About a month ago, as everyone headed for the stores to stock up on essentials, my first stop was at Lowe’s to get compost and more seeds for my seed bank. If we were to get stuck inside, I could at least make sure my balcony garden provided an escape from reality, which was quickly morphing into an episode of Black Mirror.
I know it’s a privilege to be able to focus on escapes when many people are just trying to survive. Both my husband and I are able to work from the safety of our home and not worry about income. One of our kids is a grown-up, the other one is getting there and is more of an adult in spirit than anyone in our family, so we don’t have to juggle work with constantly entertaining them or helping with school work. Unlike many people who are now alone and isolated, I am quarantined with my family. What’s more, we are well prepared for being cooped up in close quarters after years of spending days, sometimes weeks in a row, within the confines of our tent or a backcountry cabin, with just the four of us for company. Continue reading
The winter in Toronto has been a bit of a disappointment so far. It is a matter of opinion, of course. Some people are quite happy with milder than usual temperatures and almost complete lack of snow. Not me, though. Apart from sporadic bursts of season-appropriate weather, we seem to have been stuck in an eternal November loop as if the winter has forgotten how to do winter. So a couple of weekends ago we decided to chase it and headed up north to Windy Lake Provincial Park.
Our pursuit of winter took us to Windy Lake Provincial Park
It was a grey day. Not weather wise. On the contrary, outside it was a complete whiteout as if the weather gods finally remembered it was winter and dropped the world into a giant snow globe. No, the greyness was inside – heavy, viscous, murky fluid filling every little corner, every nook.
Magic belongs in fairy tales and children’s imagination. At least, that’s what we are taught as we grow up. Our belief in magic, however, never fully goes away, and at no time this yearning is more apparent than around Christmas and New Year’s. We don’t even celebrate Christmas on December 25, and yet, I get swept up into the whole Christmas lights powered bonanza and half expect Santa to show up. Or continue to make a wish the moment the clock strikes 12 on New Year’s convinced it will definitely come true this time, even if results so far have been patchy at best.
This yearning for holiday magic drove our decision to swap the years-long tradition of ringing in the new year with overeating and watching TV in the comfort of our home for a celebration in a cabin in the woods around a meal that usually consists of left-overs found at the bottom of our food barrel. A fairy-tale looking cabin amidst snow-covered woods or a celebration among the stars is way more memorable and magical.
This year, we took our magic pursuit one step further and headed for a place that came straight out of fantasy – the Hobbit House. No, we didn’t need to transport ourselves into Tolkien’s universe. Didn’t even have to go to New Zealand (although I wouldn’t mind that). The Shire was found not in Middle-earth but rather Upper Laurentians in Quebec at the place called Les Toits du Monde (Roofs of the World).
Happy New Year from the Hobbit House! Continue reading
Here we are again: another year, another “best of” post. 2019 didn’t feature any big road trips but it doesn’t mean there were no memorable adventures – they were just shorter and close to home. The only exception was our trip to Ukraine with my younger son. The trip didn’t involve any camping so didn’t make it into this blog but it did bring some interesting insights. It was a disconcerting experience at first – I felt like a tourist in my home country. Everything looked familiar, yet unrecognizable, as if I lost the key and could no longer decipher the code.
My trip to Ukraine was a little disorienting at first – I felt like a tourist in my home country
One afternoon we took a break from sightseeing and decided to hike down to the River Prut that runs through my home town of Chernivtsi. I’d walked that path so many times before with my older son, back then still a baby, but it was as if I landed in a new place. What used to be open fields was now a tightly woven jungle of trees and grasses. Yet, in this disorienting landscape, I felt less lost and confused than when I was twenty or so years ago when the surroundings were open and clear. That twenty-year-old person didn’t feel like me; she was more of a faint memory, someone I once knew. We all change as we grow up but usually that transformation is slow and gradual and not immediately apparent. It is only when we return to the places that knew us when we were younger, that we are confronted with those distant versions of ourselves.
The trail I often walked with my older son when he was still a baby looked completely different this time around
It wasn’t until we reached the river that I started to feel at home again. And I thought that home for me doesn’t have exact geographical coordinates. It’s wherever there is water and hills and trees – be it the river of my childhood, the lakes of Algonquin, the forest behind my grandparents’ house, Killarney’s white cliffs or the Carpathian Mountains where I hiked with my classmates. Every camping trip for me is not just an adventure or escape from the city. It is about coming home.
Once I got to the river of my childhood, I finally started to feel at home
And with that preamble, here is a list of the best “coming home” experiences of 2019.
I’ve been thinking about change lately. And not only because the world is suspended in a grey space between the fall lushness and the white splendour of winter. Or because we are about to put another decade behind us. Our family is going through a change as well. Not a massive seismic shift. More of a gentle, gradual transformation, like the water reshaping the shore of the lake or the forest constantly redrawing its contours.
Sometimes beauty roars. It stares right at you – an immense chasm of Grand Canyon, billions of years in the making. Or a vast expanse of the Pacific pushing its grandeur towards the shore, wave after rolling wave. It towers over you like giant sequoias or imposing cliffs of the Rockies. This is the kind of beauty that overpowers, overwhelms, humbles. It reminds us how tiny we, humans, are.
But there are times when beauty whispers. It requires listening intently not only with our ears but every fibre of our beings. It demands that we look closely – the kind of gaze that radiates right from our core. This beauty tells of nature’s attention to detail, reminds how much work has gone into creating those perfect lines and curves.
The sound of waves slowly fills up the space around me to the point where nothing else can fit in. I feel my eyelids get heavy under the sun’s gentle kisses. My body sinks into a tree trunk, slowly adjusting to bumps and cracks like a memory-foam mattress, until it merges with the driftwood, polished and white like a bone of a giant prehistoric animal. The sound of waves seeps into my skin, fills up my brain, overflows my body. I imagine myself one of the sand grains tucked into cracks in the wood. After what feels like eternity, I finally open my eyes. Gulls pierce the air with their impossible screeches, clouds of birds covering the sky. I sit up and notice a woman watching me intently not too far away.
Very few things can ground you like a long portage. Nothing exists in this moment but the trail under your feet and the pressure of the pack straps against your shoulders. An inch-long line on the map stretches on forever, turning into rocks and streams and upward climbs, pools of mud in the low areas, rickety boards thrown across. You count every step as the portage unspools in front of you – Ariadne’s thread leading to the shiny waters.
All set for our longest portage yet
And away we go – only 2,895 metres till Lake Louisa Continue reading
Some trails sneak into your life effortlessly, quietly, without much fanfare. One day you turn around and there it is, lying on the ground behind you like an unspooled thread. Other trails take years to complete. Not because they are so long but because every time you attempt to hike them, something comes up between you and the trail: lack of time, bad weather, non-hiking mood, other laziness-inspired excuses. Lakeshore Trail in Silent Lake Provincial Park is one of the latter.