January 1st started with grey skies and a drizzle. As I drank my first coffee of the year on the balcony of our cabin perched on top of a cliff, I watched the opposite shore of Lac du Cordon drift in and out of sight. There was a certain, almost soothing rhythm to this game of hide-and-seek as the fog moved in repainting the hills across the white expanse of the lake grey to match the sky, then slowly dissipated only to roll back in again. It wasn’t the most promising start of the year as if nature mirrored the uncertainty and sadness of our pandemic reality. But then a flock of white-winged crossbills swooped in, pops of red and yellow against the greyness of the morning, and provided a much-needed reminder that beauty and joy can be found in the gloomiest of times.
Our tradition to celebrate the arrival of each year in the woods is now a decade long. There is something magical about being in the presence of trees, lakes and rocks, many of which predate us by hundreds, thousands or even millions of years, that captures the wholeness of time and helps reconnect with the wondrous realm beyond our human world. Plus, being away from the everyday noise, both literal and digital, allows us to turn the gaze inward, take stock of the past twelve months and look into the future.
This year, we headed to Parc Eco des Laurentides in Quebec, home to Les Refuges Perchés. This treehouse village has 20 rustic dwellings scattered in the woods around Lac du Cordon. Some are houses on stilts perched among the trees; others are hanging on the side of a cliff above the lake. All of them are unique and full of whimsy as if they have come straight out of fairy-tales to speak directly to the child in all of us.
I must confess that I had a hard time choosing a cabin for our stay. As I looked at pictures of hanging bridges, winding stairs, turrets and terraces, balconies and rooftop decks, I wanted to stay in all of them. We finally settled on Cliff House 18 because it seemed to offer the best view. When I clicked the reserve button, I could already picture myself with a cup of coffee on its balcony watching the slopes of the Laurentians rise above the treetops. I wasn’t mistaken: our cliff house did have the best lake vista. Plus, it came with a bonus view underneath. The house truly lived up to the cliff part in its name: through a grate on our balcony we could see it hanging over the edge of a cliff. It reminded me of looking through the CN Tower glass floor, except the CN Tower doesn’t have a frozen waterfall right underneath so our cliff house definitely won view-wise. Every morning, as I stepped outside our door, I would catch a glimpse of ice clinging to the rock wall and feel the thrill of walking over nothingness.
Our first introduction to the cliff house, however, happened in the dark. By the time, we arrived in the park, registered at the reception, picked up a power pack for the lights and wood for the stove, filled canisters with water, loaded our sleds and finally pulled them at the back of our cabin half an hour later, the sky was already inky blue. While we could see a glimmer of ice and snow through the grate down below, the full splendour of the views both in front and underneath didn’t fully reveal itself until the next morning. On that first night, we enjoyed the comforts of the indoors: the warmth of the stove, Louisiana-style curry from Backpacker’s Pantry and multiple rounds of board and card games.
When I woke up the next morning, the opposite shore was obscured by a curtain of tiny snow pellets. I took my coffee outside where I sipped it watching the hills come into view. Blue jays swooshed back and forth and squirrels screeched with indignation or delight (it’s hard to tell with squirrels). With every sip of coffee, I could also taste serenity and stillness, the taste that has become elusive in the whirlwind of news over the past few weeks. Here, in this tiny house perched on top of a cliff, on this balcony hovering over nothingness, I could finally let go of anxieties and worries over the future and just be.
Over the next few days, we embraced the unhurried pace of nature and spent a lot of time reading, playing games and watching birds, all in between multiple cups of coffee and plates of delicious foods.
We roamed the park’s many trails. We snowshoed Le Panoramique trail – a short but vigorous climb to a lookout that offered a captivating view of the Laurentian Mountains and a rare glimpse of the blue sky peeking through the grey shield.
We hiked around the lake, along rocky shores, through snow covered woods and across wooden bridges.
On New Year’s Eve, as we waited for the Earth to complete its journey around the Sun, we huddled around campfire taking in its warmth and light and reminiscing about our favourite memories of the past year. Turned out that even amidst constant uncertainty of the pandemic, anxieties brought on by the virus’s unrelenting strive to reinvent itself, our infinite collective grief over so many lost lives, there was still plenty of light – beautiful moments of connection and joy that somehow managed to balance all the bleakness of the world. When the planet started yet another run along its orbit through the vastness of space and time, we raised our glasses to those memories and then carved 2022 into the darkness with sparklers – a long-standing tradition that took on a new layer of metaphorical meaning this year.
On January 1st, once the drizzle stopped, we decided to hike L’Aventurier trail. Since it was already late in the day to cover all six kilometres of it, plus whatever it would take to get to and from the trailhead, we settled on the section leading to a lookout. After a little over two kilometres of huffing and puffing, we got to an opening in the trees that revealed a thick layer of fog with nothing but a faint outline of Lac du Cordon breaking through it. Seemed like another apt metaphor for the year ahead. Yet, even though the view in front of us was lacking clarity, the trail reminded us that there was a lot of joy to be found in walking it, especially in a great company. And that’s the lesson I am bringing with me as we head into the fog of 2022.
Les Refuges Perchés eco-resort is located in the protected forest of the 1500-acre Parc Eco des Laurentides in Quebec, just south of Mont-Tremblant. There are 20 treehouses on the property, all built with environmentally friendly materials. Every house is unique and can accommodate from two to six people.
We stayed at Cliff House 18. It was pretty spacious and featured beds for six people, a kitchen area with a propane stove (you can bring your own gas or purchase it at the reception), plus all the cooking and eating paraphernalia. There was also a folding table and chairs, and a woodstove. In the winter, the resort provides one bag of ecologs per night (we only used half of ours; the cabin is well insulated). Wood for the outdoor campfire needs to be purchased separately. There’s electric lighting in the house but you have to rent a power pack. Potable water is available at the reception. Two 15-litre water containers are provided for free: one for drinking, one for washing dishes. We also brought our 23-litre canister so that way we didn’t have to go back and forth to get more water.
All the houses are walk-ins, anywhere from five to twenty minutes away depending on the house, so be prepared to transport your own gear. Two sleds are provided in the winter; carts are available during other seasons. There’s a very decent outhouse nearby; flush toilets and showers are accessible 24/7 at the reception pavilion.
The park has an extensive network of trails for hiking, snowshoeing and skiing. Snowshoes can be rented at the reception. Canoes and kayaks are available for rent during warmer months.