Day Trip to Rouge Park

Having been so busy with work, school and camp these last few weeks, we haven't had much time to go for long family walks like we usually do. Last Sunday being the one day in a long while since we had nothing pressing on the agenda, we decided to head to Rouge Park for some hiking. Rouge Park is considered one of Toronto's best-kept secrets; located just twenty minutes (on a good day) from the downtown core, this green space provides kids and grown-ups with plenty of opportunities to enjoy myriad outdoor activities in its more than 40 square kilometres. This area was recently declared a national urban park, the first of its kind in Canada. This means that it will receive funding from the federal government, thus helping to ensure the longevity and sustainability of a much-needed bastion against urban sprawl.

We're the most familiar with the Glen Rouge Trailhead entrance, which is also the site of the Glen Rouge Campground, located at 7450 Kingston Road in the GTA's extreme east end, near the Scarborough-Pickering border. You can find some trail maps here. The park also offers guided nature hikes, which is great if you're a new visitor, and unsure of where to explore first.

Once we were parked, my daughter was raring to go despite the sweltering heat (oh, to be three again). We managed to slow her down long enough to slather on the requisite sunscreen and insect repellent. It was during this process that we noticed a "cute" caterpillar, looking pathetically lost (and hot) on top of a metal recycling receptacle. Being a veteran animal rescuer (too many Dora and Diego DVDs; if you're a parent, you'll know what I mean), my daughter immediately wanted to help it find its way back home to a nice tree.

We didn't realize until later that this was the caterpillar of the white-marked tussock moth, and that the hairs/bristles could cause an allergic reaction in some people. My husband and daughter didn't experience any adverse effects from handling it but I don't think we'll be taking any more chances on "rescuing" wildlife that we don't recognize!

This portion of Rouge Park seems particularly popular with pole trekkers so you'll see large groups of them moving at a brisk pace with their hiking poles, awash in gregarious camaraderie. They are very friendly and never fail to shower you with cheerful "Hellos" and "Good mornings" as you pass; their joy is slightly surreal but highly infectious, and leaves us with smiles on our faces.

The terrain gets quite hilly in a couple of places but most of the time, the slopes are gentle enough for a three year-old and a forty-something with creaky knees to handle. Here and there, you can see the results of erosion - trees with twisted and gnarled roots perch precariously atop ground that has washed away.

Once you've climbed past the hilly parts, the forest does offer up long stretches of even, meandering paths where three year-olds can run, hop, jump and skip to their heart's content while her parents enjoy relatively uninterrupted moments of civilized conversation. The day we were there, sudden but brief summer cloudbursts had amplified the smell of rotting vegetation, and the aroma of wild mushrooms punctuate the air with pithy pungency. There are lots of fallen logs for my daughter to clamber over, to use as balance beams, and irresistibly, as pirate gangplanks (there are also stumps of varying heights that make for great lookout points). We always stay on the path; I've had one run-in with poison ivy when I got a little carried away with trying to take a picture of a chipmunk and have no intention of repeating that painful episode!

After an hour or so on the trail, we decide to turn around. Although it has been fairly cool under the trees, the humidity is getting to us, and we're ready for refreshments. About a fifteen minute drive away from the Glen Rouge Campground is MacMillan Orchards, located at 733 Kingston Road East in the neighboring municipality of Ajax, Ontario (not to be confused with another MacMillan Orchards in Acton, Ontario). We're in the mood for some frozen yogurt, which MacMillan makes in-house. They are quite generous with the frozen fruit that you can add to your icy treat and the result is a rich, creamy, not-too-sweet thirst-quencher that is supremely satisfying!

MacMillan also sells a variety of frozen pies, vegetables and meat. We pick up a sugar-free cherry pie for my husband while my daughter selects a rhubarb and Saskatoon berry pie, and some baby-sized red velvet cupcakes (I let her get away with it since she did have quite the workout). We leave the country store happy and satisfied with the morning outing, knowing we still have goodies to look forward to that night as well as a couple of days to come! Don't you just love long, drawn-out happiness? :)

(This post originally published July 2012.)

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To Sail Away (or An Imaginary Foray in Pursuit of Happiness)

"Heroes take journeys, confront dragons, and discover the treasure of their true selves."
- Carol Lynn Pearson

"Happiness is like those palaces in fairy tales whose gates are guarded by dragons: we must fight in order to conquer it."
- Alexandre Dumas

The first image was taken at Ward's Island Beach in the summer of 2011. The Toronto Islands beaches are among the cleanest in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) despite their proximity to the downtown core. We took a tent with us that day, a good thing since we experienced one of the biggest thunderstorms of the season that afternoon! Despite strong wind gusts and lashing rain, our tent held firm and we stayed dry and cozy for the hour or so that the weather raged over us. My daughter was pretty unfazed during the whole episode, and thought it was a pretty cool to have snacks and work on jigsaw puzzles with rain drumming on the roof of the tent. The dog, however, was not that impressed! :) I took the shot of the lake about half an hour after the storm had passed and the cruise ship was making its rounds again. I waded out to the water until I was about thigh-deep to try and get a nearer shot of the boat (I only had my 35mm camera lens with me that day) but that was about the best close-up shot I could get.

The second picture was post-processed in Photoshop CS4, using textures from Shadowhouse, Flypaper, and Florabella. I "stamped" the dragon onto the composition using a Photoshop brush I had made of a vintage illustration in a 1906 book entitled "Fictitious and Symbolic Creatures in Art". If you would like to download the brush for personal use only, you can click on this link.

(This post was originally published on July 31, 2011.)

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Giselle or A Swan at the Toronto Zoo (originally posted April 2011)

"Giselle" after post-processing with textures

"Giselle" straight out of camera (SOOC)

Swans have a long history in many world cultures, usually known to represent beauty, purity, perfection and grace. In Greek mythology, the swan is associated with Aphrodite and is a symbol of chastity. The Celts believed swans were benevolent deities and would forge their images into silver medallions that could be worn around the neck for protection. Swans are also revered in Hinduism, and compared to saintly persons who have attained great spiritual capabilities.

These elegant birds can pair for years, and are often a symbol of love or fidelity because of their long-lasting, apparently monogamous relationships. I took a picture of this swan at our last family outing to the Toronto Zoo on Saturday, April 9. It seemed quite lonely and sad, and reminded me of the heroine in the ballet Giselle (who wasn't a swan but rather a peasant girl who had met an untimely death). It's fairly uncommon to see a lone swan here in Ontario - we've mostly seen them in twos, threes or a whole flock and we were hoping to perhaps glimpse its companion but none appeared in the half hour or so that we were meandering around the stream. As we headed towards the parking lot, I saw it drift into a clump of bushes with plaintive cries. It was quite heartbreaking! I like to imagine it finding a mate, and living happily ever after. Foolishly sentimental, perhaps but as Voltaire said, "Love is a canvas furnished by Nature and embroidered by imagination."

The SOOC (straight-out-of-camera) shot was post-processed in Photoshop CS4 with the following recipe:
(1) Assign Profile to Adobe RGB 1998
(2) Florabella Textures III --> Seaside (Flip vertical, Multiply @ 50%).
(3) Flypaper Textures, Spring Painterly pack --> Ovid Banished (Flip horizontal, Lighten @ 75%)
(4) Flypaper Textures, Spring Painterly pack --> Ovid Banished (Multiply @ 25%)
(5) Flypaper Textures, Spring Painterly pack --> Apple Moss (Multiply @ 75%)
(6) Photoshop -> Levels and Curves adjustment
(7) Added back Apple Moss @ Multiply 30% at this point because the image looked a bit too light and faded, and just re-boosted the colors/contrast with some tweaking in Levels

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