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Lessons in gratitude: Day 6

Nith River on Carmel Koch Road to intersection at Carmel Koch and Notre Dame roads

I am getting closer to finishing the Avon Trail. My trek this past weekend marked the 90th kilometre, and was a bit spur-of-the-moment (as far as it gets in our house), and I’d decided to go this one on my own. However, I asked my 13yo daughter if she’d like to join me – already knowing the answer would be no – out of courtesy and an effort to get her engaged in some exercise. I was right. She did say no, but within the hour had changed her mind.

I had asked her if she’d like to go on a hike with me. I assumed she’d put my occasional long absences and the word “hike” together, and make the connection that I wasn’t talking about a saunter down the Iron Horse Trail, one of our lovely paved community trails in Kitchener.


I told her to put long pants on, and find her old running shoes to walk in. We packed up the daypack (again, another hint – I had snacks and water and bug spray and sun screen and toilet paper . . .), and I took a look at the map from the Avon Trail Association, which I had purchased last year. I saw that the 10 kilometres I hoped to do was mostly road-walking. I was disappointed, although I was glad it was a cooler day and that the heat wave had broken. Still, I much prefer the forest to roads for walking. There’s so much more to see on a minute scale, in a forest. Walking on hard surfaces is more tiring.

My daughter emerged from her room with capris on. She had a good 12 inches of ankle and calf showing, and I mentioned again that long pants were best. I guess I should have mentioned then about ticks, mosquitoes, scratchy grass and sticks, but I was afraid she’d change her mind. I am glad she said yes. But I have, I discovered, well and truly raised a city kid.

I know. I must come to terms with this fact.

Also, you learn from your mistakes, right? I wasn’t worried about ticks or mosquitoes. I had prepared for bugs, insects and sunshine. She wasn’t in danger.

We persuaded her dad to drop us off and pick us up. We doused ourselves in bug spray, and headed out. As soon as she saw me head off into the long grass down the trail, the complaints began. The mosquitoes were heavy in the bush, buzzing incessantly around us, despite our deet-soaked clothing.

My daughter’s imagination is active, and a casual mention about ticks brought on a fully formed anxiety about ticks. She didn’t want to go into the grass with her bare legs, but her dad had already driven off. She had no choice. What ensued for the first hour of our hike would have been comedic to the onlooker – she jumped and skipped through the long grass, and every third or fourth step, she’d rub and slap the bare skin on her legs. Jump, hop, skip, slap. Hop, jump, skip, slap.

“Are you getting bitten?” I asked her, offering the bug spray for another bath. “No,” she replied. “I’m just making sure I don’t get bitten.”

Déjà vu.

I recalled when her dad, an Irishman, came to Canada the very first time. I lived on my parents’ farm at the time, and my sister and I and him decided to play baseball out in the field. He had never played baseball, and certainly not in a field of long grass. Every step he took was a jump or a hop – he looked like a grasshopper, popping up into the air so often he looked like he was bouncing on a trampoline. I remember laughing really hard at this and asking him what he was doing. “Looking for snakes,” he told us.

The first three kilometres of the hike went through the forest. Within the first kilometre, the instructions on the map indicated we may see some cows, but DO NOT APPROACH THEM (this is highlighted in bold in the directions on the map), because there might be a bull among them. I grew up on a farm with a herd of dairy cows, and the bulls were a real piece of work. We had to pierce their noses with a ring and attach a long chain to the ring, so that when the bull lowered his head to charge, he’d step on the chain, which would stop him from taking a step. I’ve been chased to the fence by a Holstein bull (some learned to hold their head up high, chain swinging, when they charged) more times than I care to count. Don’t mess with the bulls!

Of course, didn’t we find the cows? And weren’t they laying happily right in front of the stile we were to cross over? Yes. Yes, they were. As luck would have it, the bull wasn’t with these cud-chewers, and I, having grown up around cows, headed straight for the stile and climbed over into the herd at the bottom of it; the cows just looked at me with their liquid brown eyes, never moving, except for their skin shuddering against the swarms of flies. However uninteresting my actions were for the cows, they did not go over well with my daughter. She was understandably nervous around them (but quite taken with the wee calves that ran ahead of us when we frightened them). With a bit of hesitation, she climbed the stile, gingerly stepping around the cows (and their poop), and moving quickly up the hill, ducking under the electric fence with ease (the stiles and the electric fencing didn’t quite match the trail, and we criss-crossed the fence once. Carefully).

The forested part of the hike revealed a number of treasures, including scrapped cars buried in the undergrowth; at least two abandoned sugar shacks, an apiary and a big Fowler’s toad hidden on the track. The walking was pretty easy, but we did get sidetracked in a couple of places because we missed the turn, including one turn onto a snowmobile trail; this portion did not have any white blazes on trees to tell us we were going the right way. Thank goodness for my Ondago app – consulting the printed map, the directions on the printed map and the phone app got us back on track fairly quickly.

My daughter continued her hopping and skipping, and used the bug spray like a perfume spritzer.

We finally got out to Berlett’s Road, which was the first part of road-walking on the hike. We stopped at the Berlett’s Road Cemetery, at the crossroad of Sandhills Road, for a break – these gravestones are very old, so old the words (some in German, I think) have been worn smooth over the centuries. The oldest date I could decipher was 1806. You won’t find this cemetery on a Google map, but you will find the crossroads, if you’re curious.

We headed down Sandhills Road. By this time, my daughter’s complaints were beginning to be much more audible. No amount of “Hey, look at that!” or “I remember when . . .” from me could deter her from the fact that she was hot, sweaty, mosquito-bitten and that we were just over halfway on today’s hike. She did briefly redeem herself by rescuing a yellow bear moth caterpillar from the pavement. It was soft yellow and very fuzzy. I’d never seen one before.

The walk on Sandhills Road was broken by a little, and possibly pointless, loop around a large field, only to come out to the same road. It was a lovely long field of rolling hills, no doubt about it, and the goal at the end was to climb to the top of the drumlin to look out over the vista of fields and forest and buildings nestled in the trees. That was worth it, but the long loop to get there doesn’t make much sense, as my daughter now loudly pointed out. She began to whimper. “Why are we doing this? Why can’t we cut across the field? Why do we even have to go down here, when the lookout is over there (about 50 metres in from the road)?” All good points.

And here is where today’s title comes in. I admit I’m not the most patient mother, but I pointed out to her that in all her complaining and whining, she was missing the butterflies, and the blooms on the wildflowers and the gorgeous rolling vistas around us, the cloud-ridden sky above us – all things for which I was grateful at that moment (I was less charitable about inviting her along). I think my exact words were, “Look, whining and complaining about this isn’t going to change the fact that we’re here. It’s not going to get us home faster, or make the hike go quicker. It is what it is. Look around you and see if there is anything you can appreciate about this hike.”

I am determined to complete the Avon Trail, but in the interests of keeping my daughter sane (I mean, I didn’t even see the point of walking a double-length field, only to walk it back again on the other side), we did cut across the field. Now, I would not have done this had the field been sown with new crops; however, it had been harvested and spread with a generous amount of manure, which had dried since the rain the previous day. The manure was more like a dried thin crust on top of the soil, so it wasn’t too unpleasant to tread over.

To my daughter’s credit, she did suck it up and I hardly heard more than a few dissatisfied peeps out of her the rest of the hike. Once back out onto Sandhills Road, we headed towards Josephsburg, a couple of houses on a corner with Notre Dame Road. This was our last leg of the journey. We took a break on the grass on the corner, and I texted my husband to come pick us up at the next concession – Carmel Koch Road – in half an hour. I thought that would give us plenty of time to walk a mile-and-seven-eighths, the length of a country concession.

I underestimated two things on this last leg: one, how busy Notre Dame Road is – it goes between St. Agatha and Wellesley, and it’s busy, even on a Sunday afternoon during a pandemic, and two, how little time it takes to walk a concession. We did it in 15 minutes. Which meant we had a 15-minute wait for our ride home at the corner of Carmel Koch and Notre Dame. In that time, we had one offer of help, and many looks from cars whizzing by.

Once my husband arrived, we put in a request for ice cream, and off we went. He asked our daughter what she thought about the hike. She grunted. He tried a different angle. “What was the best part about the hike?” She conceded the cows were what she liked the best.

“I guess you’ll wear long pants next time, eh?” I quipped, hopeful. “I’m never going on another hike again,” she retorted.

At least she didn’t say, “With you!”

For this, I am grateful.

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