Celebrating New Year in the woods is always an interesting experience. Marking the change of arbitrary numbers among trees, hills and lakes that are oblivious to what year it is always feels weird, if not downright silly. In the woods, emptied of everyday routines and obligations, time stops being an accounting exercise where hours, days, years march by in a quick succession and becomes more of a space that you inhabit, an extended present moment that contains both past memories and future dreams at the same time. Standing in the presence of trees, hills and lakes as we exchange “Happy New Year!” is always a reminder that time isn’t linear, that it doesn’t pass by us but rather through us, that we can’t just put a year, not matter how bad, behind us because it inevitably becomes a part of us, like another ring in a tree trunk or a deepening crevice on the side of a mountain.
For almost a decade we have been heading into the woods to celebrate the arrival of each new year. Every time we pick a new place but the ritual remains the same: campfire, champagne, drawing the year number with sparklers. Most importantly, we use it as an opportunity to step out of the news cycle, slow down and look back at the past 12 months while also looking forward into the future.
This year, we set our sights on Au Diable Vert, an eco park in Quebec. Located in the Sutton mountain range, it offers a variety of accommodations: from treehouses to cliff houses to rustic cabins. Ours was a pod cabin, a family pod to be exact with room for six people, as opposed to regular pods designated for two.
The park’s curious name – At Green Devil’s – comes from the topographic view of the area or at least that’s what we deduced from its logo. There was nothing green about the place when we arrived, of course, except for the Green Mountains of Vermont rising to the south. The view of the jagged peaks propping up the sky greeted us every morning through the glass doors of our cabin, filling me with awe the moment I opened my eyes.
Spending time in nature, regardless of the landscape, always brings me joy. Being in the mountains, however, stands in a category of its own: the way they make my spirit soar while also keeping me grounded and humbled in their presence, their steadiness with signs of vulnerability etched in every crevice and every crack, the undeniable permanence of their silhouettes that get constantly reshaped depending on the weather and time of day. To me, mountains are a visual manifestation of time itself; they always offer a new perspective in every possible way and invite me to breathe more fully, see further, look deeper.
So I was excited to celebrate the end of 2020 in the mountains, but getting there was not without complications. With pandemic on the rise, we spent weeks prior to our trip weighing all pros and cons, the biggest of which was losing the money we pre-paid for our reservation, if we decided to cancel, along with a chance to get out of the city. After endless back and forth and careful planning that would reduce our interactions with people to almost zero, we decided to go.
We left the flat and winterless Toronto on an early Tuesday morning. Eight hours later we were pushing a cart with our gear and food up a snow-covered hill. While our cabin was only 500 metres away from the parking lot, that uphill walk made it into a much more challenging and exciting experience.
Our family pod – l’Erable – sat on the edge of the forest with front doors overlooking a sloping meadow and mountains in the distance. Every morning I would sit in front of the glass doors savouring my coffee and the soul-nourishing luxury of unlimited space.
During our three days at Au Diable Vert, we spent lots of time hiking. There are 14 kilometres of trails on the property meandering through the woods, along cliffs and over streams, with access to l’Estrie trail for those looking for more challenges.
We also played endless card and board games. We read books. My husband brought his guitar and filled the cabin with music.
Every day we paid a visit to highland cattle that lived down the hill. Lounging on the hay or ambling across the field, they regularly attracted groups of giggling kids. Our sons, now way into their teenage and young adult years, were equally fascinated by them. To me, the paddock smelled of summer and childhood. The cattle were a reminder of all those afternoons spent in the meadows watching my grandparents’ cows back in Ukraine. While these cows were shaggier with more impressive horns than the ones my grandparents kept, they still had the same ability to stare soulfully into the distance as if they could see something we don’t. Just like that, through their gaze I was transported back into my grandparents’ village, my past flooding the present. Before leaving, we grabbed a small present from them – a bunch of hay to spread on our Christmas table, one of the many Ukrainian Christmas traditions.
My favourite part of the trip, however, was moments of idleness, opportunity to let my mind wander and explore the uncharted fringes of my mental scape, letting go of anxiety over the future and instead inviting future opportunities into this tiny cabin filled with the smell of wood and the crackling of fire in the stove. I am not big on New Year resolutions but this year I made myself a promise to intentionally create those moments of idleness back home, amid all the distractions, especially since it is not clear when we will be able to leave our house again.
When December 31 finally arrived and we stood around the campfire with our champagne-filled camp mugs, surrounded by the mountains, we almost missed 2021 nudge 2020 out. It happened quietly, without much fanfare, and just like that future became present while also firmly rooted in the past. Things didn’t change miraculously in that moment but on the day of our departure, Mother Nature enveloped the world in snow offering a clean canvas to write a new story for the year ahead.