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.
The May long weekend made us sweat. Not literally – the weather was a bit on a cool side, actually, with generous helpings of rain. But the run-up to the weekend was marked with uncertainty and seemingly endless waiting as spring refused to show up and the late ice out kept pushing back the park opening date. Till about a couple of weeks before the trip it wasn’t clear whether we’d need to turn our canoe into an icebreaker. In the end, spring decided to grace us with her presence, albeit reluctantly, melting the remainder of ice, along with our worries, and the trip was a go.
Our first canoe trip of the year was marked with uncertainty, rain and moments of pure magic
Spring is finally here! To me, it means two things: more camping and gardening. So we spent the first day of spring planting and planning our next week’s trip to Algonquin. Our garden is not really a garden, just an assortment of containers and planters on the balcony, and I know it will create problems down the line once we start spending more time away and will need to find someone to water the plants. Yet every year I can’t resist a temptation to grow something from a seed. It is fascinating to watch a tiny speck turn into a full-grown plant. When I think about what I want to do when I get older, there is a part of me that dreams of a cabin away from people with a big garden. And then there is another part that just wants to hit the trail and never come back. To borrow a phrase from Erin McKittrick, author of Small Feet, Big Land Adventure, Home, and Family on the Edge of Alaska, I am a rooted wanderer.
A few days ago, Facebook reminded me that Toronto had a major snowstorm around this time last year and as a proof, pulled out a picture of my son, knee-deep in snow, playing soccer with his friend while waiting for a school bus (I captioned the photo “‘Snowccer’ Before School”). These days, with temperatures hovering way above zero, snow seems like a distant memory. This transition between fall and winter feels like a drawn-out pause filled with restlessness and longing for the crispness of a frosty day. With all the colourful foliage now turned into uniform brown mash under our feet and snow nowhere close on the horizon, landscapes around this time of the year may seem boring and lifeless. And the temptation to stay indoors, especially on a gloomy, overcast day like last Saturday, is quite strong.