When I was learning English, it took me a while to understand what “hiking” means. When I first heard the word, I thought it meant “camping”. Checking the English-Russian dictionary, I found a translation “walking”. Neither of those two describe hiking, which has become quite dear to me, once I came to Canada and started going on hikes with my family.
According to Wikipedia, hiking can be described as a long vigorous walk in the countryside, often on a rough dirt or stone road. Canada is amazing for hiking. It is one of the things I love most about this country – nature, preserved in its innate state, but kept accessible to anyone who cares to come.
There are many provincial parks that look like forests from the first glance. They are forests to their inhabitants: deer, raccoons, squirrels and chipmunks, not to mention a variety of birds. However you do not have to make a road for yourself – there are trails winding around and taking you through the most picturesque parts. Occasionally there is a bridge to cross, and in our area we often stumble upon waterfalls.
There is a rule: you cannot take anything from the provincial park. Fallen branches should stay where they landed, and flowers should not be picked. It is supposed to stay as if humans never visited the place.
I have been a city girl for too long to venture into wilderness freely and bravely. That’s why I am so enamoured with these little parks – they let me find my way into nature gradually. I hope the journey will be much shorter for my son, because he has been coming with us since he was three-months-old. One would think that having a baby would stop us, but the first year of Budster’s life was the best time for hiking: he loved being out in the fresh air, with so many new things to see. We got out at every opportunity.
One of our favourite provincial parks is only ten minutes away from our house. If you ever visit Southern Ontario, look up Short Hills Provincial Park. It is beautiful and just big enough to have adventures and feel like you can get lost. The first time we went, we did get lost! We kept going further, remembering from the map that the trail was supposed to loop, so that we would come back to the beginning. Two hours passed. The sun was setting low, and I was huffing and puffing, carrying my four-month-old baby up another hill. My husband was carrying a stroller, in which our baby Budster refused to sit. We got out of the park just as the sun hid behind the horizon. In a retrospect, I remember that little adventure very fondly.
We soon stopped taking a stroller. During our later walks, we discovered that a baby carrier was perfect for hiking. Budster loved riding in it: cuddled next to me or his Dad, he would look out and enjoy the scenery, and when he got tired, he would close his eyes and nap. How many happy walks we had!
I can hardly think of any way to create as many sensory experiences as a forest in the fall can provide around every corner. Crunchy, bright leaves underfoot and in the sky. Soft moss to touch. Puddles to splash in. Collecting and studying nuts. There was a particular nut tree where we would always meet a herd of deer. And one time we found a gigantic puffball mushroom!
We kept going until the end of November. It was getting cold, and only Budster’s eyes and nose would peak from under the warm clothes and blankets, but he was as full of curiosity as ever.
Then Budster started walking, and this year it is a whole new experience for him again. He loves going for nature hikes. He can run everywhere on the path, without holding hands or being called back, and he does not hesitate to use this opportunity. After hiking for a couple of hours is the only time I see my toddler tired. We do not have a baby carrier with us anymore, but fortunately, there are always Daddy’s strong arms waiting to pick up his son and carry him back home.
We recently discovered another great park. It is considerably further from our house, but if you are in the Greater Toronto Area, consider a walk around the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington. When we came into the forest, we could not believe our eyes! The ground was swarming with chipmunks. Wherever you looked, out of the corner of your eyes you could see something moving. They were very friendly creatures, but seemed a bit taken aback by the fact that there were people without food for them! Apparently, the locals feed them extensively. With bridges, rivers and trusting animals, it was an enchanting place.
Sometimes we go to a provincial park by the lake, which is never too far, as we live between two Great lakes. Rock Point Provincial Park is our favourite, with its long and usually deserted beach and the fossils of a coral reef that thrived there 350 million years ago. Can you imagine walking over something this old?
I think every child needs to have “a river of his childhood” and “a forest of his childhood”. Sometimes they are big, and other times not. The river of my childhood is the Volga, and it made a lasting impression on me: I would feel sad if I had to live entirely without some body of water around. The forest of my childhood does not have a name. It is just a bunch of trees between two city districts. I remember them fondly nevertheless, and I hope that Budster will have pleasant memories too, when he looks back on our walks.
Where do you go for nature walks?