By Danielle French

Winter? Bring It On!

I really do love winter. I know I complain pretty steadily aboutmy drafty farm house, which requires a huge supply of wood to heat. But being outdoors where it’s supposed to be cold, enjoying the trails on my cross-country skis with the dogs (and sometimes Millie the goat!) racing behind me, is the perfect remedy to even the craziest day.

When I moved here seven years ago, I didn’t realize that there was a trail system behind the property—more on that later—or that the farm backs onto the Fleetwood Creek Natural Area, which is protected by the local conservation authority. I also hadn’t yet met my wonderful neighbours Ralph and Jean.

One weekend, after what seemed like endless days spent unpacking, the girls and I decided to venture off down to the pond and into the woods. We were entranced the moment we wandered into a cedar grove that seemed to be right out of Harry Potter. It was magical: thick, rich with the glorious scent of boughs… and there was a trail.

We followed it through open fields, back into woods, in and out some of beautiful little patches of trees and plants. By this time, we’d had the pleasure of meeting Ralph and Jean at a local barbecue. They immediately invited us to use the network of trails on their 200-acre property that was right beside us.

What a treat that was! Being from the city, I hadn’t really registered just what it would mean to have access to a neighbor’s land, but my good fortune soon became evident. The trails were a beautiful, accessible way to wander through thick forest, open patches of grass and wildflowers, back through woods and around wetlands. It was a stunning variety of terrain right here at our back door—literally!

It turned out Ralph and Jean were avid hikers but more importantly (to me!), Ralph was also a cross-country skier. In the winter, these trails were not only at my doorstep but Ralph kept them groomed for our use. Before long, he and I were joining up on the trails nearly every day when conditions were good. (I should point out that Ralph is now 82 and the fittest man I know!)

Ralph and Jean spend much of their time in deeply troubled yet equally fascinating parts of the world, working to secure good water and health care for those in need. When they return home, the garden and enjoy their lovely property. They are committed to conservation. Ralph is also part of the Ontario Grassland Initiative, which works to establish and restore native grasslands in our area. Their property is richly diverse, with patches of native grasses transplanted and cultivated where they’d been wiped out.

One evening over wine, Ralph and I got talking about how others could enjoy some of the fruits of our labours: his great trail system, for instance, and my brand new stone oven, as we helped create awareness of the work of the Kawartha Heritage Conservancy. And just like that, the Snow Day was born.

We see this special day on Feb. 9 as a time for people to experience winter in the country as they develop a bit more understanding of our precious natural surroundings. Add in some hot chocolate, chili, flatbreads from the outdoor oven, sleigh rides, a chance to ski or snowshoe those trails, and it promises to be an absolute delight. Do come and join us—there’s so much to enjoy! Ralph has outdone himself, having the trails professionally marked so visitors can find their way, creating trail maps and sheets showing aerial views of the properties. I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to this combination of so many of my favorite things! It promises to be a lovely day.

Now… snow please!

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