November is when the restlessness usually sets in. Darkness slowly eats up the daylight hours. Camping trips get shorter and far apart. Even Saturday microadventures are sacrificed to accommodate other engagements. Somehow the month passed by without a single nature outing. I could feel November’s foggy vagueness making a permanent camp inside me. I needed a deep nature therapy. Fast. Luckily we had a yurt booked in Algonquin for the first weekend of December. I was counting days till I could start my morning with coffee and campfire instead of an overcrowded bus ride.
We arrived in the park close to midnight. There was about half an inch of snow on the ground, which is half an inch more than in Toronto. And in combination with the almost full moon, it made the forest shine.
The yurt was no different than all the others we stayed at before: two bunk beds, a plastic table and chairs, a shelf, about a dozen hooks for clothes. It was freezing inside so we put the heater on full blast, crawled into our sleeping bags and went to sleep. I woke up a couple of times during the night, and after our bedroom at home, which never gets completely dark, no matter how many light blocking curtains we hang up, the absolute blackness of the yurt was disorienting.
We were up fresh and not so early the next morning. It’s amazing how quickly you get into the usual camping routine, no matter how many weeks have passed since the last trip: bathroom, water, coffee, breakfast. We also stopped by the campground host’s site to notify him of our arrival since we couldn’t register the night before. He then called the park office and our permit was delivered right to our campsite half an hour later. Top-notch service.
The campground was mostly empty apart from yurt dwellers and an odd tent or trailer here and there. Not surprising considering it’s the in-between season when all the warm weather activities are over and the winter fun hasn’t started yet. Good thing hiking can be done in any weather, and Algonquin has no shortage of trails for that.
We didn’t want to drive so our options were limited to the two trails that started near the Mew Lake campground. We’ve already hiked the Bat Lake Trail a couple of times so we decided to try the Two Rivers one. A little over two kilometres, the trail didn’t take us long to complete even with frequent stops to take pictures, not by one but two photographers.
It was still early in the day when we got back to the campground. After some discussion, we decided to visit the rapids on Madawaska River, which I discovered earlier this year during my solo hike. We crossed the old airfield bursting with memories of blueberry lushness and joined the Old Railway Bike Trail. We’ve often travelled this road before but usually in the direction of Rock Lake and always on bikes. This time we turned our steps towards Cache Lake. It didn’t take us long to reach the rapids. The area was empty, so different from the scene I encountered back in July. But the shrieks of joy seemed to linger in the air and the waters babbled blissfully of another summer.
No other season puts nature’s fragility on display the way late autumn does. The forest that has lost its lush summer robes now stands shivering waiting for its winter coat. The uncertainty of the in-between season mirrors my own. It also carries serene beauty. So I breathed it all in hoping it will etch into the creases of my soul just like campfire smoke gets trapped between the fibers of my clothes.
On our way back we came across a blue jay that agreed to work as a model for peanuts, literally.
Upon our return to the campsite, I made myself comfortable near the campfire for an aroma therapy session. When it got dark, we finally gave in to our son’s repeated pleas and retrieved inside for a game night. The plastic table turned out too small for the Catan board so we played cards instead. Our son taught us the Thousand, the game I haven’t played since I was about his age and had to take cows to pasture with other village kids. The Thousand provided hours of entertainment while our cattle made its way through the field. Who knew so many happy memories could be found in an old deck of scratched up cards featuring American national parks. Or that my son would provide a link to a place he’s never visited.
The trip was too short. We say that about every camping trip but this one felt even shorter than usual. Still, I was leaving the park more grounded, steeped in Algonquin’s late autumn serenity, with more great memories built out of the old ones around a green plastic table.