My favourite photo features my son (at the age of two) crouching and intently searching for fairies in a bed of sphagnum moss. The reason I love this photo is partly because of the way the light catches my son’s hair and the moss, and partly because it perfectly captures the curiosity and innocence of childhood. However, the main reason this photo means so much to me is the sense of continuity, tradition and connectedness to nature that it brings to mind. This picture was taken in the same place my parents brought me nearly every summer of my childhood.
On a side path of an Algonquin park hiking trail, if you venture slightly off the beaten track (don’t tell on me), you will find an old growth red spruce stand, blanketed with a carpet of moss. The moss dampens sound, creating an eerie silence, and the smell is one of damp rotting wood, earth, and renewed life. When the sun falls through the trees, it lands in ever-shifting, dappled patterns over the moss, bringing to life not only the forest floor, but also the imagination.
When we brought our son for the first time to Algonquin Park, we enjoyed a wonderful trip where he demonstrated boundless energy, enthusiasm, and curiosity. Watching him explore the magical fairyland forest of my childhood was one of the most memorable moments of my life.
I am deeply grateful to my parents for encouraging me to understand and love the natural world, through camping trips, hiking, canoeing, and daily observations of beauty in the surrounding environment. As a result, when our car reaches Highway 60 (Algonquin’s main corridor), I feel that I am returning home.
One of the wonderful things about Algonquin Park is its slow rate of change. Yes, there is a newer (and admittedly much improved) visitor’s centre. Yes, if you want a campsite for summer, it is advisable to book it as early as March. Other than that, everything remains the way I remember and I know the chipmunks I watched as a child were the grandparents of the ones running around today.
As I watch the city around me grow and change at an astonishing pace, it is reassuring to know there are places that stay the same. Rapidly changing urban environments remind us of the importance of connecting ourselves and our children with nature. They also highlight the necessity of conservation and restoration of natural spaces. The long-term survival of these invaluable resources is by no means guaranteed. One day I hope my grandchildren will continue the search for fairies in my dappled woodland.
An old growth forest in Algonquin Park is my magical place. What’s yours?