Recharged. Thanks Algonquin.

For me it was camping. The location? Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada. The park is so vast, there are multiple campgrounds and hiking trails within its borders as well as logging areas, a Logging museum, an Arts museum, outfitting stores and vacation resorts. . It’s home to Bears, Loons, Moose, Beavers, Wolves, birds and its lakes and rivers home to fish, turtles, aquatic life.

I had some time up there last week and today is back to work day. For me, it’s not an escape or a get-away destination as are some places but rather the opposite. It’s a return and a get-to destination. When I’m there, my perception of time slows a little, I breathe a little deeper, I feel the soft pine forest beneath my feet, walk soundlessly in those forests, and feel grounded; connected.

One particular trail of only 1.9 km in length takes the traveller through a forest of birch, maple and pine culminating with a view over a cliff face. From there, you can look across miles of the pine forest canopy; see Lake of Two Rivers, the undulation of the landscape before you, shaped and molded from the passing of vast sheets of ice in what was the ice age. The view is blue skies above and shades of greens below. In a month, much of that green will be ablaze in red, orange, yellow and rust; the colours of Autumn.

It was just as I was departing this view when I turned to my wife behind me and saw that she was taking my picture. I reached out my right hand and placing my outstretched arm against a tree upon the crest of this cliff, I said, “This is a pose my dad would have taken.” Wow, I hadn’t done that intentionally, but I recognized in that pose the image of my father. My father who had with my mother, exposed me to Algonquin and camping all through my childhood. And so, again, instead of getting away for a week as co-workers will see it, I was in fact returning not just to a park, but to a memory of my own past.

Do you have a special place of your own that brings you peace, sanctuary, relaxation; somewhere where you connect with a part of yourself that you just can’t find anywhere else? It’s spiritual in a way, because my spirit is always affected when I’m there. It does me good, and I’m good for another year. When I don’t make it up there, something is missing and I feel it until I’m back. Four nights there and I’m changed, again, reminded of what’s important – to me at any rate.

And it doesn’t stop when the sun dips below the skyline. There’s the campfire. How many people have spent time seated before a fire, drawn into those orange flames that curl around logs, the glowing red and blue embers that radiate intense heat and the sounds of crackle and sparks. Looking up at the plume of smoke that disappears in the darkening pine canopy, the stars above in a cloudless night are captivating; and they’d have to be to steal your view from the campfire.

Gaze long enough and you’ll see the moon ascend, moving on it’s trajectory across the night sky, but in the forest it appears to hide and reveal itself continuously behind the trunks of the tall pine giants.  There are no street lights, just the campfires from others. Noise travels more at night and at this time of year, there are few occupied sites; those with children are back at their homes, their children in schools. Every so often a lone cry is heard from a Loon. It’s magic in the woods.

At this time of the night, there are no electronics on; no wireless internet, no television, radio or even reading of a book. Every so often a laugh from another group of campers is heard; one by one the fires are extinguished, campers move to their tents or travel trailers. It’s cool at night; not cold mind you – that will come in the weeks ahead. No, it’s perfect for a sound sleep with the air cool, the sleeping bags warm and waiting. It’s like a long lasting hug, cocooned inside where you body heat is all you need to spend a warm night. And dark? It’s void of light here; an exhale of content, and drifting away…

Sitting back here at home now, I’m ready for the day ahead. In ten minutes, the routine of a shower, dressing, breakfast, a packed lunch and the commute to work will bring me back to work. It’s okay and it’s good.

I hope that you who read this also have had or will have a vacation that gives you what it is you seek. Be it a strengthening of your spirit, a memory you make with your family or a solo adventure of travel and sightseeing, getting what you want and need is my hope. If you stay at home, may you be in your happy place, for it’s not always a big trip with lot’s of stories that we need.

If you’ve the interest, share your favourite vacation spot in the comments. How is it spent? Is it a road trip? Whether campsite, resort, backyard retreat or tourist attractions, it’s all good.

Mentally recharged and sincerely grateful.

Summer Vacations

Remember if you can back to your elementary school days for a moment and the end of the school year just as summer arrived. It seemed like the summer vacation would last a very long time and if your parents were like mine, there were weekend camping trips, maybe even one major driving trip. Then there were the days of just hanging out at home, playing with the kids in your area, and the days were long and happy.

Fast forward now to your present experience working for an organization where there’s been a shift in your schedule; you might get 2 weeks off work a year when you first start working, or maybe you’ve been there long enough to up that total to 4 or 5 weeks if you’ve been with a company long enough. Unless you are a politician or a teacher, you’ve no longer got the entire summer off to do your thing.

I don’t know if it’s because the number of weeks we have off as adults is so much reduced from the 8 or 9 weeks we had off as kids, but there seems to be this need to, ‘do something’ with those precious holidays. It can go like this at the office just before you take off:

“So what are you doing on your holidays?”
“Going anywhere?”
“Maybe a little camping”
“No like are you DOING anything?”

Does this kind of conversation imply that the person asking doesn’t really validate the experience of camping as some kind of legitimate and good use of vacation time? Well maybe. I think though it’s important to realize that because we are all different people who experience joy in our lives differently, it is only natural that we also find pleasure and fulfillment in different ways when it comes to unstructured time apart from our working lives. No matter our choices, each is equally a valid use of our time that brings pleasure and meaning to us in how we choose to use it.

In my own case, a two-week vacation starts this weekend. The plans my wife and I have are to turn our vehicle north, and pull our tent trailer behind us. Where are we going? North. Neither of us knows exactly where we will end up. On this trip, no reservations have been made, no advance sites have been ear-marked as must-sees, and no timetable established other than being back in time to return to work on July 8. We will drive when we want, perhaps to a new location every single day. We might stay a day or two in one place, take that interesting looking road to the left for a bit, hike a trail or two, camp by a river, take in a drive-in, make some local purchases in some nearby country store, or end up having a picnic by a waterfall. Who knows?

We might check in with the neighbours looking after our plants and grass cutting here and there, but we won’t stress about it much. If we do, we do. If the weather is sunny and warm, we’ll swim and enjoy the heat. If it’s cooler than we suspect, we’ll have fires at night and throw on a hoodie. If it rains, we’ll head on in to a small town and window shop and pick up some butter tarts and check out some pottery or museum. At a campground, you can just lie and listen to the rain on the roof, have an afternoon nap if it pleases you, read a book or two, play some table games, and strum the guitar.

Another thing that will change is a break from technology. The GPS in the car will be handy, but I suspect we won’t be checking work emails, electronic bills can wait until we return, and I’ll catch up on sports scores with local radio stations that will come in and out of reception.

No what we’re looking forward to is feeding chipmunks peanuts in a shell, perhaps right out of our hands and because I’m the braver of us, right out of my mouth. Hang a peanut between your lips, lie down flat on the ground and get that little guy to take it right out of your mouth – and get it recorded on camera or video. I’m always on the look-out for moose, deer, bears, herons, beavers, eagles, turtles and just about anything out of the ordinary.

But here’s the thing. I not running away from work because I love what I do and so does my wife. What we are doing is looking forward to our vacation. It’s a balance between working and personal time. A chance to get immersed in something relaxing, fun, different from the norm, and for me personally, a chance to rekindle my inner spirit. It’s like filling up my reservoir and finding some connection to whatever pulls me back to rocks, rivers and water.

The years I’ve not got to camp always seem somewhat to me as if something is missing. Fortunately we get away almost every year for a time. Whatever you personally do with your vacation, I wish you well and hope it brings you joy and happiness.