Saturday, May 28, 2011

Oh my heart

For the one who knew, with one look at my tired face on a dreary Friday afternoon, that a weary and gloomy week over which a general malaise had fully settled could only be cured by a spontaneous trip to the hills (with a quick stop en route for my fave: falafel). You are awesome.

All orchestrated within minutes of my coming home, with a mischievous sparkle in your eye and immediate and wordless understanding of what the situation needed. You pick me up, dust me off, and show me the awesome adventures that lie around each corner. You are endlessly thoughtful and patient, and still manage to make my heart beat faster. Every day I see how unfathomably lucky I am. I must have done something very, very right in some past life to deserve this life I'm sharing with you.  ox

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Among giants

Mark and I visited Sequoia National Park in April, and I was so excited to see these giant specimens that I had read so much about. I was worried that I had researched too much, and would be underwhelmed when I saw them in person, but my worries were completely and utterly unfounded. No amount of reading and armchair travelling can prepare you to comprehend these giants. They are, in every sense of the word, awesome. 

This famous behemoth known as General Sherman, is the largest living thing on the planet.

There is so little in our daily lives with which to compare them, that even when you see them and touch them, it seems so impossible that they're real. And the fact that they live for thousands of years (some upwards of 3,000 years), is unfathomable. In our time of immediate, on-demand, disposable, quick-fix everything, it's humbling to be in the presence of something for which we are just a blip. They seem so wise in their realness, honesty, and immutability. We could learn a lot from these trees...

Sequoia National Park covers a large area of varying elevations, but the trees themselves only grow between 5,000 and 7,000 feet. Within this elevation range and the park boundary there are a few areas with larger concentrations of sequoias of which we explored the Giant Forest and Grant Grove. (Also the Mariposa Grove, but it's farther north in the Sierra Nevadas, in Yosemite National Park.)  

Feeling small and insignificant in the presence of true greatness. The fog entwined through the towering heights.
As you drive from the valley into the Park, and up the winding, climbing, hairpin turns, the flora changes quickly and drastically. From the precision of the orange blossom-scented fruit orchards in the San Joaquin Valley, through arid and evenly spaced olive groves and scrub oak of the rolling foothills, into denser and wilder tree cover of an interesting variety of cacti, oak trees, and a purple-blossoming tree as the slopes steepened. Then as you climb higher and higher, various conifers and cedars start appearing. And everywhere you look it's stunningly and dramatically beautiful; granite faces jutting through the trees, and white water galloping over boulders in the deep valleys far below. 

From these modest cones they grow to dwarf everything around them
Still steadily ascending, you pass a small sign that reads "elevation 4,000" and then you enter some fog, or is it a cloud? and sweep around a few more tight switchbacks, only now you can't see how sheer the drop-off is anymore, which is probably for the best. Then suddenly you pass 5,000 feet, and snow, small piles at first, localized to the roadsides, but then everywhere, in patches larger and larger and deeper start to appear in the forest. And you think, I'm there, I'm almost there, as each turn brings you closer and closer to the giants. And the fog at times so thick you can't tell where you are anymore, but mostly just thin and vapoury enough to lend a thrilling mystery to it all. Around another turn where you spy the sign that reads "Entering Giant Forest" and your eyes are peeled (as if they haven't been this entire time) for the monoliths you've been waiting for. More snow, more turns, and then you round a corner, and there. There it is. Your first giant sequoia. Pull over! Pull over! and you stumble out, into the snow, neck craned, mouth agape, a slight tear in your eye, and you stare. Just stare. Trying to take it in. To understand. Somehow mutter some words of wonder. How can they be this big! This is unbelievable. Look to Mark to see if he's seeing the same thing. 'They get bigger, you know,' he says with a smile. No. Nope, not possible.

After marvelling for a while, you reluctantly get back in the car and find out quickly that he's right. They do get bigger. Much bigger. Each one seems bigger than the last! And if they're not immediately by the roadside, they're easy to spot in the forest. Massive walls of rich orange-red dramatic against the white snow and evergreens, dwarfing all around them, making cars and other trees look ridiculously miniature.

The star of this whole show, and for good reason, is the General Sherman tree. The biggest living thing on the planet. There are redwoods that are taller, and other sequoias that are bigger around, but his combination of girth and height make him the biggest by volume. Truly, truly awesome. A whopping 36.5 feet across, 103 feet around, and 275 feet tall.

Markers of time: rings by the thousand and fire scars.

Because of their fire-resistant bark, relatively shallow root systems and lack of a tap root, it is often soil erosion and heavy winds that topple them, rather than old age or fire. (Not comforting to think about while standing in their sizable shadows.) Each tree bears scorch marks from the many controlled burns and wild fires they will experience during their epic lifetimes. Fire plays a crucial role in the lives of these trees. Fires enrich the soil with vital nutrients, clear away the underbrush and thin the canopy to allow the sunlight in. Ring patterns from felled trees reveal periods of rapid growth after each fire. Furthermore, it is the intense heat from fires that open up the cones to release the seeds, like a phoenix rising up from the ash.

Rich-red, fire-resistant bark.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Raspberry Ripple Tulips

It was lovely to attend a festival that celebrates a flower that is the symbol of friendship! Strolling around, with so many people, all of us there to appreciate the seas of colourful tulips! 300,000 in Commissioner's Park alone; the highest concentration in the region.

These tulips symbolize the friendship between Canada and the Netherlands, which arose after Canada provided a safe harbour to the Dutch Royal Family and helped free the Dutch during the second World War.

As silly as it is to choose a favourite among all the lovely varieties of tulips, I did find that I had a special place in my heart for the Silverstream variety. They look like raspberry ripple ice cream! Rich, elegant cream with different intensities of a colour that can only be called raspberry. It's not crimson, and it's not cranberry, nor is it burgundy. Definitely raspberry. Elegant tall stems, all curving and leaning gently in one direction. I just wanted to curl up in them and have a nap and dream of thick oil paint on canvas.

Pow Wow

I recently attended an event called "From Pow Wow to Hip Hop: A Community Celebration of Aboriginal Culture" at the Odawa Native Centre. Attended though, doesn't quite capture it. Witnessed? Experienced? Was moved by? Renewed by? All of these and more. It was incredible.

The award-winning dancers are all from the First Nations dance company, Great Plains, and were accompanied by singers from Wild Horse. They danced together as a group, and then individually, in a variety of dance categories including Men’s and Ladies' Traditional, Men’s Fancy Feather Bustle, Ladies’ Jingle Dress, Ladies’ Fancy Shawl and Men’s Grass. 

I was immersed in a wondrous display of sound and movement. The rich music created by two voices and two drums was all-encompassing, powerful and moving. The intensely colourful ceremonial dresses were delicately intricate and dazzling, as the various fringes and trim pieces twirled and bounced, echoing the dancers movements. These movements, far from arbitrary, symbolically honour the earth. This feeling of intention, and honouring, was palpable in the air. It was so great to be there.

I was disappointed in myself that I didn't get up and join the group friendship dance that followed the performance. For whatever reason, I stayed in my seat, wanting to get up and be a part of this amazing scene, but instead remained in my seat, a mere spectator. I have made a promise to myself that if a similar situation ever arises, to just jump in with both feet.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Beautiful weekend

Moments of bliss:
  • A lovely intimate family wedding in an old one-room schoolhouse with dappled evening sunlight streaming in the windows and love in the air
  • Seeing my niece and how much she's grown over the last 5 months {bittersweet, realizing how much I'm missing}
  • A beautiful drive in the country on a glorious day
  • Saving/helping a turtle to cross a road
  • (Rudely) dropping in (very unexpectedly!) on a dear friend who had just moved into her fantastic new/old house
  • Pralines 'n' Cream ice cream
  • Finding the nerve to jump in the too-cold lake (multiple times) even though it felt like diving into shards of glass. Uno mas!
  • Reading a nice book and lounging with good people and great music as the lazy afternoon sun filtered through the windows
  • Feasting
  • Hikes through the freshly burst greens
  • Taking new roads home and finding a charming old logging settlement with quaint houses and a lovely old wooden church
  • Coming home to happy cats and the heavenly and delicious and welcoming scent of lilacs


  • Yet again driving near Algonquin (and surrounds) and not seeing a moose, and beginning to think these mythical creatures don't exist
  • Bug bites