Tag Archives: snow

Stories in the snow – tracks

I’ve always been fascinated by the stories of lives otherwise unseen that winter reveals. So it was a real treat, on Saturday March 5, to join Shirley French at her property on Cranberry Lake as she led a session for DCLA (Dog & Cranberry Lakes Association) members on Tracks in the Snow.

Illustration of animal tracks

I  think someone must have had what my grandfather used to call ‘a hotline to the clerk of the weather’! Certainly, we were blessed with an almost perfect day – snow fresh enough for distinct tracks, cold but not too cold, dry, and reasonably bright.

A group of a dozen or so intrepid trackers, including two delightful young girls bursting with enthusiasm and curiosity, gathered on Shirley’s land for an initial briefing on what we might find. Helpful illustrations of the tracks we were likely to see supplemented what we had already gleaned from a video of winter visitors that Shirley made available before the event.

Intrepid trackers

A story of a fox, a weasel, and a snake (and other animals)

Unsurprisingly, the first tracks we spotted were those of the ubiquitous white-tailed deer, as well as squirrel and rabbit.

However, there was real excitement when we spotted some intriguing tracks leading up over a rock. Of course, we had to investigate! Skirting carefully up the slope behind the rock we discovered the partially eaten remains of a snake, likely a water snake. Who dragged it there? At the time, we didn’t arrive at a clear answer. But later Shirley went back and measured the footprints on the rock. The narrative that emerged was that it was a fox who left the snake’s remains. The fox likely stole the prey from a weasel, an animal that could access a snake hibernaculum, perhaps in the side of a small island just offshore across the ice.

The ongoing story, as captured by video footage in the days that followed, included visits to the snake by a leery crow and a nibbling racoon; fox and porcupine also passed by.

It’s worth noting that this rock was already of interest as Shirley had previously identified a mink den beneath it, sharing some lovely footage of their comings and goings in her preliminary video.

Further explorations

We continued our explorations, edging out towards the lake and clambering up rocky paths, all the while noting the evidence of abundant life written in the snow. The distinctive tracks of porcupine often include the sweep of their dragging tail alongside their clawed toes – four at the front, five at the back. Turkey tracks are like direction markers, though they point back in the direction they’ve come from rather than forward to where they are going! We saw both of these.

It was truly exhilarating to forge a path through the snow to one of the highest points above Cranberry lake. What a view!

What a view over Cranberry Lake!

Many thanks to Shirley for her leadership, the sharing of her knowledge and the invitation to walk her land and to all the participants, especially the youngest ones, who helped make this a captivating and magical experience.

Written for and published in the Dog & Cranberry Lakes Association Newsletter, June 2022

Last year for the DCLA Newsletter I wrote about my attempts at getting to know our trees in The Year of the Trees

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.



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!)

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!