Going to Blazes

March 23, 2008

cedar trailThe Bruce Trail runs along the Niagara Escarpment in Ontario from Queenston to Tobermory. Back in 1967 when it was officially opened, before Canada went metric, it was about 500 miles long; now it’s 845 kilometres (plus half again as much in side trails). We like hiking bits of it on sunny days.

At Inglis Falls on Friday, doggles and I walked a few yards of Bruce on our way around a loop trail. Yesterday at the Pottawatomi Conservation Area, we strolled or struggled along another 2.2 km — about a mile and-a-third — to the town line before retracing our steps.

Up we went along the edge of the cliff, from Jones Falls through cedar scrub into the birch woods at the top. The line of hard-packed snow was mostly level or gently sloped, but occasionally we had to clamber up a steeper spot. Two or three times I dropped the leash so that my kneeless fox and I could find our way over the tricky bits at our own pace, and not jerk each other off balance. Each time, he waited for me to catch up and take the leash again.

And a good thing, too. There was plenty of great sniffing to be had for the discerning nose, and the little herding dog could have taken off to round up red squirrels, mice, fox, chipmunks, cottontails, deer, or grouse. And he could have tangled with a coyote or fisher, and come out the loser. And he could have been sprayed by a skunk. And he could have been killed by a dose of porcupine quills. And he could have been bitten by a rabid raccoon. And he could have slipped on the snow right over the edge of the cliff.

wedge

Instead, my canine companion and I enjoyed a carefree hike, connected together by six feet of purple nylon strapping. We stayed on the trail, going from blaze to blaze, ignoring the impromptu paths to the precipice that other humans had made. He sniffed, and I saw, tracks of all kinds. We noticed the grouse droppings, the porcupine browsings, the pileated woodpecker chippings. We also noticed that I had left my bookbag and water bottle in the car.

Since dehydration can cause carelessness, I phoned my partner, who was down by Jones Falls near the parking lot, and she brought the bottle up to us. Meanwhile, I used a mossy outcropping beside the trail as a misericord, and Poggles scrambled up to sit beside me. The outcropping was on the inside, not the cliffside, of the trail, so that we faced towards the view. I gave my dog teeny chunks of cheese. We relaxed. There were no birds except a few chickadees calling “Yoo-hoo!” and some Canada Geese scrutinizing the cornfield down below. The only other sound was the far-off swish of traffic.

Suddenly, I heard a whistling. It was the wingbeats of a crow, who flew up the escarpment face, over the treetops, and away. Pupster didn’t care about the bird; he did, however, crane his neck in astonishment as a chipmunk crossed the trail and proceeded up a log about two feet from his wide eyes and flaring snout.

pawprintsMy partner arrived a few minutes later with the water and her camera. On our return, she took lots of photos; we admired the grouse droppings and the tree chewings and the various animal tracks; and back down at the river, we watched a chestnut- coloured weaselly minkish thing galumphing along the far bank.

We were safe, we were sated, and we were starving. A few miles down the road at the Chatsworth Coffee Time we sat in the car, lunching on burgers and the fattest, hottest, crispest onion rings I’ve ever eaten. Poggles had a couple of bickies in the back seat, and then settled down for the two-hour ride home.