My canoe trip to Killarney: The magic of being alone (in two parts)

“…when I am alone I can become invisible. I can sit
on the top of a dune as motionless as an uprise of weeds,
until the foxes run by unconcerned. I can hear the almost
unhearable sound of the roses singing.”

Mary Oliver “How I go to the woods”

I spot two loons gliding across the lake as I push my canoe off the shore. The sun made a grand entrance about half an hour ago but then slipped behind the clouds. The lake is so smooth I am almost hesitant to break its surface with my paddle. I follow the trail left by the birds, and as I turn around the bend I drift into what looks like a loon party.

“One, two, three…,” I start counting under my breath. “Eleven?!” A camping trip is never complete without seeing loons, and their calls are a perfect accompaniment for a backcountry experience. They, however, usually show up in pairs, occasionally there are three. Last year, we ran into a family with two chicks. Eleven seems like a minor miracle. I am bursting to shout, “Do you see this?” But I am by myself and no one around can share my excitement.

eleven loons on Killarney Lake

Waking up early has its perks: getting to see a crowd of loons is one of them

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Close-up magic or my search for a fern flower

July 7th is Ivana Kupala, a traditional holiday celebrated in some Eastern European countries. That is according to the old Julian calendar, which is still used for holidays (that’s why Christmas is on January 7th and there is such thing as old New Year where I come from). According to the Gregorian calendar, the one we use today, that would correspond to June 24th making Ivana Kupala a summer solstice celebration. So no surprise that most of the activities happen on the night from July 6th to 7th, one of the shortest of the year.

Ivana Kupala (roughly translates as John the Bather) is a pre-Christian holiday associated with fertility and purification. Many of the rituals involve water and fire, which have sacral qualities on this night. Once Christianity was introduced, the day was renamed St. John the Baptist (I guess both have John and bathing in common). The old traditions, however, never fully disappeared. The holiday is still often referred to as Ivana Kupala fest and many of the rituals, like making flower wreaths and letting them float down the water or jumping through a bonfire, are featured at celebrations in Ukraine and other places in Eastern Europe.

Ivana Kupala festivities aside, many Ukrainian religious celebrations incorporate pre-Christian traditions. On this day, for instance, my grandparents decorated their house and gates with flowers. Pentecost is called the Green Fest and involves bringing branches of linden into the house. The centrepiece at Christmas Eve dinner is a wheat sheaf called Diduch symbolizing the spirit of our ancestors. Some of it could be explained by a relatively young age of Christianity in Ukraine. Most probably, it’s because our connection to nature is impossible to eradicate since we are part of it. My childhood visits with my grandparents involved many trips to church but religion, somehow, never really took root. Instead, forests and meadows became my cathedral and I learned to look for God in nature and see miracles between blades of grass and flower petals.

One of the activities on Ivana Kupala features a search for a fern flower. It is rumoured to blossom on this night only and will bring luck and happiness to the one who finds it. And while it’s not scientifically possible, it is a beautiful metaphor for our quest for magic, which is all around us if only we look close enough.

fern

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The first paddle of the year: Our backcountry trip to The Massasauga

The May long weekend made us sweat. Not literally – the weather was a bit on a cool side, actually, with generous helpings of rain. But the run-up to the weekend was marked with uncertainty and seemingly endless waiting as spring refused to show up and the late ice out kept pushing back the park opening date. Till about a couple of weeks before the trip it wasn’t clear whether we’d need to turn our canoe into an icebreaker. In the end, spring decided to grace us with her presence, albeit reluctantly, melting the remainder of ice, along with our worries, and the trip was a go.

canoeing at the Massasauga provincial park

Our first canoe trip of the year was marked with uncertainty, rain and moments of pure magic

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About our trip to Gatineau, inspiration and reasons for getting outside (with video)

Back in March, we headed to Gatineau to enjoy a well-deserved break and wrap up the winter glamping season. More than two months later, I still haven’t managed to put together a post about our trip. The reasons for those struggles have been plenty, with finding time near the top of the list. There was also the writer’s block that has been following me around since last year, failure to find a new angle for writing about the park we have already visited several times before and continuous attempts to perfect the video we filmed for my final video course project. And the more time passed since our trip and spring slowly but surely continued to establish its presence, the sillier it seemed to write about a winter trip.

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The mountains are calling: Our trip to Yosemite

I am a mountain person at heart: the love that was born during my school trips to the Carpathian Mountains and nurtured during all those adventures around North America. So when the mountains call, as Muir so eloquently put it, I must go. Last summer, as I was planning our trip to California, many places were added, then scratched off the list. One destination, however, remained non-negotiable – Yosemite National Park, Muir’s old stomping grounds right in the heart of Sierra Nevada.

view from Olmsted point in Yosemite

Sierra Nevada – view from Olmsted point in Yosemite National Park

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Somewhere on the edge of spring: Hiking Bruce Trail near Smokey Hollow Falls (photo essay)

What are the first signs of spring you usually look for? Tree branches swelling with buds, dainty flowers poking their delicate heads through last year’s leaves, that cheerful bird twitter in the morning. How about rushing waterfalls? Or better yet ankle-deep, thick mud. We certainly encountered a lot of the latter on our most recent microadventure.

Spring, when rivers are at their fullest after the snowmelt, is the best time for waterfall chasing. And with Hamilton, the waterfall capital of the world, located less than an hour away, finding one is never a problem. (Although deciding on which of its 100 tumbling water features to visit can sometimes present a dilemma). Then, once we enjoy the sight and sound of rushing water, we find Bruce Trail or one of its tributaries, which are always bound to be somewhere nearby, and set out on a hike.

Smokey Hollow waterfall near Hamilton

Our most recent microadventure took us to Smokey Hollow Falls, also known as Grindstone, Waterdown or Great Falls Continue reading

Winter adventures at Windy Lake or how to do winter right in three easy steps (with video)

It seems weird to be publishing a post about winter when spring is already in full swing – mud, rain and all. Still as I looked back at another great winter of outdoor adventures, I felt this often maligned season deserved some praise and love. So here we go.

Winter took some time coming in Toronto. But when it finally arrived, it more than made up for its earlier absence bringing record snow falls, freezing temperatures, freezing rain, wind storms, snow storms, even a snow day at schools, which hasn’t happened in a few years. All of this prompted ominous warnings from weather experts urging everyone to not leave the house ever again and, of course, endless complaints about what is actually a pretty normal winter behaviour. As we huddled in bus stops and cursed in traffic jams, we forgot that winter is more than the inconveniences it causes. With Family Day weekend approaching, we were determined to remind ourselves how to do winter right.

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