Yesterday we returned from three magical days outside time in Wakefield, just north of Ottawa on the edge of Gatineau Park; days in which to wonder at the way winter transforms the landscape.
‘A Modern Indigenous Master’
First, though, we took in some magic of a different kind; a fabulous retrospective of the work of Alex Janvier, one of Canada’s most acclaimed contemporary artists, at the National Gallery.
As an indigenous artist who himself was torn from his family and culture and sent to a reidential school at age eight, some of Janvier’s work references very directly the suffering experienced by indigenous people in Canada. At times it is, quite rightly and very movingly, political and outraged. But there is also huge vitality, spirituality and joy. I felt with many of his works that I could sit and be with just one piece for a long time and keep finding new elements and insights.
Winter – transformation and meditation
Our destination was Wakefield Mill, a lovely converted 19th-century flour mill on the banks of the Gatineau River, surrounded by 24 acres of forest. We arrived the day after a minor ice-storm; the roads had been cleared and the journey was fine, but, without significant subsequent snow-fall, even the day after we arrived was exceptionally icy and treacherous. Despite this, we managed to try out our new snow-shoes on a short trail behind Wakefield’s covered bridge.
Wakefield in winter
I find the light and sparkle of snow, the dampened sound cut through with the crunch of a crisp crust cracking underfoot, the distorted forms of rocks and trees, the transformation of running water into constantly changing sculptures, entrancing.
This is the best of meditations; I am effortlessly present, ‘just being’. For me, winter makes it easy to access the child’s wonder and joy.
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A second outing before we started for home saw us climbing fairly steeply up through woods to a peak above the village where we could look out across the white expanse below – stunning! We looped back down a gentler trail, the first folks through after six inches or so of snow the day before.
Of course, every homecoming is also a gift living here; today we were gifted Alice in winter pastels . . . (Alice is the first island we see as we look out across Cranberry Lake!).
One of the things that has surprised me about our move is the intensity of my feeling towards our 2.5 acres of land.
I am awed that we have shoreline, Shield rock, woodland, wetland and meadow, all in this small space!
I had not anticipated the strong sense not so much of ownership but of stewardship that I feel. I want to do right by the land and the creatures that share it with us.
As winter approaches, we are working hard to get the external jobs done. Putting away kayaks and garden furniture, blowing and gathering up some but not all the leaves for compost (the layer on the grass would be just too deep otherwise and the compost will be so useful), cutting wood, replenishing paths . . .
Timber . . . !
We had something like seven trees felled last weekend, which sounds more drastic than it was.
A Basswood (Linden) was partly uprooted in our wood and had to come down for safety, taking at least one other tree (cherry) with it. Then there was a dead Elm in the wetland.
Otherwise it was what the locals consider a ‘weed tree’, four Manitoba Maples (Box Elder, Ashleaf Maple). They shoot up everywhere, are very brittle, don’t burn particularly hot and are perceived as a nuisance. We had one threatening our garage, septic system and the neighbours’ power lines and another that would have also grown through the power lines.
We now have a lot of logs to split (the start of our firewood for the winter of 2017/18) and smaller branches to feed through a wood chipper. The resulting chips are awesome for replenishing our path down to the shore and for creating our way through the woods.
On the plus side, the weather has been largely sunny and mild and doing physical work outside appeals to both of us so much more than going to a gym.
In a year when I’ve been forced by a concussion (Easter Saturday; uneven pavements, a pitch into the metal door of the change room by the ice rink at Kew Gardens – not quite a hockey story) to avoid spending time at the computer, blogging has had to be largely shelved. Life has needed to be lived at a gentler pace and within tighter boundaries. At times, I’ll admit, this has felt constraining, frustrating even. But it has also been a powerful exercise in finding joy and fulfillment in small things, in the everyday; and 2015 has not been without its explorations and adventures.
Spring in Toronto is a case of ‘blink and you miss it’. This year I was able to live in intimate relationship with its unfurling, taking joy in the sunshine on my face and each new bud and bloom.
Thankfully we had already made the decision that we needed ‘cottage time’ this summer, opting for a tiny cottage right on the water at Newboro in the Rideau Lakes, about an hour north of Kingston.
Gina at the Cottages at Turtlehill
Heron on the dock
Our Cottage – Cottages at Turtlehill
Exploring Newboro Lakes Islands
Canal cottage – Lower Brewers Lock
Paddling on Charleston Lake – Whitefish Island
Waking, watching through our bedroom window a heron on our dock; lazing in a hammock strung between trees; easing into the water to paddle amongst innumerable islands, idly observing fish and frogs, osprey and loons, cottages and cabins; a fabulous country market in a C19th schoolhouse – fresh-from-the-field corn, dripping with butter; canals, locks and mill-houses, then wild, rocky vistas; and always water to catch and transform the ever-changing light. Is it any wonder that this is more or less the area in which we hope to make our home? Photos of our ‘Summer on the Rideau’ (Google Album)
For Paul’s birthday, we chose theatre at Stratford (Ontario). Considered comparable with the London or Broadway stage, Stratford Festival encompasses four distinct stages and many different styles. We saw ‘Possible Worlds’,partially performed in a pool of water (odd but effective), an absorbing rumination on alternate dimensions and social constructs. On Sunday, after luxuriating at Elm Hurst Spa, we abandoned wet waterfall walking in favour of a cream tea!
Albion Falls, Hamilton
Albion Falls, Hamilton
Paul at Albion Falls
Thanksgiving saw a glorious combination of early colour and unseasonable summer temperatures (75 F/ 24C); not wanting to travel too far, we basked in the golden glow at Toronto Zoo, which is set in rolling parkland. Focused as I was on giving thanks, I was particularly wonder-struck by the rich diversity of animal life. Photos of Thanksgiving at Toronto Zoo (Google Album)
Fall continued mild, with particularly rich tones, sunny days – even a mild, dry night for Halloween! We had a fine dusting of snow in November, but, so far, December has continued balmy, though we continue in the belief that winter will come . . .
Downtown from the Brickworks
Fall colours at the Don Valley Brickworks
Fall colours at the Don Valley Brickworks
Fall colours at the Don Valley Brickworks
From our window
2015 has undoubtedly been challenging. But, despite this, looking back I am grateful for the riches of these and other experiences and the new gifts of insight it has brought. Roll on 2016!
(You can click on any photo on the page to see it at a larger size, and flip through all the others in the same gallery too!)
Nestled in the woods just north of Frontenac Provincial Park, Wintergreen is a year-round education and retreat centre. Their focus is education, culture, and the environment and they offer courses and retreat and meeting facilities for individuals and groups.
This last weekend we had the pleasure of staying two nights in the main lodge, a wonderful, off-grid straw-bale building with a green roof. The lodge sits in a meadow, immediately surrounded by flowers, herbs and vegetables with the forest beyond.
Wintergreen’s 204 acres features mixed forests and meadows, granite outcroppings, ponds, marshes, and a glacier carved lake – we managed to explore a good part of this during an awesome two-hour wilderness hike.
I watched a beaver slide into a pond and swim across it, my first certain sighting. Less romantically but no less a landmark, I picked my first tick off my clothing as we sat on the dock by the glacial lake. With ticks increasingly present – even in Toronto this summer – and concerns about Lyme Disease, this is something we all need to know about!
I stopped worrying about sticking to ‘the beaten track’ (sometimes we lost the trail for a while) and soaked up the beauty of the woodland, the lake and ponds, the rock, as we explored, occasionally investigating one of the wilderness cabins (including a hobbit house) that dot the property. We did do a thorough tick inspection when we got back to the lodge, though.
Earlier that day, I had joined thirteen other women in ‘Celebrating the Sacredness of Woman’, a workshop led by Julie Vachon a Metis woman who has studied with many elders and has attended ceremonies over the last 18 years. Among other things, we shared a new moon pipe, part of a ceremonial setting of personal intention at Sturgeon Moon, the August new moon. At a moment when my life is literally at the cusp of a major transition, this was moving and profound, as well as joyous.
This was one of those magic times outside time that feels utterly ‘meant’!
OK, the park was Algonquin, the oldest provincial park in Canada, largely wilderness and about a quarter of the size of Belgium. And the walking was on top of 60 cm or so of powder, made considerably easier by snowshoes, though stepping off ‘the beaten track’ pitched one knee deep into the fluffy stuff.
Snowshoe demonstration by park rangers in Algonquin ParkSnowshoeing in Algonquin Park - the beaten trackSnowshoeing in 60 cm of powder in Algonquin Park - breaking the trail would have been hard work!
For Family Day weekend, the Parks service offered guided walks through the winter forest. We now understand a little about fluctuating bird and moose populations. We know that moose and white-tailed deer do not happily co-exist, due to a parasite that is harmless to the deer but which in moose is known as ‘brain-worm’ because it literally eats away the brain, leaving them dazed and confused; in certain summers, they can also be driven crazy by thousands of ticks taking up residence all over their bodies! Interesting to learn that there is observation and monitoring but no intervention in these natural causes of population shifts.
But the abiding image came as we learned about ‘bear nests’, the somewhat messy accumulation of twigs left behind when a bear climbs a tree and pillages it provender. Someone asked how such a large animal can make its way through such apparently spindly branches. Our guide’s response painted for me a picture of a ballerina bear in a pink tutu poised ‘en pointe’ at the end of a tree-limb whilst gracefully reaching for acorns! This image is only slightly enhanced from the original description. I wish I could draw . . .
In Algonquin Park
Valentine's Day Heart in Algonquin Park!
See all the photos from our weekend in Algonquin and Arrowhead Parks