Dramatic clouds are over Toronto this morning and more rain is forecast. We didn’t get the extreme storm that the northeast United States did. By the time it arrived here, I heard it being called a tropical storm and a superstorm. What we did receive were winds gusting to 100 km an hour on Monday night along with heavy rain. Trees were brought down and people were without power. Here’s a few photos looking southwest towards downtown from a bit east of central Toronto.
On our September trip to the Rocky Mountains, we travelled from Banff National Park west to Yoho National Park in British Columbia along the border with Alberta. There we spent our first afternoon at Takakkaw Falls and a nearby trail. The day was cool and cloudy as we drove up the winding road to the falls. I loved the views on this road in the midst of steeply rising mountains. The driving, however, was sometimes hair raising with an extreme switchback where we stopped and watched an RV passenger in front of us out on the road, directing the driver as he or she backed up toward the edge of a cliff before being able to make the turn. It’s not surprising that this road is open only from late June to early October. I have no idea how the tour buses made it up there.
At the falls, although there were many of us tourists, it was easy to take in the beauty. In addition to the dramatic waterfall which cascades around 380 metres, we saw nearby mountains partially concealed in moving clouds.
Soon we set off for a walk on a trail heading towards Laughing Falls. It was getting late in the day and so we hiked out and back for an hour or so and didn’t set a goal of getting to the falls. This was an easy, level walk, very quiet, past now empty camp sites by Yoho River and woods.
On returning I enjoyed seeing Takakkaw Falls come into view from afar. Here I had a long view of the mountains and could see first a touch of spray, then gradually more and more of the cascading water as we walked further along.
We had a most enjoyable afternoon in this rugged landscape. Returning in the clear cool moist air, the woods, river and rock held us, opening onto distant deep blue mountains in white cloud, rock walls of burnt orange and blue, deep green narrow triangles of gathered conifers and cascading water.
We stayed in Canmore, Alberta when hiking in Banff National Park. Often we travelled west on the Trans Canada Highway to Banff and beyond. East of Banff, we’d come to what I believe to be Cascade Mountain. At one point, as you are driving west, the mountain is directly in front of you, powerfully beautiful. Finally, one day when I was in the passenger seat, I decided to photograph the mountain through the windshield of the car to have some image of what I so loved seeing.
I didn’t, however, photograph the most dramatic scene on that leg of our journey which we had encountered on an earlier day. We awoke that day to dense fog. Our bedroom window looked out onto mountains which were completely hidden that day. As the morning wore on and we drove toward Banff, the clouds began dissipating. Occasionally, they revealed pieces of mountains and glaciers high above a white blanket of cloud. What a haunting, wonderful sight that was. We had glimpses of Cascade Mountain in such a fashion–as though a piece of what we think is reality had been torn away to show life that we hadn’t known was there.
I think of our human blindness here. Perhaps you can relate to this yourself. I know I often go about my life in a fog, not knowing the huge presences that await beyond clouded veils that surround me. I am startled when they reveal themselves or bits of themselves, signs asking me to notice life more closely, signs that forces beyond my normal consciousness are at play and at work in my life and in that of all nature.
I’ll be adding many more posts about my time in the Canadian Rockies. I think of the mountains every day and miss them. Meanwhile, in Toronto it’s autumn. The turning leaves are beautiful and bring me solace as I travel around the city.
Today, it was very warm and sunny. I returned to the Brick Works—passing milkweed in luminous seed by the railway tracks. Other people strolled about on this lovely day and I spoke to a woman who had seen eastern bluebirds at the Brick Works yesterday.
I saw and heard red winged blackbirds, chickadees and mallards. Also, I heard what I believe were finches or warblers of some sort.
And at the Brick Works, I read a sign about the geology of the land here. It was good to relate my new found interest to the land close to home. And to contemplate, as I had in the west, that we live off of life much older than ourselves.
The sign reads:
The rock of this west quarry wall is shale with harder layers of silty limestone. It originated in a tropical sea around 448 million years ago. If you look closely you may see some fossils…The presence of easily accessible shale made this site valuable as a brick making operation.
I’ve mentioned before that being in the Rockies awakened in me an interest in geology and earth history. As I travelled, I wanted to learn how the mountains, lakes and canyons were formed. Here’s a small bit of what I’ve gathered about Lake Louise and Johnston Canyon.
Near the end of our travels, I bought a book to help in my learning called How Old is that Mountain by Chris Yorath. From that book I’ve learned that Lake Louise may be a tarn. And for those of you who have never heard of a tarn, as I had not until a short while ago, it’s a lake that has formed at the base of a steeply walled recess—shaped like a deep bowl—on the side of a mountain. These deep recesses are called cirques and are formed by mountain glaciers eroding the mountain’s rock.
In the case of Lake Louise, it’s possible that when the glacier on Mt. Victoria was much larger it carved Lake Louise’s basin. This may have happened around 25,000 years ago.
Here, the huge lengths of time geology deals with need to be put in terms that our minds can comprehend. In geological terms, 25,000 years ago is very recent. For example, scientists estimate that the earth was formed around four and a half billion years ago and that our human ancestors arrived around 3 million years ago.
To help us, Chris Yorath includes the following analogy. If we imagine the entire history of the earth as a 24 hour clock, the creation of the planet would be at midnight—00:00. And the appearance of humans would not be until well past 23:00 hours, at one minute and a few seconds before the following midnight. This has certainly given me pause for reflection and helps me grasp that Lake Louise was formed in recent times.
Back to her now. I learned, from information in Banff National Park that the beautiful green blue of Lake Louise and other Rocky Mountain lakes arises in large part from rock flour. That is, from fine particles of sediment washing down from the mountains into the lake. This was visible to us at the end of the lake closest to the Plain of Six Glaciers hike.
In the case of Johnston Canyon, Yorath reports that according to Parks Canada the canyon was created around 8,000 years ago. At that time, a landslide that brought masses of rock down from a nearby mountain diverted Johnston Creek from its path. Then, over time, the canyon, which is 200 metres deep, was carved out.
I alternate between contemplating geological and human time scales. Either way, while I was in the presence of the mountains, lakes and canyons, I felt something very old, compared to my life, surrounding me. Being part of nature in that way, experiencing that sense of time and change, was life giving. Because of that, I hope to always draw on the memories of my time in the Rockies and to return to them again.
On our first full day in the Canadian Rockies in early September (after Labour Day), we went on the Johnston Canyon trail. It was a cloudy, drizzly day and we joined many walkers on the cool, shaded trail. This is one that many people would find quite do-able, particularly the lower trail. There were elderly as well as young people, including some with babies in strollers. The presence of other people did not diminish the beauty of the canyon which we found to be a great introduction to Banff National Park.
We eventually took the upper trail, which lead us to deep ochre coloured rocks. There we spoke to a couple from Great Britain who were delighted, as we were, by the beauty we were in. We did not continue on to the inkpots but will likely do so on a future visit.
The drizzle turned to rain as we retraced our steps, watching our footing on slippery rocks. Despite the chill and dampness, I felt the trees, rocks and water giving me a feeling of well-being and calling to me to learn more about the history of this dramatic part of the country.
Being in nature has always evoked strong feelings in me. There’s the love I felt at Lake Louise and the plain of the six glaciers trail. But even that changed for me. It is easy to feel love, exhilaration in the bright sun or in the morning and early afternoon. As the sun gets closer to setting, more somber feelings take hold, as they did when we retraced our steps back toward Lake Louise in the dusk.
The beauty of being in nature is that I am faced with myself by virtue of experiencing the earth in a direct way. The land or ocean speaks, bringing forth emotions from love and awe, to unease and fear.
My times in natural settings at night have sometimes brought me fear of the dark, the unknown and the sounds of animals I could not identify. But I have also had profound feelings of peace. One such time was in Val Marie, Saskatchewan, a tiny town on the edge of Grasslands National Park. There, awakening in the night, I was in the midst of a quiet that I had never experienced. And there are the times I’ve looked at stars on dark, clear nights in the countryside that elicit a sense of awe common to many people who have shared this experience.
I’ve also experienced a change in feelings toward aspects of nature in my 40 plus years in Canada. When I first arrived, I had certainly been among conifers at some points in my life, but not to the degree that is offered when travelling north in Ontario. Though I could see their beauty when I was young, they felt austere and elicited loneliness in me. This has changed dramatically for me over the decades. It’s not something I willed to happen, it just has. Now I feel love for the same spruce, fir and pine that I felt such unease towards.
Beyond myself, it seems to me that our attitudes toward nature have greatly shaped our relationship with the natural world, too often in the destructive ways we are familiar with. I wonder if humans could learn to rest easier with our own feelings, whether we could view nature differently. Perhaps we could begin to view the natural world less as something to be dominated or feared, but as part of the life we all share on earth. Perhaps we could learn to know that we are part of nature and nature, part of us. In that sense, care for nature is care for ourselves.
When I travelled to the Canadian Rockies in September with my husband, we went to Lake Louise several times and twice hiked the trail to the Plain of Six Glaciers as far as the teahouse. I found the lake and the mountains deeply beautiful.
Our first glimpse of Lake Louise was on a sunny day the week following Labour Day. We had heard that the crowds thin out then, but there were still many of us tourists out to see Louise. I had seen photos of her since moving to Canada in the 1970s and expected the pathway we took to the left of the hotel, down from the upper parking lot, to lead us to a trail to her. However, we were surprised as we walked around a bend to find that spectacular scene right in front of us. Here we joined scores of other tourists strolling, gaping and taking photos with large and small cameras and cell phones.
However, we soon left the throngs and walked, with increasingly fewer people, along the lake and up to the trail. We decided to return earlier the next day to hike to the plain of the six glaciers when we had plenty of time. And that’s what we did, stopping often to take in the blessed beauty and to take photos. Other hikers were out walking and we let them pass us as we continued our slow climb, sometimes exchanging a word or two about the beauty surrounding us.
I owe something to Richard Louv who wrote The Nature Principle that I’ve written about. And that is, I am much more accepting of finding other humans on nature trails than I was in the past. That is because he spoke of the extreme importance of people being in nature to care about it enough to want to preserve it.
On the way up the trail we saw golden mantle ground squirrels, who likely saw us as bringers of food. One day I saw a pika which I identified later in a guide book as the small animal I’d seen with round ears–a member of the rabbit family. We saw grey jays and ravens. Earlier, at the base of the lake we’d seen another bird–clark’s nutcracker.
The mountains and glaciers surrounded us. We saw walls of nearly vertical rock and glacial streams of cascading water flowing into streams that led to the lake. At times we were accompanied by rumbling and witnessed a distant avalanche on what I believe was Mt. Victoria. At one point the trail took us on a narrow ledge by a cliff with steel ropes which were comforting to hang on to.
The path itself was generally not rough, but it was a steep climb at times for us, who are moderate day hikers well past our physical youth. By the end, we went very slowly, but made it to the plain and the teahouse there—a wooden building in the conifers with Tibetan prayer flags blowing in the breeze. There, at an altitude of over 6000 feet and after hours of walking, we rewarded ourselves with tea and sandwiches looking out through the deep green of the trees. We stood later, squinting into the sun at the glaciers, and I was able to see the tiny shapes of mountain goats that another visitor pointed out. A raven croaked energetically from the top of a dead tree and the sun was warm on us. I can feel the clear atmosphere now as I write in Toronto.
Then, it was down slowly in the late afternoon, retracing our steps and seeing the land, the heights from a new perspective. Lake Louise gradually came into sight and the rock wall that climbers had earlier been scaling. Greeting us were reflections in the opal water of the calm lake. Those days in the midst of the extreme beauty of earth on the plain of the six glaciers trail and at Lake Louise brought me great solace and a feeling of inner light. They remain with me still and give me strength.
My recent trip to the Canadian Rockies ignited in me an interest in geology. I looked at the mountains and wanted to know what had formed them. I’ve bought a few beginners’ books on geology and the history of the earth and am reading them with great fascination. This past weekend, when I was in Algonquin Park in Ontario, I was also aware of the boulders and outcroppings of rock and am learning a bit about how these were formed.
Contemplating the incomprehensible sweep of billions of years of creation and change that the earth has gone through has brought me some surprising peace of mind. I’ve learned that the rock in the mountains were once under sea, something I dimly recall hearing about before, but not paying any attention to. In some of the rock, the remains of shells are found. This has gotten me thinking about the oneness of life, in a literal sense. What we now see and experience as solid mass rising above us, was once on the bottom of tropical seas. Water, ice, fire, land and movement shaped the western mountains and the boulders in the east. And my existence here in this tiny speck of time is amazing seen in the context of the vast billions of years of earth’s history.
Many of us are afflicted or in some anguish at different times of our lives and perhaps unable to get outside of our own suffering. Despite this, I have begun wondering if the felt sense of the earth’s awesome history might also help other people feel less alienated from their surroundings, as it has for me. I don’t know the answer to this. But what I’m discovering is that the study of science at a beginner’s level is fascinating and quite do-able and, for me, calming.
Before writing about the time we spent in the Rockies, here’s a side trip to Algonquin and Arrowhead Provincial Parks in Ontario. I travelled north this past weekend to see the fall colours. The oranges, reds and yellows were at their peak contrasting with pale greens and the deeper green of conifers. We hiked in Algonquin Park, coming upon other nature lovers, among them families with young children. As before, we were gladdened to see parents introducing their children to nature.
Saturday and Sunday were cloudy and cool, but the rain held off until late afternoon each day when we had just finished our hikes on the Hemlock Bluffs and Bat Lake trails. I felt blessed to be among the trees and rocks, by lakes and streams.
We saw chipmunks, many chickadees, blue jays, hairy woodpeckers and a great grey owl on Sunday. This we found in the comical way we often do in parks. We came upon a large crowd of people pulled over by the roadway, with their telescopic lenses and smaller cameras all looking intently off to the side. We thought we’d see a moose when we joined them, but no, this was a much rarer sighting we were told. I had never seen an owl in the wild and was happy to see this bird who rewarded us at one point by spreading his or her huge wings and floating out of the tree toward the ground, perhaps in search of prey.
Our last day, Monday, we spent at quiet Arrowhead Park, taking a gentle walk to and from Stubb’s Falls. Monday was sunny and warmer than the weekend. We walked among the bright trees and onto boulders at the side of the falls. The deep colours, loud rushing water and the reflections in the river were a tonic and a joy to see before returning to the highways and the different rushing of Toronto.