Sunday, March 31, 2019

A moment for the Trail Crews, Volunteers, and Trail Angels

As the hiking season gets into full swing with people already on the Triple Crown Trails or the Discovery Trail in the United States, on the various Caminos and GR trails across Europe, and with many more preparing to head out on the Bruce Trail, East Coast Trail, and Sunshine Coast Trail here in Canada – we thought it would be a good time to pause and send out a cosmic Thank you.

If you are anything like me you have likely spent weeks, months or even longer planning your trek this year and now that it is so much closer to being underway it is so easy to get caught up with those last minute preparations and planning.  Once you are off on the trail, it is similarly easy to get caught up in the excitement of trekking - walking the countryside, meeting new people, seeing new landscapes – or building your life list of birds!

But all of this is only possible because of the Trail organizations who protect and organize everything, Volunteers who maintain the trails and Trail Angels who save us and lift us up when we most need it! Whether on the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, The Great Trail / Trans Canada Trail, Ontario’s Bruce Trail, Newfoundland’s East Coast Trail, or B.C.’s Sunshine Coast Trail in Canada or the Camino de Santiago in Europe – all of these pathways exist because of the dedication and hard word of those individuals who many of us might never meet but without whom we would never be able to trek! 

One thing I learned while working as a Land Stewart on the Bruce Trail was that people are more likely to message or email a complaint and a critique than a compliment.  As such, it seems that while so many of us hike these trail systems and love them, we often do not take the time to put out a thanks.   Certainly this is not true of all people – any survey of The Trek postings or Facebook forums on thru hike trails proves just how much everyone loves to get out there and do their thing and openly appreciate the work of Trail groups and their volunteers.  But as the trail season kicks into high gear, as people get ready to get to start trekking, as the online critiques begin to pile up - it seem appropriate to shift the gear and begin by first remember who made this all possible and begin by thanking the Volunteers, Trail Angels, and local nature interpreters who make the experiences so much more awesome!

So as you hike – and follow Leave No Trace principles – take a moment and thank those organizations who have made all of this possible in protecting the land, developing and maintaining the trail systems, putting up signage, cleaning up trailside garbage, building bridges, establishing boardwalks, fixing washouts, ........  (actually the list of what they do is truly massive)......

At times they resupply us, they transport us, they help us, they comfort us, they advise us, and they listen to us....all because they love trails and nature too!  Yes we each hike the trail ourselves, and yes we all hike our own hike, but remember that we can do that because they have done such a great job before hand.  So today, this weekend, or before you hit the trails remember to take a moment to thank the organizations, the volunteers, and the Trail Angels we all rely on – they are the heart and soul of the trekker society!  The next time you see a volunteer on the trail or are aided by a Trail Angel remember to say thank you – they might not be out there for the praise – but they sure as heck to deserve to hear it!

For our part – I just want to say - Thank you so much for your hard work, your quiet dedication, and your assistance!  Without you there simply would not be any trails for all of us to enjoy.  For this you have our heartfelt thanks!  My coming 3 year hike would not be possible without you!

See you on the trail....

#Hike4Birds #ComeWalkWithUs #brucetrail #explorethebruce #eastcoasttrail #sunshinecoastbc #sunshinecoasttrail #thegreattrail #trekking #appalachiantrail #AT2019 #trailmagic #hikertrash #thruhike #leavenotrace #Thankyou

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Opting out to get back into Life, Disconnecting to ReConnect

Recently a question has been playing around in my mind.  While reading about getting outdoors – whether in your backyard, in a local park, on a regional pathway, or along something like the Bruce Trail or Camino de Santiago – I have begun to wonder why some people choose activities such as walking, running, cycling, trekking or thru hiking when they seek a lifestyle change?  It seems to be a choice more and more people are making these days. 

As life gets busier and busier, bills get higher and higher, and bank accounts get smaller and smaller – more of us seem increasingly dissatisfied.  However, as we all see regularly in the news – it seems that in response to these pressures many turn to opioids, alcohol, gambling, video games, or drugs.  Reports of the influences of the stresses and pressures of life – especially on millennial's – are now, sadly common place and frequent.  Yet – often not acknowledged is the fact that increasingly, in this hyper connected world people are also choosing to unplug and venture out back into nature. 

So what pulls one set of people to nature – what do they see there?  How does nature help re-balance and give perspective to our lives?  What is it about birding and hiking that pulls so many people outdoors and that can help each of us refocus and navigate this busy world?

Now at the outset let me first acknowledge that everyone reacts differently to changes in their lives.  Graduating High School, finishing college, breakups, divorce, mid life crisis, and the loss of a job..... many of us have a nutty and that just what it is. (Sadly neither chocolate nor ice cream fixes everything! Trust me I have tried.)  For the lucky few a relaxing weekend, some time with friends, or a summer vacation can right the world for them.  For many others there is a need to reorient, re-establish their bounds, and reconnect.  The reality is that, regardless of how we all react during these moments, a change in our lives is either forced on us or is coming.  And this is unnerving because a forced change makes us all feel powerless.  It is unsurprising then that during such moments each of us needs some time away from everything to figure things out.  This brings us back to the question – what propels some people into nature and how can being outdoors help us reconnect to ourselves?

Benefits of Connecting into Nature

At the outset I think we have to acknowledge that the world of the 21st century is tough and challenging - especially for youth - who increasingly spend so much time online, where there is almost no reprieve from commentary, critiques, bullying, negativity, and online trolls.  Students wake up, go to school, go to work, and come home plugged in to constant commentary.  With so many other voices barraging them I wonder where they find their own?  Or navigate the world once the online forums target them?  

More than these challenges, spending so much time on a computer instead of outside, playing, and exploring means that people have less and less of an understanding of their physical capabilities, they have less opportunity to develop their own self awareness or to be creative on their own terms.  Today achievements have been transformed into online postings rather than personal accomplishments, and mistakes have the potential to go viral and haunt us for years.  Amid all of this, finding some breathing room is undoubtedly very hard – if not impossible.   I think some time engaged with nature would help ground all of us to the actual and restore some perspective, common sense, and individuality to the world.  Ultimately, each of us would be better prepared for life by having more time and experiences in the wild.  

So what are some of the benefits of connecting to nature?

(1)    You get to disconnect from the “business” of daily events and reconnect to life through nature!

(2)    The natural sounds, rhythms, sights, smells, atmosphere - inherently relax us all.  We are part of this system after all and our bodies and minds feel more peaceful once they are back outdoors.   In these ways and so many others, nature provides each of us with moments of peace and simplicity which calm and relax each of us. In short time in nature – listening to bird songs – improves our mental health.

(3)    The outdoors allows us all to slow down our minds and provides us with time to figure things out. Studies have demonstrated that time in nature reduces stress, tension, anxiety and relieves depression.

(4)    Getting outdoors, even for short periods to walk or enjoy a moment on a bench in the sun makes us healthier!  Vitamin D, fresh air, and increased mobility are all the result of getting back into nature. 

(5)    Nature is relatively permanent; amid an ever changing world nature is a touchstone which you can count on and return to when you want!

(6)    Nature is not demanding – it waits for you, accepts you, and lets you be to enjoy, relax, listen, meander, and explore at your own pace.  This means that time spend in the outdoors gives you a break from society, its expectations, and commentary.

(7)    Nature can give you more control.  You can choose to walk today, or not.  You can choose how long you stay outdoors or sit watching the bird feeder.  You can even choose what type of feed to put out to attract the birds of your choice.

(8)    Nature allows you to discover and satisfy your innate curiosities about the world.  It also has been proven that time in nature improves personal creativity. 

(9)    Nature increases your own Personal Awareness.  Time spent outdoors allows you to know about yourself, your body, what skills you have, and what your limits are.  Nature more than anything else allows us each to ‘know thy self.’  The benefits of which mean that our understandings are not reliant on friend’s, interpretations, or social judgment.  In nature you know what you can and cannot do through your own experiences.  Experiential education is the best!

(10)Time spent physically engaged with nature gives way to Personal Growth – you increase your mental health, fortitude, and while walking, hiking, cycling you increase your physical strength which makes each of us more adaptive to the challenges around us.

(11)Nature gives you a different perspective.  With each trip outdoors, you will see something new – a new type of tree, a seasonal bird, or different part of your community.  So time outdoors, gives each of us a different perspective, makes us aware of different options, and in turn fosters creative thinking. 

(12)Above all, even for Citizen Scientists who are reporting their observations online, being out in nature gives you perspective and context to reflect upon.  Even the online reporting process, provides a positive focus for people to be able to beneficially contribute and become part of a supportive network of like minded people.  In many ways participants and contributors in the Citizen Sciences are a community.

So disconnecting from the online world allows us to reconnect with ourselves, our families, and our friends!

Come Walk With Us: The Goal

Our goal is hiking across Canada is to promote getting youth back outdoors, back into nature, reminding them of the beauty of the natural world through birding, and to re-introduce them to the benefits of time spent in the wilderness.  The hope is that promoting these experiences – the types of experiences people 15-20 years ago got in school and that for decades people enjoyed amid family outings, in Scout Troops, Girl Guide Camp outs, and through local organizations - youth will be better able to manage the challenges that lie ahead in their lives. It will show them that nature and the outdoors is a simple and accessible bastion which any of us can turn to and reconnect through.  Nature and birding provide a break and reprieve from the demands of the online world which so many of us are caught up in. 

To be clear, I am not proclaiming that nature is the cure to all that ails us or will resolve all the difficulties that people face on a daily basis.  But I do know that time spent in nature is not time lost.

My school camping trips, my summer hikes with family, years spent kayaking and trekking, and the last three years filled with increasing numbers of thru-hikes have done more to ground me and educate me to the realities and diversity of the world than any time I have spent in school or in the board room at work.  I know more about myself, my capabilities, and interests, and have a deeper appreciation for other people’s perspectives because of what I learned on the trail.  Simply put, hiking , birding and my time in nature have all made me a better person – and now for the next three years I hope to convince school boards, regional organizations, and families across Canada that getting back outdoors will help their children to be better people too.  The more people get outdoors, the more they explore, the better they feel, the more they appreciate how wonderful so much of Canada is, the more they know, and the more they will desire to stay engaged in this world and strive to protect and improve it.  

Through education and awareness, individuals can develop a passion and concern for birds and their habitat. This fuels their desire to want to help contribute to bird conservation through the Citizen Sciences, habitat management, and lifelong environmental stewardship. Such awareness also helps youth develop an appreciation for birds, forests, natural resources, and the natural world as a whole.

Ecological connectivity is essential.  Hiking is hard, but so is life – perhaps some time spent doing one will improve how we handle challenges in the other.

Given all of this, perhaps now is the moment for youth to spend less time at desks and in textbooks, and more time playing, staying active, and learning about themselves through experiences.  Experiential learning through birding and hiking....disconnecting to reconnect.....sounds good to me....

Spring is finally here~!

See you on the trail...

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Exciting news! Great support from the Canadian Ornithological Community!

We are thrilled to announce that ‘Come Walk With Us’ has been awarded a grant from the James L. Baillie Memorial Fund!!!    Established in 1976, in honour of Mr. James Baillie, an Assistant Curator in the Ornithology Department at the Royal Ontario Museum who devoted his life to the study of birds for almost half a century.   The focus of the Baillie Fund is to support amateur ornithological research as well as individuals and organizations that increase the understanding, appreciation, conservation and protection of Canadian birds in their natural environment.

This award reflects the type of support we are receiving from the Canadian Ornithological community and bird lovers across the nation!  We are deeply honoured to have been considered for and received this grant!  A real feather in our cap.

Mr. Baillie's enthusiasm and knowledge have inspired hundreds of naturalists to pursue the study of birds and their conservation for years.  We hope that our 24,000 km trek across Canada along The Great Trail geared towards getting youth outdoors, engaged with nature through birding, and focusing on their online time by becoming active Citizen Sciences will continue Mr. Baillie’s legacy and passion for ornithology by inspiring the next generation of environmental stewards!

See you on the trail….(hopefully with your binoculars on and at the ready!)

#Hike4Birds #BirdStudiesCanada

Monday, March 25, 2019

Naturefold ! Young Birder and Photographer doing great work!

Received a wonderful email today from an excited young birder! We were fortunate enough that he shared some of his wonderful pictures and blog with us. I would invite anyone interested in birding, nature and photography to check it out!

This is the type of great engagement with nature we love to see! 

Thank you for sharing with us!

Friday, March 22, 2019


In talking with youth, famed investor and billionaire Warren Buffett, says ‘don’t ask people what they want, instead ask them what they are willing to sacrifice to achieve their goals’.  This is an apt and insightful commentary on what is necessary to pursue one’s dreams in life.  Today is a day of great sadness and happiness.   Aside from selling the house and car, and donating most of what I own, I have had to find new homes for my friends – my pets.  I was fortunate that I was able to find homes for 2 of my cats in British Columbia and was able to relocate them last week.  However, my final cat, a noble and loving creature is older, has a bad eye, is FIV positive, and is rather undignified looking.  This wonderful soul showed up on my door three years ago in the midst of a -40 snow storm.  Given the conditions, the only answer was to invite him into the household.  He has filled the home with love and personality since then.  Yet given his age and his rather tough looking exterior it has been a struggle to find a home for him to move to.  Today I am excited to say that Simcoe Animal Hospital contacted me to tell me that they had found him a place to move to!  I am so eternally grateful to the Veterinarians and their staff for the years of caring for my friends and for helping me get through one of the last great – and perhaps the hardest – hurdle I had to face.  And so today, while I am glad he has a new home to go to, it has been very hard to watch one of my constant companions go in a new direction in life.  All endeavours require sacrifice....I have no illusions that this will be the last one I will make on this trek, but it has been very hard nonetheless.

Please support your local animal hospitals and rescue services.  They are wonderful and often unrecognized heroes in our communities.