Birds and bugs: Day 5

Lisbon Cemetery to Carmel-Koch Road at the Nith River: 10k


In my last post about the Avon Trail, late last fall, I wrote about entering the winter of our discontent. Although winter for me was fairly uneventful, save starting a new job at the college and reacquainting myself with public transit after a long hiatus and a soul-feeding trip to visit family in Ireland, it has turned out to be the spring of our discontent.

Covid-19 has changed our lives, in some cases for the better. I’ve been calling it the Great Pause, which I hope becomes the Great Turning – an honest evaluation of our systems, institutions and economies. I’ve lost my job at the college, thanks to the virus. I’ve forfeited, or at least postponed, my trip to Spain to walk the Camino. My kids are calling me The Warden because I’ve been so adamant about limiting our exposure to others outside the house. They don’t get it, and furthermore, they’re so bored they’re willing to risk getting exposed if it means more time spent with friends. We do have someone in the house with underlying health issues, so this is the reason for my militancy in hygiene and limiting our trips to the shops.

We have all been trying to walk a little bit each day, mostly around our neighbourhood. It’s not enough to really do us some physical good, but it has kept our mental health in good standing. I’ve gained enough weight over the past three months that I’ve gone up at least one size, if not two. I’ve been anxious to get back out onto the trail, to pick up the Avon Trail where I left off last fall. That’s what I did this past weekend. Since I hadn’t done any hiking since last October, and because my husband, an inexperienced hiker, was joining me, I decided it would be a shorter stage this time, just 10 kilometres, a short stretch in Wilmot Township. I booked a car share for the drop-off, and parked it at the bridge on the Nith River on Carmel-Koch Road, the end of our hike. Then we drove our car to Lisbon Cemetery, our starting point, and left it behind as we set off into the forest.


The weather was iffy to begin with. We’d had a good, hard rain last week, and it had rained a bit on our way out into the countryside, so I expected a muddy hike in some parts. With the damp and mud, I expected a lot of mosquitoes. I was right on both counts. Thankfully, I’d taken bug spray and left an extra pair of shoes and socks to change into in our car after the hike.

My husband, who is from Ireland, has the right kind of blood for mosquitoes. They love him. He’s often said we should get the leader of the world (right now, I’m suggesting Angele Merkel or Jacinda Ardern) to negotiate with the king of the mosquitoes so that we’d all just donate a pint of blood to the mosquito nation at the beginning of every summer, in exchange for being able to be outside without the ongoing threat of bites. My son shares his tasty blood – bugs that bite zero in on both of them. They could get 50 bites between them in a short space of time, and my daughter and I sitting right next to them might get one bite each.

So, there was a lot of bug spray used before we set out for our hike. And during. The mosquitoes swarmed in the damp forest. Not worrying about mosquitoes landing on us allowed us to enjoy the hike, to breathe in the damp earth smell and revel in the verdant green undergrowth in the forest. The trilliums still bloomed but were past their best – their leaves are starting to curl and turn brown at the edges. The garlic mustard, an invasive species, carpeted the undergrowth in many places, and we saw at least one tree with what was possibly Dryad's Saddle polyporus or pheasant’s back mushrooms. Forests are perfect places to forage for edible mushrooms, but always doublecheck with a reliable source before eating one.

The mud – I think we both ended up walking with a couple extra pounds of mud on our boots, from walking through wet farmers’ fields, swampy areas and muddy ruts on the forest paths. We had to stop several times to scrape the mud from our boots because it affected the comfort of our steps. My Smartwool socks totally soaked up the moisture of my boots, though, and I was able to walk in comfort in what felt like dry socks, but were far from it. It was pretty nasty pulling them off at the end!

The silence of the forest allowed us to tune in to the sounds of nature as we walked. So many birds! I didn’t see many of them, aside from a great blue heron that took off from the river and a cedar waxwing, with its bright yellow band on the tail. But birdsong accompanied us for the entire hike. The music of nature is soothing and totally boosted my mood. I felt the cares of Covid-19 and its accompanying stresses slip away for the entire hike. We saw no wildlife, although I’m sure some was around us.

We emerged from the forest at one point onto a lawn of a rather large house, but there was no signage to tell us which way to turn to follow the trail. My map directions seemed to indicate straight across, but not to walk on the laneway. My Ondago app seemed also to indicate straight across, but that route headed straight for the house. We turned left and followed a mowed path that led to an apiary. Straight past the beehives. We skirted it far enough away that we wouldn’t disturb the bees. I figured they were busy with their own work and they wouldn’t bother us, and I was right. Although this turned out to be the correct direction, if you have an allergy to bee stings, DO NOT follow the trail past the apiary; the trail goes very close to the beehives. It is possible to move far enough out onto the lawn that you wouldn’t be in danger, but this may cause issues for the private landowner. We eventually found the trail without walking down the lane, and went on our way. The point is that better signage at that junction would have been helpful, especially when you’re entering private land near a home – you don’t want to be wandering around the yard looking for the trail.

This also happened at the Khaki Club, although someone there pointed us in the right direction. I’d never heard of the Khaki Club, but its Facebook page says it’s an event-hosting space, and there are certainly lots of horseshoe pitches there. The directions on the hard copy map of the Avon Trail often use the directional indications – north, east, west, south – instead of landmarks. If you don’t really have a sense of where north is, for example, because you’re not using a compass or an app, then this can get tricky. I always fare better with “turn left” or “turn right at the shed,” but I appreciate that landmarks can move or disappear.

The trail was quiet. We saw exactly three people and that was towards the end of our hike. The trail leads down to the Nith River and follows it for the last couple of kilometres to our destination. As we neared the end, we saw some cows in a mowed field across the river, and stumbled across several horses harnessed to buggies, tied to trees in the shade. They were as surprised to see us as we were to see them. The horses blocked the trail, so we skirted them between the river and trees. No one was around. I assumed their owners were fishing, or perhaps helping out on the farm above the river. It was a happy surprise at the end of our trail.

We spent some time watching the river from the bridge, and then got into our car share car and headed back to Lisbon Cemetery to pick up our car.

I’ve now completed 80 kilometres of the Avon Trail. I reckon I have two more reasonable hikes of between 15 and 18 kilometres to finish it up.

I knew a hike in spring would be much different from my hikes last autumn. More bugs, much more green, and a lot more mud. What doesn’t change is the sense of peace from walking through a verdant forest, and the sense of wonder one gets from noticing the details among the trees – the carpets of trilliums or garlic mustard, the exposed roots of trees, old stumps damp and rotting, or sprouting tree seedlings.

On my autumn hikes, I found myself looking up so often – to see the beautiful vibrant colours of the leaves against blue skies. In spring, I found myself looking down, partly to watch my step but also because the forest floor is alive with growth. Amazing growth. I wish I knew my flora better, so I could be more skilled at identifying growing things. Someone told me about the iNaturalist app, which helps you identify plants and bugs and so on as you come across them. You take a picture and upload it to the site for identification. I’ve just downloaded it today, so I haven’t tried it yet, but I’m looking forward to the next hike to try it out. Stay tuned.

#nature #avontrail #writing #personalessay

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