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.Continue reading
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
The news can be a little overwhelming these days. Did I say “a little”? “A lot” is what I meant. Last week, after only a few minutes of scrolling through my newsfeed, I got a sudden urge to throw away my phone. Instead, I turned it off and said to my son: “I need a break. I’ll go and water the planet.”
“The planet?” he raised his eyebrows. “That’s ambitious.”
What I meant, of course, was “the plants.” But as I was watering tomatoes and peppers in my balcony garden, I started thinking about California, Oregon and Washington and the amount of watering our planet requires to fight recurring wildfires all across the world, which are becoming more extensive and destructive as a result of climate crisis.
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
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.
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.
We are nearing the end of Isabel East Side Trail at Hockley Valley Provincial Nature Reserve when vigorous splashing coming from the creek stops us in our tracks. This is not our first time on this trail. In fact, this park just north of Orangeville has become a bit of a fall-back microadventure destination for those times when I fail to do research and find a new place to visit. This is one of those times.
“…when I am alone I can become invisible. I can sit
on the top of a dune as motionless as an uprise of weeds,
until the foxes run by unconcerned. I can hear the almost
unhearable sound of the roses singing.”
Mary Oliver “How I go to the woods”
I spot two loons gliding across the lake as I push my canoe off the shore. The sun made a grand entrance about half an hour ago but then slipped behind the clouds. The lake is so smooth I am almost hesitant to break its surface with my paddle. I follow the trail left by the birds, and as I turn around the bend I drift into what looks like a loon party.
“One, two, three…,” I start counting under my breath. “Eleven?!” A camping trip is never complete without seeing loons, and their calls are a perfect accompaniment for a backcountry experience. They, however, usually show up in pairs, occasionally there are three. Last year, we ran into a family with two chicks. Eleven seems like a minor miracle. I am bursting to shout, “Do you see this?” But I am by myself and no one around can share my excitement.
Waking up early has its perks: getting to see a crowd of loons is one of them
July 7th is Ivana Kupala, a traditional holiday celebrated in some Eastern European countries. That is according to the old Julian calendar, which is still used for holidays (that’s why Christmas is on January 7th and there is such thing as old New Year where I come from). According to the Gregorian calendar, the one we use today, that would correspond to June 24th making Ivana Kupala a summer solstice celebration. So no surprise that most of the activities happen on the night from July 6th to 7th, one of the shortest of the year.
Ivana Kupala (roughly translates as John the Bather) is a pre-Christian holiday associated with fertility and purification. Many of the rituals involve water and fire, which have sacral qualities on this night. Once Christianity was introduced, the day was renamed St. John the Baptist (I guess both have John and bathing in common). The old traditions, however, never fully disappeared. The holiday is still often referred to as Ivana Kupala fest and many of the rituals, like making flower wreaths and letting them float down the water or jumping through a bonfire, are featured at celebrations in Ukraine and other places in Eastern Europe.
Ivana Kupala festivities aside, many Ukrainian religious celebrations incorporate pre-Christian traditions. On this day, for instance, my grandparents decorated their house and gates with flowers. Pentecost is called the Green Fest and involves bringing branches of linden into the house. The centrepiece at Christmas Eve dinner is a wheat sheaf called Diduch symbolizing the spirit of our ancestors. Some of it could be explained by a relatively young age of Christianity in Ukraine. Most probably, it’s because our connection to nature is impossible to eradicate since we are part of it. My childhood visits with my grandparents involved many trips to church but religion, somehow, never really took root. Instead, forests and meadows became my cathedral and I learned to look for God in nature and see miracles between blades of grass and flower petals.
One of the activities on Ivana Kupala features a search for a fern flower. It is rumoured to blossom on this night only and will bring luck and happiness to the one who finds it. And while it’s not scientifically possible, it is a beautiful metaphor for our quest for magic, which is all around us if only we look close enough.