Tag Archives: activity

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.

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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!

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.

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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 . . .

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

Maine Roadtrip 2014: 4 – Acadia National Park, “a place like no other”

I have to admit that, although I loved our exploration of Maine, I had a strange, niggling sense of homesickness for Ontario!

That said, Acadia National Park lives up to the hyperbole of the letters to sent to President Woodrow Wilson in the early 1900s supporting the creation of a National Park on Mount Desert Island. Rocky shores and craggy cliffs, golden beaches, cool green woodland, mountains, lakes, a fjord – it is astoundingly beautiful and I am so glad to have experienced it.

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As seems so often the case, it was art, in this case the artists of the Hudson River School in the 1800s, that drew the first visitors to the area. The resultant influx of the wealthy of ‘the gilded age’ and their elegant summer ‘cottages’, the formation of the national park, and the construction of 57 miles of Carriage Roads by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. for hikers, cyclists and horse riders, all contributed to the unique sense of nature at its most beautiful made accessible to all.

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Another confession; it is rare for me to choose destinations that are a focus for mass tourism. Bar Harbour, Mount Desert’s main town, seemed to be the exception that proves the rule! As well as its natural beauty, perhaps it retains some aura of those golden years. We particularly enjoyed the shore walk, awestruck by a single vista encompassing storm clouds, a rainbow and clear blue skies over the harbour and ‘bar’, the sandbar that links the town to an island at low tide.

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Why the sense of homesickness? Hard to define really, though there was an implicit acknowledgement of how incredibly lucky we are to have so much beauty on our doorstep – we hardly need to venture across borders to do so many of the things we enjoy doing. And, although people were gracious and charming, there was a sense, as someone else expressed it to me, that Americans are perhaps not quite as free to be individualistic as Canuks. Coming back across the border, we found a more open friendliness, a delightful quirkiness, and knew that we were home.

To be continued . . .

Maine Roadtrip 2014: 3 – “It must be Maine; the way life should be”

Sailing Penobscot Bay at sunset, eating appetizers and lobster bisque on Schooner Heron, which became “Sanderson’s Yacht” in the Johnny Depp film “The Rum Diary”;

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. . . looking out from Mount Battie across the magnificent sweep of the bay, dotted with islands;

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. . . floating on our backs in Megunticook Lake whilst watching the Turkey Vultures ride the thermals overhead; lazing with our books on the beach at Birch Point and at our lovely home from home, ‘Wildflower Cottage’, small but perfectly formed, set in a woodland clearing in a garden that beautifully blurs the distinction between wild and cultivated.

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Shaker simplicity – beautiful benches and beds, first at the fabulous Farnsworth Art Museum at Rockland and then at the equally wonderful Windsor Chairmakers in Lincolnville; and the delightful discovery at the Farnsworth of American artist Andrew Wyeth, so rooted in place (a Maine summer person) and cinematic in quality.

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No trip would be complete without one or two memorable foodie moments; for Paul, the Whoopie Pie was an obvious hit! Then there were the pop-overs served with whipped butter and jam at Jordan Pond, an Acadian tradition that seems a little strange to those used to eating Yorkshire Pudding with roast beef and gravy. But the meal to remember was at Saltwater Farm, overlooking the harbour at Rockport – my Halibut with spicy borscht was exquisite.

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Definitely the way life should be!

To be continued . . .