The Bruce Trail: Teacher for the Times
When the student is ready, the teacher appears. The Bruce Trail has become my teacher for the times we’re living!
I spot the sign with white blazes marking an access point where I’ll continue my Bruce Trail trek. Peace envelopes me. Designated parking is at the end of a small lane. I maneuver the car onto the left shoulder as close to the snowbank as I dare, leaving room for others who may answer the call to be out here today.
Grabbing my backpack, I clamber out of the car. Throwing the straps over my shoulders, I spread my arms, lift my head and heart to the heavens, take a deep breath and say, “Thank you! What will you teach me today?” At the trail entrance, I lay a gift of tobacco in gratitude and reverence before stepping across the invisible threshold into the hardwood forest.
The Bruce Trail, a protected UNESCO World Biosphere, winds for almost 900 km/600 miles along the Niagara Escarpment in Southern Ontario. Since mid-August, I’ve walked 400 km/250 miles of trail one way, which means I’ve covered double that. Today’s walk is in the Beaver Valley, north of the hamlet of Eugenia Falls.
Like so much of what has transpired this year, trekking the distance of this footpath was not in the plans. Although I didn’t know it at the time, it began last year when I visited Alberta’s Writing-On-Stone Park, sacred land for more than 5,000 years. While walking through the hoodoos, the message was clear. “Your story is not finished. The land has stories you need to hear and share. You’ve reconnected with your blood ancestors. Now it’s time to understand the teachings from the land.”
The story referred to the quest described in Crash Landing. Via motorcycle, I’d traced the journey through central and Western Canada that reconnected and reconciled me with my past – and self. Earlier in 2019, I’d contemplated shipping Trudy (my motorcycle) to Europe and following my Ancestor Trail back another 500 years through Ukraine, Russia, and northern Europe. After the visit to Writing-On-Stone, instead, I envisioned returning to southern Alberta in the summer of 2020 to spend time in the grasslands under the open sky. Listening.
A pandemic changed that. Since I couldn’t go west, I decided to find a place in nature locally where I could meditate in stillness, ideally within walking distance. A local cemetery looked promising. Established in the mid 1800s and sheltered from the road by towering maples and the odd oak with a shaded gazebo on the far side overlooking the lake, it seemed ideal. But I hadn’t expected a steady stream of people tending the graves of loved ones or the noise from traffic on the highway running along its west side. Or people walking up and interrupting me while I sat with eyes closed. So much for resting in peace!
After several weeks of futile visits, I sought out a more suitable haven. The Bruce Trail crosses land not far from my home, albeit I’d have to drive. I remembered that one of the forested sections housed a gazebo about a kilometer from the road. It worked well but something more was stirring within me.
Who says you need to be still to listen? Why can’t you move and listen too? Why not walk the entire 900 km/600-mile trail from end to end? Alone. Not all at once, but work away at it and complete it during your lifetime. I began walking in mid-August.
Nature’s always so glad to see me and teaches by showing, not telling. She throws her arms around me in welcome and reflects the creation energy I too carry. She knows exactly what I need that day and gives it unconditionally. My heart threatens to burst with joy, love, and gratitude. It’s a beautiful, safe environment. Connected to my soul. To who I am. There’s nothing for me to do except breathe and put one foot in front of the other. I yearn to spend more time there, to listen, to see.
My primary goal was to spend time alone in nature not covering as much distance as possible in one day. Still, walking an average of five kilometers each time I’m out has covered the trail within a one-hour radius of my town. Now, mid-December brings me to Eugenia Falls and woods blanketed in snow.
Slowing down, my feet make a profound connection to the earth with each step. Touching tree trunks and moss-covered prehistoric rocks, creates a greater sense of intimacy with nature than I’ve ever experienced. Cedar boughs caress me as I pass through their community. My feet take me places I’ve never been. I step on exposed rocks, eroded smooth when they were the bottom of an inIand tropical sea 400 million years ago. I wonder who—plant, animal, human—has gone before me on this footpath and what stories they’ve left behind. It’s a delight to cross paths with other pilgrims on their journey.
Nature shows me how to respond to challenges. She shows me how to deal with change and live together with others who may not have the same background or perspective. Forests and farmland repeatedly show the need for diversity and community. She knows how to balance acceptance and will. She’s governed, as am I, by immutable laws and cycles.
Now that winter is here, I can’t get out as often or cover the same modest distances. Snow and ice on the trail require extra attentiveness and shortened daylight hours compact available time. Nature teaches us that when times get challenging, we need to slow down.
My Bruce Trail pilgrimage shows me that no matter what the season or circumstances, Nature is the greatest teacher. If only I take the time to truly listen and see.