Watering the planet: My garden, climate crisis and what love’s got to do with it

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.

tomato plants in a container garden Continue reading

In the Tall Grass: Microadventuring in Windsor

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.

driftwood on the beach

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A serious case of butterflies

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.

monarch butterflies in a tree Continue reading

Close-up magic or my search for a fern flower

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.


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Great Lakes Water Walk: #BecauseOfWater

Nibi, Gizaagi’igo, Gimiigwechiwenimigo, Gizhawenimigo

Water, we love you, we thank you, we respect you

Nibi Nagamowin (The Water Song)

We make our way through J.C. Saddington park to the waterfront where beautiful Lake Ontario stretches before our eyes. Bathed in early morning light, its waters glisten and melt into the coral sky.

Lake Ontario in the morning

Lake Ontario bathed in morning light, one of the reasons we joined Great Lakes Water Walk Continue reading

Happy trails and trillium tales at the Happy Valley Forest

Last Friday, I realized it’s been a while since our last microadventure. Climate March, rainy weather, our son moving back home for his summer break – and the next thing we know three weeks have gone by without a nature outing. Add to that extremely busy times at work – and I was starting to feel the lack of Vitamin N. As another weekend rolled in, I was looking forward to getting outside and hopefully catching a glimpse of trilliums. My search for the best trillium-viewing spot rendered a place called the Happy Valley Forest. Seemed like a perfect spot to get a boost of happiness.

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Weekend Update: nature in the city, geocaching and Outdoor Adventure Show

Lately, I’ve been falling behind on our adventure write-ups. I am midway through our Family Day Weekend at Allegany trip report, and I haven’t even started writing about our hike at Terra Cotta Conservation Area from two weeks ago. But it’s a good problem to have. Better to have too many nature adventures than not enough. Although it never feels like too many. I don’t think having too much nature time is even possible.

Because our younger son was performing at the Youth Dance Festival on Saturday, we had to cancel or rather scale down our weekend microadventure. Instead of going on an all-day hike somewhere close to the city, we spent two hours in the nearby West Deane Park along the Mimico Creek.

information panel at West Deane Park

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Rethinking Wild Places or Search for Trees in the City

“Let’s go find some trees,” my friend said a few days ago. So here we are sitting on a rock in High Park where trees are not hard to come across. They are right in front of us, sticking their bare branches into the sky. I try to block out the noise coming from Queensway and imagine I am in the forest. Not an easy task so I focus on birds chirping and twittering instead.

setting sun in High Park

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How Green of a Camper Are You? Ways to Reduce the Environmental Impact of Your Trips

Green and camping seem to  go together naturally. What can be greener than spending time in nature? Unfortunately, every time we go camping, we witness activities that are the complete opposite. I am always perplexed by people who insist on driving their cars everywhere in the park: store, wood yard, trail, comfort station? Isn’t the whole point of getting outside to get some exercise? I am appalled by the amount of disposable plates, cups and cutlery that often piles up on some of the sites and disgusted by garbage found on the beach and along trails. And why do people feel they have the right to turn lakes into their personal bathtubs even if there are no shower facilities nearby?

Camping is a great way to connect with nature, relieve stress, get some exercise and fresh air. The benefits are endless. Yet we shouldn’t forget that our mere presence in the parks can be damaging, so we have to make every effort to minimize our impact. If we want to ensure that our children have an opportunity to enjoy nature the way we do, we need to adopt camping practices that promote nature preservation and sustainability.

Here are some ways we try to make our camping trips greener.

Ditch your car, walk or bike instead

boy with a bikeOntario Parks encourage their visitors to park once and walk or bike the rest of the stay. Last year, we finally managed to do that. We used our bikes or feet to get to park stores, beaches, trail heads, even to bring fire wood. Granted it is sometimes hard to do it in larger parks, like Algonquin or Lake Superior. Several national parks in the United States, including Glacier, Rocky Mountain and Grand Canyon, offer free shuttle bus service to their visitors in an effort to reduce traffic on their roads. Hopefully, parks in Canada will consider introducing a similar service. In the meantime, we try to focus on exploring nearby trails and lakes and plan stops at faraway attractions on our way home.

Dispose of your garbage properly

disposing of garbageI am not just talking about not littering here. That should be engrained. It is also important to properly dispose of your garbage at recycling centres available in most camping parks. Sorting your recyclables doesn’t take too long and ensures they don’t end up in a landfill.

Last year, we also tried to reduce the amount of garbage we produce. We buy a lot of our food in bulk and then bring the necessary amount in reusable containers. We try to buy less packaged food and cook more from scratch (there are lots of simple delicious camping recipes that don’t require a lot of time or preparation).

Forgo disposable products

Sometimes I wish parks and conservation areas just banned disposable products all together. This summer, we watched our neighbours accumulate four huge garbage bags of disposable plates, cups and cutlery over two days. Yes, they were a large group of people but that also means they had more than enough people to do the dishes. Yes, washing the dishes isn’t fun, especially in the woods. But isn’t removing yourself from the conveniences of civilization part of the attraction? Just think of it as part of the wilderness survival challenge. gnocchi

We haven’t used disposable eating utensils in years. Last summer, together with our friends, we decided to ditch foil roasting pans as well. Even with reusing them a couple of times, it was still a waste. The regular roasting pan we use at home works just fine outside. We also bring kitchen towels instead of paper ones because we prefer our trees in their original form and not on our table in the form of paper napkins.

Use biodegradable dishwashing products and toiletries

We don’t use any commercial chemicals-packed dishwashing liquids or beauty products at home and it’s even more important to avoid them in nature. Baking soda can do the job just fine or if you need some bubbles, you can make your own dishwashing liquid using Dr. Bronner’s castile soap (we just dilute it in water 1:3 and add 1 tablespoon of washing soda for each liter of liquid plus a few drops of any essential oil for smell). Castile soap is also great for washing yourself. Your skin will thank you. If you are not into making your own dishwashing liquid, shampoo or toothpaste, you can always buy eco-friendly biodegradable options. And avoid using any toiletries around rivers and lakes. A few days without a shower will not kill you.

There are lots of other ways to make your camping more eco-friendly, like buying used equipment or renting it from an outfitter, staying on trails and using marked campsites, using proper firewood, respecting wildlife, taking nothing but pictures and memories. Visit Leave No Trace Canada website to learn more about what you can do to reduce your environmental impact. Parks and conservation areas are here for us to not only enjoy but also protect nature. Let’s remember that!

custer state park


Nature Literacy: Why Children Need to Spend More Time in Nature

Last week was a Family Literacy Week in Canada. Lots of resources and tips were shared about reading and language development. Both are essential skills for every kid, without a doubt, but all those posts made me think about the kind of literacy that doesn’t often get much air – nature literacy.

Recently, I read about Oxford Junior Dictionary taking out 50 nature-related words and replacing them with tech vocabulary. Someone decided that words like acorn and cauliflower weren’t as important for seven-year-olds as say broadband and cut-and-paste. Considering that kids already spend too much time in front of the screen (over 7.5 hours a day for children in Canada according to Participaction), it seems like a dangerous trend. Children nowadays can probably name more computer game characters and social media platforms than types of trees or flowers, let alone identify those trees and flowers when they see them. Apparently, 80% of kids in America will never see the Milky Way in their lifetime (I couldn’t find the figure for Canada but I can’t imagine it would be much different) but I am sure they will have no shortage of space movies and video games. A lot of kids have no idea where their food comes from and consume nature in prepackaged bits at a zoo or aquarium. There is even a term for it now ‘nature deficit disorder,’ coined by Richard Louv, author of The Last Child in the Woods.

We could argue that our technology oriented world demands that kids become tech-savvy at an increasingly earlier age and that being able to identify a tree or a bird isn’t an essential skill unless you are, say, a biologist. Plus, you can always look it up online, right? Well, we often forget that spending time in nature offers a wide range of benefits, including extensive opportunities for learning and creativity, increased physical fitness levels and improved mental health. And it is proven that children that get early exposure to nature grow up to be better stewards of our planet, something we definitely need these days of climate change and resource shortage.

We as a family love all nature-related activities. Our kids have been going camping, canoeing, hiking, biking, skiing and snowshoeing with us since a very early age. We grow herbs and vegetables in our tiny balcony garden and love visiting pick-your-own farms in the summer. So we know firsthand how beneficial nature can be for both children and adults. Here are a few reasons to get outside with your family.

family in a tent

Camping at Pukaskwa National Park

biking at Prince Edward Isalnd

Biking at Prince Edward Island

child paddling

First paddle at Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park


Kayaking at Bay of Fundy


Skiing at Killarney Provincial Park

hiking Abes and Essens

Backpacking at Bon Echo

Endless opportunities for learning

When we think of learning, we immediately imagine a structured school environment with printed and online resources. We often forget that nature is, in fact, one big classroom with limitless opportunities for exploration and learning. Unlike school, this outdoor classroom is inspired by the surroundings and guided by children’s interests. When we hiked at Badlands, we learned about sedimentary rock, buffalo and the tragic history of the Lacota people. We attended a ranger talk about fossils and imagine our excitement when we found one ourselves. Yellowstone and Craters of the Moon were perfect locations for learning more about volcanoes. Our trip to Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick was all about tidal activity. When we headed for the Maritimes, we started reading Anne of Green Gables and the whole book came to life once we arrived to Prince Edward Island. While visiting Algonquin Park, we learn as much about boreal forests and Canadian Shield as we do about the impact of logging and legacy of Tom Thompson. When we stay up at night to watch the stars either at Glacier National Park in Montana or Bruce Peninsula in Ontario, we talk about constellations, celestial bodies, possibilities of space travel and our vulnerability as humans in this vast Universe.



Craters of the Moon


kayaking at Bay of Fundy  patting a manatee

feeding a bird

As you can see, learning topics extend way beyond local flora and fauna (and we do carry plant and bird guides with us to help us identify different species). In addition, because all those learning experiences are so multidimensional and multisensory, kids actually remember them long after the trip is over. A couple of years ago, I volunteered to help with the Scientist in the School session at my son’s school. The topic was “Types of Rocks.” As the kids were doing activities about sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic rocks, my son quickly pointed out that Badlands was a good example of sedimentary rock and igneous rock could be found at the Craters of the Moon. He was referring to the road trip we’d taken the summer before. To him, all those types of rocks were more than just a description or a picture in a book, it was something he saw, touched and climbed.

Imagination and creativity

I’ve often heard parents brag about their kids being able to open programs on a computer or enter a password into an iPad or iPhone. I can see how it may seem fascinating that our children can operate such an impressive piece of technology, something we couldn’t even imagine when we were their age. In reality, it’s about remembering a sequence of operations, something kids are naturally very good at. The sad truth about the plastic abundance of toys and electronic vortex of entertainment is that it takes away kids’ ability to develop their imagination and creativity.

Outdoors, on the other hand, is a magical land where anything can be a tool and material for creation. We’ve seen our kids spend hours building forts out of driftwood and dams out of rocks. The beach is a perfect construction site for castles, cities and, once, a very imaginative cricket course. And a stick is never just a stick!

fundy-46  playing in the sand

Driftwood beech

beach   playing on the beach

writing on the sand

Ability to get mesmerized

We live in the world of 24/7 entertainment and special effects. We now expect to be constantly kept amused and we want the entertainment to be increasingly brighter, more exciting and stimulating. The downside is that we gradually lose our ability to be awed. After all the Disney World rides, a simple hike in the woods may seem less than exciting to children nowadays. And animals in the wild don’t always show up on cue or perform the way they do at Marineland or even at the zoo.

catching snowflakes

Yet, spending a lot of time in nature can help keep this feeling of childlike wonder not only alive but flourishing. During our travels, we get excited when we see a bison crossing the road or a hummingbird fluttering by. Our kids can spend hours watching mountain goats scaling a hillside or snakes weaving their way through the rocks. Sunset colours are more mesmerizing than any electronically produced special effects and a rainbow dancing in a geyser is the best light show ever, according to our son.

Mountain goats at Custer state park



enjoying the view at Cape Breton

Healing through nature

Recently, more and more studies talk about green therapy. People who live near green spaces have fewer physical and mental health problems and spending time in nature helps manage ADHD symptoms in children. To us, all these findings are common sense, practically axiomatic. Of course, you get fitter as you hike, bike and paddle all day. And kids who have problems concentrating will certainly do better after they get an opportunity to run around. As for nature’s effect of mental health, isn’t it constantly exploited by the sellers of ‘soothing sounds of nature’ CDs and natural scents? But why settle for artificial if you can have a real thing for free?

In our family, nature is a go-to happy place. We all believe in the power of a walk in the woods and the miraculous effects of a nature detox.

view from the Sleeping Giant

kids fishing

Acquiring new skills and confidence

Our kids know how to pitch a tent, make a fire and paddle a canoe. They’ve done portaging and backpacking in the backcountry. At fourteen, our older son was able to cook a complete meal in the woods, from chopping wood to clean-up. I know chopping wood is not on the top of must-have skills these days. However, a kid who can do that has no problem making something for dinner in everyday life. Plus learning all these skills gives them a sense of accomplishment, instills confidence and makes them feel more independent and grown-up. Our older son now has his own tent (a present for his 18th birthday) and he loves it, even if it means more work for him with setting it up and then putting it down at the end of the trip.

backpacking in Bon Echo  making fire

cooking  pushing a canoe

When we are camping, everyone has to pitch in and kids don’t complain about having to do chores. In fact, most of the time they are happy to bring water, collect firewood, clean the dishes, and carry their things across portages and on backpacking trips. And they always want to come back!

Time to spend together

The biggest gift of nature is the time we spend together. Away from distractions and schedules, we have time to explore and learn together, play games, sing songs and talk around the campfire. There is also plenty of time to be on your own if you wish to enjoy the view or read a book. The fact that our 18-year-old still wants to go camping with us and gets upset if he misses a trip is my biggest validation if I ever needed one.


kids by the lake

canoeing on a foggy lake

sitting on a dock  reading a book

Lake of the clouds

Connection to nature

According to Robert Macfarlane, “We do not care for what we do not know.” So for me as a parent, the main goal of all our camping trips and adventures is for my kids to get to know nature on a very personal and intimate level, not just something they see in books and on TV or learn about in their science class. I want them to feel part of it and be more mindful of the negative impact we as humans can have. Because they know that stuff doesn’t magically appear in the store but is made of resources that are extracted from the earth, they don’t ask for the latest gadgets or toys. When things break down, their first question is whether we can fix it and not if we can buy a new one. When choosing a university program, our older son picked civil engineering determined to help create more sustainable cities. And our younger son plans nature-themed birthday parties and uses them to fundraise for organizations like World Wildlife Fund.

climate march  we only have 1 planet

Yesterday, after our walk in the neighbourhood park, my 10-year-old son asked, “Do you think there will ever be time with no outdoors, just buildings everywhere, when even parks will be inside in a simulated environment?” I thought for a second and then we both said at the same time, “I hope not.” “We just need more kids like you,” I added.