Long Point Provincial Park

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Evening sunset on the beach.

Long Point on Lake Erie is a special place, so much so that it has been named a World Biosphere Reserve. It is a mix of cottage country, wetlands, and sandy beaches that is partitioned into private property, National Wildlife Areas and a Provincial Park. I’ve been here before, and camped here as well. This is not the most wild place to camp, well it could be if you’re keen on trekking into the endless quagmire and swale of the point. The beach is really what you come here for, and I did just that. Sunny days have been few and far between in Ontario this summer so when two days in a row arose in the forecast, off I went. 

At the base of the point you’ll find a wonderful wetlands of the Big Creek which empties into small delta on Lake Erie. Here there is several kilometers of trails to traverse through the marsh, it’s a beautiful area. But we warned, wear long pants and tuck them into your socks. The area is home to migratory birds as well swarms of mosquitoes and ticks, bug sprays is highly recommended. There has been confirmed cases of Lyme Disease in this parts, luckily I wore long pants and tucked them into my socks as I found two of these little buggers hugging onto one pant-leg after a trek into the marshlands. Always use safety and precaution, I’ve been told due to our swam and wet summer tick numbers have been on the rise. Besides the invasion of ticks, the most notorious of Ontario’s invasive plants, phragmites is still holding on strong. It’s gobbled up countless acres of marshlands, stopping it seems like a wishful dream at times. But this time around as you can see in some of the photo’s above, the effects of phragmites have been curved by a new pilot project in the area. From the look of things, it’s been effective in the areas that have been treated but long term it’s challenging to forecast. 

Besides fighting off ticks in the marshes, one of my favourite things to do is stroll along the expanse of the provincial parks beaches. To a point that is… If you venture far enough up the point, you’re bound to reach the fences and no trespassing signs that signify the onset of Long Point Company property, a private hunting club which has through luck and fortune of it’s members ancestors acquired a substantial slice real estate in South Ontario’s most valuable natural areas. The effects of the rainy summer have not gone unnoticed on the sand spit, the beaches are significantly narrow as the encroaching water has pushed them up against the walls of the sand dunes. Erosion is evident all around, the relentless action of the waves has exposed many roots and event toppled trees from the dune walls. The water constantly builds and destroys the shorelines in these parts.

Long Point is home to many species of animals and plants, of which the Fowler’s Toads is an elusive encounter. This toad while plentiful in much of North America, can only be found in three location in Ontario, all along Lake Erie. I’ve never seen one before, but this time around I found basking on the beach.

Finally there were the sunsets, and as always nature does not disappoint. But what added an extra layer of awesome was the full moon. It was big and bright, at one point during the night I woke up and thought it was morning, but it was just the moon light. As always more photo’s can be found on my flickr.

The Via Rail Canadian – Day 4

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Sunrise over Kamloops Lake

Last night we went to sleep in the Rocky Mountains, passing through Jasper and the Yellowhead Pass. We had a scheduled stop in Kamloops around midnight, but since we were running hours behind, that did not happen. Kamloops was reached sometime before sunrise, I did not bear witness to it, lack of sleep had gotten the better of me. But the sun made sure that once it had breached the horizon, sleep soon dissipates. Lucky for me the sun is a punctual measurement of time, I was awake to some of the most fascinating scenery of the journey. Going westwards, the Via Rail Canadian saves best for last.

As the sun rose above Kamloops lake behind us, the Thompson river re-emerges as a separate entity and carves a deep cicatrix into the face of the earth. The river runs fast, glacier cold and a magnificent shade of dark royal blue for the remainder of its course. It is refreshing to the eyes, and deadly to many who’ve attempted to tame it. We snake around the rim of the canyon, this is an arid place, a high desert. The river overflows with water, but beyond the banks there is no liquid to be found. The Thompson river valley lies in the rain shadow of the ever imposing mountains, rain clouds exhaust their potential before they reach this place. We push forwards, an odd mix of flooding and desert capture the attention of the passengers. We pass ranches and farms, all reliant on the river for their survival and the use of elaborate pumping systems. The valley is also littered with rusted out relics of failed colonization, ranches, farm equipment, fences and even churches can be seen. All slowly returning to whence they came, time is gentle to no one in the valley.

Eventually we reach the confluence of the Thompson and the Fraser rivers, the end our our journey nears, but first we must reach the flatland’s of the Fraser valley.  At the fork of the two rivers, the royal blue waters of the Thompson clash with the silty and murky waters of the Fraser. It’s a spectacle, the river meet but don’t merge right away. The two river flow side by side down the canyon, until eventually the murkiness of  Fraser river prevails. Here the walls of the canyon are steep, we hand on the ledges like lichen. Here on these steep mountain walls, well over a hundred years ago a corporate battle took place. Canadian Pacific and Canadian National railways raced up and down these valley walls building railroads, their goals were to connect the nation east to west. Tunnels were blasted, lives lost and bridges forcefully crammed into impossible confines. We are now privy to the fruits of their aberrant ambitions to conquer what nature deemed impregnable. The Fraser angrily bubbles and boils below us, the faith below seems so final. We edge forward, hanging onto cliff edges and slithering through countless tunnels. The cost in lives to make this journey possible seems incomparable to the price of the ticket payed. Sights that the Fraser River affords are truly some of the finest artwork mother nature has created, it more then makes up for the four sleep-deprived nights. Eventually the mountains give way, the strangle hold on the Fraser river eases and the river responds in kind. As we enter the Fraser Valley; farmland emerges, the river sprawls out and becomes more even tempered. This is the final leg of the train ride, with each passing mile the land becomes more saturated with people. Nature fades and gives way to the urban, we’ve arrived on the Pacific Coast of Canada. Vancouver’s skyline now dominates the windows in the train car.

The Via Rail Canadian – Day 3

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Sunrise over the Prairies.

The prairie sun in vivid and piercing, waking even the tired of bodies. Day three on the transcontinental is upon us. We’re now on the western fridges of Saskatchewan, steaming North-West towards Edmonton. Saskatoon had pass on sometime in the night, I was not awake. Nor were many when we pulled into The Bridge City, it greeted most of us mid slumber. Outside the windows, the flatland’s and crops have given way to gently rolling hills and shallow valleys. This is pasture country, and the cattle serve as the only witnesses to our trek across this land. They stare, but offer little in terms of encouragement or comfort. Seated in the from of the train, in the first Sky-Car, I’m treated to a pilot’s view of what will unfold before us. Looking beyond the locomotives, the rails disappear into the abyss of grass and sky. The horns on the locomotive sound, serving a stern warning for all drivers that we approach. Countless gravel roads and small neglected county drives snake across these tracks, and we bisect them all. Rolling ever so slowly and ever so defiantly to the west, then we stop. Another siding, another freight train, more lost time. Edmonton slips from an early breakfast to a late lunch.

One things to understand and keep in mind when riding a train like the Canadian is the sheer distance the task requires. The distances are vast, the nation is sparsely populated, and the rail networks reflect this well. For most sections of the journey it is a single track network, with trains passing each other at rail sidings. And on the railroad pecking order, freight is king and passenger transportation is at the very bottom of the Totem pole. We lost almost five hours heading into Edmonton and a further two sitting in the rail-yard waiting to leave. Edmonton left a sour taste in all our mouths, the rail-yards are cold and industrial. Edmonton is a starch contrast from what we’d witnessed preceding it on the Prairies.

The delay into and out of Edmonton dominoes into a very late arrival to Jasper. The mid day lunch in the mountains would have to be substituted from a take-out dinner on the rails. We manage to finally slither out the Edmonton rail-yards and gain some momentum, the scenery before us begins once again change for the second time in the day. The low rolling pastures give way to woodlands and deep river valleys, the topography began to rise. As we trek westwards we arrive at the Athabasca Valley, the mountains stand abruptly beyond the horizon. As a person who’s never seen the Rockies first hand, I must say that they have a domineering presence to them. They channel the rivers into deep gullies and obstruct the clouds with their imposing stature. The views are to kill for. Our arrival to Jasper was late and our stay ever so brief, we had lost too much time and now the sun was about to eclipse us. The train left the station with a noticeable hurry as we entered the Yellowhead pass, the views followed us along each turn and twist of the track. In front of us lay the dying light of the day, the mountains and clouds filled with colours I could not begin to describe. No picture can do this scene justice, and sadly none I had taken will even make the attempt. Shooting from a moving train in low lights with glare for the windows does not lend itself well to photography. Night four had begun, we were about to go to sleep in the midst of giants. There is no telling what wondrous views will await us in the morning.

The Via Rail Canadian – Day 2

 

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Early morning sunrise over a freight train.

The train jumps and jitters as it runs down the tracks, it both startles and rocks you to sleep with one breath. I’ve woken up early on the second morning, sleep is an elusive prey in these parts. It does not succumb to even the sweetest of callings. Economy is full of dreary sleepless souls scrambling for a flat surface and a few solitary moments of dormancy, the firmness of which are of no one’s concern. Hours are starting to mangle together; the clocks have become meaningless. Train time is lost to the real world, it’s starting to feel like what happens inside this steel capsule will have zero impact on the outside. I’ve woken up early enough to see the sun rise from the east as the open fields greet us in the west, our 36 hours battle through North Ontario’s thickets has finally come to an end. The endless stretch of prairies lies before us, Manitoba has announced herself in the grandiose of fashion. Before us awaits Winnipeg, we are surprisingly on time. Here we’re afforded a rare opportunity to stretch out our legs and feel solid ground as the train crews switch out.

 

Mean while on the train, life is starting to take a turn for the most intriguing. As the endless miles of fields and pastures slip by outside the windows, characters emerge within. It is the nature of such journeys that otherwise distinct and unrelated people begin to live their lives contemporaneously. Here inside these chromed confines I’ve meet a former hippie turned grandmother on her way back to Saskatchewan to work on an organic farm. A collection of 18 to 22 year old’s taking on the advantage of cheap unlimited travel for young people, a part of Canada’s 150th birthday promotion from Via Rail. They trade stories of shady hostels, lengthy miles of wasted time, cheap booze and drunken nights spanning the nations rail corridors. Regrettable life choices are the order of the day. In that mix are a couple of families with kids, small ones too, almost too young to handle so many days on a train, but soldering on for sake of adventure and promises of grandparents and little seen relations. This is a mix of adventure seekers and the frugal who found some sort of deal. We traverse small isolated communities and occasionally new people hop on and off the train going only an hour or two, heading west for their own reasons. They leave little trace of their existence in these close-quarters. Meanwhile I’ve meet others from different corners of the world; Australia, Korea, England, and Chile to name a few. All are here sharing stories, and creating memories in the process. People live interesting lives; some live on boats, others with no fixed addresses, endlessly wondering the world in search of purpose and a joyous sense of adventure. While others stranger yet are venturing out into the cosmos for the very first time. All the while the wheat and the prairie grasses roll on by.

 

As the day progresses we leave yet another province, the locomotives thunder down the tracks and through Saskatchewan. There is a reason they call this big sky county, the endless seas of green curve beyond human eye to meet the clouds. We’re idle yet again, another siding, another freight train. I’ve lost count of the interruptions. We pass pastures and crops, and trample countless gravel roads in our quest westward. The fields are immense, the people are few. Every so often a dilapidated homestead creeps into view, wood rotting and roofs caving in. Monuments to the harshness of the prairie life, failed ventures and family farms left to ruin. I wonder what stories these places have, but who would remember them now? Isolated and roadless, it is certain that many haven’t seen a living soul enter their confines in decades. These thoughts, along with the endless clanking of the steel wheels are what keeps me up at night. But these tales are for another time, for someone more prepared to be more then just a mere passer by on the transcontinental. Just like yesterday, the iron horse charges into the sunset. Day two is met with the all-consuming darkness in the middle of Saskatchewan.

The Via Rail Canadian – Day 1

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The thin red line that is my journey.

Not all grand adventures start with a lot of planning, some are last minute gambles that unfold slowly before your eyes. This will be one of those slow unfolding events as I trek out west towards Vancouver and Tofino.  It’s those long slow unfolding that are best complimented by the dull clanking of rails beneath a train and the gentle back and forth swaying as the locomotive sluggishly snake’s into Ontario’s vast northern hinterlands. I’m seated in a reclining chair on the Via Rail Canadian, a cross continental that is a throwback to the golden days of travel. This journey is four days in the making. We’ve been en route for 16 hours and barely made a dent on the map. We’re but a small spec of shiny chrome tubing on the giants back that is this magnificent nation.

We left Toronto at 10pm on Tuesday evening, if we’re lucky we’ll reach Vancouver by mid day on Saturday. But not before traversing the Rocky mountains, fording the grass ocean that is the Prairies and conquering Northern Ontario’s boreal forests on our 4,600km cross continental struggle. And a struggle it might turn out to be, economy is for the hardier and most adventurous of souls, or simply for those who can afford no more. I’m not sure if I’m the former of the later of the two, the scale tips depending on the moment. Sitting by myself, on a solo trip to the west, on a train, without a bed, I must be losing my mind. And if I’ve not yet, the train might tip the scales in the end. But thus far the accommodation have been adequate, the seats are spacious and the sky car has been rewarding us with wondrous views, but we’re a long way from the conclusion. We cross small northern highways and zigzag past rivers and lakes, passing through remote fishing camps and isolated communities like Foleyet and Oba in Ontario. Communities that a few have ever heard off, and even less have visited. These places grew around this railroad and they feel destined to die with it, becoming relegated to not much more then remote rail-siding in the ever desolate bush-lands. The train pulls into a siding spur, we sit idle. These tracks do not belong to us, they belong to freight. Another massive freight train passes us making haste, it’s becoming clear that our itinerary was not much more then a suggestion. We surge forward and pick up speed, but soon we’re again in another rail-siding, parked and immobile. The cycle repeats itself endlessly; rail-sidings, idle trains, freight locomotives. This is journey is writing many stories.

This is what I more of less what I hoped this journey might look like, and so far it has delivered in the grandest of fashion. There is an ecliptic and ever so enigmatic cadre of character that inhabit this steel horse as the battles ever so westwards. From the young to the old, the adventure seekers to those on their last legs returning from failed ventures in distant corners of the nation. The stories you overhear are fascinating, this is prime people watching. I spend my time glued to the window, I’ve yet to speak go anyone. It’s pleasing to have space and distance in such confined quarters. We hope to breach the Ontario, Manitoba border by breakfast tomorrow morning. Until then I’m back watching the world unfold just outside of my window.

Toronto’s Flooded Beaches

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The flooded Toronto Beaches.

I’ve been back in southern Ontario going on four weeks now and it seems that pretty much every day has been a rain day, or a day with clouds threatening to rain. It has been relentless it seems, just clouds and rain. So much rain that the Lake Ontario is about 1 meter higher then it usually is, leading to much flooding.

One of my favourite parts of the city is the Beaches, but since I’ve been gone six months they seemed to have changed quiet a bit. This is not the beach I remember from last summer. The water reaches the boardwalk in some places and in others the flooding has created a large pond with an accompanying wetland.

While the flooding has been an inconvenience to most. It has presented some unintended effects which have been spectacular to witness. Above you can see low lying fog that has been setting over the beach on a semi-regular basis. The combination of wet sand and warm weather have made for some interesting photography options.

Reflections on the North

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Just another sunset, never boring.

My time in Northwestern Ontario is drawing to a close. Well at least for the summer months. Today marks the last day of school and in the next 72 hours we’re I’m making the long journey back to Southern Ontario. There is not much left to do here but to reflect on it all, the last six months in the wilderness, living in a isolated fly-in community of about 700-800 people. Living and teaching up here has been like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. I’ve meet some fantastic people and I’m looking forward to what the next school year has in-store but at the same time I’m a little hesitant, the next time I return I’ll be here for the whole year. A year is a long time…

Above are a few select shots of where I’m living, it’s quaint and secluded to say the least. The roads are raw and bumpy, cars kick up a great deal of dust which can lead to some fantastic pictures in the late afternoon light. With the changing seasons, I’ve seen a whole new side to the North, coming up in the middle of the deep freeze of January, it was all ice and snow, but now it’s a lush green forest the engulfs all. With the melt came one thing that I did not expect, a loss of freedom. When the lakes were frozen and the ice road was open, I could wonder almost freely over the frozen expanses. But since then, the forest has come back to life it has swallowed trails, leaving me with limited paths to trample. Even in the vast emptiness of the northern boreal forest, one can feel constrained, the nature of the land will do that. The thick brush, steep rugged topography of the Canadian Shield and the ever dominant Severn River watershed make it easy to get lost. And I do not want to be lost, not up here, not with the wolves and the bears that seem to be just a short jaunt away in either direction.

The spring as anywhere else has brought colour and live back, replacing the monotones of the winter with a furry of colours. But for where the winter brings along snow-squalls and ice, the spring brings along ravenous hordes of blackflies. There are by far the worst blackflies I’ve ever encountered in my life, they’re the harbingers of misery and despair. Relentless and unwavering in their thrust, they haunt both man and beast. I’ve resorted to going for all my excursions fully clothes regardless of the weather, just trying to stay the inevitable scourge of the blackflies. Spring of course brings more then just pretty flowers and blackflies, the community is currently also infested with puppies. And I mean infested, they’re all over the place. For spring is truly, puppy season in the north.

It’s interesting to look back on ones life and try to figure out who you got to be where you are. I’m obviously living up here due to my work, that should be a simple answer. But as recently as just a few weeks before I arrived here, I never thought I’d ever be in a place this remote and removed. Now looking back, I can’t think of a place I need to be more then right here right now. The job has been challenging but rewarding, the scenery just the same. Today is a bag of mixed emotions, the students are here for a half-day and then it’ll be time to clean up the classroom. Once all of that is done it will be a whirlwind of packing, repacking and the general panic that comes with that sort of thing. Life will once again get uprooted and moved, but only for 10 weeks before the process is repeated again and we’re due to return. I can’t quiet tell if life will be returning to ‘normality’ once I return to Toronto, or if this is now my ‘normality’ and the return to the city will be the disruption to it. Only time will tell.

 

Back-country Camping in Northwestern Ontario

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Sunset far away from anywhere.

Well the first proper camping trip of the season is in the books, saying that it doesn’t really feel like. I guess since I pretty much live in the wilderness right now, doing a 12k canoe paddle and camp from your house doesn’t seem all the impressive. But once you’re out there, that 12k seems like a million miles from home and a lifetime away from comfort. Also paddling large 18-19 footer plastic tubs loaded with gear isn’t the most fun, the two hour plus paddle across open water and between islands wasn’t the most fun, but once we got to where we’re going things got better. We got treated to some amazing views and delicious meals at the end of the day. Each evening concluded with with a steak on the open fire or a fish fry. Life can be really good in the wilderness, you just have to make a hardy meal and reflect on it from time to time.

We camped on a open point near a pair of swift moving rapids, where a good breeze kept most of the black flies at bay, but every time the wind died down they came in with a vengeance. Merciless and soulless are the the black flies, feasting on human flesh and misery, but mostly misery. Since it’s been so cold up here til recently, the flies has been pretty much as bay and even during our time camping they were minimal. But let me tell you even a few black flies can make life very uncomfortable. Regardless of the flies, the location was a good one, in a sheltered bay with fresh running water and plenty of Jack Fish to catch. Living in a remote community can have it’s advantages, for us it was the fact that Victoria Day weekend was also coupled with the local hunting week. So the school was closed and we had plenty of time to choose the best days to head out and camp. To that effect we lucked out, no rain and the warmest days we’ve had so far this year. The sun was great, the views spectacular, the fishing plentiful and the food delicious.

For the most part the trip was a lazy foray into the local wilderness, we stayed close to our site and did not even attempt to tent elsewhere. The sun set’s late up here at this time of the year and the twilight did not ease until well after midnight. In spite of such a late schedule we were treated to a wonderful display of northern light each evening. Abet not a vivid as the winter sky, the hues of greens, pinks and oranges slowly crept and pranced across the northern sky. The loons and wolves filled the nights air with a cacophony of sounds, and the bushes rustled ever so often to incite panic in the tents. Luckily for us we had a dog with it, he’d gnarl and bark something furious at the slightest movement in the distance, while he kept us up at time he also kept us safe. At the end of each night, the poor fella was pooched from all his hard work and would just spend his day sleeping in the shade. His efforts to keep the bears ( or possibly a couple of raunchy squirrels) at a distance did not go unrewarded, he got himself a nice chunk of steak. More photos on my flickr.

Dominican Republic Part 2

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Odd looking Pine Trees… No wait it’s a Palm tree.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here. Too many distractions; report cards, lesson plans, EQAO prepping and computer issues. Ahh the job of being a teacher… But I figured I’d end what I had started earlier, and post some of my favorite pictures from my trip to the Dominican Republic. It was just around two months ago, but it feels almost like a lifetime ago by now. Being in Cabarate was wonderful time, the warmth was well needed, and sadly very brief. But it in the end was not real, it was just a tourist delusion. The tourist opulence is harshly contrasted by the crippling poverty that surrounds it when you leave the main strip. But regardless, it was beautiful all in it’s own way. More pictures on my flickr.

Kiteboarding in Cabarete, Dominican Republic

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Kiteboarding for the first time in over 6 years.

Greetings from somewhere tropical, for this I’ve replaced the Pine tree’s and snow with Palm tree’s and sand. As you may guess the only ice currently in my life is the ice that is in my drink. I’ve escaped the cold harsh climate of Northern Ontario this week and only this week to the sunny Caribbean and I can almost guarantee that mother nature will make me pay for that thrice over. This is my first trip even to the Caribbean islands, kind of strange I guess. I’ve never had the urge to do the touristy thing, but the girlfriend wanted to go and so we went. Luckily for me we’re staying in a self-contained apartment and not a resort so it’s not as crowded.

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Getting a refresher course on kiting from an awesome instructor at Gokite.

So far the weather has been great, the sun has been relentless, and also the water is way saltier then I remember it ever being. The winds have been perfect and there are countless kites up in the air at any given time, kite and windsurfing are a popular pastime around here. And you can get I wanted in on the action. I actually own two kites and a board myself, but my equipment is old and I haven’t flown it in over six years. Luckily for me I got introduced to the good folks at GoKite Cabarete and they set me up refresher crash course, emphasis on the word crash and I did a lot of that.

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A picture of my old (red/white) Gaastra Force kite. Its been a few years and it still sits in my basement.

I personally own two kites, one a 10meter and another an 18meter kite and I got second hand about 9-10 years ago. Never flew them that much, didn’t have the skills to do much with them. But it was a fun time a friend of mine who got me into it used to do, so I followed his lead. Sadly once my friend stopped kiting, so did I. I just didn’t have the skills to do this solo, and never got lessons to progress. So since I was here I figured it was a good choice to give it another go, but with some proper instruction.

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Crashing hard… That’s one of my skills, I’ve never met a kite I couldn’t crash.

This is an amazing sport to try, I’d recommend it to anyone. But beware it’s not cheap (equipment costs thousands of dollars) and it’s not simple. I spent several hours with the instructor reviewing proper kite flying, body dragging and simple board work. There is a lot left to learn and I spent more time drinking seawater then I did riding a board. Luckily for me I had on a PDF and wasn’t able to drown myself, despite my own best efforts. Getting up on the board reminded me of why I used to love doing this so much, there is a freedom to gliding over the water.