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.
“We forgot to do our highlights of the trip,” said my husband right after we crossed the border.
“Well, good thing we still have another four hours of driving ahead of us.”
We love road trips. Every summer we pick a destination, map out stops along the way, pile into our car and go. Sure, long driving stretches can sometimes be tiring but they provide a nice transition from the structured busyness of everyday life. A drive back works in reverse offering an opportunity to leave our vacation behind. That’s when we reminisce about everything we’ve seen and done and try to narrow all the experiences down to ten best. Not an easy task.
This year’s trip took us from 282 feet below the sea level in Death Valley
to almost 10,000-foot altitudes of High Sierra.
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.
We drive through a small fishing village of Trout River, and the paved road turns into packed ground. “Are you sure this is the right way?” asks my husband. “Of course,” I reply trying to sound more confident than I feel. We can’t afford to get lost now. It’s almost six and I know the Tablelands visible from the Trout River campground look best in the late afternoon light. With rain in the forecast for the next two nights, this might be my only chance to witness this sight.
As soon as we check in at the campground, I grab my camera and head down to the Trout River Pond but not without promising to help set up when I come back. I follow a short trail down to a small pebble beach. There are a couple of kids skipping stones, a lone kayaker disturbing the otherwise perfectly smooth pond, and across a long, narrow strip of water rise the golden slopes of the Tablelands. Imposing and otherworldly, they are admiring their reflection. And who can blame them. Bathed in the evening light, they are spectacular.
The Tablelands admiring their reflection in the Trout River Pond
I adjust my camera bag and look up. Gros Morne Mountain looms in front of us, and the only way to the top is via a path strewn with rocks and boulders of various sizes. About a kilometre of a steep climb that will take us an hour to complete. Once we get to Gros Morne park’s highest point, we will trek across the top of the mountain and then come back down via a path clinging to the mountainside. Even before we begin, I know this 16-kilometre hike will not only be the highlight of our Newfoundland trip and the year in general, but also one of our all-time favourites.
Gros Morne Mountain is calling