Algonquin. It is a place to slow down, connect with your thoughts and reflect on life, authentically. In celebration of Canada’s 150th, this article visits an exceptional wilderness, by canoe, to understand how parts of Ontario once looked and felt. In this forest, sprinkled with lakes and intersected with rivers, one discovers the attributes of a peaceful world, away from the noises of human civilization. We adore its spectacular scenery as we are immersed amid mysterious sounds, and though we are humbled by its rawness for survival, it has an intrigue of complexity. While seeking sustenance for procreation, here are some theatrical intimacies of existence in this magnificent environment.
One distinct caller of the north woods is the common loon, seen on our Canadian dollar coin. Whether it’s the long night time ‘wail’, heard off in the distance, the daytime echoing ‘tremolo’, witnessed as a Loon swims nearby, or the male’s yodel protecting his territory, all are enchanting and leave you wanting more. Other elusive night time callers are the Barred and Great Horned Owls. These two distinct, typically individual hooters, are heard through the forest at night when sounds carry further. Over 40 species of deep woods songbirds migrate to Algonquin each summer, my favourite tune is that of the White Throated Sparrow. All thrive here in this expanse of protected forest habitat on the edge of the Boreal.
The hollow echoing thumps of a woodpecker, whose beak busily seeks bugs deep in the bark of a rotting tree, is a beacon for a sort of ‘hike and seek’ game for us to locate its hole, then spot the signature red plumage. A male Ruffled Grouse darts among the undergrowth, camouflaged in mottled earth toned feathers, as his tell tale dance of beating wings against his body is a pace that starts slowly and then increases in speed and intensity before completion. Several species of herons live and hunt along the water edge of calm creeks and back bays in Algonquin, where their patient stillness bring opportune rewards, like a tasty frog. The larger clutches of Mallard and Merganser ducks are nature’s way of successful speculation, as many ducklings will fall prey to hungry Snapping Turtles lurking patiently below, eyeing the young as their prospective dinner.
The calls of frogs and toads in the wilderness are the voices of a healthy environment. Each with a distinct call, some like Green and Bull Frogs, may bleat on their own in the daytime, while others, like Spring Peepers and Grey Tree Frogs are heard at night. Many species may share the same water pool so the orchestra of many throats of harmonized rhythm is soothing to listen to. Imagine their slippery green bodies, webbed feet and bulging eyes poking up, all within the assemblage of their partially submerged lairs. During spring courtship many of the males, like the Bull Frog, display their enthusiasm by inflating their lower jowl, in and out, like a balloon, as they “Rhum, Rhum Rhum” in frenzied eagerness to find a mate. The choir of an army of Spring Peeper frogs at dusk is a joy to hear in the backwoods. It is amazing how something so small, around 25 mm long, can be so audible. Not only is their chorus welcome in the north, but so is their appetite as they are major consumers of water bugs who thrive in low lying, wetland habitat.
By far the most infrequently heard, and unjustly labeled to be fearful of, are howls from timber wolves. Humans have little to fear from wolves of the bush as they prey mostly on aging and incapable hoofed animals.
Algonquin has long had an allure for artists displaying the striking shapes, shades and shadows of color found here. In addition to the natural cycle of life creating unique images, the park’s logging history of damming water catchment areas, flooding lakes and forming new creeks, has created unique aspects, that being of water’s edge deadfall. The unusual shapes of stumps and deadheads, previously living trees, are also ideal for photographers as these locations fashion rare habitat for flora and hunting sanctuaries for shoreline creatures.
Like learning to swim, paddling a canoe is very Canadian, yet singling one on your own is even more special, especially when the water is calm and you can see through to the lake’s bottom. As a frequent paddler along shorelines, around rocky points and down lazy creeks, I am forever inspired and constantly amazed how nature can be so distinctive and yet incredibly unusual.
Silently gliding through remnants of morning mist, my canoe effortlessly drifts on the still waters. The only stir is the gurgle of my continuous dipping and displaced water droplets falling across the lake’s surface as my paddle swings forward, again and again. Immersed in the Algonquin wilderness, my meditative thoughts drift. This demeanour carries me in soundless contemplation, yet with curious wonderment.
Imagine, paddling past a grey, meter wide, old weathered stump, a relic of what was long ago a giant majestic white pine. Envision and marvel at what it must have looked like when it was healthy and living. How tall and splendid were its branches spreading out across the sky, shaped by the prevailing North West winds, whose fierce and furious storms gave it shape. What a delight to have time to contemplate this ‘all encompassing’ solitude, found only here, in Algonquin.
I would live in Algonquin year round if it were not for the changing seasons. Fortunately, the circle of life and death is nature’s miraculous way of doing its annual cleanup and rejuvenation. In Algonquin you will be visually inspired beyond conception, be challenged cognitively and be humbled to learn your parameters, all with refreshed perspective and definitive contentment. Visions will conjure emotion; thoughts will expand personal growth, while experiences will call upon wisdom. It is a world of authentic natural maturity for anyone with the courage and perseverance to partake in the journey.
The Algonquin wilderness is an ultimate place whose solace knows no bounds and appreciating nature’s captivating pulse will enchant you with a devotion, fascination, inspiration and rejuvenation beyond recognition. Sitting around a crackling fire, I wonder what lies ahead, in the stillness after sunset. Knowing that new adventures await at tomorrow’s dawn.
By wilderness writer & photographer Cynthia Percival.