Today I realized it’s been almost two months since I posted anything on the blog. And sure, I could blame it on colder weather and fewer camping trips. But that, of course, is not the main reason. Connecting with nature, after all, doesn’t require days of paddling or backpacking. Nature can be experienced anywhere: during our weekly microadventures, a brief walk around the neighbourhood or even on my balcony in the middle of Toronto. This dry spell is not so much due to a lack of new locations but rather scarcity of new ideas. So here I am sitting in my bedroom, bathed in November’s late afternoon light, listening to a boisterous bickering of sparrows on my balcony, and attempting to tackle this writer’s block the way I would normally tackle a trail – by putting one foot in front of the other or, in this case, one word after another.
Today’s post is going to be about one my favourite microadventure destination – Boyne Valley Provincial Park. Our microadventure tradition started years ago, born out of recognition that we were more familiar with far away parks than places close to home. Since then, almost every Saturday, unless we were camping, we would pack snacks and drinks and head for a hike somewhere within an hour drive from Toronto. One by one, those stories made it onto these virtual pages, some places more than once. All but Boyne Valley.
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.
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.
Very few things can ground you like a long portage. Nothing exists in this moment but the trail under your feet and the pressure of the pack straps against your shoulders. An inch-long line on the map stretches on forever, turning into rocks and streams and upward climbs, pools of mud in the low areas, rickety boards thrown across. You count every step as the portage unspools in front of you – Ariadne’s thread leading to the shiny waters.
Some trails sneak into your life effortlessly, quietly, without much fanfare. One day you turn around and there it is, lying on the ground behind you like an unspooled thread. Other trails take years to complete. Not because they are so long but because every time you attempt to hike them, something comes up between you and the trail: lack of time, bad weather, non-hiking mood, other laziness-inspired excuses. Lakeshore Trail in Silent Lake Provincial Park is one of the latter.
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.
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.
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.
The weather forecast for Thanksgiving weekend didn’t look good. No matter how many times I refreshed the page, there was nothing but clouds and rain over the three days we planned to spend canoeing in Algonquin. The sun peeked in for a bit but then quickly disappeared behind clouds. Rain and clouds it was. Oh, and single digit temperatures. Nonetheless,we kept packing because barring some natural disaster, like a hurricane, we weren’t going to bail out.
Our plans caused all sorts of reactions: from raised eyebrows to horrified high-pitched “you will freeze” warnings. There were also expressions of admiration accompanied by badly concealed “you are nuts” looks. You’d think we were heading on a month-long mission to North Pole in nothing but shorts and t-shirts with a newborn in tow.
But seriously, why subject ourselves to what many may consider misery? Except to prove that we are not fair weather campers, of course. I had a lot of time to think about it as we paddled back through persistent rain, feeling drops forming rivulets down my face and water inevitably soaking through my underwear. Would I prefer a warmer weather? Sure, a bit of sun would be nice. Maybe a glimpse of sky, just a sliver, a bit of a silver lining so to say. Was it an enjoyable trip anyway? Absolutely.