Sunday, August 15, 2010

How I Spent My Summer Vacation, part 1

Yeah, so it's the weekend and I hadn't posted anything as promised. I plead summer.

Three weeks ago, I started my summer vacation as I always do: with grand plans and high hopes. Naturally, things didn't work out the way I hoped they would. However, although I didn't get the shed cleaned out, or the door frames repainted, there were highlights.

Cassandra and I set out to visit every conservation area within the drainage basin of the river close to where we live. We did alright and had some very nice walks through mosquito-infested lowlands. It was only toward the end of our efforts that I discovered the local conservation authority actually divides its lands into two categories: Natural habitat preserves and conservation areas. Conservation areas have trails laid out, guideposts, signage, potties and sometimes picnic and swimming areas. Habitat preserves don't. In fact, they don't even have signs telling you where they are.

I guess they figure that if you're a plant or an animal, no amount of signage is going to help you, and if you're a person, well... the whole point is to discourage you from disturbing the plants and animals (see the common definition of "natural"), so why waste the money?

We spent an hour one Thursday driving up and down a road looking for such an area which was clearly marked on the map but absolutely indiscernible in the real world. When I had finally narrowed it down, it turned out to be a stretch of impassible wetland. Fortunately, ice-cream is apparently a reasonable remedy for most things that disappoint a 5-year old.

Still, we have some beautiful areas set aside from development, in which one can glimpse the glory that must once have been: the vast forest which covered most of Southern Ontario. Oak and ash, birch, pine and Douglas fir. You can stand under old growth, trees that were huge before Cartier cross the land, and hear nothing but the wind rustling the leaves (and the whine of mosquitoes the size and color of ripe tomatoes). It's at those moments you realize what inspired the Group of Seven, and it's difficult not to feel inspired yourself.

I was inspired to remember the bug repellent on our next trip.

There are whole rush beds alive with the song of frogs and that high pitched buzz that comes from some insect or other (I never found out which) which cuts through the air like an industrial saw and makes you wonder if the source of the noise isn't a bug somehow made out of steel. I always associate that sound with hot summer, because I always hear it when the sun is beating down and the air is still.

And then there's the water. I grew up on the banks of a river whose depth varied from a killer six feet of icy gray foam during the spring runoff to a quarter inch in low-lying trenches during the heat of August. It was the background soundtrack to my life as a kid. We lived just down from a dam, and so the roar of the water cascading over the cement buttresses was constant. In the winter, we could hear the boom of floes as the ice growing upstream pushed them over the top of the dam to shatter on the rocks twelve feet below. A few big ones would shake the house every year.

So I've got a soft spot for water. Especially creeks, where you can sit on the bank and listen to water run over the limestone shelving that passes for rocks around here. We spent part of an afternoon sitting on the cement-and-stone ruins of an old grist-mill dam watching water bugs and minnows, larger fish and frogs go about their uneventful but fascinating lives. Cassandra discovered some very big snails but couldn't quite be persuaded to pick one up. They're icky, apparently, although I'm sure other snails find them quite attractive.

There are a few places we haven't gotten to yet, and we may not get the chance. Daddy's working a lot, and Cassandra's got day camp keeping her busy. But still there are weekends and there's always a chance for us to slip away for a late summer hike.

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