Why Walk Through the Seasons ?

Awhile back, the wife announced our retirement plans to some friends whose response was “Oh so you’ve made your million dollars then?”  I never could figure where the idea that you need a million dollars to retire came from.  I blame it on the TV ads :

“We have a decision to make” says the appropriately aged looking (but still hunky) man to his (who knows how old she is ‘cause they all look like teenagers ‘til they hit 90) Asian wife.  She wrinkles her lovely brow in concern and asks “About what ?” as she cuddles lovingly into his masterly arms.  The George Clooney clone husband smiles lovingly back at her and asks “Will it be … Tuscany or Provence?”.  Then he smiles as only a life sucking, self-serving, corporate Ad agency executive can.  She feigns relief before giggling and cuddling further into his baby crushing arms.  Fade to black.  Anyway, that’s how I saw it. Telling a middle aged factory worker with 3 kids and an equally unskilled & uneducated wife, that he can retire at 55 and go merrily skipping around the globe in the company of Paris Hilton and that damned stupid lookin’ rat-dog, is a criminal offense in my mind.  Yeah, he can retire at 55.  Just not quite like that.

Holy Crap !  Where did all that come from?  Sorry.  Excuse me while I backtrack to where I had an inkling of what I started typing for.   Oh yeah, now I remember. I’m not sure if it’s me being defensive, or if others are just being dumb … Uh Oh, I think we all know where this one’s headed eh ?  Seriously though, I make up excuses for why I don’t travel internationally.  True, I am extremely claustrophobic and just the thought of being trapped in a long skinny tube for any period of time is unthinkable.  However, even if I weren’t, I really don’t have any desire to see the World. Not the macro world anyway.  I can explore a whole world within arm’s reach of me, every day, and from the safety of my own country (and county for that matter).  As one might imagine, it’s pretty cheap travel too.  We always feel right at Home with the reasonably priced nightly accommodations.  The food is plentiful, and mostly fresh out of the Hotel’s garden, or at least from very nearby.  It’s prepared with cleanliness and care, and served just the way I like it.  There are even unguided foraging walks, where you can collect your own berries, vegetables, or mushrooms.  Of course, there’s always a beach and water nearby, in the tropical island resort of Southern Ontario.  They speak English fairly well, and even take Canadian dollars at par.   Now these folks who believe they are travellers, will counter with something like this; “Well, 2 weeks enjoying a Caribbean island is cheaper than staying home you know”.  There are so many flawed calculations in that reasoning; I won’t even bother going there. Not to mention the fact that sitting on a beach somewhere, getting pissed on cheap rum and stuffing their gullets all day is not travelling.  That’s just doing the same thing they’d be doing at Home only, apparently, cheaper.  I just point out that once the 2 weeks are over … they’re over.  Now they’re back in a less pleasing locale obviously ‘cause they left it to do the same thing they’d have done if they hadn’t.  So, uhhh welcome Home, how was the trip ?   Travelling, is a different matter altogether.  Travelling is staying in motion on a constant basis.  It is costly unless you have sufficient funds.  I mean costly in the ways not of the world of finance.  I’ve known too many travellers who had far too many close calls for my likings.

By this time, even I’m beginning to wonder whether I’ve got a point to make anytime soon.  OK so here it is.  My whole point, is simply take a look at what’s around you, a close look.  Try to realize what you’re looking at, what you feel, smell, and taste.  Yes, it’s a big World out there, but it’s also a complex World.  Consider a back-road near your Home, a road that has no interesting features, and nothing worthy of note.  Park your car somewhere on that road.  Then just get out and walk it.  Look in the ditches (not at them), up in the trees (not through them), into the field (not across … into).  Did you ever notice that culvert with a stream flowing through it under the road before?  Then you’ve likely never seen the trout darting about in the watercress, or the gooseberries on the branches hanging over the water.  How about that swampy spot?  You know it’s swampy ‘cause you can see cattails, even at 60 km/h.  Have you ever seen a patch of native lady’s slipper orchids ?  That swampy spot is where you might.  Maybe you’ve seen the quaint turtle crossing sign as you drive past? Please see my post titled “Three Chelydra in the Hand are Worth 6 on the Road”.  These are just a few examples of what I was startled to find on roadsides I thought I knew well. Consider then what Conservation Areas (CAs) have to offer.  The difference between Provincial Parks and CAs, is that Parks are people places where Nature is tolerated, and CAs are Nature places where people are tolerated.  You can view a guide online here, or download a free copy. http://www.ontarioconservationareas.ca/download-a-guide

Finally, of course consider that road you’ve never bothered with because of the No Exit sign.  90% of these roads go somewhere, just maybe not on wheels.  Even if the road ends at someone’s driveway, the driveway almost always turns off to the side and there’s usually a foot trail continuing on straight into the trees.  These are called “road allowances” and most are public property.  Some of them are part of various hiking club trail systems too.  They’re just roads that never got finished for any number of reasons.  The roads themselves are quite interesting, but once you have to get out and walk, you really start to experience things.  I’d suggest you walk the driveable section as well as any trails you find.  Of course, “Private Property, No Trespassing”, or simply big red dots painted on signs or trees all mean the same thing.

Now, to address the title of this posting; I’ve divided the year into the usual 4 parts below, and I have suggested things you can expect to see in CAs or No Exit back roads.  The area is roughly between Oshawa and Belleville from Lake Ontario to the Trans Canada Hwy 7.  Considering the current date, I’ll begin with the Fall season.  I won’t tell you anything I haven’t done myself, and will back it up with pictures whenever possible.

Fall ( Sept – Nov)

Having just completed another Summosquitoesmer I’m happy to head back into the bush.  The sights, sounds, and scents of Fall make it a favourite time of year for many.  The camera is a must in any season but perhaps Fall (and Spring) the most.  The tree leaf photo ops are well known, but look down at what’s under foot.   Fall presents some of the year’s most beautiful fungi.

Red mushroomIcicle mushroomsOrange mushroom clusterYellow mushrooms

Red mushroom clusterGiant puffball

You might wonder what the egg-like one is.  It’s not real pretty, but it’s edible.  It’s a giant puffball and it’s not mind blowingly delicious.  It tastes like … drumroll please … wait for it … a mushroom !! No, it’s not better ‘n sex.  It’s just a mushroom.  Read some of my other posting on the foraging theme to get my take on many “natural wonders” you can forage for.  You’ll read on the ‘Net how stupendous they all are.  Until you try some and find they either taste like crap, or like nuthin”.   So, the giant puffball, while quite acceptable, is more a novelty than an epicurean delight.  I would still suggest you try one just for the fun of it.  Pick one at least the size of a cantaloupe for best results, and you’ll easily find preparation directions all over the ‘Net.

There’s just something wonderful about picking a wild apple, taking one bite, and throwing it away.  It seems so wasteful, yet isn’t. It’s OK to waste food.  Hurrah !  my Mother was wrong ! The best part is when you notice how different they taste.  Sure, most are scarred and ugly, but every 4th or 5th is fine and provides a fresh taste on the trail or back-road, and you get to taste for free (see Just How Tasty Might Wild Apples Be?)

This is also the time of year to start training birds to trust you.  If I believed in a god, I’d be convinced it created chickadees to cheer humans over the long cold Winter.  Buy some unshelled sunflower seeds as chickas like them best (the picture below shows a mix, but we noticed they chose the unshelled sunflower seeds first, so that’s all we use now).  Carry them in a bag in your pocket as you walk a path that would be accessible in the Winter.  Look for places with some bushes or small trees.  They like to approach from the cover of branches and twigs.  Listen for the chickas unmistakeable call and when you hear it, shake out some seeds into your hand and hold it out for them to see.  They likely won’t come immediately, so just stand there perfectly still for a few moments.  Then pour the seeds from your hand into a pile on the ground or on a raised branch, bench, anything.  Every time you do this, always use the exact same spot to pour the seeds out. It won’t take very long before the chickas will boldly land on your hand and leisurely pick through the seeds in your palm, particularly as the weather cools and natural forage becomes challenging (for full instructions see Training Wild Birds to Hand Feed).

Chickadee hand feeding

The only “berries” worth gathering this time of year are wild grapes, and this will be the first year I tried them so I’ll say no more.  Read my adventures with elderberries in other posts on this site.  I also plan to try weaving a few baskets once the leaves fall off the red dogwood osiers.  Again, I haven’t done that yet.  Something we plan to do this Fall is to watch as the goldenrod fades from the meadows and the only gold left is the wild asparagus.  We’ll cruise the back-roads keeping a journal of where we see the big puffs of golden fog-like foliage patches, and come Spring, return to harvest wild asparagus (see Stalking the Feral Asparagus)

Winter (Dec – Feb)

OK this is a tough one.  I often say the only good thing about Winter is the food.  Last Winter we walked a lot actually, but I’ll admit, it felt like walking for the sake of walking. However, when I think about it, a Winter “picnic” could be very nice.  Hot chocolate or mulled cider just tastes better when you’re out on the frozen trail.  That I’ve done many times, but I haven’t actually sat down and had a bite of anything in the Winter for many years, but I think I will this time, and I’m gonna think of an easy way to make it something warm.  The advantage of walking in the Winter is that you can cover trails that you can’t any other time of the year.  I’m not suggesting you go prancing off across thin ice, but you can walk some areas that are too wet otherwise.  The wife and I solved a bit of a mystery last Winter doing that.  Yeah the wife … in the dead of Winter… she really is the best eh ?  I know men who wouldn’t step forward like she does.  There’s no question why I love that lady.

Of course, there are lots of animal tracks to follow and try to ID the owners of.  That can be challenging as there’s alot more activity in the Winter than one might expect, and their activities leave some unusual marks in the snow.  Once you get good at it, you can “read” the stories of life and death encounters in the snow.  One particularly rewarding activity the Wife and I discovered last Winter is the collection of giant silk moth cocoons.  They’re very obvious without foliage and against the stark snow or deep blue sky.  Come Spring they can reward you rather nicely.  Just snip the twig off the bush it’s on, and take it Home with you.  If you have to drive, put it gently in the trunk so as not to warm it up.  Once Home, just keep it upright in a vessel of some sort in a shed or whatever until Spring. Then just poke the stick (keeping the cocoon upright as you found it) into a pot of soil and check it daily.  About late May – early June it’ll emerge.  These moths have a wingspan of up to 6 inches and so make quite an impression on the observer.  The pictures below show what a couple of different species of giant silk moth cocoons look like, and the kind of moth that will come out of them.  Sorry I don’t have a picture of it on my hand for size reference, but the two pictures are roughly the same magnification.  These moths are huge and beautiful.  Look up “luna moth” to see the most beautiful one of them all.  I’ve only seen a few in my lifetime.  Dear entomological purists – yes I know the cocoons are Cecropia and likely Polyphemus, while the moth picture is a Promethea.   The moths are virtually identical, and that’s close enough for a lousy blog OK ?  Get a wife, you nerds !

cecropia & polyphemus cocoonspromethea moth

Bird nests can be spotted and collected as well.  They make for good decorations on Christmas trees or just decorations in general with novelty eggs in them.  Contrary to some folks’ beliefs, birds don’t return to the same nest and won’t fail to procreate if it’s gone.  Sometimes birds will re-vamp an old nest, or re-use a good location, but you won’t be driving anything into extinction by gathering a few bird nests.

Spring  (March – May)

Spring is synonymous with wildflowers.  Nature brings out its best in the wooded areas in the Spring.  Much as we marvel at the Autumn leaves, the Spring wildflowers can be just as wonderful.  Some will impress with shape and/or color, while others delight with numbers.  I’m not just referring to trilliums.  We’ve stood in the centre of a carpet of white to blue to purple hepaticas, in every direction as far as we could see. I know a trail where one has to step carefully not to tread on bloodroot flowers.  There are so many wildflowers to enjoy that I can’t post pictures of each, as it would overload this site.

bloodroot cluster hepatica Blood root cluster

Jack in the Pulpit

Another pleasant Spring-time find are morels.  Black or white doesn’t matter, they’re both delicious.  The nice thing about morels is that nothing else looks like them and not many other mushrooms are up when the morels are, in mid – May (yes mycologists, I know they’re not true mushrooms, they’re fungal sacs but … enough OK ?  Go date an entomologist will ya?).  I’m afraid I don’t have pictures of them in their habitat as I’m in too big a hurry to collect them, than to waste time photographing them.  Now, I mentioned earlier how most foraged treasures are somewhat less than orgasmic.  However, I will admit morels are fantastic.  They truly are magnificent, and taste like nothing else.  Don’t eat them raw as they taste of nothing, but fry them in any kind of oil or butter and they’ll knock your socks off !

Morels Collected May 12

‘Course, if you eat them EVERY DAY for 3 solid weeks, and you’re an old guy whose name is Bushwhacker, you might overdo it and catch yourself a case of the Trotskys, the Russian flu (get it ? Leon Trotsky – the true Father of the Russian Revolution + the trots/runs ?  Alright, never mind).  Anyway, should you find it prudent to reduce your consumption levels but still can’t resist picking them, you might do well to entice the purveyor of yet another Springtime delight.  Guys who own sugar shacks tend to be appreciators of the natural World too.  A paper bag full of morels should score you a bottle of Spring nectar in return.  Otherwise, any outdoorsman/hunter you know will gladly negotiate with you for bounty of the meaty kind.  As well, about this time you should start looking up your Fall notes on wild asparagus locations, as they start about the same time morels are finishing.

Summer – (June – Aug)

Again, this is a tough one for walking.  Between the heat, humidity, and insects hoards, Summer can be a difficult season to appreciate.  Difficult, until one ventures past a beach and witnesses the masses of people.  They’re there for a reason. Ranger has waded along in the water while I walked on the searing sand on occasion.  I got new shoes this year, specifically made for that, but never got around to proving them.  Sometimes Ranger and I will explore from behind the windshield of an air-conditioned vehicle on the hotter days.  Heading out earlier before the heat sets in is another option the wife and I take advantage of.  Berry collection is a pleasant pastime during the Summer months as well.  Red or black raspberries, blackberries, gooseberries, thimbleberries (I specifically mention them ‘cause Ranger found a thimbleberry bush in Northumberland County, a distance from it’s expected range), red currants, and chokecherries were my aim this year.  A lot of Internet sites will tell you (with the exception of the raspberry types) to wait for the first frost so these berries will be sweeter.  Apparently birds have Internet access and can read, ‘cause they know enough to eat them all before humans are instructed to do so (maybe they write those posts …?).  Trust me, gather them in the Summer as they ripen, rinse and freeze them until you have enough to do something with.  I can tell you chokecherries make a fine jelly (I made some sugar free for diabetic Ranger – he said to liked it, but then he’s a awful nice guy so I don’t know), and I made a tasty, albeit cloudy, wine from them and it’s pretty good too.  The red currants made a fine jam, but I’m expecting a tiny problem with the seeds.  Next time, I’ll make jelly instead.  The jury’s still out on elderberries.  If I hadn’t already gathered a kilo or two of them, I wouldn’t bother, but I got them now, and I’ll have to think of some way to reduce that bitter note.  There are also gooseberries waiting my attention in the freezer right now.

This is another example of the merits of getting out of the car and walking these backroads.  Ranger and I would go nearly every week to a patch of blackberries we knew the exact location of.  They were between two shrubs across from another obvious landmark on a specific No Exit road, and until we got out of the truck and walked right up to them, we’d never have known they were there.  Every week for over a month, we’d drive down that road, stop to look and say “Well, I guess they’re done for the season”.  Then we’d get out, walk across the road and see them.  Every week, enough for the wife and I to augment our breakfasts for the rest of the week.

We have a list of backroads for the Summer (or Winter for that matter) that we consider for walking, based on their orientation.  We know which roads will provide shade or sunshine at which time of the day.  Which have foliage to protect us from, or relieve us with, wind depending on the desired effect.

There’s just something about walking a road or trail while savouring the scents, sounds, sights, and even tastes in the right season, of the World around you.  As you continue doing so, you gain a certain kind of allegiance to the trail, or road.  You’ll inevitably find a few roads/trails that will call you.  Be it a panoramic view, a body of water, a trusting experience with a wild animal, a patch of sweet berries, a cathedral-like place of solitude, whatever.   You’ll find yourself returning to these places again and again.  They’re like a sanctuary, a place of peace and serenity, and if you’re lucky, you will find many.



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