Winter often gets a bad rap and I can see why: cold, wind chill, snow storms, extra challenges of getting outside that come with slippery roads or impassable snow banks, short days and all-consuming darkness. We often talk about winter as something to get through, huddled at home waiting for the arrival of better days. What we fail to see as we binge through yet another Netflix show is winter’s magic at work: crisp, sparkling air that fills our bodies with vigour and joy, softness of a snowfall that erases the edges and transforms familiar scenes, a promise of newness that comes with a fresh snow cover, mesmerizing creations chiselled out of ice. This past weekend we headed in search of this magic to Bruce Peninsula, a place where Niagara Escarpment’s rugged limestone cliffs and turquoise waters of Georgian Bay work together to create a masterpiece of a landscape. With an extra touch of winter’s artistic genius, the scenes were truly spellbinding.Continue reading
January 1st started with grey skies and a drizzle. As I drank my first coffee of the year on the balcony of our cabin perched on top of a cliff, I watched the opposite shore of Lac du Cordon drift in and out of sight. There was a certain, almost soothing rhythm to this game of hide-and-seek as the fog moved in repainting the hills across the white expanse of the lake grey to match the sky, then slowly dissipated only to roll back in again. It wasn’t the most promising start of the year as if nature mirrored the uncertainty and sadness of our pandemic reality. But then a flock of white-winged crossbills swooped in, pops of red and yellow against the greyness of the morning, and provided a much-needed reminder that beauty and joy can be found in the gloomiest of times.Continue reading
Celebrating New Year in the woods is always an interesting experience. Marking the change of arbitrary numbers among trees, hills and lakes that are oblivious to what year it is always feels weird, if not downright silly. In the woods, emptied of everyday routines and obligations, time stops being an accounting exercise where hours, days, years march by in a quick succession and becomes more of a space that you inhabit, an extended present moment that contains both past memories and future dreams at the same time. Standing in the presence of trees, hills and lakes as we exchange “Happy New Year!” is always a reminder that time isn’t linear, that it doesn’t pass by us but rather through us, that we can’t just put a year, not matter how bad, behind us because it inevitably becomes a part of us, like another ring in a tree trunk or a deepening crevice on the side of a mountain.Continue reading
The winter in Toronto has been a bit of a disappointment so far. It is a matter of opinion, of course. Some people are quite happy with milder than usual temperatures and almost complete lack of snow. Not me, though. Apart from sporadic bursts of season-appropriate weather, we seem to have been stuck in an eternal November loop as if the winter has forgotten how to do winter. So a couple of weekends ago we decided to chase it and headed up north to Windy Lake Provincial Park.
Our pursuit of winter took us to Windy Lake Provincial Park
Magic belongs in fairy tales and children’s imagination. At least, that’s what we are taught as we grow up. Our belief in magic, however, never fully goes away, and at no time this yearning is more apparent than around Christmas and New Year’s. We don’t even celebrate Christmas on December 25, and yet, I get swept up into the whole Christmas lights powered bonanza and half expect Santa to show up. Or continue to make a wish the moment the clock strikes 12 on New Year’s convinced it will definitely come true this time, even if results so far have been patchy at best.
This yearning for holiday magic drove our decision to swap the years-long tradition of ringing in the new year with overeating and watching TV in the comfort of our home for a celebration in a cabin in the woods around a meal that usually consists of left-overs found at the bottom of our food barrel. A fairy-tale looking cabin amidst snow-covered woods or a celebration among the stars is way more memorable and magical.
This year, we took our magic pursuit one step further and headed for a place that came straight out of fantasy – the Hobbit House. No, we didn’t need to transport ourselves into Tolkien’s universe. Didn’t even have to go to New Zealand (although I wouldn’t mind that). The Shire was found not in Middle-earth but rather Upper Laurentians in Quebec at the place called Les Toits du Monde (Roofs of the World).
Happy New Year from the Hobbit House! Continue reading
Here we are again: another year, another “best of” post. 2019 didn’t feature any big road trips but it doesn’t mean there were no memorable adventures – they were just shorter and close to home. The only exception was our trip to Ukraine with my younger son. The trip didn’t involve any camping so didn’t make it into this blog but it did bring some interesting insights. It was a disconcerting experience at first – I felt like a tourist in my home country. Everything looked familiar, yet unrecognizable, as if I lost the key and could no longer decipher the code.
My trip to Ukraine was a little disorienting at first – I felt like a tourist in my home country
One afternoon we took a break from sightseeing and decided to hike down to the River Prut that runs through my home town of Chernivtsi. I’d walked that path so many times before with my older son, back then still a baby, but it was as if I landed in a new place. What used to be open fields was now a tightly woven jungle of trees and grasses. Yet, in this disorienting landscape, I felt less lost and confused than when I was twenty or so years ago when the surroundings were open and clear. That twenty-year-old person didn’t feel like me; she was more of a faint memory, someone I once knew. We all change as we grow up but usually that transformation is slow and gradual and not immediately apparent. It is only when we return to the places that knew us when we were younger, that we are confronted with those distant versions of ourselves.
The trail I often walked with my older son when he was still a baby looked completely different this time around
It wasn’t until we reached the river that I started to feel at home again. And I thought that home for me doesn’t have exact geographical coordinates. It’s wherever there is water and hills and trees – be it the river of my childhood, the lakes of Algonquin, the forest behind my grandparents’ house, Killarney’s white cliffs or the Carpathian Mountains where I hiked with my classmates. Every camping trip for me is not just an adventure or escape from the city. It is about coming home.
Once I got to the river of my childhood, I finally started to feel at home
And with that preamble, here is a list of the best “coming home” experiences of 2019.
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.
Back in March, we headed to Gatineau to enjoy a well-deserved break and wrap up the winter glamping season. More than two months later, I still haven’t managed to put together a post about our trip. The reasons for those struggles have been plenty, with finding time near the top of the list. There was also the writer’s block that has been following me around since last year, failure to find a new angle for writing about the park we have already visited several times before and continuous attempts to perfect the video we filmed for my final video course project. And the more time passed since our trip and spring slowly but surely continued to establish its presence, the sillier it seemed to write about a winter trip.
It seems weird to be publishing a post about winter when spring is already in full swing – mud, rain and all. Still as I looked back at another great winter of outdoor adventures, I felt this often maligned season deserved some praise and love. So here we go.
Winter took some time coming in Toronto. But when it finally arrived, it more than made up for its earlier absence bringing record snow falls, freezing temperatures, freezing rain, wind storms, snow storms, even a snow day at schools, which hasn’t happened in a few years. All of this prompted ominous warnings from weather experts urging everyone to not leave the house ever again and, of course, endless complaints about what is actually a pretty normal winter behaviour. As we huddled in bus stops and cursed in traffic jams, we forgot that winter is more than the inconveniences it causes. With Family Day weekend approaching, we were determined to remind ourselves how to do winter right.
This is a story of a cabin. To be more specific, the Black Bear’s Den cabin at Silent Lake Provincial Park. But it doesn’t start with the cabin. It begins with a video course at Humber College, which I decided to take this January. Or maybe its origins are rooted in much earlier times marked with restlessness that led me to the Humber website in the first place in search of a distraction, something to get me out of the rut.
A cozy cabin at Silent Lake Provincial Park Continue reading