A forest on a spring morning is a well-orchestrated polyphony. Robins and red-winged blackbirds pour their joy out trying to outsing each other for the role of a lead soloist. Woodpeckers keep the rhythm with their insistent staccato. Cuckoo birds join this celebratory chorus with a melodic refrain. Nothing is jarring; not a single note out of place. Even the shrill caws of grackles don’t produce dissonance but rather serve as interludes between other parts.
As I take in this ode to spring to the restless accompaniment of Lake Erie, I am thankful for the last minute change of plans that brought us to Point Pelee National Park for this Easter weekend. We were all set to go camping at Killarney. I was excited to finally get our tent out and try our new super warm sleeping bags. Then our son called a couple of days before and started questioning the whole idea of sleeping on the snow. As I walked through a park near my work looking for the first buds and green shoots, I realized I was starting to agree with him. I was done with the snow and was ready for spring. And to get to it we had to go as far south as possible. In Canada, that means Point Pelee, its southernmost mainland location.
We’ve been to this small national park before. But with no camping options available at Point Pelee we usually stayed at the nearby Wheatley Provincial Park. This time around Wheatley wasn’t open yet. Luckily, Point Pelee now has 24 new oTENTiks, and we were able to reserve the last available one two days prior to our arrival.
For those not familiar with oTENTiks, these are permanent canvass and wood structures. The creators must have been going for a clever pun with the name. In Gatineau Park they are called simply four-season tents. Although, apart from their traditional triangular shape, they are nothing like tents and more like cabins with floors, bunk beds, a gas heater and electric light.
Going back to a cabin and choosing comfort over the excitement of sleeping in a tent on a crisp winter-like night felt like we were chickening out. But I was happy to have a table for our board games, even if that table was a bit of a disappointment. We managed to fit in our Catan board but just barely. (Other cabins had normal size tables; we peeked through the windows.)
Other than the table, the oTENTik was great. It even had some pots and pans, dinnerware and a container for water. Outside, there was a bbq with a side burner, a fire ring with a picnic table and even a food locker. There are no bears in the park, of course, but we did get a visit from a raccoon so the locker was quite useful.
The oTENTiks are bunched a little too close together for my taste, especially around where we were staying. On the plus side, all oTENTiks are walk-ins so there are no cars going by as you are enjoying your morning coffee. And even though all accommodations showed as reserved on the website, around half of them were unoccupied. So the campground was pretty quiet as was the park itself. A little pocket of solitude before it gets overrun by birdwatching aficionados.
Point Pelee doesn’t lend itself to outlandish adventures. There are no epic mountain trails to tackle or sprawling backcountry to explore. But whatever this second smallest national park lacks in size or dramatic landmarks, it more than makes up for with a variety of habitats and incredible biodiversity.
There are lots of peaceful trails meandering through fairy-tale woods where vines cling to trees and trees cling to each. There is a boardwalk winding its way through the marsh that was pretty uneventful this time of the year apart from packs of fish darting in every direction. There are endless stretches of sandy beaches that culminate in the southernmost tip of mainland Canada. Plenty opportunities to wander and get lost in reveries.
And as Easter launched the unseasonably cold April, Point Pelee offered hope that spring was on its way. The signs were everywhere: from dainty snowdrops to a garter snake awakened from its winter slumber. One evening, we caught a distant call of spring peepers.
But nothing said – or rather sang – spring more than birds. It was still early for a spring migration when Point Pelee gets filled with colourful warblers, but the forest was already brimming with the birdsong, especially in the morning. Orange bellied robins and blackbirds with red epaulettes were jubilant in their confidence that warmer days were just around the corner. And even though the weather continues to disappoint, I choose to believe these little harbingers of spring.