“Fresh Air & Colour” Day Two: Thursday, 24th April 2014

Part I – Fingers Crossed

This morning is meant to be my first hike in the park and I am as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. The thought of today’s activity terrifies me; what if it is too much, too soon? What if I cannot make it around the entire loop? What if I discover this at the half-way mark? What if my gear is too heavy for me just yet? I can imagine a million ways this hike could run amok, I can feel the tension tightening my chest and I know a panic attack is just a “what if” away. I am ashamed to admit that my “should I” or “shouldn’t I” debate lasted a full two hours; I sit in the den until nearly ten thirty awash in indecision. I am disgusted with myself.

In the end, courage wins, but by the shortest of margins. Surgery successfully behind me, still committed – though apparently only cautiously – to my recovery plan, I load L’Oeuf with requisite supplies (wind cheater, lunch, flask of tea, camera gear, notebook) and head out to Presqu’ile. The sky is blue, the sun is blazing but the wind holds a reminder of a winter hesitant to loose it’s icy grip on Northumberland County. On my way now, fingers crossed.

Part II – No Welcome

As I turn onto Huff Road, the last leg of my drive, I remember my park tag, and pull over to hang it on my mirror. It gives me a bit of a buzz; this time I’m not a newbie, not unknown. This time I belong, I’m a member of the Presqu’ile family and I am sure of a friendly welcome from Evan.

Only everything is different today. No Evan for starters; the gatehouse is unmanned and here’s me, proudly displaying my tag – for no one. I drive onward toward the pannes, wondering if I’ll be lucky enough to actually glimpse one of my singing frogs – I have my camera, I have the big lens, will I be lucky? Sadly, there is no choral welcome today. The cooler temperature has temporarily silenced the frogs.

The kiddies are all back in school so the park is nigh-on empty this morning. It feels very different to me, than it did on Monday. Silent. Deserted. Lonely. Presqu’ile has definitely “lost” some of its welcome on this apparently quiet spring day.

Part III – First Hike

The trails in this park range from one to eight kilometres in length. At 1.2 kms, the Marsh Boardwalk Trail is one of the shortest, and even though it doesn’t get any easier than this, I am loathe to admit that this represents a real challenge for me. I do have to start somewhere so, with a huge feeling of nervous apprehension, I get out of L’Oeuf, put on my backpack, pick up my tripod and walk towards the start of the trail. As it happens, my worries were all for naught. The abundant beauty of the marsh excited me, I practically ran up the steps of the first lookout tower and gazed out over a biodiversity I knew would reveal so many wonderful surprises…

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Part IV – Stupid City Girl

Very near to the mid-way point of the loop, there is an interpretive station and I, never having been here before, pause to read all the boards and to consider which species I am likely to see this early in the year. I am “caught up” by a young mum and her wee son. He is adorably kitted out with a pith helmet and a (fishing butterfly) net. He is clearly having a grand adventure and, although the mum has introduced him to me, I begin to think of him as “Indie”. One small difference – my Indie’s main objective is to find and touch a snake. Having ascertained there are no snakes at this station, Indie proudly brandishes his net in front of me, in which he has caught the ugliest, slimiest snail I’ve ever seen. He offers to let me hold it. As if!!! But I smile, thank him and divert his attention to the gorgeous swan who has, luckily for me, just floated into view. Phew!

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I am enjoying my solitude on this walk, so I take some pictures and allow Indie and his mum to wander off ahead of me. Judging them to be sufficiently far ahead, I pick up my tripod and prepare to leave when I notice something in the water immediately below and in front of me. There, not five feet away is a beaver. He is busily swimming from one side of the pond to the other dragging with him sticks and all manner of vegetation building or, I suppose, renovating his lodge. Do Mrs. Beavers do spring cleaning and get redecorating urges, I wonder? Still, this fellow’s industriousness is fascinating and I am thoroughly enjoying standing there watching him work. Standing there holding my camera and tripod. Standing there watching the beaver, holding my camera and not taking one single picture, I am *that* excited and enrapt. Stupid City Girl!

Part V – Colour

In the last leg of the hike the trail changes from elevated boardwalk over marsh/water/reeds to a stunningly beautiful forest path, strewn with yet-green, fragrant needles and small boughs from both the pine and cedar denizens. The trees are tall, it is completely quiet and it feels like I am in church, in one of the biggest natural Cathedrals I’ve seen; truly an awe-inspiring moment. The Interpretive Station informs me that I am in The Old Panne, between two conifer-topped fingers, which is slowly being being filled in and becoming drier which is in turn, slowly but inevitably changing the flora found here. For me, right now, it is perfect; brilliant, lush, alive and oh-so-green.

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Back at the car, happy, relieved, not exhausted, and hungry, I stow my gear and drive on to the Lighthouse where I find a quiet, sunny rock by the water to sit on and eat my sammie. Despite the sunshine, the wind is nippy, not encouraging me to linger. I do get some shots of the lighthouse, a white and red structure backed with multiple shades of blue from the lake and the sky. I need a wider lens to get a really good picture and know that will happen one day this summer. As I walk away from the lighthouse I see some vivid red berries leftover from autumn beside an enduring pile of snow; mimicking the colours of the lighthouse.

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Part VI – Casper

Before leaving the park I drive Atkins Lane to the south-east point. During my brief recon on Monday I thought I would love it here and I was right. The interpretive station informs me it was the sight of the old Presqu’ile Hotel; in 1891 ferries began bringing tourists from Rochester and other cities on the shores of Lake Ontario and in response to demand, in 1905, Peter Cowell opened a summer hotel and dance pavilion at the dock. A small section of that dock still exists. Today this harbour is peaceful and abandoned but for me. There are ducks, geese and swans and, amazingly, a single Caspian Tern – soaring, swooping, diving and fishing. There is a picnic table at the shoreline, only a couple of metres from the tern and I cautiously, slowly and quietly make my way to the table to sit and watch. “Casper”, seemingly unafraid of me, took it upon himself to put on a truly awesome show just for me. The display of his prowess continued for nearly half an hour and I was thoroughly enchanted. Unlike my encounter with the beaver, this time I had my camera ready and I snapped up a storm… Again with the wrong lens, but my encounter is, at least, documented. My time at Presqu’ile today has come to an end and eventually, reluctantly, I rise to return to my car. As I turn my back on “Caspar” – cheeky bugger – he follows me, “buzzes” my head with a low fly-by and then rises high above me to return to his home.

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Part VII – Fresh Air & Colour

L’Oeuf and I leave the park, me a most pleasant juxtaposition of exhilaration and relaxation, quite proud of my accomplishment. I came to hike, I did hike and I am none-the-worse for it. I make a quick stop for some dinner supplies and run into a sorority sister. “How do you feel?” she asks me, “because you look great!” Doubtful! Hair is beyond windblown, face is likely dirty (I felt the sand, tossed by the wind, hitting it all the day long), and I was not wearing anything special quite, in fact, the opposite. At home, I glance at my reflection in the hall mirror as I pass. There is something different. Something that has been missing for a very long time. I have colour in my cheeks again. Colour thanks to the biting wind and the exercise, but colour all the same. The cool clean air at the park has enervated me, and although I need not travel as far as Presqu’ile to walk in the fresh air, and have it infuse my cheeks with a rosy glow – I did and it did. I am happy, content, not anxious and as evening unfolds, a little tired. Not the exhaustion of the ill, but a sleepiness brought on by a day spent outdoors, stimulated by the many colours of the flora and fauna, and by the lake breeze. Life is good.

 

Notes

Today’s Fauna

Beaver
Swans
Ducks
Geese
Yellow Rail
Robins
Grackle
School of very small (2-3”) silver fish.
Caspian Tern

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“Frog Song” Day One: Monday, 21st April 2014

Decision taken!

On this glorious morning I find myself driving along the parkway towards Presqu’ile Provincial Park filled with pleasant anticipation. It is Easter Monday, the perfect time for new beginnings and I quietly promise myself I will put my best foot forward.

Part I – Evan

My first encounter is with a charming young lad – Evan – in the gatehouse. He, it seems, is happy to sell me (a first-timer) my park pass and I am happy that my adventure is beginning easily and amicably. Evan is a veritable park encyclopedia, eager to share his knowledge and lore with everyone who visits “his” park. He seems genuinely interested in me, my photography and in my reasons for coming to PPP. Kitted out with a wealth of park literature thanks to my new buddy Evan, I jump back into L’Oeuf and enter Presqu’ile for the first time this year.

Priority one is the water’s edge and I head off, windows open, enjoying the breezy, sunny, first spring-like day this year. I had driven only as far as the first pannes when I heard the music. Joyously ringing out as if choired, was the most beautiful frog song I’d ever heard, the first this year and the first I’d ever heard in the daytime. It was a choral welcome par excellence.

Part II – Geography

The park is busy today, it being a school holiday, so I am forced to drive very slowly to avoid all the busily scampering imps. Equally worrisome are the many and enormous potholes… The type that render front-wheel drive vehicles (L’Oeuf) inoperable. The type that swallow small cars whole ( also L’Oeuf). Luckily I am not in a rush…

Pothole Presqu’Ile Parkway is basically a long loop that follows the western shore of the peninsula out to its tip where the Lighthouse is situated, and then back along the eastern shore (bypassing a small area of private residences) back to the park’s gatehouse. My goal for today is not photography, in fact my camera never once comes out of its case. I want to familiarize myself with the beaches (of course I will swim this summer), the trails, the parking, the comfort stations; the overall geography of the park.

First, on my right, is the access road to Beach 1 (as yet closed), then Beach 2 (ditto) and then Beach 3 which is open to cars. I drive through, park and hop out for my first glimpse of Popham Bay, the western shore of the headland. The beach is deserted, the water frigid, and out here, the wind has a definite bite. I retreat to the shelter of the dunes and find a conveniently placed stump – a reminder of this winter’s catastrophic ice storm – on which to relax and gaze out into the lake, which is enormous and magnificent and beautiful. On the horizon, a ship headed westward (To Toronto? Through the locks and on to Superior or Michigan?) and I think of my Dad, of how much he would love it here, and suddenly the knowledge that my decision to undertake this therapeutic adventure was the right one becomes a certainty. I continue south to explore the various trails.

On my left, the interior of the promontory, is the large marsh area and the Marsh Boardwalk Trail. A quick reconnoitre reveals a course very similar to Sculthorpe Marsh in Port Hope and I immediately know this will be a favourite venue for me and my Nikon. My drive to the Lighthouse reveals three more trails – Owen Point, Pioneer and Newcastle, each tempting, each promising rewards for my camera but I am undeterred on this fine morning, I have glimpsed the Lighthouse and do not plan to stop again until I am there. The point is blustery but the sunshine, reflecting off the brilliant white wall, is amazingly toasty and I am able to bask in its warmth ’til I’ve gazed my fill of the lake, of the two tiny sail boats bobbing on the waves and of the waterfowl playing along the rocky shore. Again, I am alone. I am awash with serenity, and with a tranquility that is shattered, almost immediately, by two, three-foot tall pirates looking to plunder any unsuspecting idlers. I quickly left them to it and got back in my egg to continue exploring.

Driving through the Calf Pasture (No kidding. No cows, but no kidding.) and along Atkins Lane, I came to the park’s access to its easternmost shore where there are flora experiments underway, and there is a quiet, secluded part of the park that I am sure I will love more than any other. I pass the Jobes’ Woods Trail (the last of the marked trails), drive through the pannes where I again pause to listen to the frog chorus and, without hurry, eventually reach the gatehouse and Evan.

Part III – Evan

Admittedly I am neither an outdoors nor a wildlife expert and the frog song I’ve heard in the past has been in summer evenings at, and just past, sunset. Never mid-day and never this early in the year. The gatehouse is deserted. I impulsively park L’Oeuf and nip in to pick Evan’s brain. He does not disappoint. I learn that April is one of the best times of the year to listen for frogs. All month long, waters are warming from the stronger rays of spring sunshine. As the soil and waters warm, frogs and toads start to wake up from hibernation. I learn that the frogs in the pannes are Western, Striped, Chorus frogs which happen to be amongst the smallest Canadian frogs (see image in “notes” below).

With this information I am utterly astounded; to think a creature so tiny could make such an enormous sound, one that did not disappear in the vast openness of the park but rather fill it to its limits. I set a goal for myself, to find and photograph a Chorus Frog before they retreat to the shade of the woods – while they are serenading me, welcoming me to their home. Day one and I am happy, I am calm and I am amazed.

Driving past the gatehouse and out of the park, my mind is already abuzz with plans. Until my next visit…

Notes:

Chorus Frogs

Members of the treefrog family.
Chorus frogs can survive being frozen and are among the first frogs to emerge in the spring.
Male chorus frogs have a rasping breeding call that sounds like a thumbnail repeatedly drawn over the teeth of a pocket comb, and is often assumed to come from a much larger frog. Breeding choruses early in the season can be heard on clear, sunny days, but shift to evenings or cloudy, rainy days as the season progresses.
Both males and sometimes females call in large choruses.
The higher the temperature, the more frequent calls occur in a minute, (30–90 calls per minute).

Western Striped Chorus Frog

(Western Striped Chorus Frog, the sort found in the pannes at Presqu’ile.)

Pannes

The pannes are flat, wet and largely open sandy areas present on either side of the main park entrance road.
Smaller areas of panne habitat are also present around the edges of The Fingers.
Panne habitats are very rare in Ontario, being essentially restricted to Great Lakes shorelines.
Human activity has further reduced their naturally limited distribution.
Presqu’ile’s pannes contain the park’s most significant plant communities, and are outstanding for their size, relatively good condition and diversity of rare and uncommon species.

Pourquoi Presqu’ile? – Prologue

“You’re always so happy.” They said. “You always have such a positive outlook.” They said. I knew better. I felt a fraud. I was far from healthy, very far from happy and my outlook was bleak on my best day. Poor health does that to one’s spirit; completely defeats its attempts to survive and to soar. And despair infects everyone it contacts, in this case none more so than my husband. He wants, no, he needs his happy, lively, optimistic lady back. I need her back…

For the past six months or more, I have been a victim not a beneficiary, of Ontario’s health-care system. My kidneys were functioning much less than expected, no doctor seemed to know why and the treatments continued, unadjusted for months on end with no improvement whatsoever. I was like a hamster on an exercise wheel; going around and around with no rest and no end in sight, with no obvious way off the wheel, and with no one (no medical manpower, at any rate) to offer assistance. On that wheel, exhaustion and disheartenment set in very quickly. A trip to Kingston, fresh eyes on the case, a multitude of tests and scans then, fortunately, a solution is presented and expectations are high that my health will now return to normal very quickly. But that isn’t enough, that does not make me whole again…

Make no mistake, for the diagnosis, the surgery and the care I am very grateful indeed. One does not, however, just bounce out of bed and resume normal activities – a recuperative period is essential. I’m oh-so-tired of looking in the mirror and not recognizing my own reflection, of being tired after the smallest exertion, and of my failure to dispel my feeling of hopelessness. A plan is definitely needed.

My dear friend has posted on-line a series of photographs and blog essays about her time on her island on the Atlantic coast. Gosh would I love a month on the sandy beach she loves so much; I can, in fact, in my imagination, see myself on that beautiful stretch of white sand. Such a trip, though, is far beyond my means yet her tales and images stir some long-buried memories. Memories of happy times with my dad and my mum on the shore – not of the Atlantic, but of Lake Ontario. Countless days and hours spent in the beaches and at the bluffs; exploring, collecting interesting driftwood and polished glass chards, paddling in the shallows – swimming sometimes – picnicking, sunbathing, playing with my cousins, escaping the heat of our non-air-conditioned home for the breeze off the water… Too many happy times and memories to recount but perhaps these memories hold the key to my recovery.

Nothing is more restorative for me than time spent by the lake and here in Northumberland we are blessed with some of the most beautiful, most usable and most accessible Lake Ontario shoreline anywhere; sandy beaches here in Cobourg, the Sculthorpe Marsh in Port Hope and the peninsula in Brighton known as Presqu’ile Provincial Park. A friend took me to the park for their Christmas celebration – fabulous food and a big gift and craft show. It was a special and memorable day for me but it was winter and our goal was the indoor activity. Perhaps this might be a good place to begin, so I access the park information on-line and immediately my interest and my imagination are captured. There are a series of trails for walking ranging from one to eight kilometres in length, miles of beaches to walk and for the photographer, endless scope. I mull it over for several days. What if I were to visit the park on the days Cam is golfing… The park is a short drive from home, I can pack a lunch and picnic by the water, I can take my camera to satisfy my creativity and my bike and swim suit for exercise. What is the downside? I give it several more days’ consideration and can come up with nothing to list in the “con” column. Nothing at all! I feel the tension leaving my body. I feel, for the first time in months as if I have made a choice and thus an accomplishment. I am smiling and there is no one else in the room. It is right and I know it.

Decision made!