Category Archives: Leisure

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

(Not quite) walking in the air . . . on snowshoes!

Striding through the forest, three feet above ground level, with snow gently falling, the utter peace broken only by the crunch and slide of our movement and the occasional chirp of an early Chickadee; our first experience of snowshoes felt totally natural and easy, though we were told we kept up a cracking pace.

Snow-shoeing Snow-shoeing

Then creating fire from nothing with a bow and drill to heat up picnic wraps (ambient temperature about -14C), before returning to a room  cosy with the warmth of a roaring wood-stove and dozing the afternoon away. What a magic way to spend a wintry Saturday!

Making fire Making fire Making fire Making fire Making fire Making fire

Evergreen Forest Resort B&B Evergreen Forest Resort B&B (near Wiarton)

Evergreen Forest Resort B&B – a great place to escape to!

A Christmas Card from Quebec City

Fairy tale castles and ice; quaint houses from the seventeenth century and city walls; seasonal decorations – from traditional ribbon and foliage to a very creative use of shiny colanders – and a magical festival of lights; ‘bols’ of coffee and hot chocolate, patisserie to die for (or from!) and wonderful ‘boreal’ food, both traditional and modern; and, above all, a gloriously festive feel.

Quebec City - The Fairmont Le Château Frontenac Quebec City - The Fairmont Le Château Frontenac Quebec City - Aux Anciens Canadiens Quebec City - Aux Anciens Canadiens, the oldest house in Quebec City, built 1675-6 Quebec City - The Fairmont Le Château Frontenac Quebec City - The Fairmont Le Château Frontenac
Festival des Lumières de Québec Festival des Lumières de Québec Quebec City - ice! Quebec City - ice! Quebec City - Novel decorations Quebec City - Novel decorations Festival des Lumières de Québec Festival des Lumières de Québec
Quebec City  - Le Croquembouche - Boulangerie Pâtisserie Quebec City - Le Croquembouche - Boulangerie Pâtisserie Quebec City - JA Moisan Quebec City - JA Moisan, the oldest grocer in North America Gina with a 'bol' of coffe at Cafe Hobbit Gina with a 'bol' of coffe at Cafe Hobbit

Although it was -27C on Christmas Day, the sun was shining and we must have walked over 8km through thesnow on the Plains of Abraham before a short skate a Place Youville, just outside the old city walls.

Quebec City - On the Plains of Abraham Quebec City - On the Plains of Abraham Quebec City - On the Plains of Abraham Quebec City - On the Plains of Abraham Quebec City - Place Youville Quebec City - Place Youville

A definite highlight was the return trip on the ferry across the St. Lawrence to Levis, something a friend had suggested as offering wonderful views of Quebec City, which it did. But even more amazing to us was the experience of cutting through the ice, watching and hearing it crack – mesmerizing and meditative. It also amused us to see two ice canoe teams out practising for the winter carnival competition – only in Canada!

Quebec City - ice! Quebec City - ice!
Quebec City - ice canoe Quebec City - ice canoe Quebec City - ice! Quebec City - ice! Quebec City - Paul on the ferry Quebec City - Paul on the ferry

We also loved an innovative interactive journey through time at the Maison historique Chevalier and re-cap of the military history of the City at Le Musée du Fort using model soldiers and battleships, complete with sound, light and miniature explosions. After five hours at Les Musées de la Civilisation we were ‘museumed out’, but had played our way through the history of computer games, discovered Quebec artist Pierre Gauvreau, immersed ourselves in what it means to be aboriginal in the 21st century and more.

But for us, one of the real joys of any city visit is simply to wander, to notice the quirkiness and contradictions, to find small back-street restaurants and cafés.

Quebec City Quebec City Quebec City Quebec City Quebec City Quebec City
Quebec City Quebec City Quebec City Quebec City Quebec City - ladder for cats only! Quebec City - ladder for cats only! Quebec City Quebec City

Quebec City will be hard to beat for an urban white Christmas!

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!