Pathways Through the Hills of Headwaters

Inspiring visions, as spring unfolds and returns the forest to life.

It’s mid January, I am in the woods on the Bruce Trail, surrounded by tall timbers, standing at solemn attention, immobilized by winter’s biting chills. Silence is broken high above, as breezes sway branches up in the forest crown, sending creaks downwards. In this pristine world of smooth undulating whiteness and pale light, few signs of life reveal themselves. Trees crack in the coolness and sporadic skeletons of dried beech leaves rustle as I pass, crunching along the rutted snowy trail. Suddenly, I glimpse deep imprints of deer tracks that have crossed my path, heading back into the woods and I wonder where this shy creature is roving now.

Water constantly babbles along the Pine River, which rarely freezes, winding its way through the forest over a randomly strewn, rocky bed. The Boyne Valley creek has a gentler journey downhill, murmuring around earthen peninsulas of intermittent leaning cedars that gracefully bow down where waters have undercut the riverbank. Occasional partly frozen sections show air bubbles slowly moving along under a thin layer of glasslike ice. It is fascinating that even in winter’s freezing temperatures, creatures survive, small mammals with their erratic outings, others that hibernate throughout winter, yet all have their various adaptations for protection from the cold. There is a sense of peacefulness in this slumber, as the world calmly rejuvenates, in anticipation of spring’s great reawakening.

Lengthening days plod ahead, with warmer temperatures and teasing signs of optimism, yet as nightfall returns, this hopeful deception is exposed, and the frozen grip resumes its grasp once more. As warmer periods stretch longer, releasing winter’s clutch and liberating the snow to gently shrink and melt away, I breathe deeper and listen more intently. I take in pitchy aromas of pine and cedar, and I hear nature’s subtle sounds; scolding squirrels defending their territory, woodpeckers seeking tree eating bugs, and reverberating wing beats of ruffled grouse courting in the undergrowth. Soon, on every hike there is a multitude of auditory stimulations; some haunting like a raven’s solo shrill echoing through the valley or soothing melodies of songbirds on their way north for a summer of raising new life in the boreal forest.

By late March, wherever the sun has reached with its warm and penetrating stare, the path is dry except for a few surprise traces of hardened snowpack, holding on where it collected at its thickest, in hidden eastern facing hollows or over rocky ledges. As I blissfully wander along the meandering trail, a sandy ridge deposited by a mighty river long-ago, I marvel at the bold crispness of the needles and small pinecones as they crumble underfoot.

With spring’s longer and warmer days, I am inspired every time I venture out, watching nature’s brilliant resilience and recovery as it surges back to life. I am in awe, observing changes in the woodland environment; softly folded green leaves freshly bursting from their tiny bulbs, delicate sprays of ferns gracefully unfolding among the leafless glades, and fascinating growth of pine bough shoots, that seem to almost elongate before my eyes.

Significant woodland transformations in April and May are seen in the small delicate blooms, each alluringly shaped, that shoot up through the forest floor of last year’s parched and flattened debris. The explosion of new plant life expands across hillside knolls and into shadowy hollows, filling the whole forest with abundance and color. I am thrilled, yet mystified, hearing the chorus of spring peeper frogs thriving in a nearby marsh as I pass by. They have found their voice to rejoice, and all are blessed to be part of this harmoniously balanced natural world that thrives on interdependence.

In this extraordinary forest environment, of ‘leave no trace’ hiking, I am greeted with inspiring observations, encouraging reflections, and optimism in the restorative powers of hope on the horizon.

STORY and PHOTOGRAPHY by WILDERNESS TRAVELER CYNTHIA PERCIVAL

Author: LivingSpaces

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