Category Archives: Nature

Winter wonder and magic – art and nature

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

Wakefield MillOur 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.

 

 

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.

 

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.

pano_20161230_121746-1

 

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!).

Alice in winter pastels

 

Google Album (more photos!)

Loving the land

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.

It could take a while though!

Wilderness, wonder and intentionality

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.

Wintergreen - the lodgeInside the lodge

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.

The garden

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.

Glacier carved lake

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!

Forest trail

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.

Hobbit House (and hobbit?)

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’!

By the lake

 

See also Wintergreen Studios – a piece of heaven at the edge of wilderness – a Google Story for more photos!

 

On Saturday we went for a walk in the park . . .

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 Park Snowshoe demonstration by park rangers in Algonquin Park Snowshoeing in Algonquin Park Snowshoeing in Algonquin Park - the beaten track Snowshoeing in 60 cm of powder in Algonquin Park Snowshoeing 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 In Algonquin Park

Valentine's Day Heart in Algonquin Park! Valentine's Day Heart in Algonquin Park!

  See all the photos from our weekend in Algonquin and Arrowhead Parks

Ice Ice Baby – Toronto Ice Storm 2013

Beauty and brutality . . .

It just looks as if it is raining – as Brits, we know ‘cold, wet and miserable’!

But this is rain that freezes on contact, ‘accretes’ on branches and leaves, on Christmas lights and baubles, on roads and side-walks, on cars, on road-signs . . . . on anything it touches.

At first it is just a fine layer, but the layers build and build until all is encased in crystal.

Toronto Ice-Storm 2013 Toronto Ice-Storm 2013 Toronto Ice-Storm 2013 Toronto Ice-Storm 2013 Toronto Ice-Storm 2013 Toronto Ice-Storm 2013
Toronto Ice-Storm 2013 Toronto Ice-Storm 2013 Toronto Ice-Storm 2013 Toronto Ice-Storm 2013 Toronto Ice-Storm 2013 Toronto Ice-Storm 2013 Toronto Ice-Storm 2013 Toronto Ice-Storm 2013
Toronto Ice-Storm 2013 Toronto Ice-Storm 2013 Toronto Ice-Storm 2013 Toronto Ice-Storm 2013 Toronto Ice-Storm 2013 Toronto Ice-Storm 2013 - ice forming globules on the ground
Toronto Ice-Storm 2013 Toronto Ice-Storm 2013 Toronto Ice-Storm 2013 Toronto Ice-Storm 2013 Toronto Ice-Storm 2013 Toronto Ice-Storm 2013 Toronto Ice-Storm 2013 Toronto Ice-Storm 2013
Toronto Ice-Storm 2013 Toronto Ice-Storm 2013 Toronto Ice-Storm 2013 Toronto Ice-Storm 2013 Toronto Ice-Storm 2013 Toronto Ice-Storm 2013

Eventually, the rain stops. If you venture out, safely clad with ice-grippers, there is a magical beauty, everything robed in clear ice that can be three or four centimetres thick. As the breeze shifts iced-branches, they sing an unearthly song, though for anyone who knows, there is a frisson of fear. When branches are weighed down like this, there is a risk that they will simply shear off.

 

Many areas of Toronto looked like a war-zone. We have lost around 20% of our urban tree canopy. Falling branches mean electrical wires torn loose. Over 300,000 homes were without power for anything from a few hours to over a week through Christmas and even into the New Year. Our power flickered through Saturday night and was gone by 6 a.m. on Sunday. It came back on at 8.30 a.m. on Tuesday, two hours after we left for Christmas in Quebec City. It is estimated that the clear-up will take two months and cost $75 million.

The pragmatism of Toronto’s people has been awesome, as well as the outpouring of mutual support. I can’t speak highly enough of the efforts of Hydro (Electricity Supply Board) workers from all over the country who put aside their own family Christmas celebrations to help. A priest I know spoke of a Hydro worker who positively glowed with the pleasure of restoring power to a church on Christmas Eve.

The last major ice-storm to affect Toronto was in 1998. I was mesmerized by the beauty inherent in the experience of an ice storm, but my heart goes out to all those significantly affected by it and I am heartily glad that past records suggest that we shouldn’t have another one too soon!

 See all our ice storm photos in our gallery!