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.
All set for our longest portage yet
And away we go – only 2,895 metres till Lake Louisa Continue reading
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.
A canoe trip can make or break a relationship, or at least seriously test it. It also makes for an excellent romantic getaway. Sure, all that paddling is tiring, portages are exhausting, and you are drenched in sweat by the end of the day. But then there are awe-inspiring views, sunrise paddles and cuddles by the moon, fine dining by the lake (Backpacker’s Pantry and AlpineAire offer some deliciously fancy meals like Pad Thai and Triple Berry Crumble) and leisurely coffee by the campfire, relaxing swims in the clearest water, loon serenades, and, with no people for miles, as much privacy as you could ever wish for, making you truly feel like you are the only people in the world. I watch romantic comedies. I know what it takes.
Canoe trips feature fine dining by the lake
There are also beautiful evenings by the campfire
And don’t forget breathtaking views enjoyed together
On top of all this romance 101, canoe trips lend themselves to moments, which, while not often featured in love stories, are arguably even more romantic. For instance, when my husband volunteers to get into knee-deep mud to push the canoe or does all the camp set-up so that I can take advantage of the evening light to take photos. My favourite part, however, is an opportunity to share an experience that is uniquely our own and create an endless supply of “remember when” stories and references that no one but us will understand.
My favourite part is creating special memories and “remember when” stories to bring back
This August, my husband and I set out on our second backcountry trip as a couple and our longest canoe trip yet. After visiting Grace and Nellie Lakes in western Killarney last year, we decided to continue exploring this less travelled and considerably less crowded part of the park. Our route started at Widgawa Lodge on Highway 6, traversed Murray, Howry, Fish, Great and Little Mountain Lakes, Three Narrows, McGregor Bay, Low and Helen, Nellie, and finally Grace Lake, plus endless creeks and swamps, and finished back at Widgawa. Eight days and more than 90 kilometers later, we emerged with 1,645 photos and even more special memories.
Here are some of the highlights. Continue reading
“…when I am alone I can become invisible. I can sit
on the top of a dune as motionless as an uprise of weeds,
until the foxes run by unconcerned. I can hear the almost
unhearable sound of the roses singing.”
Mary Oliver “How I go to the woods”
I spot two loons gliding across the lake as I push my canoe off the shore. The sun made a grand entrance about half an hour ago but then slipped behind the clouds. The lake is so smooth I am almost hesitant to break its surface with my paddle. I follow the trail left by the birds, and as I turn around the bend I drift into what looks like a loon party.
“One, two, three…,” I start counting under my breath. “Eleven?!” A camping trip is never complete without seeing loons, and their calls are a perfect accompaniment for a backcountry experience. They, however, usually show up in pairs, occasionally there are three. Last year, we ran into a family with two chicks. Eleven seems like a minor miracle. I am bursting to shout, “Do you see this?” But I am by myself and no one around can share my excitement.
Waking up early has its perks: getting to see a crowd of loons is one of them
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.