Stop and read the signs

Gillies Bridge, Carleton Place

If you look around, there are signs everywhere but sadly, not many people stop and read them.

I do, I always have. I’m not sure if it’s the historian in me, or just an innate curiousity–I figure if someone thought it was important enough to erect a sign in a certain place, then it’s worth reading. It’s a trait that drives my family crazy.

On Friday, I went for my usual pre-game walk in Carleton Place before Clare’s hockey game. I was familiar with Carleton Place because Clare had competed in regattas there many times, but the arena was in a different part of town.

I started walking on a section of the Trans Canada Trail and came across a bridge that spanned the Mississippi River. There were several interpretive signs on the bridge, so I stopped to read them. Directly across from me was another bridge named Gillies Bridge in honour of John Gillies who built it in 1884.

Interpretive sign

John Gillies was the name of my father. Not the same John Gillies who built the bridge, and no relation to my knowledge, but it immediately caught my interest.

According to the Lanark County tourism website, lumber was king in the Ottawa Valley in the nineteenth century and John Gillies “was one of the industry’s crown princes”. He acquired the first sawmill in Carleton Place in 1866 and built the operation to employ 200-300 men to produce more than 20 million feet of board lumber a year. His mills eventually covered 300 square miles and spanned the greater part of six townships.

His Gillies Machine Works was his retirement project. After selling his mill operation, he built the Machine Works in 1875, manufacturing steam engines, water wheels, gearing, shafting and boat engines.

I thought this was ironic given Dave’s and mine luck with boat motors.

I stopped to admire the old abandoned millworks on the island, and then kept strolling, taking pictures of the old stone buildings since it was such a gorgeous sunny morning.  

It was interesting to read about this famous namesake, and in a strange way, made me feel closer to my Dad, who has been gone for more than 20 years.

This week’s #HappyAct is to stop and read the signs some time. You never know what you’ll discover.

Abandoned mill
Mill property
Old sprinkler on Mill

The rainbow connection

Double rainbow

What is it about rainbows that make us look up with wonder and smile?

Last week, I saw the most incredible double rainbow. It appeared one morning on my way to work and I stopped to take a picture of it. My boss did the same thing and when we walked into the office, there were a bunch of people milling around the glass doors, gazing out at the beautiful arched spectacle framing the sky.

It’s easy to understand why we’re so enamoured with rainbows.

Rare, beautiful, magical, their kaleidoscope of colours are a miracle of nature.

Pure, elusive, we recognize they are a gift from heaven and we gaze at them with childlike wonder.  

They teach us that when things are dark and gloomy, light and beauty may be a raindrop away.

They represent hope and wonder and remind us of the importance of stopping to take in the moment, because at any time, their elusive beauty may fade away.

Just like the words in the song, even though they are mere illusions, we are transformed into lovers and dreamers while we remain under their spell.

This week’s #HappyAct is to find your rainbow connection even if you don’t see a rainbow.

Beneath the canopy

Forest canopy

A trail beckons
Overgrown, almost indiscernible
Leading me away from my thoughts
Between fallen branches and stumps
To the secret waterfall

Silent and barren
Still
Forlorn
Waiting for spring’s rebirth

I gaze up to the canopy above
Soft green leaves
Cradle the sky
Enfolding me in their arms
Protecting me

I stop and listen
And am rewarded
The forest reveals itself
Chattering like two old ladies on a park bench

The jays’ jeers and caws
Echo through the leafy canopy
Overpowering the faint chirps and peeps
Of warblers and songbirds

The rustling leaves dance in the wind
A lone leaf spirals downward
Swaying back and forth
Down, down
Landing gently on the forest floor

I look down
The canopy above is reflected below
A sea of scattered yellow leaves
An early surrender
To fall’s call to arms

This week’s #HappyAct is to spend some time beneath the canopy.

Editor’s note: I wrote this poem in the woods near my house. I’ve always found the woods a very peaceful place and studies show spending time in nature can be directly correlated to a person’s happiness.

I wanted to comment on a recent trend, Forest Therapy Walks. The whole idea of calling a hike in the forest a “therapy walk” makes me cringe, but nomenclature aside, I’d advise against joining a group of people. Group walks are great if you want to learn about the native species or meet new people, but if you truly want to connect with nature, explore on your own.

Forest canopy looking up
Sunlight in a forest

Walk on the ocean floor

Girls at Hopewell Rocks, New Brunswick
Me, Danette and Leslie at Hopewell Rocks, New Brunswick

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to walk on the ocean floor?

Last week at this time, I was walking on the ocean floor at Hopewell Rocks Provincial Park in New Brunswick on the way home from an epic two-week vacation to Cape Breton with my girlfriends Leslie and Danette.

Hopewell Rocks is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Canada. It is known for its iconic flowerpot rocks and for being located on the Bay of Fundy which has some of the highest tides in the world. Twice a day, the bay fills and empties of a billion tonnes of water during each tide cycle—more than the flow of all the world’s freshwater rivers combined.

Flowerpot rocks at Hopewell Rocks

The tides rise and fall between 40-50 feet at Hopewell Rocks. The entrance fee to the park is actually good for two days, since many people like to come back to see both low and high tides, or kayak between the rocks during high tide.

We arrived mid-afternoon and descended the massive staircase to the ocean floor. It’s a bit of a strange feeling to know that the rocks and beach you’re strolling on will be completely underwater in a matter of minutes. The tides rise so fast there, they now have park staff monitoring different sections of the beach to make sure stragglers make it back to the stairs to return to the surface in time.

We arrived as the tide was coming in. I stood and watched two exposed rocks to see how long it would take for the water to engulf them. I probably only watched for about five minutes for the rocks to fully disappear—that was how fast the water rose.

I was fascinated by the shape of the rocks, their unique patterns and colouring and the barnacles that covered the rocks like blankets. They were rubbery and uniform and dry to the touch. Some say the flowerpot rocks will eventually crumble, but they’ve lasted for thousands of years so my guess is you still have plenty of time to see them if you plan to visit.

Girl in front of rocks
Barnacles on rock

Many visitors don’t take the time to explore the many viewing platforms from up above, but I highly recommend it. When we first arrived, we watched a young deer trying to manoeuvre its way through the vast dark brown sand to the more lush green vegetation on the banks. It struggled to move through the quicksand and seemed disoriented in the loamy soil left from the receding waters. It was still trying to escape to safety when we moved to the next viewing platform.

There we saw a mother peregrine falcon perched on a tree limb stretching out over the Bay’s waters. This was the first time I’ve ever seen a peregrine falcon in the wild. We were very close, so we got a great view of her.

View of sandy soil and a deer
It’s nearly impossible to see, but the tiny dot in the estuary of water between all the brown loamy ocean soil was a deer trying to find its way to safety
Mother and baby peregrine falcon

As we were admiring her stately helmet and stature, one of her babies came flying in beside her. They screeched an exchange for a few minutes, then both settled on the limb. One of the park staff later told me there were four babies. Babies often stay in the same area as their family after leaving the nest, flying with them while hunting. The staff member showed me a bunch of photos he had of the falcons on his phone—he said this is one of the first years they’ve had peregrine falcons at the park and the park staff were clearly very proud of their newest residents.

This week’s #HappyAct is to plan a trip to walk on the ocean floor, or visit an iconic park landmark in your area. Happy travels!

Rock at Hopewell Rocks
Rock at Hopewell Rocks
Muddy ocean floor

Advice from a sunflower

sunflower

For some reason, this spoke to me this week.

Be bright

Be kind

Be sunny and positive

Spread seeds of happiness

Rise, shine and hold your head high

Have a happy week and smile if you see a sunflower.

Spend time with a different type of screen

Dog in screened porch

I’ve always loved a screen porch. There’s just something special about feeling like you’re outdoors, in nature but without the bugs, and spending quality time talking, playing cards, reading or doing puzzles.

The other night after dinner, I wandered into the front room and asked Dave where the girls were. He said he thought Clare was in the screened porch doing school work.

I went to join her and found Grace sitting on the futon, gently strumming her guitar while Clare sat in the lounger under a fluffy duvet writing out an assignment. I joined them and we just sat there for about an hour, listening to the chords float into the air, the birds chirping outside and watching the cotton candy sky swirl above the leafy treetops as the sun went down.

It was a special moment in a special place and I was so grateful to be able to spend time with my girls, with no phones, computers or devices to take away from the peace, serenity and tranquility of our beautiful surroundings.

This week’s #HappyAct is to spend some time with a different type of screen. Here’s a picture of Bentley after a swim in our screened porch.

Explore a deserted beach

Driftwood on beach

At the end of April, we travelled to St. Simon’s Island, Georgia for our annual family vacation. We’ve become enamoured with the barrier islands in the Low Country and this beautiful island south of Savannah didn’t disappoint.

One of my favourite days was exploring Driftwood Beach on nearby Jekyll Island. Located on the northern end of the island, it’s unlike any other beach you’ve been to. It’s quite isolated and stretches for miles and is strewn with pieces of driftwood, each one unique, interesting and amazing.  

As I walked down the beach, I felt like Robinson Crusoe or a castaway member from Gilligan’s Island. There wasn’t a soul around, and it was very dystopian. I wandered through nature’s art gallery examining the different pieces of driftwood.

There were ancient trolls guarding the beach, dolphins leaping amongst the waves, sea turtles nesting on the beach, wolves howling into the wind and warriors lifting their swords high into the sky.

While my little lake at home is nothing like Driftwood Beach, I get a similar feeling of being an explorer when I paddle into our back lakes where there are no houses or cottages, just me and my kayak, the sun on the water and the herons, vultures and beavers keeping me company.

This week’s #HappyAct is to get lost on a deserted island or beach. Happy exploring.

Ancient trolls guarding the beach

Driftwood
Driftwood
Driftwood
Driftwood
Grace on the beach
Driftwood
Driftwood art sculptures
Two wolves howling at the moon and a dolphin jumping in the waves

Advice from a sea turtle

Girl walking on a beach

I’ve been dreaming of white sandy beaches and palm trees lately. It made me think of one of my favourite passages, “Advice from a sea turtle”:

Swim with the current
Be a good navigator
Stay calm under pressure
Be well travelled
Think long term
Age gracefully
Spend time at the beach

Have a happy week!

Slow down, you move too fast

Song lyrics

For many of us, life is about to get really busy again after two years of discovering a slower pace of life. When things become crazy and out of control, remember to slow down and make the morning last.

You never know what you will see when you slow down. The other day, I was running late and hitting land speed records on my back roads over to Sydenham. I came up behind a farmer’s tractor and had to slow down and follow him around the curves. While I crawled behind the tractor, I looked to the left and saw a beautiful herd of deer in the field grazing on the green tufts shooting up through the last remains of snow. If I hadn’t slowed down to follow that tractor, I would have never seen such a beautiful sight. 

So remember,

Slow down, you move too fast
You got to make the morning last…

I got no deeds to do
No promises to keep
I’m dappled and drowsy and ready to sleep
Let the morning time drop all its petals on me
Life, I love you
All is groovy

Still one of my favourite Simon and Garfunkle songs of all time. Here they are performing The 59th Bridge Street Song live.

See past your thoughts

Dog walking in the woods

Have you ever gone for a walk or a drive, and arrived not remembering anything you’ve seen along the way because you were so lost in your thoughts?

It happens to me more than I would like to admit.

I’m conscious of it now, so when it happens, I stop in mid-stride if I’m walking, scold my brain, and start looking at the world around me. I make a conscious effort to be in the moment, listen to the wind in the trees, the birds, see the snow glistening on the pines and just take it all in.

It’s easy to become prisoners of our thoughts. It’s hard work to see past them.