Posts Tagged With: camping

Camping at Bon Echo…Echo…Echo

The camping gods were really smiling down on us this week. Somehow in this thunderstorm-bashed soggy summer, we picked the only stretch of five rain-free days to set up a tent and get woodsy. Bon Echo Provincial Park had long been on our list to visit, but, the five hour drive from Cambridge always deterred us. There was also our undeniable love affair with the dunes of Long Point where we had migrated every summer.

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What Kim and I were rewarded with was a Group of Seven landscape. Campsites designed with the discreet camper in mind. We’ve been to parks that seem more like suburbia with radios blaring, blinding floodlights, car alarms sounding off at all hours and competing cell phone ringtones.

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Bon Echo’s soundtrack: The Barred Owl’s infamous “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” call through the tall stands of beech. The maniac laugh of loons on Lower Mazinaw. Pileated woodpeckers at 6am, like a construction crew framing a house. Birch logs snapping and sizzling in the fire ring.

Bonus: Radio-free zone camping.

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Mini history lesson: Bon Echo became a provincial park in 1965. Situated north of Kaladar (home of a Philly cheese steak and poutine food truck and designated dark sky preserve), the park’s Instagram backdrop is Mazinaw Rock, an unexpected and startling 330-foot cliff. It gets better: this rock face doubles as a historical canvas of over 260 aboriginal pictographs (rock paintings—now designated as a National Historic Site of Canada). If you hop in a canoe, you can paddle through the Narrows and J-stroke along the length of this gallery.

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Prior to being a coveted park to pop a tent, the land was owned by a lumber baron (Weston A. Price) who built the Bon Echo Inn, a boutique hotel before boutique was a thing. The desired clientele were wealthy, God-loving teetotalers. That is, until the property was sold to Howard and Flora MacDonald Denison who spun the hotel on its heels and turned it into a retreat for thinkers, social drinkers, painters and writers. Flora was a Toronto writer and suffragette with a literary crush on Walt Whitman. The crush is evident in her open chiselled tribute to him smack dag on Mazinaw Rock. In the summer of 1919, two Scots stone masons chipped away lines of his poetry in foot-tall letters.

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Flora’s son inherited the inn after her death in 1921, and in 1936 the bake house was struck by lightning and a fire destroyed many of the outbuildings in its hot path. The inn was never rebuilt but her son continued to summer at Bon Echo. His conservation interests led to the in demand land being donated to the province for the purpose of a provincial park.

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Flash facts:

Mazinaw is the second-deepest lake in Ontario.

Bon Echo is home to Ontario’s only lizard, the five-lined skink. (*Photo below is of a red-backed salamander, not a skink.)

Red-backed salamander--not a skink!

A tin of tuna and tzatziki with a little kale rolled up in wrap is pretty sensational. Is it weird to segue from skinks to tuna + tzatziki?

Flora, Fauna, Fungi

Dotted along the India ink waters of Mazinaw Lake, mushrooms abound.  Egg yolk yellow mushrooms sit in the ferns. Beatrix Potter toadstools list in the long grasses and lichen.

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At Bon Echo, many of the sites are walk-in (versus pop the trunk and empty contents two feet away), allowing for a thorough Thoreau experience.

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The bird life abounds, and in Hardwood Hills, even the deer flies are the size of hummingbirds.

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There’s a guaranteed firefly convention each night and we counted four falling stars whizzing towards the earth. Be sure to check your log pile for red-backed salamanders too!

Blackboard Menu Highlights

Buttermilk pancakes with dollops of vanilla yogurt and genuine Mennonite maple syrup

Caberneigh scrambled eggs and Bush Beans (Bush is a sponsor of Ontario Parks and donated pyramids of free cans for campers)

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Falafel balls with red-wine reduced sweet onions, red peppers and yogurt tzatziki

Sirloin burritos with salsa and mosquito-flecked sour cream

Basil pesto penne with sundried tomatoes, sausage and sunflower seeds pinch hitting for pine nuts

Suggested Road Trip: We decided to check out Bancroft (1hr and 15 minutes from the park) on the only temporarily cloudy morning. We needed ice, and, because we’re moving 5 hours in the opposite direction, we knew it would be awhile until we revisited these parts.

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What to do: Be sure to drop into squeaky new Bancroft Brewing Co. and work your way through their effervescent line-up. The best of the lot: their rich coffee-licious Black Quartz, ruby red Logger’s Ale and special patriotic tribute—the “150.” Growlers are $9 plus a $3 deposit and necessary for fireside. Pair with handfuls of pistachios, honey garlic sausages, jalapeno Monterey Jack and surprise friends who text and say, “We fixed the starter on the VW! We’ve booked a site in Hardwood Hills! See you tonight!”

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While you’re in Bancroft, have an impromptu picnic along the creek and don’t miss the curio at The Tin Shed just off the main drag. Sniff all the “clothesline” and “cedar cabin” scented candles. Marvel at the door knockers, rod iron hooks, hinges and salvage. Buy that blank notebook that says “Find what brings you joy and go there!”

There are several mercantile and thrift shops, the classic Stedman’s, token fudge shop and fresh produce stand for sausage and wiener-fatigued campers. The green beans, bunches of radishes, gooseberries and thimble-sized raspberries beckon!

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Nostalgic side note: My greatest thrill as we cruised along Highway #28 to Bancroft wasn’t Moose FM playing Billy Idol’s Mony, Mony (but that was great too). It was passing by a sign that indicated Camp Walden was the next right hand turn. CAMP WALDEN! This was epicentre of my high school years! In grade nine I went as a camper and then returned like a boomerang for the next four years as counsellor in the (fittingly) Journalism department. With a dedicated crew of future Dharma Bum Kerouacs and Burroughs-in-the-makings, we cranked out the mighty “Camp Log” on a daily basis. I loved this art camp right down to the Three Blob Lunch (blob of tuna salad, blob of egg salad and blob of potato salad) and no-erasers-allowed sketchbook policy.

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Suggested road trip in the other direction: On Highway 41, south of Cloyne (20 minutes from Bon Echo), Graybarre School House Treasures (look for the plastic Fred Flinstone outside) is exploding with whimsy and inventory. Salt and pepper shakers, pewter pig napkin holders, squirrel nut crackers, tin watering cans, lanterns, backcatcher masks, old goalie pads, 7-Up glasses—STUFF. It’s easy to lose an hour and a hundred bucks here.

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Otherwise, hightail it back to Bon Echo, because outside the park it’s just worms, ice cream and fireworks. Oh, and a fish and chip joint cleverly named The Codfather.

Rent a canoe, walk the wilds and recalibrate. Like that blank book cover in The Tin Shed said, “Find what brings you joy and go there.”

Hint: Bon Echo

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Categories: Passport Please, Retiring--Rewiring, The Kitchen Sink | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Camping Gets An Upgrade

There comes a time when every urban urchin needs to turn down the static of the city’s frequency and retreat to the restorative properties of terra firma at its best. Of course, at age 37, terra firma is feeling more firma than ever after three nights of camping at Pinery Provincial Park on Lake Huron. However, there is much praise for the soundtrack of such tree-centric sanctuaries: lulling waves that Mother Nature cranks to the max, the threading of the wind through feathery pine tops and the lonely call of the whip-poor-will.

Finding a campsite at one of Ontario’s provincial parks is much like booking your wedding venue. Keeners have already staked out premium spots in the dead of February and hog them for the majority of the summer. I can see why.

When we departed on Monday morning, the Saab was stuffed fuller than a pinata. My watch didn’t find its way to my wrist. For the next four days we operated on basic human instinct: hunger, thirst and sleep. Recreational reading was punctuated by tepid tall boys and picnics of various essential elements: guacamole, salty Fritos, roasted red pepper dip, jalapeno havarti and sweet potato crackers. We grazed, we dozed, we wandered barefoot.  At dusk we sauntered back to our campsite, any latent stress completely evaporated with talk of spicy sausage and Weber burgers on the grill for dinner.

The cicadas buzzed like overloaded electrical wires and petered out with the fall of dusk. Slowly, we watched the woods transform into the pages of fairy tale lore. Fireflies mixed with the suspended stars until the soupy humidity of the day thinned out and encouraged long sleeves. We piled the kindling and split ash in a Boy Scout-approved teepee-style and gave in to the sway of childhood nostalgia: eating cloying sweet marshmallows until near-sick.

We awoke to the scamper of drag-racing red squirrels. A resident pair kept close eye on our cache. I think they suspected we might be carrying Squirrel peanut butter, the one with the peanut on top. If the squirrels were taking inventory, they would see that we took no shortcuts in comfort, ambience or bomb shelter-worthy canned goods. Not to mention our booze cartel of pink Prosecco, Malbec, gin and enough beer for two college football teams. We decided to do it as deluxe as possible. Inflatable Queen mattress (not those horrible maxi pad thin Thermaphores), real pillows (not balled up clothes) and pretty much all the pleasures of home, minus the walls and roof and fridge that makes ice on its own accord.

While some people take valuable days to decompress on vacation, we seemed to be breathing in tandem with the pines upon arrival. Not that I would choose to permanently sleep on an inflatable mattress….but, there is a different awareness and heightened sensory intake when you wake up outside. The crisp clarity of the air beckons stiff coffee, banter about the neighbouring birds and drop-in butterflies. My hoodie smelled like the unmistakable morning-after-campfire bacon bits scent. Inhaling deeper, I am glad that we get to stoke up another blazing fire that night. But first, a leisurely breakfast is all we’re obligated to do for the next few hours.

Kim and I assume unspoken roles, as we do. She is quick to boil the water for coffee and I take on the whipping of eggs and dicing of red pepper and onion. We meet somewhere in the middle, well entrenched in the premeditated laziness of the day ahead of us.

We’ve upgraded our Coleman stove menu from last year–our inaugural camping trip at Long Point Provincial Park on Lake Erie. Over coffee and the last bits of breakfast blotted up with a tortilla shell, we anticipate our al dente and al fresco menu post-beach. We decide to take camping to the next level with a jar of Jamie Oliver coriander and cashew pesto, penne and pine nuts (not locally sourced). The plastic checkered tablecloth will be spread on top of the picnic table, easily transforming our campsite into a pop-up Italian resto in the pines.

Each day we return to our site famished and sighing aloud from the joy of nothingness. The sun has warmed us right to our bones. Kim and I are sheer experts at this napping, wading and beachcombing business. My surf shorts are weighted down with more than a few polished stones. We walk the length of the sandbar to Port Franks, admiring cottage architecture, impromptu lakeside bars fashioned out of driftwood, greeting wag-happy dogs and exchanging pleasantries with the beach bum set.

Another fire is lit, snapping and spitting embers in no time. We pull the picnic table closer to the flames and talk as we do: all over the map. Always scheming of where to travel next and how we might opt out of this thing called work for more of the life balance equation.

The zen of the woods is like a medicinal salve.  We solve the world’s problems each night and find solace in the stillness. I am thrilled to be away from clocks and social media appliances and obligations. I am thrilled to eat everything that causes hypertension, high cholesterol,  heart attacks and gout in a span of four days. We drink and eat and lie about like royalty. And, not to brag, but our campsite even had an en suite.

Isn’t it time for you to get away? Grab the one you love and get grounded!

Categories: Eat This, Sip That, Polyblogs in a Jar | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Summer Lovin’

Summer is a showcase of all that is good in the world. Midnight skinny dips in the lake, dripping gelato, burgers spitting on the grill, flip flops and 8:45 pm sunsets.

We are encouraged to lie prone in the sand, read thick novels in the shade, congregate on patios with boozy sangria and gather around bonfires. There are strawberries as big as clown noses, embarrassingly juicy peaches and blueberries that beg to be eaten even before rinsing. Make-shift roadside stands heave with a farmer’s pride.

I’m heaving because it’s all drawing to a close. The sun has been closing her show earlier and earlier each night and fall is lurking like a pop quiz. Just today I felt a shiver of trepidation as I walked down the aisles of the Rexall drugstore on Bloor—there was a sneak attack of back-to-school specials: Crayola pencil crayons, protractors and shiny lunch boxes. Nooooooooooo! Not yet!

I walked home, absorbing the traces of humidity that just weeks ago left Toronto feeling like we were wrapped in Saran Wrap at midday. I opened a Tankhouse Lager and read Jann Arden’s latest blog post about the onslaught of fall in her Alberta. “There is a dampness in the air. That subtle hint of orange and red and yellow leaves that fills your nostrils… The trees are looking in at me through the windows at night and counting down until their big sleep.” Noooooooooo.

There was an instantaneous flashback to the summers of the Torti elementary school years. When we could BMX for five hours on the sugary fuel of grape Kool-aid alone. When we wore wet swimsuits with saggy bums and swam in the murky irrigation ponds full of leeches and snapping turtles. Eventually we would be hauled inside to put on proper clothing, and if it was Friday—we were probably going to pick-up a pizza at Godfather’s in Paris. Equally thrilling was the prospect of stopping at the corner store on the hill that weaved into the sleepy downtown where we could each buy a pack of baseball cards. Our jaws ached from the powdered gum that came with the cards. It was as tough as silicone and as flavourful as a countertop wiped with a wet rag.

Waiting for the pizza, we’d trade cards, bicker and gloat. We lived in the country, and no pizza place delivered to our remote parts. So, we’d get in the Oldsmobile with a pile of blankets (to keep the pizza warm). Apparently this was before the microwave era? With my parents in the front, we’d surreptitiously steal bits of crust from the vents on either end of the pizza box. Dax would eventually complain about the fumes from the Oldsmobile and how he was getting increasingly nauseous. He’d insist on sitting in the middle of the backseat (“the Hump”), so he “could see out.” This supposedly helped his nausea. Much like those afflicted with seasickness, Dax had to see the shoreline. Kiley would get perturbed to be further away from the pizza box, separated from the good crust-stealing position. She would cry and/or cross her eyes and the gig would be up.

What made us all cry harder was when we would accidentally let our eyes fall upon the Bluebird Bus Company on Highway 53. En route to get pizza, we were all too preoccupied with anticipation to notice the horrible visual of hundreds of day-glo school buses parked on the Bluebird lot, just waiting for that grand day in September. Usually we were on high alert, and once we passed Schuyler’s apple farm, we knew to duck and count at least ten M-i-s-s-i-s-s-i-p-p-i-s before raising our heads again. If we didn’t see the buses, we truly believed in an eternal summer. There was no back to school if we didn’t see the bus that would take us to our doom.

Xanadu, Childhood Wonderdog

Lazy days of trading baseball cards, slapping pine sap in Kiley’s hair, whipping prickly wild cucumbers at our cousins and following Xanadu, our fearless dog leader into the cantaloupe fields would soon be a distant fog.

Our father would make us start “training our bodies” for the early September wake-ups (I never did successfully train mine). By mid-August we were so full of dread we all had morning sickness.

Desperate to cling to the carefree days and banana split breakfasts we had while my parents were working, we would set up camp in the backyard. If we slept in the tent until school started, surely, summer could last a little longer.  The canvas tent was big enough for three circus elephants. It was a Canadian Tire special, circa 1972, a garage sale treasure that my mom had probably bought for less than ten bucks. It came with 673 poles and plastic yellow pegs that could never be driven into the cement-hard ground of August.

Eventually the tent was erected (who knew my dad swore like that?), and aired out for a week. The inside was a potent smack of wet dog, mouse shit and sweaty socks.  But, it was a ritual that we insisted upon. We didn’t have Thermarests or any particularly high-end technical camping gear. No, we had the flashlight that was bigger than a transport truck headlight that took 18 batteries. We also had a bedroom lamp and three extension cords that ran into the house which we would enter on the hour for too-scared-to-pee-outside pee breaks and more snacks.

We drank warm pop, ate soggy chips and hid in our equally soggy sleeping bags that also smelled of wet dog, mouse shit and sweaty socks.  There would be ghost stories, mostly to make Kiley cry—but I was usually successful in scaring the life out of myself too. Pinecones would fall on the canvas roof of our circus tent and have us all paralyzed with fear. Then of course, we would get one last unexpected visit from my dad after he watched the sports highlights inside. I swear he tiptoed through the wet grass and used a voice suitable for a vendor selling peanuts and popcorn at a ballgame. “How you guys doin?” Before he even had “How” out of his mouth we were all on the ceiling of the tent.

Back to school fashions circa 1986?

Full of salty chips, ghosts and Archie comics, the lamp would finally be turned off. This is when the illuminated conversation started.  We’d talk about school (despite our zero zest for the idea) and our played-down hopes for cool new rugger pants, maybe a new kid in class? We’d lament on the important things, like the return of hot dog day and the first school dance.

As much as we expressed horror at the sight of the first school bus, we embraced the new beginning. From the first fat blister from sharpening all those Crayolas to the new pair of Rainbow jeans and KangaROO shoes with nifty zippers on the side.

Summers die so quickly, but fall promises that we are part of a circle, and these blissful days will come ‘round again.

Categories: Polyblogs in a Jar | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

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