This Week in the Woods: Weekend Adventures in the Near North

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When we left, the morning quiet enfolded the city like a mantle despite the lateness of the hour. After stopping briefly to watch a ship make its way through Burlington Canal. we drove until we were out of the city, then through another, and then another.

When we were finally free of the lingering smog, we stopped for good and breathed in the clear, pine-scented air of the near north. It’s as close to heaven as one can get on this side of it—leastwise, that’s how it always seems to me. There’s something about Muskoka that whispers home.

Maybe someday, it will be.

Although Algonquin Park’s campgrounds and backcountry sites opened less than two weeks ago due to lingering ice, the forests of Muskoka are in the throes of the most glorious part of spring—the part where wildflowers grow in abundance and trees are freshly green.

And so, we hiked.

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High Bush Cranberry (American Cranberry)

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My favourite trail by far is Booth’s Rock. It’s challenging and beautiful, winding through the woods and over rocks, meandering past rivulets of melted snow, up to the top of a cliff, and then plowing straight down a long set of stairs to an abandoned railway that skirts a large lake. It’s 5.1 km in total—not long, but the perfect way to end a day.

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Everywhere, we could hear the spring peepers. Down at the water’s edge, our ears rang with the beauty of their shrill voices. Even on the top of the cliff, however, with the lakes and forests spread out before us like a quilt, we could hear their frenzied echo heralding the peak of the season.

And yet, there was ice in the woods—one lone patch, but ice. My daughters grabbed small chunks of it and pressed it to their faces, meltwater mixing with sweat as they tried to push away the still-clinging heat of the day.

Our strangest discovery along the trail was a den of some sort. I spotted it’s entrance, a perfect O, when I accidentally veered off trail. There was no sign of life when we cautiously peered inside. Then, close to the side entrance, my daughter spotted a large pile of scat. It was not scat I’d ever seen before, although by now we’ve become fairly adept at identifying tracks and scat. It was a mystery, and a puzzling one at that.

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We discovered later that it was porcupine scat.

The sun began to set as we made our way along the abandoned railroad line back to the parking lot. To the right, a set of beautifully engineered beaver dams pushed back a pond that would otherwise overflow the path. To the left stretched the stillness of Rock Lake with the sun setting behind it. It was hard to know which way to look.

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As we drove home that evening, my husband pointed to a bull moose grazing at the side of the highway—the second one we spotted in as many days. The whole weekend was a gift, a much needed respite from the bustle of the city.

Hours later, we pulled into our driveway in the middle of a night lit bright with city lights.

But I carried the stillness of the north inside.

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