I lower my canoe into the water at the end of a short portage from Ruth-Roy Lake into Johnnie, and it takes me a few minutes to register how smooth the water is. Every time I paddled Johnnie Lake in the last couple of days, it was choppy with a generous helping of a strong side wind. This unexpected calmness looks like a minor miracle; I do a quick happy dance. The night before I passed beautiful cliffs but couldn’t pause for photos for fear of being turned back or, worse, flipped over. With waters finally calm, I decide to take a quick detour from my trip back to the parking lot and make a stop by those cliffs for a few shots. The sky doesn’t look particularly supportive of this endeavour. Dark and heavy with copious amount of tears, it is threatening to unleash its pent-up sadness at any moment. I know rain is inevitable; I just hope it will hold off for another 30 minutes or so.
My attempt to ‘outpaddle’ rain to get a few photos of the cliffs on Johnnie Lake fails spectacularly.
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.
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.
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.
I am a mountain person at heart: the love that was born during my school trips to the Carpathian Mountains and nurtured during all those adventures around North America. So when the mountains call, as Muir so eloquently put it, I must go. Last summer, as I was planning our trip to California, many places were added, then scratched off the list. One destination, however, remained non-negotiable – Yosemite National Park, Muir’s old stomping grounds right in the heart of Sierra Nevada.
Sierra Nevada – view from Olmsted point in Yosemite National Park
What are the first signs of spring you usually look for? Tree branches swelling with buds, dainty flowers poking their delicate heads through last year’s leaves, that cheerful bird twitter in the morning. How about rushing waterfalls? Or better yet ankle-deep, thick mud. We certainly encountered a lot of the latter on our most recent microadventure.
Spring, when rivers are at their fullest after the snowmelt, is the best time for waterfall chasing. And with Hamilton, the waterfall capital of the world, located less than an hour away, finding one is never a problem. (Although deciding on which of its 100 tumbling water features to visit can sometimes present a dilemma). Then, once we enjoy the sight and sound of rushing water, we find Bruce Trail or one of its tributaries, which are always bound to be somewhere nearby, and set out on a hike.
Our most recent microadventure took us to Smokey Hollow Falls, also known as Grindstone, Waterdown or Great Falls Continue reading
2018 had a lot going for it. It started with a magnificent sunrise from a hill-top cabin in Quebec. We travelled to California to spend time with my brother and his family. We visited many new parks, finally making it to Yosemite and Sequoia, and new cities, like San Francisco. We got to explore familiar places and see different sides of them. My essay about gardening appeared in The Globe and Mail connecting me with fellow gardeners and yielding a free bag of compost.
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.
This year, to celebrate fall’s arrival we decided to do something different. Just kidding. We headed to the woods in search of fall colors. Not the reds of maples, but the orange of monarch butterflies. Each year they congregate at Point Pelee in thousands before making their trip south. I’ve seen pictures of this miraculous sight but never actually experienced it. Plus the new oTENTiks now available in the park sounded like an attractive proposition. I love our tent – a lot. Occasionally, however, glamping with no camp to set up can be very alluring, especially for a quick weekend getaway.