Yin and Yang: 48 Hours in Northern Ontario

The Taoist concepts of yin and yang are often illustrated with the image of a mountain, one side shaded from the sun, the other fully illuminated. Since the sun has not yet warmed the yin side it is dark and cool, while the yang side is bright and warm. The yin principle is associated with stillness, receptiveness, and introspection, while yang is associated with action, upward movement, and expansion. A whirlwind itinerary on a recent road trip meant we would have just 48 hours in northern Ontario for as much hiking and canoeing as we could manage, and while it was not deliberately planned we ended up with a beautifully complementary yin/yang experience.

Our first destination was Algonquin Provincial Park, which is the oldest provincial park in Canada. Algonquin contains over 2400 lakes, making it ideal territory for exploring by canoe. Since we arrived in the late afternoon we made a beeline for the park office that issues backcountry camping permits, then rented a canoe. As the sun began to sink we paddled out across Canoe Lake, working hard at first against the wind and the choppy water. After about an hour we reached the portage into Joe Lake, where the water relaxed and we explored for a bit. However, the hour was late and we were tired, so as soon as we found an island campsite we went ashore to make camp:


Sung to sleep by frogs and loons, we awoke early to paddle out as the fog was still lifting. As a result we were rewarded by an extraordinary sight as we drifted quietly: a moose walking to the water from an island to our right, swimming out in front of our canoe, then exiting the water on the other side and slipping into the woods. We stayed at a respectful distance, necessitating the use of the zoom function on my sad cell phone camera, but I did manage to capture a souvenir:


Thoroughly awed, we resumed paddling. The wind was still and the water quiet, and we glided along easily. We watched loons fishing, easily outpaced the mosquitoes, and saw the mist slowly give way to the nudge of gentle but insistent sunbeams. Every breath brought the deep, rich scent of fir trees, smelling exactly like those little burlap pillows sold in souvenir shops embroidered with the words “I pine for you.” Here, the very air itself pines for you.

Emboldened by our wildlife successes so far, later we took to foot in search of the elusive beaver. The trails were quiet and we moved in silence through the woods. Deep, still ponds and darkened glades beckoned seductively. We logged multiple miles around ponds and through swamps, but every lodge appeared vacant, and every dam stood silent. We did see an incredibly elaborate beaver dam that had flooded an enormous area to create a beautiful pond, and this was a sight to behold:


All too soon it was time to leave the land of yin to visit the land of yang. We traveled the Trans-Canada Highway to reach Chutes Provincial Park, which features rushing waterfalls and rapids within a scenic river gorge. Where Algonquin was hushed and quiet, at Chutes we were never away from the thunderous sound of falls and rapids. The sun was bright, the trees were in constant movement, and everything felt suffused with energy. Although the falls are not high, they are extremely dramatic as they roar around the bends and rocks in the river:


After crossing the river the trail winds through a lovely birch forest where bright green leaves sparkle against the pale tree trunks, before the path eventually crosses back over the water.


Our time in Ontario was brief, but the reciprocal qualities of the places we chose added up to something more than the sum of their parts. We pushed on to the U.S. border for the last leg of our journey—stay tuned for the thrilling third, and final, installment.


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