Monday, July 2, 2007

Weather Permitting: Adventures in Algonquin Park

I once traveled to a far-away place, a wilderness park of sorts, to get away from the city. My friends and I do this occasionally, we buy expensive gear, drive oil-guzzling vehicles hundreds of kilometres, and meet up somewhere in the middle of the forest, usually at the end of a road that leads just where we're going. Then we hug each other wildly, precisely like friends who haven't seen each other for a long time should, and talk about how nice it is to be out of the city. Every time it's a heart-wrenching scene to all those fellow city-dwellers escaping the smog-infested confines of their urban(e) existence, in this case, usually Toronto, Ottawa, or Montreal.

This one time, last weekend actually, we traveled to this faraway place, and after our excited hellos, we packed our gear into our canoes, climbed in, and paddled into the sunset. Literally. And then just as the sun was about to say goodbye for good, it rained. And rained. Cleared up. And rained. Cleared up. And rained. You get the picture. For three days, we saw blue sky for no more than 30 minutes at a time, rain for no more than 30 minutes at a time, and threatening grey clouds for no more than 30 minutes at a time. Through this, the wind swirled in every possible direction, just batty enough that when you thought you finally had it figured out, it changed directions again at the drop of a hat, making your perfectly laid out plan to paddle east for the day seem absolutely mad. It was that kind of a weekend. The kind where you can almost say I should've stayed in the city. Almost.

But this faraway place is so magical, even in the miserably incontinent weather, that none of that even matters. This came home to me when my friend, who has spent much of his life in other countries, commented on the sheer beauty of this magical place. Full stop. I looked around, with the light drizzle dusting my drying clothes for at least the 10th time, and nodded my head. Was it the giant snapping turtle that visited our campsite every night? Or the moose we saw one late afternoon? Perhaps it was the endearing red squirrels stealing our food? Or better yet, the shining full moon cresting over the hilltop, showering us with its luminosity?

No, it was none of that really. It was sharing all of that with friends, new & old. Hearing how excited James was about the morning muesli, or Ronny upon finding out about the firestarting properties of birch-bark. Or maybe Spike, whose enthusiasm for paddling under the full moonlight was truly contagious. Yes, it was all of that combined with the natural beauty of the place that made it such a wonderful weekend. That, and the fact that I'd never spend 3 days with the same 7 people doing anything in the city. We'd get bored, and move on. But you can't do that in this place, so instead, you get to know people and your surroundings, and find a number of interesting things to do with wood and water. And food and bodily functions. And that's why it beats a weekend in a city. That's also why you wouldn't want to do it very often.

On that, enjoy your faraway place(s), they won't be around forever.