We announced KWiL’s first chapter book, Tamia of the Forest, HERE in September. Today, we are thrilled to introduce Tamia’s illustrator, Canadian artist Rachel Ball. Rachel is an accomplished multi-media artist who has published an adult coloring book, Colour Me Wild, and created a wide variety of merchandise featuring her brand, Wild Creations, and other Manitoulin Island-inspired art. Rachel is a graphic designer and editor for Toro Publishing. She graduated from Cambrian College where she studied Art and Design Fundamentals. Rachel’s love of wildlife and nature inspire her creativity.
Rachel lives in Kagawong, Ontario; and for half of the year, so does Tamia’s author, Jim Nies. Jim is an avid writer and sailor, a naturalist and Great Lakes conservationist, and grandfather to a growing gaggle of grandkids. Originally from Illinois, where he co-owned and operated his family’s bookstore before going into education, Jim and his wife spend half the year in Wisconsin and half the year in Kagawong, a small town on Manitoulin Island that they first visited on a seven-month sailing cruise 1976. They’ve returned every summer since.
A few weeks ago, while corresponding with Rachel by e-mail about the book, she wrote, “I have a friendly young Red Squirrel who plays and collects seeds on our porch who makes for a great model.”
I wondered. “Could it be Tamia?”
Unlikely. But, the particular Red Squirrel that had planted the seed of a story in Jim’s head does live in Kagawong.
“Kagawong” by Jim Nies
Kagawong, nicknamed Ontario’s prettiest village, lies at the bottom of a steep hill near where the Kagawong River, after its plunge over the famous Bridal Veil Falls, flows into Mudge Bay.
This lower village (there are also some businesses on the upper part along the highway) is home to the old mill (now city hall), one of the nicest sand beaches on Manitoulin Island, a coffee/chocolate shop, and a small marina operating out of the venerable government dock.
Mudge Bay itself is a wide expanse of drinkably clear water connected to Lake Huron’s North Channel—a twenty-five-mile wide and one-hundred-mile long strait that separates Manitoulin from the Ontario mainland. Wrapping around the bay, cradling it in its arms, is a steep limestone bluff, actually a part of the Niagara escarpment.
While this bluff is steep, it flares out at the bottom, providing a somewhat level and reasonably wide terrace before a series of swales and swells, actually ancient ice-age beaches, drop up and down and finally into the water. Cottages have been built along this shore, mostly nestled into the woods and not really visible from the open water of the bay.
The bluff, from crest to shore, is mixed forest—cedar, spruce, balsam fir, white pine— along with some hardwood—poplar, maple, red oak, ironwood.
The topography and the flora make for excellent habitat, both for people and other forms of wildlife. Prominent among the clade of mammals, is the frisky, industrious, obstreperous, and very cute Tamiasciurus hudsonicus, otherwise known as the red or pine squirrel.
I’ve been watching these little squirrels for many years now, and to my mind at least, we have become friends. They scold me a lot, they tease my dog, and they wake me up in the morning by dropping cones on my metal roof, but I’m still glad they’re here.
I never tire of listening to their indignation when some interloper trespasses on “their” territory. I never tire of watching their quickness and agility as they move through the trees. I’m always impressed by their tireless energy and willingness to work from dawn to dusk.
I find it great fun to share the woods with Tamia. So, it only seemed right to help her write a little autobiography.
And it certainly only seemed right to have Rachel illustrate it. For more information about Rachel, please visit Wild Creations’ Facebook Page, and follow along here and through KWiL’s other social media channels as we share sneak peeks of Rachel’s work on Tamia.
Tamia. Photo by Jim Nies.