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