I'd forgotten the utter silence of the woods in winter. They are devoid of the usual twittering of birds, mammalian rustles, wind moving leaves.
Nothing moves in the woods in winter. Not right here, right now, anyway. Here on the Lake of Two Rivers trail, in the middle of a sunny February afternoon, everything lies sleeping under 40 inches of snow. The snowshoe trek is exhausting, so I stop periodically to listen. Absolutely nothing. A soothing, trance-like sort of nothing.
I love Ontario. Even though I have been to the expanse of the Serengeti, the remoteness of Iceland, the impressive fjords of New Zealand, the white sand beaches of Fiji, the rich historical streets of Europe, there is nothing quite like this wild province we call home. It was with this in mind that Jen and I booked our most recent trip - a four day getaway about four hours north-east of Toronto (Renfrew County, near Pembroke). As the date of the trip approached, we watched the weather forecast with increasing concern. A massive snowstorm was approaching, and it seemed like it would hit the hardest on Tuesday morning, the day we had planned to leave.
After some quick readjustments and a last-minute search on AirBnB, we decided to leave on Monday night instead, and drive up to Bancroft late after work in order to get ahead of the storm. We had reached out to Aileen of Suite in the Bush, who kindly accommodated us at the last minute, including setting things up so we could check ourselves in around midnight, as it was the earliest we could get there after work.
Night driving long distances is something that I find soothing - makes me nostalgic for the days when I used to drive to Ottawa every Friday night for choir rehearsal. Once we got out of the city, there was hardly anyone else on the roads, and when there was, I'd calmly let them pass us. We were in bright spirits, happy to be heading on a mini-vacation after almost a year since our last one. We arrived at Suite in the Bush just before midnight, and entered our little home-away-from-home apartment quietly so as to not wake our hosts who lived in the main house above. The apartment was very warm and cozy when we entered, as they had stocked up the wood stove for us. We loved all the personal touches, from the basket of snacks, the cold drinks in the fridge, the super-soft king-sized bed, the option to make hot chocolate, and the lovely decor. We were also surprised by the breakfast menu, full of different delicious options to choose from for the next morning.
After settling in for the night, we slept quite soundly and were ready for our homemade breakfast upstairs in the host's kitchen for 9am. Jen had selected a grilled croissant filled with cream cheese and strawberries, and I had french toast. It was very nice to meet our host and chat while she prepared us our yummy meals. There was also plenty of coffee, fruit, yogurt, and fruit juice to have while we waited. We felt like we were in a luxurious hotel rather than someone's home!
After saying goodbye to our host, we were on the road again, headed in the direction of Killaloe (where Beavertails were invented!). The sun was shining and the skies were clear. As we checked our phones for the weather in Toronto and saw the mess the city was in, we were even more grateful we had made the last-minute decision to drive up a night early.
After getting some last minute supplies in Killaloe, we made our way to our final destination for the next three nights, a small little cabin on Golden Lake. The snow was just starting to fall as we arrived, and we were grateful that our host already had the cabin ready for us and allowed an early check-in! After parking the car, we settled into our charming little cabin, and got fully prepared to be snowed in.
|Jen playing on the frozen lake|
The next morning, everything was covered in a huge blanket of snow. We made our breakfast leisurely and then made our way over to Greystone's office, where free-for-use snowshoes had been left thoughtfully outside so we could explore. There was a small patch of woods on the property, so we didn't have to go far.
It took us a while to get our “snow legs”, as snowshoeing in knee-deep snow was more challenging than we thought it would be. We both fell a few times, trying to get our bearings. We didn't mind – the snow was fluffy and soft, the sun was shining brightly in the sky, and the woods beckoned us forwards.
With my longer legs, I found it slightly easier to get through the deep snow and so I uncharacteristically led the way, creating a path for Jen so she would have a bit of an easier time. We looked all around us for evidence of life, but it seems all the creatures were still asleep or hanging out elsewhere – not a single track disturbed the pure white blanket all around us. We wandered for an hour, trying to follow what we felt like was a very faint path that was slightly indented in the tall snow – or perhaps it was an illusion and we were just forging our own. Regardless, we stumbled upon some interesting structures, likely belonging to the camp that the map shows nearby.
After our adventure, we went back to the cabin to warm up, have a snack, and then head out to Jen's car. The snowstorm had partially covered the vehicle, and the snowplow had done the rest – three sides of the car were almost completely snow-covered! We got to work with our shovels and spent about an hour digging the car. Back home this would have quite annoyed us, but since we were on vacation it just added to the fun adventure! Getting the car out was complicated by the layer of thick ice under the wheels that kept the wheels spinning, but we persevered and finally, exhausted and wet and cold but elated, the car was free! We high-fived, and headed into the little cabin to have a well-deserved late lunch.
Algonquin was the adventure for the next day, and headed out to the Visitor's Centre which was about an hour's drive from the cabin. We checked in with staff to see which trails were open and accessible, and spent some time watching the winter birds at the feeders out back before heading out to the snowshow trail.
The trail we had chosen was moderately challenging for a snow-shoe hike, and we went slowly but steadily forward through the trees, thankful for the well-packed trail that we could follow.
The trail was a beautiful winter wonderland, and our slow pace allowed us to take it all in even more. Being present in each moment (mindfulness) is always so much easier for me when I am away from the fast-pace of every day life. Here, in these silent woods, it's so much easier to let my body settle into the way the deep green needled branches hang heavy with snow; let the soft dee-dees of chickadees all around us consume my hearing; let the cold air fill my lungs.
My personal and work life may currently be in an extreme state of anxiety-inducing chaos, but here, in these woods, in this moment, looking out over the white, grey, blue, and green of the ravine and the frozen river below, I have a small reprieve from that. Those things are not here. Only this moment, this breath, is.
No winter Valentine's week adventure is complete without a fancy dinner, and Alton Brown's delicious Steak-au-Poivre recipe, paired with garlic-parmesan mashed potatoes and gently steamed green beans, did not fail to disappoint.
We drank wine, sat by the gas fireplace playing board games, and adapted quickly to the slower rhythm of a snowy winter getaway. We couldn't have picked a more perfect cabin, with the beautiful frozen lake right outside our window and very lovely hosts who even offered to mail our forgotten lens cap back home to us! Another place to add to our list of places to return to when we don't have time to venture too far from home.
|Mystery large animal tracks (?) the frozen lake|