An Autumn Day at Hilton Falls

Trip Start Oct 18, 2008
Trip End Oct 18, 2008

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Flag of Canada  , Ontario,
Sunday, October 19, 2008

If you're reading this, you've probably been to my TravelPod before, and you've therefore been trained to expect that I'm somewhere far-flung and exotic, with unknown languages, exciting new cultures, or, at the very least, a whole different way of ordering coffee.

I might surprise you this once. I'm much closer to home than usual, seeing that I drove a mere 75km from Toronto today to find an escape in nature in Halton Hills.

This local Conservation Area is home to Hilton Falls, a pretty waterfall nestled in the middle of a cedar and maple forest, easily accessible by well-travelled and well marked hiking trails. We're talking pretty light hiking here, for families pushing babies in strollers, and folks who think that Crocs are hiking footwear. But despite traffic slightly heavier than I usually prefer, this area is absolutely charming. At this time of year, the maples are shedding their yellow and red leaves, while the cedars and pines are standing guard, keeping their green needle coats for the winter.

Equipped with my camera, iPod, and Blackberry - not to mention my Asus Eee PC - which made me more of a techno-geek than a hiker, I still dressed for hiking (hiking pants, light hiking shoes, fleece top, and hiking pole), if only because, well, I'm a gear-head, and... what else would I wear? I took the path slightly less travelled, the part of the Bruce Trail which goes through the Conservation Area, and right along the top of the escarpment overlooking the Hilton Falls Reservoir.

I was alone for that part of the trail (mercifully), and was rewarded with peace, quietude, and beautiful fall views of red, orange, yellow foliage across the reservoir reflecting in its deep clear water. Crooked cedar trees, moss-covered stones, and fallen leaves make up this incredibly beautiful part of the Bruce, before joining back with the regular paths of the Conservation Area.

Finding just the right moss-covered rock, I sat and ate my lunch, listening to old classic jazz - the kind of music that no one I know listens to, except the very knowledgeable DJ's who work at Jazz 91.1. Some early Ella, deep mellow Billie Holiday, light-hearted Art Tatum on the piano, the eight-minute version of "Take the 'A' Train", and "Swing, Swing, Swing", which made me just want to skip and dance my way down the path.

I've never read Thoreau and have only a slim idea of what he wrote about in "Walden". But if it has anything to do with finding oneself in nature, well, I dig Thoreau. Every step reminds me of the many many steps I took in much more dramatic and difficult terrain last year in Peru and Bolivia, and yet, walking off pavement, off sidewalks, on rocks, dirt, leaves, unevenly, protecting ankles and planning the next step unconsciously, just feels great. The air is crisp and very cool - Canada in the fall, sunny, cold, with dramatic colours and beauty all around. Just a mere half hour from the largest city in the country.

Hiking away from the Reservoir on the main path, I took another turn back onto the Bruce Trail. It's more interesting - more natural, less "path" and more "trail", and while clearly marked with blue chevrons every few trees, I love the occasional feeling of, "hum... where's that next chevron...? And where was the last one I saw?". Pretty much impossible to get lost or even disoriented here - plus, a loud shout would likely draw a dozen replies - but fun to imagine that I'm in the real "wilderness". It's been too long.

A few twists of the trail later, I came along the creek that leads, further downstream, to the beaver dams and marsh area. I've hiked that trail before, and while it has its own charm, I find the absolute flatness of the terrain depresses me (no pun intended) - remember, I'm Mountain Girl, the higher the better. Anything flat like that is missing something, as far as I'm concerned. (I love Toronto, but it's way too flat...)

Following the creek upstream, I heard the noise of the falls for the first time, mixed with the warm sounds of jazz from my iPod. I started seeing a lot more people, children held firmly by the hand by cautious parents, dogs on short leashes. I reached the other side of the falls. It was majestic, and impressive, despite its relatively short stature. The water flowed fresh and clean, bubbling along the top and spilling over the rocky escarpment dramatically, dropping into a mini-whirlpool at the bottom. It never stops, never ends. It can be very light in the dry days of summer, but no risk of that this year. I crossed the creek a few meters upstream from the falls, carefully stepping on wet stones, holding on to my camera with one hand, and making cautious pole placements with the other. Slow and steady, no need to even risk slipping. On the other side - picnic tables and a campfire where a family was roasting hot dogs and marshmallows. The smell of wood burning mingling in the crisp air, the smoke quickly dissipating in the breeze. The sun was still high in the sky, but its warmth barely filtered through to the forest floor.

I sat at a picnic table and pulled the Eee out of my bag. Someone had left birdseed on one end of the picnic table in four little piles, and a chickadee flew in for a quick snack then disappeared in the cedar tree in front of me. I kept writing and all of sudden felt a "whoosh!" near my left ear, and saw the same little chickadee land in the bird seed again. I think he was trying to tell me to stay away from his meal, and dive-bombed me. Cute. At least, he didn't leave any presents behind.

People walked by with their dogs, well-behaved labs, yappy poodles, and in-control German shepherds. Everyone - adults, children, dogs - happy, relaxed.

Walden; or, Life in the Woods. Thoreau had it right...

Post-script: Following my lovely escapade into nature, I then spent nearly three hours in bumper-to-bumper traffic trying to get back to Toronto. Irony, friends, irony...
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