Gampo Lhatse, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
It rained all day as I drove around the Cabot Trail, and didn’t let up when I hiked up Gampo Lhatse. It’s a steep climb, so I was warm in spite of being soaked through. The view of shore hills rolling up the coast, wild and treed, and the ocean below. The smell of wet pine and earth. The trail narrow and rooted, and the enormous friendly boulder about halfway up that I pat as I go by. The sudden darkness of singed forest with a cave-like shrine to Kuan Yin. Tattered prayer flags tangled in the branches. Ashes and rain.
Gampo Lhatse is a symmetrical, wooded hill at Gampo Abbey, a Buddhist monastery in Cape Breton. Gampo Lhatse is a Tibetan mountain spirit, and the protector of Gampo Abbey. Gampo Lhatse is where the ashes are buried or scattered, including those of Ani Migme who taught me during my days as a monastic at the Abbey. I have a history with this place too.
Can it be that residue of experiences resides in the place where they happened, that memories remain in the soil and are revived when you set foot on it again? It seems that way sometimes, and what a bundle of memories were waiting for me here. Climbing Gampo Lhatse with Norbuu after the consecration of the stupa, the hum of monks chanting resonating in our bones. Walking back from the village one night after a baseball game with Rachel, Spencer, and Clarity, the four of us walking hand in hand in hand, spread out across the road and full of love. The long walk through the snowy forest on snowshoes with Karma Ghyatso, making it back just before dark with snow-covered robes. So many walks that were taken just to have a private conversation, because living in community and largely in silence meant that the only place to talk was outside and on foot. The moose and fox that we’d see on those walks, and all the rainbows. Walking in starlight so bright it flung our shadows across the ground.
Location: Near Pleasant Bay, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Length: 2 km
Date: 3 October, 2018
With only one day in Montreal, I set out early from my hostel, heading east on Ste. Catherine Street. It was Sunday, and the street was uncharacteristically empty. I was on the tourist trail today, and headed down to Old Montreal, across its 400 year old cobblestone streets by the St. Lawrence River. Barely pausing for coffee, I looped back up on St. Laurent, thinking I might walk it from end to end. I followed it like a story, this historic boulevard at the heart of the city. But once I passed the Rosemont Viaduct, already footsore, I turned back and circled around through the lively Mile End neighbourhood, down to Parc Mont-Royal where the drummers were, across the park to McGill, and west along Sherbrooke. The sun was already low when I abruptly decided to continue up Cotes-des-Neiges to St. Joseph’s Oratory (one of those interesting sites of miraculous healings), adding a good two hours to my walk.
Montreal is the city where I learned to long-distance wander. When I lived here years ago I was a student and had no money to do anything, so I spent my time walking the streets and neighbourhoods for days on end, exploring, observing, thinking. I learned to love how the city feels, its character, people, architecture, the way I saw art everywhere, as I also learned to love this method of being in the world, on foot and at a human pace. I used to buy the cheapest thin-soled canvas sneakers on St. Laurent, and could feel every stone under my foot. These days I’m grateful to have good shoes, ridiculous-looking, but comfortable for many miles.
Location: Montreal, Quebec
Length: 24 km
Date: 30 September, 2018
Burlington to Hamilton, Ontario
Hot and sweaty, but I wonder why I’ve never done this walk before. It’s a nice one, around the western tip of Lake Ontario, the end of Burlington Bay. The best thing about walking is that you can take routes that you can’t drive, like through cemeteries - there are several on the way - or down to Carroll's Bay and across the rattling old one-lane bridge which has been blocked off to cars for years now. It’s peaceful down there, quiet in the summer heat. People are fishing, paddleboarding, birdwatching, enjoying the last days of summer. It's very green, and swans and goldenrod are everywhere.
There’s a waterfront trail once you cross highway 403 and the bridge into Hamilton, smelly but nice for its waterbirds, historical signage, and lack of traffic. I took the trail all the way downtown, coming up onto James St. N., which was closed to traffic for September’s Art Supercrawl. Live bands, food trucks, art, so much street life. I stopped for an iced latte with my cousins. Walking back along the streets, past Dundurn Castle, back across the bridge at the mouth of Cootes Paradise, then down into the Royal Botanical Garden’s shady valleys, along trails and wetland boardwalks, and finally back home to Aldershot.
Location: Aldershot, Burlington to downtown Hamilton, and back
Length: 18 km
Date: 16 September, 2018
Arriving by train, weaving through Union Station, out to Front street and the grand old Royal York hotel. Construction, always. I have my usual routes: Dundas, Spadina, Kensington, Bloor, Queen West. Art stores, galleries, Chinatown, Koreatown, Little Italy, narrow little stores, coffee shops, favourite parks and restaurants. The underground bathrooms. It’s invigorating, walking around the city, the energy of it, the relentless noise, smell, buildings, traffic, people.
It was a hot day, and humid enough for a walk to arouse a drench of sweat. Air conditioned stops, anywhere cool for a break. At a coffee shop on a street corner in Kensington Market, I sat in the window with an iced latte and watched other people walking. Endless walkers in this city, all kinds of walkers – striding, mincing, sauntering, shuffling, stomping, stamping; some heave themselves along the sidewalk; others almost dance, efficient and beautiful; some in an addled stagger, about to lose their footing all the way along. There was a young woman in Chinatown who walked quickly along continually spinning a parasol over her head.
The front and back faces of the streets are so different. The alley a gallery of garbage and graffiti art, back doors to restaurant kitchens and high bedroom windows. I always like walking the alleyways in any town that still has them. I always like walking in cities where people still walk.
Location: Downtown Toronto, Ontario
Length: 10 km
Date: 5 September, 2018
Labyrinth Walk, Stittsville, Ontario
There are so many ways of walking and so many reasons to walk. We walked the Peace Park labyrinth morning and evening today. Often when I say sitting, I mean sitting meditation, and sometimes walking is walking meditation. A labyrinth is designed for walking meditation, although it certainly isn't the only place to do it, but it is a nice reminder of other ways to walk, other ways to be in a place, to practice being present. Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh is a well-known proponent of walking meditation: "Walking brings the mind and body together. Only when mind and body are united are we truly in the here and the now. When we walk, we come home to ourselves." (from How to Walk by Thich Nhat Hanh, 2015).
Location: Rotary Peace Park, Stittsville, Ontario
Length: 1 km
Companion: Ani Samten
Date: 28 August, 2018
"When you walk, arrive with every step. That is walking meditation. There's nothing else to it." Thich Nhat Hanh
Woods walk, Carling Township, Ontario
It was a windy day, it was a nervous day. Windy days are good for walking in the woods, because there are fewer bugs. The last time I remember walking this trail to the end was with my sister, my Dad, and a 22. On a ridge in the woods we set up tin cans for target practice. It must have been fall, and it was decades ago now.
The walk from the cottage to the trailhead is along Sand Bay Road, which I’ve walked, run, and driven many times over the past 30 years. The trail itself is wide. It passes an abandoned-looking, orange hunting camp not far in, and is clearly used by 4-wheelers, hunters, trappers, and snowmobilers. Two mountain bikes had ridden in and out again sometime after last night’s rain, but there was no other sign of recent human activity. I was on the lookout for whitetail deer, black bears, moose (I would love to see a moose here!), beaver, and Massasauga rattlesnakes, but only saw some small birds and puddle frogs.
The trail winds through woods and wetlands, and is the best kind of walking – shady, and soft underfoot. A thick layer of pine needles, dead leaves, and moss cover the forest floor. Large puddles and some rocky outcroppings for variety. There is a particular smell to the Georgian Bay forest, mostly pine, birch, oak, maple, lots of ferns and moss, cattails, the rocks and the ground itself all smell like here. The shooshing of wind in the tree tops was continuous. A few maple leaves already red on the ground.
Sometimes the reward at the end of a walk is an excellent coffee shop, but in this case, it was a small hidden lake - the otherwise inaccessible Lockett Lake. There was a weathered red canoe chained to a tree that someone had left by the shore. The water was dark and inviting, and I found an oak tree by the shore to sit under for a while. It was evening and I walking quickly back out to the road, unprepared to be in the woods in the dark. It started to rain just as I got back.
Location: Silver Birch Road to Lockett Lake, and back, Carling Township, Ontario
Date: 22 August, 2018
Georgian Bay Shore Walk, Ontario
The trail is hard to find from the road. We spot a fallen-down sign in the bush, and sure enough it says TRAIL so we head that way, across the rocks, and onto a forest path. It emerges on the rocky shore just to the north, and from there we follow the shoreline along until we get to the lagoon – I don’t know if it has a name, but it’s a quiet, hidden little bay with a small inlet that would be hard to find from the larger Georgian Bay. It’s a good place to skinny dip, although we don’t. From there the walk turns into a meander, everyone following their own nose to explore the rocks and the shoreline, looking for frogs and snakes and turtles; admiring the crooked pines, the lichen, the blue of water and sky, the views; enjoying the sun and the breeze; hopping or wading across to tiny islands that used to be mainland. The water is higher than it’s ever been in my memory. Meandering turns into sitting and then into lying on the rocks, relaxing. Water, snacks, and eventually the return walk. The trail is hard to find from the shore too, and we bushwhack a bit before we get back to it, and find our way back to Turtle Lane, back to the cottage, to the others, to supper.
Location: Turtle Lane to the bay behind Edge Island, Georgian Bay, Ontario
Companions: Anna, Isabel, Gaile, Andrew
Date: 28 July, 2018
Lake Ontario, Toronto, Ontario
Feeling happy, inspired, satiated, I set out through campus and found the trail through the woods that leads to Lake Ontario. You can smell the lake from campus, although you can’t see it. I always like a trail to a lake. This one passes through a wooded area, a field of wildflowers and birdhouses, then branches to go up or down the lakeshore. I went down, along boardwalks by a marina, back onto a path, and found a beach where several people were kiteboarding, like punctuation marks flying through the sky.
You never have the trail to yourself in Toronto, there are all kinds of people, all kinds of languages, a world of people out enjoying a summer day by the lake. It’s invigorating to be among them. Looking out I had a view of endless water, such a wonderful sense of space in a big, crowded city. Walking back, I had a view of downtown in the distance. What a wonderful week this has been.
Location: Humber College Lakeshore Campus to Lake Ontario, Toronto, Ontario, and back
Date: 13 July, 2018
Writing-on-Stone / Áísínai'pi Provincial Park, Alberta
It was a lively, lovely, windy day at Writing-on-Stone. We set out on the trail through the hoodoos, sometimes walking, sometimes climbing, sometimes sliding down rocks on our behinds. The sandstone rock formations are stunning, and so much fun to walk among. At the end of the trail there’s a cliff covered in petroglyphs that depict battle scenes, thought to be Blackfoot from the 19th century. From there we walked right down to the shore of the Milk River and sat for a while, watching a group of canoes and kayaks come down the river, watching the river flow continually to the east, the wind relentless but cheerful. Walking back, it’s impossible to find the same pathways through the hoodoos, not that you would want to as getting lost is part of the fun of walking among these rock giants.
Location: Hoodoo trail, Writing-on-stone Provincial Park
Length: 4 km
Companions: Annie, Troy
Date: 4 June, 2018
Redcliff to Medicine Hat, Alberta
Starting anywhere in Redcliff, it's only a few blocks to the edge of town: past the old IXL brick plant, along a sidewalk that dead-ends at a fence and a swath of prairie. I cut across the prairie, cutting a diagonal toward Highway 1, the Trans-Canada Highway. Grass, cactus, grass, sage, grass. The parallel lines of highway, service road, train tracks, power lines, fence – I would have to cross all of these. I got to the service road, Sammis Drive, and walked along the narrow shoulder. The road drops steeply into a tangled ditch, and the traffic at 80km/h seemed too close. Sometimes I moved farther off the road, but the slope was tricky.
I realized that of all the hikes I could do, this kind of walking is actually the most life-threatening. Eventually I had to walk under an overpass where the Trans-Canada crosses Sammis Drive. Here, the road narrowed, there was no shoulder, and the guardrail gave directly onto a steep and slippery bank down. I deliberated this as I approached, trying to decide if it was safer to make a dash for it when there was a break in traffic, or walk on the embankment. There was no way to tell when traffic would be coming around the bend ahead, so I climbed down the embankment and walked on the trash-covered angle until I reached the other side.
It is so obvious in places like this that our world is not designed for walking. In fact, it seems to be designed to discourage walking, making it unpleasant or dangerous, and on some routes, impossible. As I continued along the shoulder of the road, tensing with each passing vehicle, I noticed several red- and yellow-winged blackbirds along this stretch. Finally I turned onto a quieter road, which led down the hill into the calm Riverside neighbourhood on a paved foot and bike path.
From there on in it was a pleasant walk, through the neighbourhood, along the South Saskatchewan River, and across the river on the Finlay Bridge. City hall on my right, a wedding party taking photographs on my left, I stepped off the bridge into downtown Medicine Hat. Hoping for a coffee, I turned left on 2nd St., but was disappointed that Station had already closed for the day. Past the old Monarch movie theatre, the Greyhound station, the last few blocks to the Esplanade Museum & Art Gallery, and the end of my walk.
Location: Redcliff to Medicine Hat, Alberta
Length: 11 km
Date: 2 June, 2018