Meditation in a Bog

23 July 2018 – With thanks to Sally, who provided this photo, with this title, which shows Frances (R) and me disappearing around a bend in the boardwalk, among towering trees.

We are indeed in a bog. Burns Bog.

Located on the delta of the Fraser River, and originally some 10,000 hectares or so in size, it is now reduced to about 3,000-3,500 hectares but is still the largest raised peat bog on the west coast of the Americas. The Joho Maps website has a diagram that situates it nicely — and provides a lot of other information as well in its excellent guide to the Bog.

Though, inevitably, now much disturbed by mankind, Burns Bog  is a globally unique ecosystem, a major regulator of regional climate, a stopover for more than 400 species of migratory birds, and is still home to a wide variety of plants and wildlife.

And trains.

Freight trains run along one edge, which is also the side that, in the Delta Nature Reserve, affords the only public access. As we descend into the Bog proper, we hear and then see a train train start rumbling by.

It takes a while, freight trains being the length they are.

Clatter-clatter, rumble-rumble, thump-thump, squeak-squeak…

Then all those other sounds of train-in-progress give way to the squeal that signals either (A) a 4-year-old throwing a tantrum, or (B) a very long freight train grinding to a halt.

There is no 4-year-old in sight.

The freight train stops. Blocking our cross-over access to the Bog and its trails.

Mature, philosophic adults that we are, we stand about in some handy shade and admire the boxcar artwork.

And then, squeal-rumble-rumble, the train shakes itself into action again and rolls on its way.

We take the now-available access path, and hop over the tracks.

I promise you, Sally (L) and Frances are athletic and nimble of foot. I consider them my personal trainers (along with much else), and I am grateful for the on-going stimulation and physical challenge.

My camera just happened to catch them … ummm … like this. Sort of a Lindy Hop, as performed by the Marx Brothers?

Over the tracks, and now across a stream. “It’s called the River of Dreams,” says Frances, who is a veteran of many Bog walks over the years and effectively our tour guide today. The water is so astoundingly clear that, in a photo, it is transparent to the camera. All you can see is the thin line of reflected sunlight …

but water does fill the riverbed, bank to bank.

Moments later, I think we are stretching our greedy fingers toward wild raspberries, but Sally knows better. “Thimbleberries,” she says, and she’s right. (Rubus parviflorus, if you want to get all official about it.)

Soon after, Labrador Tea blossoms (Ledum groenlandicum — curiously attributed to Greenland in the Latin). So delicate, and so sturdy! So tall, also — the shrubs tower over our heads.

At one point there is a choice of loops. We opt for the one promising us a sunken tractor and Skunk Cabbage Meadow. I think of my dear Ontario-based friend DJ, who has a thing for skunk cabbages, and can’t wait to see a whole meadow of them, alive-alive-o.

Can’t miss ’em, once you’re among ’em.


I send DJ this photo and, thanks to her reply, I now know one more difference between The East and The West.

Aha!  This, my dear Penny, is indeed skunk cabbage, but the western one (Lysichiton americanus) with a big yellow flower, followed by HUGE leaves, as your photos show!  The eastern one is Symplocarpus foetidus — a smaller, shyer version with purplish flowers and smaller leaves.  They’re both in the arum family and both smell skunky in bloom to attract flies and beetle pollinators, hence sharing the common name.  Thank you!!

On past the half-buried tractor, left over from days when peat was being harvested and equipment often met with misadventure.

Bog beside our feet, towering trees overhead.

And, always, boardwalk beneath our feet. Kilometres of it — installed, watched over, patched and replaced as needed by volunteers with the Burns Bog Conservation Society.

Sometimes the Boardwalk Gremlins wisely leave a gap. No need to argue with tree roots.

We head back out …

climbing past homes on the bogside slope and somebody’s welter of birdhouses as we go.

The Magic of Water

10 August 2016 – Not a particularly profound thought, but a profound visceral reaction: in the dry, hot season, we respond to water. (And feel, or should feel, great gratitude to have it available to us.)

The Tuesday Walking Society is in Mount Pleasant Cemetery, a peaceful & largely shady route to the Discovery Walk trail south through Moore Park Ravine and on down to Evergreen Brick Works. We pass fountains in the cemetery but, even more soothing, this limpid watercourse weaving through some memorial gardens.

watercourse in Mount Pleasant Cemetery

We pass poignant inscriptions, as well.

memorial inscription, Mt Pleasant Cemetery

Across Moore Avenue, and we start the descent into the ravine. Sun dogs dance in the camera lens, & dapple the path.

Moorre Park Ravine trail, at Moore Ave.

Everywhere, thistle fluff exploding on the seed heads, waiting for a breeze to whirl them away.

thistle heads, exploding into fluff

And the suction cling of burdock pods, proving why they were the inspiration for Velcro.

burdock pods clutching our finger tips

By now path-side greenery is almost obscuring bike racks at the upper entrance to the Brick Works.

side entrance to EBW, from the ravine trail

We leave the trail, enter the parkland that surrounds the Brick Works itself … and again stand entranced by the magic of water.

ex-quarries, now the Weston Family Quarry Garden

Once quarries for the raw materials for the bricks produced here from 1889 to 1984, the mammoth cavities are now repurposed & naturalized as the Weston Family Quarry Garden. We don’t sit in the Muskoka chairs, too hot.

We walk on, up & around the perimeter of the site, back down to cool off inside … and then linger a moment for one last glance at the water before we head home.

Wildflowers, Wild Canoes … & a Touch of Z’otz

3 July 2016 – We’re on for wildflowers. That’s why Phyllis & I are trotting down Pottery Rd., heading for the Lower Don Recreational Trail that will take us north along the Don River, surrounded by nature. We don’t expect wild canoes, though — let alone Z’otz.

The unexpected comes later, upstream; we start with the expected, in Todmorden Mills Wildflower Preserve and Wetland. It lives up to its name.

Look! Wetland.

pond in Todmorden Mills Wildflower Preserve and Wetland

And look! Wild roses. I bury my nose (checking first for bees). Nothing smells as sweet.

detail, wild roses in Todmorden Mills

The smell and the sight flood me with memories of Calgary back alleys, bursting with wild roses all summer long. (Alberta is called Wild Rose Country for a reason.)

Out of Todmorden Mills, and sharp right to start north on the trail along the Don River. We had a fairly short, but intense rainstorm a day or so ago — the extra water is now boiling its way downstream to Lake Ontario. Rapids are higher than usual around the rocks, and noisier.

Don R. trail nr Pottery Rd junction

Salmon leap — some of them right there in the river, or so I am told, but they’re not the ones we see. We admire the ones leaping in and out of the waves painted onto this section of the trail, accompanied here & there by inspirational text.

trail mural nr Pottery Rd junction

“Life” is good. I’m willing to be inspired by that.

More wildflowers as we go, some of which we can even identify! Not this one, though, but we love it every time we see it, so we wish somebody would enlighten us.

It is not exactly a wildflower, but it certainly is wild.

mystery wild plant by Don River

We chatter once again about how beautiful it is, how sculptural. Somebody else obviously admires its artistic properties as well — here it is adorning a prosaic old Natural Gas Pipeline pole.

Lower Don Recreational Trail

And, while we are on the subject of art …

Leaside Bridge trestles, art by Z'otz

That’s the Leaside Bridge (aka Millwood Rd.), spanning the river and an adjacent train track while it’s at it. But we’re not here to admire the bridge, are we? We want to check out the mural.

detail, Z'otz mural

Who is this artist? A little research later, and I can answer the question — but first reformulate it. Who are these artists?

Right. They are the Toronto-based Z’otz Collective, formed in 2004, still very active — proof right here with their 2015 “Panamania” project, i.e. commissioned artwork to brighten the Pan Am Bike Path. Click here, and get a CBC video of the creation of this mural as well as background on the collective itself.

We are now into the Wild Art stretch of our walk! Next up, the promised Wild Canoes. “Wild” simply because, well, they are not where you expect canoes to be. Namely, in or beside the water.

I suppose you could argue they are indeed beside the water. Just not in the usual direction.

art installation, Don R. underpass south of E.T. Seaton Park

Wouldn’t it be nice if I could tell you what underpass this is? Somewhere south of E.T. Seaton Park, is the best I can do. Sorry. For that matter, wouldn’t it be nice if I could credit the artist(s)? No plaque visible, so — again — sorry.

Finally we are in E.T. Seaton Park, practically up to the Ontario Science Centre grounds. We have gawked at some archery practice (in a well-fenced, off-to-one-side enclave), and dodged the wilder throws of some disc golf enthusiasts. “Sorry!” they shout. We are gracious: neither of us has been decapitated, so no need to fuss.

We’re about to climb steps up out of the ravine, on up to Don Mills Rd.; nothing more to see down here, we agree.

Hah. There is always one last bit of magic.

slack-wire practice, in E.T. Seaton Park

Slack-wire artists!

We watch for a bit, and then, suitably slack-jawed with admiration, we climb those steps & catch a bus.






Danger at the Cliff Edge

11 May 2016 – Never mind “Into the Woods” and “Into the City,” my friends — that’s for sissies. If you want a little excitement in your life, just go dance with the cliff edges.

warning near Sylvan Park, Scarborough Bluffs

Never mind the cliff edge. By now, the Tuesday Walking Society itself is tempted to collapse, from sheer frustration.

First, we take ourselves all the way east into Scarborough (for downtown girls, a thrilling adventure in itself); then we struggle to find parking anywhere near the launch point for the Doris McCarthy Trail down through Gate’s Gully, since everything on the closest residential street has been commandeered by a film shoot; then we discover our ultimate parking success is irrelevant since the Trail is temporarily closed, due to a washout; then we drive on, hoping to find another launch point for this assault on the Waterfront Trail and the Scarborough Bluffs, in whatever combination may offer itself …

You get the picture.

But we persevere, and we succeed, and soon we are parked on another tucked-away Scarborough residential street above the Bluffs. Where to our joy we discover a sign pointing to Sylvan Park.

And another sign warning us about those cliff edges.

warning sign, near Sylvan Park

The “I [hemp] TO” is a sticker, some marijuana-lover’s addition to the warning. You may disregard it, though perhaps loving Toronto in that particular way could add a new variable to your cliff-edge experience.

We don’t add that variable to our experience. We are sufficiently taken with the challenges of finding our way via streets & connecting pathways to the park.

Where, indeed, we are at cliff’s edge! Albeit behind a fence.

view east from Sylvan Park

Photos never show you the drama of the vertical drop. Please note the teeny-tiny size of those human beings ‘way below, and be suitably impressed.

Not a large park, but secluded, very pretty, and quite rightly equipped with benches from which you can admire the views eastward & westward along Lake Ontario.

view east from Sylvan Park

Phyllis points across the fencing toward the west side of the park. We note the concrete slab where a bench used to sit — but has prudently been withdrawn, from a collapsing edge.

abandoned bench slab, facing west

Not that teenage boys care about collapsing edges. (Though one does seem to care, if only slightly, about the click of my camera.)

Right, fine, that’s Sylvan Park. Now what?

A pleasant dog-walking man gives us instructions on how to get ourselves over to Guildwood Park and, with some bushwhacking luck, find a switchback path down to those beckoning trails ‘way below at water’s edge.

His directions are good, we navigate farther east, park again & start walking across Guildwood Park on its upper level.

Spring is jumping up all around us. With baby-bronze leaves just starting to unfurl …

new leaves, Guildwood Park

and pretty yellow, if anonymous (to us) wildflowers …

wildflowers, Guildwood Park

and wetland bits, especially welcome this dry spring.

standing water, Guildwood Park

And — of course! — more dire warnings about collapsing cliff edges.

Guildwood Park warning sign

We are becoming connoisseurs of these warning signs. We agree this one wins the award for Most Dramatic Imagery.

We find & scuffle on down the switchback trail, knees bent, leaning slightly back on our heels, and arrive still upright at the lake.

Where we look up at those much-touted cliff edges, now towering over us.

Scarborough Bluffs, from base of Guildwood Park

And agree, that yessir, they obviously can suddenly collapse. Those pretty turf edges are curling out into empty space, aren’t’ they?

We follow the gravel path on toward the east …

path east, below Guildwood Park

and spy one sole inuksuk.

How odd that he is the only one, given all the breakwater rubble lying around.

inuksuk, below Guildwood Park

He isn’t really that wonderful, either, but I find I am very protective of him. He is doing his best.

Phyllis admires a spider web, whose “best” — given its fly-count — is clearly very good indeed.

spider web, below Guildwood Park

The flies undoubtedly admire it rather less.

We begin chattering a bit about when to turn back. Will there be some logical point at which to about-face?

And then it presents itself: the end of the trail.

trail's eastern end, below Guildwood Park

Back we go. And climb back up the cliff. And do not fall over the edge.

And reward ourselves with fine coffee, back in town.

Coming & Going

6 September 2015 – Another hot-steamy day, but here I am on Coxwell — the shady side of the street, you bet — heading south from Danforth. Worth the effort, I tell myself; I want to see the new, community-based Transitions Mural that has just gone up on the blank wall of the streetcar barns.

Or maybe is now going up. I’m not sure.

Transitions Mural, Coxwell s. of Danforth

Hmmm! Or … is about to go up. But look, the prep work has been done, the grid is neatly established.

So this project is coming. It is definitely coming.

I double back to Danforth, & almost immediately see another dramatic long view in the little parkette near the corner.

But this one is definitely going.

parkette on Danforth w of Coxwell

The last fling of the season’s rudbeckia — totally sassy & one of my favourite flowers.

This gets me thinking of Coming-&-Going, not a bad theme for the beginning of September, with the great seasonal shift just getting underway. I decide to look for evidence, as I continue west on Danforth.

Even so, I’m willing to enjoy delights that don’t fit the theme.

This canoeist, for example.

wire art on Danforth at Chester

He, with his female companion at the rear, is forever guiding their canoe across the Danforth/Chester T-junction. They are going nowhere, of course, firmly wired to the metal bar on the south-side sidewalk.

Then back to my theme, and it’s not hard. There are Comings & Goings all over the place.

For example, this lovely, but badly faded, sidewalk painting of a frog & a turtle.

on Danforth nr Monarch Park

Going headed for Gone, unless the artist returns to touch up the colours.

Also Going: summer patio accessories, heaped into sidewalk-sale buckets.

in front of Kitchen Stuff, nr Pape

Hibiscus string lights, anyone? Half price!

Ah, but merchants are looking ahead, as well. There is money to be made, in either direction.

window display, iQ Living

I watch a very stylish young mother (with a very stylish fore-arm tattoo) lead her daughter up the shop steps. The child is still wearing her bike helmet — tiger-striped, with two moulded tiger ears to complete the look.

Put that window on the Coming side of the ledger. Along with this banner, being yoiked into place in front of a party-accessory store a little farther down the street.

banner for party accessory shop on Danforth

Oh no, please no, not Hallowe’en already! But yes, oh yes, there it is. Every marketable event is being promoted ever-earlier, every year. Sulk. Grumble.

And I walk and I walk, and I stop for water and I walk some more, and I think of hopping on a streetcar for the final leg — but by then I’m just close enough that giving up would be really wimpy. So I walk down Broadview from Danforth, briefly consider visiting Rooster café for a latte despite the heat but decide against it: too hot for hot coffee and I don’t like iced coffee.

Down through Riverdale Park East, one sunbather only; across the pedestrian bridge over the Don River, and up again through Riverdale Park West. No sunbathers; several dog-walkers; many squealing kiddies running in & out of the wading pool.

I watch sunlight glint off the ripples caused by all those kiddie legs; I admire the maze design on the floor of the pool, new-painted this spring & still bright.

pool in Riverdale Park West

This too is Going, I realize. Soon the weather will turn, and the pond will be drained for the year.

Down Sackville next, where this home-owner has a front-yard “branch” of the Little Free Library movement. His box is particularly trim and well-maintained: books here are always safe from the elements. (The glass reflection of the streetscape opposite is a bonus.)

on Sackville St.

People take books; people leave books.

And I laugh. Coming and Going, both. The perfect grand finale for my theme.




Abundance in the Great North-West

26 August 2015 – All right, not as far north-&-west as the routes of that historic fur-trading company, rival to the Hudson’s Bay Company, but still pretty exploratory for downtowners like Phyllis & me. This week the Tuesday Walking Society took itself to North York, to walk through the parks bordering Black Creek (a tributary of the Humber) from Sheppard Av. on up to Steeles. And back.

Like the fur traders, we find abundance — not beaver pelts, just the wild exuberance of late summer.

Great clusters of cones high in a towering conifer, for example.

maturing cones, high in the fir tree

We wonder why they are concentrated at the very top: simple physical response to greater sunlight? or perhaps an evolutionary adaptation, since (presumably) winds at the top would be stronger & could carry them farther? We don’t know. If you do, please tell us. We admire them anyway.

Everywhere, shaggy late summer. Brimming over.

wildflowers in boggy land

Great clusters of Saskatoon berries …

Saskatoon berries

and burdock heads, inspiration (so the story goes) for Velcro …

burdock heads

and some other bristle-y plant, quite sculptural in its lines, especially after the tiny blossoms drop away.

elegant bristle-y (!) plant

We spot the first scarlet leaves of fall. Oh no!!!

Staghorn sumach

And then reassure ourselves that these leaves don’t count: the Staghorn sumach “turns” long before any other shrub or tree. See the conical red horn, toward the top-right corner of the photo? Its fruit, I learned in Muskoka one winter, is food of last resort for white-tail deer. The nutrition comes at the price of a very nasty taste. (Well, so one is told. I have not chomped any, to find out.)

Great stands of bullrushes, at one point in our walk …


and a series of bird houses.

I can tell you this one is occupied, lots of straw visible in the doorway, but I can’t say by which species of bird — nobody flew home while we were watching.

birdhouse along Black Creek

Our turning point is Black Creek Pioneer Village.

We don’t go into the Village itself — an open-air museum  of 1800s buildings & artefacts, which we each visited when much younger — we instead settle in the adjacent café for a bit of lunch before trekking back down-river to the car.

With one last look at the creek itself before we leave.

Black Creek, which dances in & out of sight along the trail

Then we climb up out of the ravine to the parking lot, and drive south & east (and more south & east) back downtown, to home.





Down the Garden Path

15 June 2015 – We’ve often holidayed in Picton / Prince Edward County, but this is the first time with friends. It is also, therefore, the first time with the advantage of additional resources of knowledge, curiosity & day-trip suggestions.

So I’m not showing you more of the County’s extraordinary porches & doorways (though I may yet). I am instead taking you where Chris & Susan took us: to SpindleTree Gardens. It is a 20-acre haven of gardens & architectural quirks about an hour’s drive north-east of Picton, created with love, skill & dogged persistence by Tom Brown & Susan Meisner.

I like visiting gardens, especially ones created by the sheer determination of obsessed individuals over time, and most especially ones that also include what I call ‘architectural quirks’ — old bits of stuff, the flotsam & jetsam of rural life, repurposed.

Like these welcoming pillars among the daisies & poppies & spotted willow next to the farmhouse.

garden nearest the tea room

I’m charmed, right off the bat. Well, I was already charmed, having heard tales from Chris & Susan, who are friends-of-friends of the owners. A preparatory coffee in the little tearoom & off we go, on a self-guiding tour. (Which we choose to do in reverse order, for reasons I now forget…)

Around a first corner, angling our way past the greenhouse conservatory with its gothic church-style windows & stained glass …

the greenhouse conservatory

and into the Pump & Circumplants [sic] garden. First I notice the spike guarding one corner of boxwood hedge …

in the Pump & Circumplants garden

and then the fallolloping spring flowers, happy in the sunshine, with one of the ponds glinting at us in the distance.

spring flowers in the Pump & Circumplants garden

Over the ponds …

bridge over two ponds

and after a bit up to to the Grande Allée of flowering black locust trees.

the Grande Allée

Probably a grander Allée when flowering, but I’m happy to admire the pattern of the brickwork path, and, even more wonderful, the pattern of the black locust tree’s bark.

black locust tree

Plus pods. Don’t forget the pods.

Poppies are at their best, exactly precisely right now. Leslie (another of our group) draws my attention to this one:

poppy next to the Grande Allée

And on down the Allée, and around another corner — and there’s the maze! I hadn’t expected one (not bothering to read my walk brochure), but it’s exactly the right thing to have, in such a garden, is it not?

the maze at SpindleTree Gardens

We each make it to the centre — guided occasionally by muttered “Oops” or “Yes!” from someone around the next bend — where we smack the fleur-de-lys pole to create audible proof of our success, before working our way out again.

There is a small pond just a bit farther on, covered in duck weed (or somesuch), except for the perfect oval of clear water created by the bubbler beneath.

small pond at SpindleTree

More happy plants, with (cross-reference to my previous post) what are surely happy rocks to keep them snug in their beds.

beds of peonies

Some native bleeding hearts, just as we round our way back to our starting point — all the more wonderful because, unlike hybrids, their bloom is so fleeting.

native bleeding heart

Some final found objects to bid us farewell. (“People see stuff here & bring him more stuff,” says Susan.) Some old sections of fence, maybe-perhaps, but just as likely to be sections of some old farm implement. Maybe-perhaps.

fence? farm implement?

And beavers.

ornamental garden post

At least I can recognize a beaver!




Mackinac, UP

20 May 2015 – That “UP” may give it away to a few people — but just a few, in a tight geographic cluster. I only learned today that “UP” is local slang, meaning “Upper Peninsula,” with the further explanation “– of the State of Michigan, USA” neither provided nor needed.

All of which may suggest I am not at the moment tucked up in my usual Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

And I am not. Could I have taken this photo in Toronto?

outside the Mackinac Island police station

See? I am definitely elsewhere. I am, in fact, spending the day on Mackinac Island in that curious northern peninsular bit of Michigan that butts against Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

No cars on Mackinac; transportation instead by bicycle or horse-drawn carriage. I’ve always been curious — as I am about almost any island — but not at all informed about the island’s history.

A plaque provides that history, pared down to the essentials. (Well, no, not quite all the essentials. It does leave out the aboriginal history.)

historical plaque on Mackinac

When my very dear friend Danna & I were plotting our spring get-away to Mason City, Iowa — home of the North Iowa Marching Band Festival every Memorial Day weekend — we decided to included Mackinac Island in our itinerary. It meant a 12-hour drive from Ottawa (her home) to St. Ignace (ferry jump-off for the island) on Tuesday, a feat requiring us to “get up before we went to bed” as one friend likes to put it.

But totally worth it.

Group-of-Seven-scenery all along the Canadian portion of the drive; a U.S. border guard who lit up with delight when she learned we were headed for a marching band festival (“I was in a marching band in high school myself!”); and a cheerful motel room next to the ferry docks, with a lake view.

So I will not complain about the fact that, on May 19, it was only a degree or two above freezing. (Anyway, as a Canadian, I’d be embarrassed to complain about feeling cold in a country south of my own…)

This morning, onto the ferry, and on to Mackinac Island.

map of Mackinac Island

Choices galore. Jump into a tour-carriage; yield to the gob-smacking array of shopping opportunities; perhaps spend our time in the butterfly conservatory? We don’t do any of that. We decide we are there to walk some trails. So we do.

We start from the ferry docks in the bay in the south end of the island, & follow the main drag east toward Mission District out there where the island curves to the north-west. The barrage of tourist shops fades away as we walk east; other island characteristics become more apparent — the horses, the bikes, the grand, grand homes.

Lake Shore Blvd, approaching Mission District

A tour-carriage is heading toward us, pulled by the usual troika of heavy horses; a workman’s bike  (with some plumbing supplies in the boxy cart) is propped up outside one of the homes; tourists fill the sidewalks; fine homes line the street; the spire of Ste. Anne’s Church (1874) rises in the distance.

This is what I mean by a “troika of heavy horses.”

horses pulling tour carriage, Mackinac Island

Aren’t they wonderful? Team after team, patient & strong, steady of nerve. Sometimes smaller carriages with just two horses, but most of the ones we see have three.

I mentioned grand homes, and that’s what they are. Many are now some variety of tourist accommodation — enough of them that, presumably to avoid confusion, private homes often have a neat sign to that effect at the gate. This home, for example.

private home on Lake Shore Blvd

No confusion about some tourist accommodation, however! Mission Point Resort was purpose-built to be exactly that, a resort in the grand tradition.

Mission Point Resort

We pivot around the point of land, head north-west on up Lake Shore Blvd., along the shores of Lake Huron. Lots of rocks, which here — as in Canada, as in Iceland, as I suspect everywhere else — means inuksuks. Where there are rocks, people will pile them up.

inuksuks on Mackinac Island

More shoreline, then up many-many-very-many steps to Arch Rock high on the bluffs. Given the formation, the name was inevitable.

Arch Rock, Mackinac Island

We visit one more of the tourist destinations up here in the woods, a limestone stack given the equally inevitable and descriptive name of Sugar Loaf Rock.

But, mostly, what we do is walk trails. There is a lot of forest up here, entirely another world from the retail/tourist world below. And just as beautifully presented: good trails, maintained but not over-groomed, and well sign-posted.

And, oh, the names!

Just one of the Mackinac Island trails

Plus Juniper Trail, Tranquil Bluff Trail, Crooked Tree Road, Beechwood Trail, Watch-Your-Step Trail, Soldier’s Garden Trail …

We meet only two other people, as we weave around, and both live here. Each provides further tips about favourite trails and secluded parts of the island. The friendly residents and enjoyable trails lead to wonderful discoveries, none of which bears a price tag.

For example, trilliums up and down the slopes …

just a few of the trilliums in the woods

two Jack-in-the-Pulpit …


and a tree trunk with the most glorious fungi I’ve ever seen. Danna tells me the nickname for this particular one is Artist’s Conk …

Artist's Conk (fungus)

because, she explains, you can incise a design on its underside when it is fresh, which it will retain  when it dries.

Finally, we leave the wooded heights, drop down to town via Garrison Rd., and Custer St., and Turkey Hill Rd. (with its warning that its steep slope is dangerous and not to be attempted by bike or in a horse carriage without brakes).

There is time for one more turn around a few lower-level streets before catching the ferry back to St. Ignace.

And one more bit of proof about how deeply these heavy horses are part of the island psyche. Even grand, lakefront homes show their love.

door with horse motif wreath, Mackinac Island

Confession: at first I think it is a misshapen, left-over Christmas wreath. Silly girl, of course not! It is a very deliberate, very elegant, silhouette of a horse’s head.

Itinerary: we leave St. Ignace Thursday morning and, within hours, “UP” Michigan — in fact, all of Michigan — as we head farther south-west and inland.

On to Mason City in a day. Or two. I’ll let you know what happens.



War & Wildflowers

15 May 2014 — I’d thought they’d be in two separate compartments, but no, war & wildflowers are completely interwoven in these islands. Probably North American naïveté to have thought otherwise: age & location & history make the mixture inevitable.

I set off Tuesday morning for what I still expect will be my neatly compartmentalized “military day.” I will walk south from St. Peter Port along Havelet Bay to the La Valette Underground Military Museum & to the Clarence Battery, then take the bus on around the south coast to Forest for a loop that will take in the German Occupation Museum as well as leafy, flower-bright “ruettes tranquilles” (lanes).

A backward glace at St. Peter Port as I set off, marvelling yet again at the way the town rises, tier upon tier, from the ocean.

Havelet Bay & St. Peter Port

Mind you, I know those tiers! What with all the steps I’m climbing each day, my legs will soon be ready for another round in Iceland…

I start at the Clarence Battery, in place by 1815 as one of the outworks of the new Fort George. Its role then — and for almost its entire active history — was to stand guard for England, against France. When the Germans arrived in 1940, they added some gun mountings of their own, and redefined the enemy.

German gun mounting, Clarence Battery

Layer on layer of military history. That bulk in the background is Castle Cornet, built almost 8 centuries ago, also for defence purposes.

I find a few of the structures architecturally beautiful. Forget their purpose (artillery stores, principle magazine) and admire the lines & planes.

artillery store & principle magazine, Clarence Batery

Next, the La Valette Underground Military Museum, installed in a series of German tunnels in this same section of coast. My visit is relatively short, but I recognize that serious military buffs could, and surely do, spend many, many hours here. It is packed with the minutiae of military history.

Not just the Occupation, though that looms large, but back to 19th c. British campaigns and wars as well. Buttons & medals & war materials; more poignantly, a lot of documentation of the Occupation and its impact.

I am particularly struck by a series of newspaper front pages:

  • The Star, 29 June 1940: “London: It was officially announced tonight that the Channel Islands have been demilitarized…”
  • The News, 1 July 1940: “Orders of the Commandant of the German Forces in Occupation of the Island of Guernsey”
  • The News, May 8 1945: “The War Is Over for Germany”
  • Guernsey Evening Press, 10 May 1945: “Island Day of Rejoicing”

In the afternoon I’m off to Forest with my booklet of self-guiding walks. The adventure proves as memorable for the people involved as for the places. It all starts with the driver for the bus I catch from St. Peter Port, who cocks an ear at my accent, verifies his guess, and spends much of the ride recalling the Toronto woman he almost married.

The Forest Parish church is my first stop. It is relatively small and modest, but rich with the patina of its age (earliest sections, 13th c.) and woodland setting. Also admirable for its combination of old and new: the notice board offers classes in the ancient art of bell-ringing, and details the comprehensive nature of its 24/7 electronic surveillance. Just in case your fingers wanted to grasp some church silver, instead of a bell rope.

Forest Church cemetery

A parish lady is cutting some spent blooms. We chat. I explain I’m doing this walk, but wonder if the route will be well sign-posted. She laughs — very gently, of course — and says, “Oh no, not on Guernsey! But we’re all very friendly. Just ask. Knock on a door…”

So I start down the Ruette Tranquille, which indeed is sign-posted, though by criteria rather than by name: no motor vehicles; priority for horses, cyclists & feet; maximum speed 15 MPH.

I am walking along, safely within the speed limit, when I hear, coming toward me around a bend in the lane… “Bloody weather!” The unseen speaker is bellowing. “Bloody weather! Never know what to expect! Can’t dress for it!” We’re finally within sight-lines, though he has to peer up turtle fashion, because he is bent C-shape with age. “Who are you, then?” he shouts. “Why are you dressed like that?”

I beat my feet up & down, and shout back: “I’m walking!” He roars, “No good talking to me! I’m deaf as a post!”

ruette tranquille near Forest Parish Church

It’s all taking place ’round about here. There’s no malice or aggression in his comments, just bright-eyed interest. We’re both having a good time — though I realize my role is mime, his is commentary.

After telling me I look “very conspicuous” (I couldn’t be more trekker-generic if I tried), he demands:”Know what ‘variouf’ means?” I nod energetically, because I’ve read my tourist pamphlet, and I know. It’s Guernsey French for ‘werewolf.’ He ignores me. “Wolves!” he yells. “Wolves down there! You be careful!” Then he roars with laughter and walks on.

There are a number of things I’m supposed to see on the walk, and Les Varioufs even make the list — as a folklore vignette, you understand. I fail to see almost everything on the list & decide to skip the one item I do see, the Occupation Museum. (One museum a day is enough.) Doesn’t matter. I see a great deal not on the list, and love it all.

path sign in the Forest ruette tranquille

Look how it is wreathed in blossoms. I later learn this is Wild Garlic, and briefly wish it had a prettier name, and then realize that’s… that’s silly, that’s what that is. Shakepere got it right, a rose by any other name, and all that.

I follow the side path for a while. Wouldn’t you, if it beckoned you like this?

side path from the ruette tranquille

Looping back, I photograph this example of something I’ve been noticing. People here often paint one end of their stone buildings blinding white, creating beautiful contrast with the textured stone on the other walls.

typical stone building with one white end wall

And then it’s back to town, with a bus driver who keeps his romantic history to himself, and relatively early to bed because …

… because Wednesday morning, the sun is shining and the ocean is calm and I take the one-hour boat ride to the Island of Sark.

The Island of Sark

More war, more wildflowers. My timing is dictated not only by the weather, but also by the promise of a guided Wildflower Walk that afternoon.

First, though, more rock. Sark’s soft, bucolic beauty is set in great dramatic slashes of rock. We see it as we approach the island,  we tunnel through it as we leave the boat.

ferry dock at La Greve de la Ville

And, immediately the other side, we see evidence that this island has no motorized vehicles. Not even for official business. The postmen are on bicycles, and anything heavier than mail is carried by wagon, pulled by either a horse or a tractor.

wagons awaiting loads, at Sark ferry dock

Some passengers take the offered ride up the first incline toward the village — in a wagon pulled by a tractor, though a classy wagon with seats. It has an official name I now forget; I only remember the nickname — The Toast Rack. Perhaps because passengers are lined up in neat rows on their benches.

I take the Village Path instead.

Village Path to village from dock

My tour isn’t until early afternoon, so I treat myself to a morning walk on my own. It takes me, according to my illustrated map, past The Windmill.

The Windmill (with bicycle), Sark

Which doesn’t look a lot like a windmill, does it? No blades. Later, I learn why not. It had blades but, since it offers the highest vantage point on the island, the Germans lopped off the blades, took down the mechanism, and installed a machine gun on top instead. They also built a small ammunitions shed right up against the windmill. “So we can’t put back the blades,” my tour guide says, “because that shed is now part of the house, and the blades would smack into it.”

Oh the other thing to notice in that photo: the bicycle (ghostly white glimmer) resting against the hedgerow. There are bikes propped up like this, all over the island. No, I don’t think it’s take-one-leave-one; I think it’s the owner leaving the bike until next needed, knowing it will still be there.

We have a good afternoon guided walk. The fields & woods make me think a bit of Manitoulin Island at home (off the tip of the Bruce Peninsula), starred with buttercups, tiny daisies, the last bluebells, more wild garlic, flax, campion …

The route takes us south, we’ll end on Little Sark, and our guide leads us there along the Cliff Path. It involves several stiles…

a stile on the Cliff Path, Sark

Great dramatic scenes along the cliffs, with bays gouged into the rock, plunging far below the fields all around us.

Most dramatic of all, La Coupée. This is the extremely narrow isthmus connecting Sark to Little Sark, with the land shearing away either side and the open sea giving the wind lots of room to get up speed before blasting its way across the path.

La Coupee between Sark & Little Sark

Well,  you say; just clutch the railings. Yes, fine, but there were no railings, or hard surface, until after WWII. Prior to that, on windy days school children crossed on their hands and knees. On very windy days, they were excused from school. The improvements were added post-Liberation, thanks to British army supervision and German prisoners of war.

I read the plaque noting all this, and think again about my lunch-time conversation with a Sark woman, back in the village. No Occupation memories of her own — “I was born just before Liberation, the last baby delivered by a German!” — but rich in island stories and the memories of others. Including the story of the German who didn’t leave. “He married a local girl, they’re still alive, 94 & 91 they are. Happy, happy marriage.” Another sip of her beer. “He’s a real gentleman, that one. A real gentleman.”

I have time to revisit earlier conversations, because, though our tour finishes down in Little Sark, I still have to get back north for my ferry, don’t I? No bus service here, remember? Another hour’s walk, and I’m back where I need to be.

coastal Sark, looking toward Guernsey

Along the way, I see Guernsey, a smudge on the horizon. A few more hours and I’m back in St. Peter Port, back up the steps, back home.

Thinking about Thursday. Thinking about dolmens and menhirs — and that’s your clue for my next post.



    "Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking" -- Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

    "The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes" -- Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

    "A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities" -- Rebecca Solnit, "Wanderlust: A History of Walking"

  • Recent Posts

  • Walk, Talk, Rock… B.C.-style

  • Post Categories

  • Archives

  • Blog Stats

    • 88,443 hits
  • Since 14 August 2014

    Flag Counter
  • Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,633 other followers

%d bloggers like this: