Last year, when the word ‘pandemic’ split our world into the before and after, I headed to Lake Ontario to watch the sunrise – my attempt to find an anchor, something to hold on to in the face of uncertainty. Last week, I found myself on the same spot at Humber Bay Park, next to an uprooted tree trunk, stripped and polished by water into a work of art – a foreground for many of my Lake Ontario pictures. A few of its roots and branches had gone missing since last year – a big triangular shape that had worked so well for framing the CN Tower was now gone. Other than that the scene looked no different from last year – the same fiery orange paint spilled along the edge of the sky in anticipation of the big star’s entry, the same comforting lull of the lake…
Early morning is my favourite time of the day. As I lie in bed, eyes still closed, I savour the silence, interrupted only by deep breathing and an occasional snore from my husband and kids. I finally open my eyes and look through the window – craggy silhouettes of Green Mountains slowly come into focus. It takes me a few minutes to remember it’s January 1st. Which means 2021 is here. And even though in this tiny cabin in southern Quebec, in the presence of eons-old peaks, time units like years seem ridiculously arbitrary and inconsequential, even though I am fully aware that pandemics and other global crises don’t follow a calendar, I still can’t help that growing sense of relief. 2020 is finally over.
“Humans have spent centuries perfecting the indoors,” notes my older son as he moves closer to the campfire. “Only for you to drag us all the way here to battle the elements.”
I know he’s only half-joking. This is the first night of our backpacking trip at Pukaskwa. We’ve just spent half a day hiking in the pouring rain, at times through ankle deep water and a good portion of the trail over slippery rocks. So I can see why our kids are not particularly excited about the whole endeavour. And while our younger son simmers quietly by the fire waiting for food, the older one launches into one of his philosophical arguments.
Once we get some chili into them and dry clothes on them, the mood improves considerably. But I can still feel spoken and unspoken doubts floating around under our green tarp, getting trapped in the criss-cross of clothing lines that spot everything from t-shirts to socks to underwear, wrapped in a dense coat of smoke courtesy of wet firewood. Eventually, we pack our edible stuff into the food locker and retreat into our tents. Maybe not the type of indoors our older son had in mind, but the best shelter for this particular moment. As I fall asleep to the fading beat of raindrops against the nylon, I start wondering what we are searching for on the wildest of Lake Superior’s shores.
We drive around another bend on Highway 17 and my heart cracks open: framed by the green hills, a canvas of the brightest blue stretches all the way to the horizon until it merges with the sky. This is not our first trip to Lake Superior, yet every time we come here, its power strikes me in new, unexpected ways. Every time I feel my brain, my eyes, my heart are too ill-equipped to embrace the immense beauty of Gi chi Gamiing. Everything is exaggerated here: dramatic views, overwhelming rage, fiery sunsets, deep calm painted in cotton candy colours, sudden mood swings. More than anything, Lake Superior is a study in extremes.
Lake Superior is a study in extremes: the rage, the calm, the immense beauty – everything is exaggerated here.Continue reading →
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.
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.
Butterflies have been plentiful this year. All day they flutter by my office window, flaunting their exquisite dance moves and the kind of freedom that is only possible if you have wings. Lured by their charm and hoping to finally capture them in their glorious multitudes, I grab my camera and head to Colonel Samuel Smith Park near Lake Ontario. After an hour of unsuccessful wandering around, I am finally rewarded with a butterfly mosaic clustered in a tree. And while they don’t amount to millions, like in this story from University of Ottawa biology professor Jeremy Kerr about his visit to the monarchs’ overwintering site in Mexico, it is still a mesmerizing sight.
2018 had a lot going for it. It started with a magnificent sunrise from a hill-top cabin in Quebec. We travelled to California to spend time with my brother and his family. We visited many new parks, finally making it to Yosemite and Sequoia, and new cities, like San Francisco. We got to explore familiar places and see different sides of them. My essay about gardening appeared in The Globe and Mail connecting me with fellow gardeners and yielding a free bag of compost.
How often do you hear people say: “I wish I could do more of x (in my case spend more time outdoors) but life gets in the way”? I am not a big fan of that expression – “life gets in the way.” It’s right there with “time to return to real life.” Both imply that time spent outside is nothing more than a frivolous pursuit or, at best, an escape from our productive and important lives filled with jobs, chores and responsibilities.
There are days when I daydream about ditching the so-called “real life” for a life of outdoor adventures. I know, however, that right now it is not realistic. So instead my goal is to incorporate outdoors into my everyday life as much as possible, whether by making sure I take a walk during my lunch break, skipping the bus and walking part of the way home, growing a container garden on my balcony and filling my apartment with plants, or making weekend getaways and microadventures a priority.
This year, to celebrate fall’s arrival we decided to do something different. Just kidding. We headed to the woods in search of fall colors. Not the reds of maples, but the orange of monarch butterflies. Each year they congregate at Point Pelee in thousands before making their trip south. I’ve seen pictures of this miraculous sight but never actually experienced it. Plus the new oTENTiks now available in the park sounded like an attractive proposition. I love our tent – a lot. Occasionally, however, glamping with no camp to set up can be very alluring, especially for a quick weekend getaway.