  We might reframe this and say that a very small number of acres of tidal wetlands at Finn Slough are very important, significant and I will explain. 

Finn Slough is a back water, a by water (as Daphne Marlatt noted in her poem of the same name) a channel of tidal water between Tiffin Island and what amounts to Dyke Road, Richmond. On the other side of Tiffin Island (mostly a sand bar like feature) is the turbulent, powerful, unpredictable Fraser River. In the Slough is protected water, safe for young fish, fingerlings, and many species that need this highly specialized environment where the salt and fresh waters mingle and where the tide goes in and out twice a day.

I want to talk about the value of such an environment, and a few problems of losing the kinds of environments that are what used to be called “wastelands” and now are recognized as both essential and irreplaceable.

Let’s look again at the idea of “wasteland” and think about history and about the processes of life. Here are some questions rather than answers that come up. Why do we find it questionable for people to choose to live close to nature, in very small spaces, that do not aspire to current notions of architectural elegance? Why do we find the process of oxidation (the thing that happens to living things as they age…slow fire) unsightly?  Why does the visible signs of aging offend? Why do people like to see the tide IN at Finn Slough, instead of seeing the living, rich, fertile, productive mud that Finn Slough rejoices in?  Why do gently oxidizing pieces of wood suggest a lack … of uncaring, of inappropriate aesthetics, of slovenliness?

Just a quick example. Trees are beautiful. We all love to see a mature “specimen tree”… that means a tree that has exactly the right conditions and space available to achieve maximum typical growth. That mature perfect tree (rarely achieved) is not what every species needs to support its life though. Woodpeckers (which are plentiful at Finn Slough) need imperfect trees, branches sustaining insects to live. Towhees need a rubble of leaves and fallen branches on the ground to thrive.  Very dead snags provide perches for raptors like eagles to hunt from.  Open sheds, barn-like structures in imperfect states are the best for nesting swallows and even barn owls.  Gilbert White in The Natural History of Selbourne says that “we would be choked with insects was it not for the friendly interposition of the swallow tribe”.  How do we benefit from swallows if their nesting preferences are disregarded?

It is interesting to think about the often expressed wish to live with nature and Finn Slough certainly offers that. Nature is many things, however. Remember the biggest neighbour at Finn Slough is the Fraser River. Nature is not always sunny and smiling, green and picturesque… or rather, picturesque includes high winds, high waters, having that neighbour come to the doorstep, and then leave an interesting mess behind after the visit. The path gets tossed around a bit by the river and severe storms. And then put back. As they say in some computer work, that is not a problem it is a feature, if you can see it that way. And the circle of life relies on that feature… remember, that is how the Fraser built Richmond. Child of the mighty Fraser means that, too: mud, water, process, movement.

So we need to think outside of perfect or imperfect. Chopping off the parts of the circle we don’t appreciate aesthetically means the circle of life isn’t one after all.  Circles are ideas; the recycling performed by natural processes is real and essential. 

Small is beautiful because it keeps space for the circle to keep rolling. 

Nadeane Trowse

Help us explain the "Spinning Swan Syndrome."

We have observed a swan that sometimes starts to spin in place.  If you know anything about this strange behavior please let us know at fshws@outlook.com

Here are some details re the spinning swan. 


 Unfortunately the swan in question has disappeared before we could do anything to help it.  However we have talked to someone from the Wildlife Rescue Association who told us they have a goose with the same problem.  It is thought to be a neurological problem which may be brought on by trauma or perhaps poisoning.

At this time of year there is a much loved flock (at least a bunch of family groups) of mute swans (non native species) that spend the high tides in Finn Slough. One swan, part of a male, female and offspring trio, is acting odd, since the beginning of November.  It acts normally mostly but then extends its neck horizontally out over the water (like a long frying pan handle) and spins for a minute like a top, on an axis represented by its feet, so to speak.  Weird.  We have been speaking to biologists (Canadian Wildlife) and various wildlife rescue groups wondering if this is a disease symptom, poisoning symptom, genetic problem symptom.  No certainty.  What we need to do if and when we see this is to make a brief video of it.  Please if you do send it to us.  We will forward it to some of the folks we have been talking with.  That will help them think more about it and think about what if anything to do about it.  As long as it is coping ok, we likely shouldn’t intervene they say.  If it dies suddenly, and you have a big freezer, please pop it in a big plastic bag and throw it in the freezer, then email fshws@outlook.com, and we will try to arrange an autopsy.  This is because if it IS poisoning, it should be looked into.  If it is genetic, they want to know too.  If it is somehow contagious (unlikely) then it could affect the local kind of swans and we need to know that too.

A Power Point Presentation Nadeane used as she explained about Purple Loosestrife during her Art About Finn Slough speech.

(You will need some kind of Powerpoint viewer for this.)

Why Wetlands?  Because They Clean Our Water  By Laura Jamison

The Nitrogen Cycle

A list of plants observed on a vegetation survey at Finn Slough and Gilmore Island, Richmond British Columbia, June 9, 1994.  Survey graciously provided by Naturalist Terry Taylor.