This week our area experienced a rare day above freezing temperatures — the sunny afternoon raised the temperature as high as 11 degrees C (almost 52 degrees F). It was practically imperative that we get outside and enjoy the break in what’s been an unusually snowy and chilly winter for our region.
Meeting my hiking buddy at Morningstar Mill, we donned hiking boots with deeply-treaded soles for our adventure. First up, a walk around the mill grounds to see the Decew Falls, currently in a spectacular state between thick towers of ice and lacy sprays of thawed water.
The falls drop about 70 feet into a wide bowl-shaped gorge. Standing beside the falls, we could see groundwater that had seeped through the layers of sedimentary rock on the opposite side, only to freeze into massive icicles as it emerged into the cold air.
We walked the trail that runs from Decew House farther down the road, along Moodie Lake, which feeds the Decew Falls Generating Station, and through the woods back to the Mill.
Although much of the ground is still covered in snow, there was plenty to see. We came upon a tree that looked like it had been freshly felled by a beaver.
Along the water’s edge, old bittersweet vines provided a spot of colour.
This tree was heavily encrusted with tiny bits of fungus.
Odd bursts of autumn leaves that had refused to fall were highlighted by the sunshine. The photo also illustrates how close much of the trail, after it departs from the edge of the lake, runs along the steep cliffs of the escarpment. This section of the hike is best for people who aren’t bothered by heights.
The walking was slow-going; for every step or two forward, our feet would then sink through the softening snow and have to be yanked back out. Some of the rises and falls of the trail along the dips in the landscape were slippery and required caution to avoid sliding over the cliffs. It was manageable, but sometimes a little nerve-wracking. But the warmth of the sun, the freshness of the mild air, and the opportunity to see the forest without the clutter of summer leaves made the experience worth it. The fallen tree below had some intriguing tunnels deep inside. I’m guessing they were made by some type of tree borer, but if you have more exact knowledge I’d love to know.
Another deceased tree, still leaning at an angle across the path, had been artistically stripped of some of its bark like a mummy wrap.
In one sunny spot the snow had melted away to reveal velvety green moss strewn with acorns — a great prize for any squirrels in the area.
As we reached the final stretch of the trail leading back to the mill along the creek formed by the falling water, the snow had been packed down under a slick melting layer and the walking became very slippery. Hikers coming in the opposite direction from the mill asked us what conditions were like behind us.
In Ontario, this image is iconic of winter transitioning into spring: rivulets of water opening up a tunnel in the melting ice.
An even more iconic sign of spring made a surprise appearance: eight to ten robins hopping around the trees above the creek.
As we approached the falls from the far side of the gorge, the last rays of sun before a bank of clouds rolled in illuminated the layers of the falls themselves, with a curtain of melt-water falling over ethereal columns of ice behind it.
All in all, a wonderful hike on a glorious spring-like day. These are the gifts of Nature that you accept as they’re offered, enjoying the transitory beauty one fabulous day at a time.