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!).
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!)
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
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.
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!
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 FrontenacQuebec City - Aux Anciens Canadiens, the oldest house in Quebec City, built 1675-6Quebec City - The Fairmont Le Château Frontenac Festival des Lumières de QuébecQuebec City - ice!Quebec City - Novel decorationsFestival des Lumières de Québec Quebec City - Le Croquembouche - Boulangerie PâtisserieQuebec City - JA Moisan, the oldest grocer in North AmericaGina 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 AbrahamQuebec City - On the Plains of AbrahamQuebec 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 canoeQuebec City - ice!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 CityQuebec CityQuebec City Quebec CityQuebec CityQuebec City - ladder for cats only!Quebec City
Quebec City will be hard to beat for an urban white Christmas!