On February 10th, the Sunday after the significant snowfall in Toronto and all of southern Ontario, my husband and I drove to Kortright Centre for Conservation to walk in the snowy woods. We belong to a car sharing company and had fortunately reserved a car for the day in the hopes of having a snowy outing. We’d missed being in the snow at Kortright the previous year when so little snow had fallen.
In the morning, we walked through deep snow. We don’t have snow shoes, so the going was strenuous but very beautiful. Our afternoon hike was on trails that had been cleared or walked on and was easier going, but no less lovely. The afternoon light was diffused and the snow seemed to shine from within as it softly covered the ground. The blue grey shadows of the trees and logs washed across the warm white. What a miracle snow is.
As I often write, the poignancy of this beauty in light of human contribution to the warming of the planet was with me. I took solace in the day: in the chickadees, woodpeckers, finches, mourning doves and cardinals we saw and heard, in the trees, the stream and frozen marsh and so much that is life-giving and calls out to be seen, heard and valued deeply.
We had heard that Peyto Lake was a beautiful spot, so we turned off the Icefields Parkway 40 kms after its southernmost end to see the lake. The trail was steep but not too long. We took our time, among other travelers, walking up to the Bow Summit, past many fir and spruce trees. Interpretive signs pointed out the differences between these two most prevalent conifers prompting us to attempt to identify which tree we were near at any one time. This became a playful exercise throughout our trip. I am very much in the dark about so much of what I see in nature and wanted to begin learning even the simplest of things to enlarge my horizons. I believe the photo I’m including of conifers on the trail shows a subalpine fir in the centre.
When we arrived at the lookout point, we joined our fellow hikers to look out on the mountains and distinctively shaped blue green lake. For someone like me who has not grown up in such land, the beauty was almost shocking. At the summit was an interpretive sign, this one about the Peyto glacier, which originally carved out the shape of the valley and the bowl of Peyto Lake. During the past century or so, the glacier that once filled the valley has receded about two kilometres. And before the glacier materialized, there stood a forest in its place. This was revealed through the discovery of 3000 year old wood fragments under the ice.
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.
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.