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…
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
School of very small (2-3”) silver fish.