Saturday, April 30, 2016

Seeking Adventures!

It was Earth Day here on Thursday, and I went to the Earth Day Film Festival to support the local Conservation Foundation.  The featured film was the story of four young people hiking the John Muir Trail in California.  Running 215 miles through the Sierra Nevadas in California, it has been described as the 'premier hiking trail in the United States'.

What it made me think of is the importance of seeking those outdoor adventures and challenges in your life.

These pictures are just from our little paddling adventure nearly two weeks ago, when I floated down the Bighead River with a group who've been doing this for years.

I was a guest and didn't know many of the group, so I was content to stay near the back and let the others lead the way, especially when we came to the short rapids.

I took my little canoe, which you sit in like a kayak, and paddle with a kayak paddle - you can see the tip of my paddle here.

It's not a very exciting river, and a pretty easy paddle, but it was certainly fun, and as it was new to me, it was an adventure, since I didn't know what would appear around each bend.

I had never really taken this small canoe through any rapids to speak of, so I was really glad to find I had no trouble with the 5 or 6 rapids we encountered - all just straight class 1 swifts, but never-the-less exciting!

The film portrayed the hike in the Sierras as quite a serious adventure!  It was 25 days of steady walking, up and down some pretty long and steep slopes, including some that were above the snowpack.  An adventure they'll remember the rest of their lives!

It was those sorts of adventures that came to mind while watching it.  I simply felt grateful that we have taken the plunge and had some good adventures, and faced some challenges, in our own lives. Our son William's death last year fighing a forest fire undoubtedly makes this more poignant for me, but I know I'll be able to get to the end of life and be secretly pleased that we haven't held back.  And there are plenty of adventures yet to come; we have more time now.

There were the cross-country camping trips when our children were young.  I think we saw at least 18 national parks from the Atlantic to the Pacific, as well as the Yukon and Alaska.  I phoned up a friend and asked if I could join him when I was about to turn 50, and there followed 9 major canoe trips on northern rivers, as far away as the Arctic.  Mrs. F.G. and I have travelled in Europe several times, and next year we're planning to revisit at least 10 Canadian National Parks again for our country's 150th Anniversary.  Even my own local intention to finish hiking the Bruce Trail here in the Beaver Valley this summer is a significant challenge for this summer.

So I came away from the film both glad I've had great adventures, and thinking about more.  And my advice to anyone is to get out there and enjoy life yourself as much as you can.  It's amazing how the thoughts of work, daily life and the mundane parts of our time here fade into oblivion, but the memories of those adventures still come vividly to mind!  They are what makes life worthwhile.

Friday, April 29, 2016


We've seen a couple of interesting critters around over the past week.  We watched a Beaver in the little beaver pond we drive by.  I hear a lot more birds than I see, and there are lots around.  But we spotted a Cormorant no less, sitting on a stump by a rural farm pond!

I would have driven right by, but Mrs. F.G. has much sharper eyesight, and she spotted the beaver swimming.  And it swam right over toward us, almost getting out of the water.

But I think it spotted our movement, or heard the camera click, for it turned away and swam only about 2 feet before ....

... it dove, leaving nothing more than the slap of its tail and some bubbles.

But it did surface again, and we watched it swim around the side of the pond.

Until it swam back across the water, giving a much more typical view - that is, a dark spot in the distance!

But the Cormorant was something else.  We've often see a Great Blue Heron sitting here in the past, but the only place I have seen a Cormorant is on the shores of the Great Lakes.

I certainly didn't expect to find it at this small rural pond in the middle of a hayfield!

This is a bigger view of that pond, and the bird in the distance.

I did manage another couple of sightings this week.  This is a Mourning Cloak butterfly, my first butterfly of the season here, just a small fluttering pair of wings as I walked past down the trail.

And this White-tailed Deer raised a large white flag as it bounded twice and disappeared in the distance.

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Thursday, April 28, 2016

April Skies

On our Saturday hike the skies were just stunning.  A bright sunny day, with clear blue skies from horizon to horizon.  I enjoy the Skywatch Friday meme, where you can see skies from around the world every Friday.  And I prefer to take pictures that don't merely show the sky as a backdrop, but where the sky itself is the highlight.  So here are a few shots of our April skies.

As you can see, our world is still basically brown, though the evergreen plantations add some green.  Compared to blogs I read from the southern U.S. or the west coast, our seasons are very late!

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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Stiles and Streams

Last week I and one of the Bruce Trail's dedicated Trail Captains and Land Stewards went out to inspect a property.  It was a good time to go, because this property, which is former pasture, is a jungle of 4 foot tall grass by mid-summer.  But now you can walk across it easily.  And it was a beautiful sunny crisp April day.

As an old pasture, this property originally had good fences around the edge, so there are two stiles you get to climb.

But before you even get there, you cross a branch of Indian Brook on this volunteer-built bridge.  It's a nice clear stream, seeping down from the limestone layers above.

There are lots of old fencerows of maple trees around the edge, where fences have just fallen down.  I think the cattle grazed right through the fencerow.

There's also a remnant of an old orchard.

And a little patch of Bulrush swale on the slope of the open field.

In the back corner there's another tiny wetland, that generates a small stream the trail needs to cross.  Here it's a stepping stone bridge.

We followed an old woods road down to Indian Brook, and found these nice little water trickles over the bedrock ledges.

Here the trail is just a path on the edge of the old pasture, but this calls for heavy work with a weed whipper later on in the summer to keep the trail clear.

There a deep ravine along the brook though, so we climbed another stile to get down and check the trail there.

And found these downed trees, which we reported to the chain saw crew.  They had them out of the way in 24 hours!  Notice the long curved sapling, caught under one of the fallen trees.  That's one of the most dangerous things in logging, because it can snap back if it's released and do serious injury.  My grandfather was injured by a sapling like that, walked with a limp the rest of his life, and had to give up the farm, taking over the nearby general store where my dad grew up.

We even did a bit of trail work when we were out there, putting down a very short boardwalk over a muddy stretch.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Mill Creek Hike

To continue yesterday's hike, we just kept on going east from the little waterfall all the way through to the next road.  Along the way we saw a lot of the Manitoulin formation rocks, as well as Mill Creek and the famous Mill Creek bridge.  Let's pick it up at the little Pinnacle Rock Waterfall where we ended yesterday.

As you know by now, I tried some 'slow' pictures of the falls, using a tripod, as well as yesterday's 'fast' pictures.  I figure it's legitimate to include yet more waterfall pictures if it's actually part of the hike!

This waterfall drops over the thin layers of the Manitoulin Dolostone, numerous layers only about 1" thick each.  This is a 'flowerpot' of the Manitoulin formation we encountered a little further on, as we followed the trail just below a short cliff formed by this rock.  This piece seemed to have slid down the slope, but stayed intact.

Further on, when we came to the valley of Mill Creek, we followed the Manitoulin cliff for a short distance on top, and then turned sharply to drop down the slope in a long diagonal below the rocks.  You get a really good view looking up at it.

There were several very long steep slopes on this hike, though the trail went gradually up or down.  Hikers in the valley immediately recognize the tall high cliffs of the Amabel formation, as at Old Baldy, but they maybe don't realize that there is an entirely separate shorter cliff lower down in the geological layers.  And it's the one that forms most of the waterfalls.

And then we came to the famous Mill Creek Bridge.  I've heard people praise the bridge for 2 or 3 years now, but never been there, so it was nice to see it.  It's quite long, and has a couple of interesting bends at one end, even with two benches so you can sit and enjoy the sound of rushing water..

As the sign says, it was built as a training exercise by an army regiment in 2011, supported by the two families whose land the trail goes through in this section, and a lot of local volunteers.  I think it's one of the longest bridges, over the biggest creek, within the Beaver Valley section of the trail.

I could have sat there and enjoyed it for a long time, but we pressed on up the hill out of the valley and finished our hike in about 2.5 hours.  The hills slow me down and wear me out, but that's where I get the greatest cardio benefit.  The best exercise I've had in ages, and a hike I will definitely repeat.  

Today has been miserable and cold, ice on the windshield this morning.  I'm hoping for better days to come starting soon!

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