Thu. Dec 7th, 2023
Finding our place in nature

Today’s post comes from Heather Greenwood Davis, travel writer and new camper.

We forgot the kettle. For real campers, it wouldn’t be a big deal. Real campers would know how to start a fire; Real campers would have thought to bring a pot.

But I’m not a real camper and I’m a coffee lover, so this could have been a problem.

Fortunately, I know enough about my strengths and weaknesses to arrange this camping experience in one of the covered lodges at Bonnechere Provincial Park. The perfect step between tent camping and staying in a cabin, our log cabin offers the warmth and security of a roof and four walls, but just some of the modern conveniences we’re used to.

Outside the wooden cabin with sign.

While there is no kettle, there is a microwave, small fridge, beds and a table. There is also electricity, so if I had been a little better prepared, we could have packed and brought a kettle.

Plus, despite the tall trees, wooded forest, and dirt road that brought us here, the truth is that we are really only a 30-minute drive from a hardware store in Barry’s Bay.

It’s the kind of realization that makes you sit down, take a sip of your microwaved coffee and water, and get down to business to see what all the fuss about nature is about.

Healthy Parks Healthy People

Family selfie in front of the water.Heather Greenwood Davis and her family

While it is true that the covered accommodation was what convinced me, the possibility of escaping the city for a few days is what attracted me here. Especially after knowing the hHealthy Parks Healthy People program.

The program is part of an Ontario Parks initiative to bring more people closer to nature. They have some very compelling research to back them up. Among their findings:

  • People in regular contact with nature have a 30% lower risk of colon cancer and a 50% lower risk of heart attacks and diabetes.
  • A two-hour walk in the forest is enough to improve sleep quality and reduce sleep problems.
  • School-aged children should get at least 60 minutes of exercise a day.

There are others, but it was these three that prompted me to take my parents and my 13-year-old son Cameron on the trip.

I am part of the “sandwich” generation, that time of life in which both parents are elderly and children are teenagers. And for the first time I discovered that my worries now go in both directions. I want to protect both my past and my future, and if a trip to the woods helps me with that, I’m willing to give up some comforts to make that happen.

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Luckily, he didn’t need convincing.

None of them were worried about how comfortable our cabin would be; The three of them were here to live an adventure. Every day, they found him together: first wading, then jumping in and out of the waters of Round Lake, then making birdies with their rackets on the beach. They worked together to make scrambled eggs in the morning and flip burgers at night. They fought over Scrabble words and hit dominoes on picnic tables, taunting each other with victories.

Dominoes and polaroids

We have time for each other here and as I watch them create memories, I realize that camping doesn’t have to be limited to an external interpretation.

They experienced true joy in the found time that letting go of our attachments (yes, even the teapot) can bring.

My parents don’t fight for my son’s attention, nor does he fight for theirs. There’s nothing here but time for each other. And that’s enough.

Find my own space

Photo of woman in front of the lake.

It wasn’t until one of our last mornings, as I sat on the porch drinking coffee and listening to the wind whistle through the trees, that I recognized that the trip had been good for me, too.

To say I’m busy is to echo the mantra of everyone I know: We’re all busy. All the time.

For me, that manifests itself in long days at my desk and the closest thing to fresh air is walking to the mailbox. Walks in the woods are not part of my daily life and I’m afraid that among us city dwellers, I’m not alone.

On any given day, the only tree I see is the one the government planted in my front yard. But after just a few days in the park, I could feel my energies changing.

One morning, I find myself mentally listing the reasons for this:

Tree lined path with light shining through the trees.

I like quiet and this is the quietest place I have been in a long time. The loudest sounds in the morning are the songs of birds and the rustling of chipmunks that approach each day.

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I like the brief encounters with the camp’s neighbors and the very Canadian good mornings we exchange where eyes don’t meet because we both know that’s not how you’d like to be remembered.

I like the feel of the sun on my temple while I cool my feet in Round Lake.

I like the excitement in my son’s voice as we look for stars at night.

I like how the days feel infinitely long. I like that my parents’ enthusiasm matches my son’s enthusiasm.

And I like that the blue carpet spread out on the sand is a reminder that even those with limited mobility can experience this too.

Blue beach mat on sand

It’s true: this is not a traditional campsite.

At the end of the day I can return to our cabin, fire up a grill, and enjoy some comforts. But this place is proof that there is a camping option for everyone.

As we pack to leave, I briefly regret that we could have done more.

Right outside our door is a canoe with paddles and life jackets, but we ran out of time before we could enjoy it. The trails within the park are well marked and there are many others on Turner’s Road. on the way to Algonquin Provincial Park which could have taken us even further. We were too busy exploring the exhibits at the site’s interpretive center and playing the saddest, slowest game of volleyball ever to take it all in.

The boy sits at the table in the cabin laughingIf we had wanted to do even more, we could have headed to the Bonnechere Caves for a bit of exploring or explored the Polish Museum in nearby Wilno.

But we didn’t want more.

We wanted what we had: quiet time together. Some dominoes and cards and a mix of tasty snacks. We wanted quick dips and slow walks…and each other.

We may not know how to deal with it, but Bonnechere Provincial Park also allows us to be campers.

Ready to try your own adventure?

Dock in a calm river

Here are two things to keep in mind:

  • During the month of August, Ontario Parks challenges you to the 30×30 Challenge. Commit to spending 30 minutes outdoors for 30 days. Share your trip online using the hashtag #30x30Challenge
  • Cabins and campsites can sell out quickly (and early) in Ontario, but there are still opportunities for last-minute reservations. Return to the reservation site for campsite availability throughout the province.

Heather Greenwood Davis was invited to stay at Bonnechere Provincial Park by Ontario Parks. All opinions are yours.