Algonquin Adventure: Day 3 – Finale

Sadly, our time in Canada has drawn to a close. What a wonderful way to end it, though!

Yesterday we had discovered the Old 127 and how beautiful it was now that it was no longer a major route for heavy traffic. We woke up early to be on Old 127 by 8:15am, and honestly could have made it earlier, in order to get some good birding in. Our efforts paid off, and we saw several different species that we had not yet seen on the trip including one lifer (the first sighting of the species by an observer). We spent an entire hour and some minutes driving extremely slowly, patiently waiting for birds to appear.

We did not, however, leave the vehicle. I refused to, because the amount of mosquitoes and black flies was absolutely insane today. Even though I hadn’t mentioned them before, they had been a nuisance over the past couple of day, but today they were particularly bad and would swarm our van’s mirrors every time we stopped to look at a bird. Even later on, it seemed like no matter how much repellent you wore, they would still follow you like a little black cloud.

The heat didn’t help much either. Once completing the slow drive through Old 127, we headed straight to Lookout trail, which we had not done on either of the previous days. Blue skies meant that the sun was able to strongly shine, making the hike – already considered a difficult one – oppressive. Combine that with the insects… Not a happy picture.

My mom and I decided to opt out of hiking before even reaching the first post marker (all the trails have booklets that inform you about things surrounding the trail and each point it marked by a post), and instead go for lunch.

(You may be wondering how this is supposed to be a wonderful ending, but I promise, it gets better.)

This weekend is a long weekend in Canada, with Monday being Victoria Day, so TONS of people showed up in the park. Apparently this time last year, the Visitor Center had 3,000 people come in a single day. Talk about heavy foot traffic.

All the people made for interesting observation while eating, however, and it will always baffle me how people travel with children under 3. Kudos to them, I don’t know if I could do it.

After lunch, Mom decided she wanted to head back to the house for a nap. Not wanting to waste my last day at Algonquin inside, I dropped her off and went back out to the park myself.

I have to say, I’ve enjoyed spending this time with my mother but it was nice having a chance to be alone in the woods. Some people might find that frightening, but I find it pleasant and peaceful. I feel rather safe in the woods, actually. Often much more so that in a city.

That’s why it was funny to me when an Indian couple who had passed me while walking on the Two Rivers trail, suddenly backtracked and struck up conversation. The woman inquired whether I was out there alone and when I responded affirmatively, her eyes widened and she proclaimed me brave – she was there with her husband and was nervous to be out in the woods. Later in the conversation, she mentions how she very much wanted to see a bear. I wasn’t quite sure how the two fit together… Anyways, I was able to give some suggestions of trails that were shorter and enjoyable for them to try later on. They thanked me and we parted.

Trying to be alone on the trail when half of Ontario has come to Algonquin was rather difficult and I would often let people pass me, wondering whether that would scare off all the birds I wanted to see or not. Thankfully, I would often leave a large enough gap that I was able to see quite a few birds, as well as squirrels and chipmunks.

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I also had the distinct pleasure of scaring a particular loud and slightly annoying group of university students who were proclaiming to the world, it seemed, of how “connected” they felt to nature and responded to each other’s comments and quips with raucous laughter. (Wow, writing that makes me feel like an old woman, lol – these younguns! I’m sure my group of friends and I have been viewed the same at some point.) There was a part of the trail that overlooked a precipice, and there were several parts of the cliff available for visual enjoyment of the scenery. Bits of brush separated sections of the cliff, and I was on a section where I could hear, but not see, the university students.

Not actually intending to do anything that go on my merry way birding, I cupped my hands to let out a long, loud hawk call (surprisingly, I only saw two this whole time, one of which I couldn’t identify…). The group on the other side instantly started chattering – “What in the world was that?” “Did you hear that?” “What kind of animal do you think that was?” “Man, that sounded so close!”

They came scurrying to my section of the cliff where I contently smiled and gave them no further clue as to the origin of the sound.

The hike around Peck Lake was a little better in terms of crowds, and actually in terms of bugs as well. The terrain wasn’t too difficult, but wasn’t flat, and skirted the entirety of the placid waters of Peck Lake.

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I didn’t see too much in the way of wildlife on this trail, but it was such a beautiful walk that I didn’t mind. Again, the peace that comes from being in the woods, smelling its scents, hearing its sounds, feeling its breeze… It truly does make you feel one with nature. When you quiet your heart and mind from the worries of the week and absorb the gifts of God’s Creation, the Book of Nature, you feel more relaxed and calm. Regularly walking in natural areas can reduce stress and make you better equipped mentally and emotionally for handling the stresses of the work week. I highly suggest trying to walk in nature at least once a week – it will do you much good.

Not wanting to have my mother worry too much, I returned to our AirBnb a little before 8pm and started preparations for tomorrow’s return trip.

Our host, Mariska, came down to chat with us for a while and it makes me wish that we had had a chance to hang out more with her and her husband Kirk. Perhaps we’ll get to know them better next time, because you can be sure that I already am making plans to come back up to visit this wonderful park.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about our Operation Ontario adventures and seeing all the pictures. I promise I’ll post those Niagara photos by the end of the week – I start a new job on Monday, so I’ll be focused on that for the next few days.

One last wildlife count before we go:

(Today) 2 moose, 1 snowshoe hare, 3 red squirrels, 2 chipmunks, heard one specie of frog, and 19 species of birds.

(Total) 8 moose, 1 red fox, 1 beaver, 1 woodchuck, 9 red squirrels, 7 chipmunks, 2 snowshoe hares, 1 ribbon snake, heard three species of frog plus one tadpole, and 40 species of birds (3 of them lifers – and yes, I saw my loon).

Praise God for a wonderful trip, not just to Algonquin, but to Niagara and Toronto as well. It’s been great, Ontario. I’ll definitely come back to visit. 🙂

Happy travels!

-Wandering Minstrelette

 

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Algonquin Adventure: Day 2

My mom and I woke up and left the house a little earlier than yesterday, anxious to get a head start on the day. We decided to cut straight across to the West Gate and hike trails on that end, working back towards the East Gate and “home” by the end of the day.

Well, let me tell you that choosing to do so made all the difference.

Not long after entering the park we discovered an accumulation of cars – another moose! We were excited to see one so early and it proved to be a good omen for the rest of the day.

The first trail after the West Gate is the Whiskey Rapids trail, where once upon a time loggers who were supposed to be bringing a barrel of whiskey to their camp and co-workers, decided to partake early, drank a little too much, and ended up losing the whiskey barrel in the rapids, never to be recovered. That’s what one gets, I guess, for celebrating before it’s time.

Running water accompanied us the entirety of the trail, first as a babbling brook and then as small, but vigorous rapids. The scenery was absolutely gorgeous and the sounds of birdsong filled the air. In fact, we saw four different types of warblers plus White-throated Sparrows. Doing a proper search for the birds, pshing (making a psh sound at intervals tends to attract birds and bring them up where they are more visible), and then patiently waiting for them to respond and appear caused us to take three hours on a trail that should only have taken one and a half. It was amazing, really – it didn’t feel like so much time had passed.

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Still, wanting to make sure we got as much in today as possible, we headed for the next trail called Hardwood Lookout trail. This trail features the towering presence of beech, maple, cherry, hemlock, and pine trees, all of whom had yet to produce or were just budding new leaves. Leafless branches means that the sunlight is better able to reach the forest floor, which results in the blooming of several delicate and beautiful flowers. We really came at just the right time of year to see these blooms, because most of them apparently only last for the month of May – when the frost disappears and the leaves are not yet out. In a couple more weeks, the sugar maples and beech will have leaf-filled branches and the forest floor will be covered in shade, so we are blessed to be able to have seen these precious forest ornaments.

Again taking longer than expected on this hike because of birding (we saw three species of woodpecker, more warblers, other songbirds, and a Spruce Grouse – lifer!!) and spending some time admiring the view from the cliff that marked the end of the trail, we found ourselves rather prepared to eat a late lunch.

Thankfully there was a store/gift shop not far down Highway 60 where we were able to grab lunch. The Portage Store also provided canoes for rental, either for the day or for multi-day trips. One of the owners explained to us how most beginner itineraries would look like – spend a day paddling until you reach a campsite, set up camp for the night, portage the canoe and your gear to the next body of water (usually not very far away), and keep on going. Repeat for as long as desired. It sounded so exciting to me, although my mom wasn’t too thrilled at the idea, and we wouldn’t have been able to do anything like that at this time anyways. But I already have ideas spinning in my mind of bringing a group of friends up here for a several day canoeing trip – that would be so much fun!

After entertaining ourselves by watching people attempting to get in and out of canoes for day trips and purchasing gas, we decided to run through the park to another store in search of beans for tonight’s dinner. Along the way, we saw several more moose and actually almost ran in to one that appeared rather suddenly on the road. It seemed just as startled as I was, as if it only noticed my presence at the same time I noticed his. Thankfully, nothing happened but I think both I and the moose were in a bit of shock for several moments afterwards. Gracious, that thing was big! I knew they were big, but seeing one that wasn’t knee deep in water finally gave me perspective on how massive of an animal the moose is. And that was a young bull with tiny antlers – I can’t even imagine was a fully grown, mature bull would be like!

The rest of our moose encounters were much calmer by comparison. Hopefully tomorrow we’ll see a female or a juvenile, all the ones we’ve seen so far have been young bulls.

After doing our grocery shopping, we ran the produce back to the house and decided to explore a road near the our accommodations. The road that we take to get to Algonquin is called Route 127, from which we turn left onto Highway 60 that runs through the park. Apparently there is an Old 127 that is a gravel road that is a bit of a scenic shortcut from the house to the turn onto Highway 60. It took us by a lake with houses on islands, marshland, spruce bogs, and tons of vegetation. Again, we were surprised to not see it teeming with life, but there were a few things we found along the way, like a sandpiper and a dove which I have yet to identify.

Overall, it has been such a good day with gorgeous scenery, much more wildlife, and absolutely perfect weather. I’m definitely falling in love with this park and will be visiting again and again.

Tomorrow we’ll try to catch some of the shorter trails in the middle of Highway 60 that we have yet to try and I’m hoping that we’ll see the last thing on my wishlist for the trip – a loon!

I’m hoping that the next post will tell you that I saw the loon, completing my southern Algonquin experience.

Wildlife count (today): 5 moose, 1 fox, 2 red squirrels, 3 chipmunks, heard one new specie of frog plus saw a tadpole, 20 species of birds.

(total): 6 moose, 1 red fox, 1 beaver, 1 woodchuck, 6 red squirrels, 5 chipmunks, 1 rabbit (hare?), 1 ribbon snake, heard 3 species of frog plus one tadpole, and 29 species of birds.

-Wandering Minstrelette

Algonquin Adventure: Day 1

Several months before leaving for Canada, I decided that making a stop at a major park/preserve was a must. After a little research, Algonquin Provincial Park became the easy and logical choice – and I am so glad we decided to visit.

Algonquin Provincial Park was established in 1893, making it the oldest provincial park in Canada. It is absolutely enormous at 7,653 square kilometers (2,955 sq mi), which Wikipedia claims is about a quarter of the size of Belgium. Located within a decent distance from Toronto and Ottawa, besides being considered some of the most pristine, woody wilderness in eastern Canada, has made Algonquin one of the most popular parks in Ontario and the entire nation.

There are over 2400 lakes, hundreds of kilometers of trails, and the southern, developed portion of the park is easily accessible by the Highway 60, which runs through the park. The majority of the park, however, is not developed but allowed to maintain it’s natural state and provides prime habitat for beaver, otter, red wolves, fox, black bears, trout, deer, all sorts of birds, and, of course, moose.

Mommy and I happened to have chose, by complete accident, the best time of year to see moose in the park. Apparently these sodium starved animals will come close to the roads to lick the sodium rich runoffs from salt that had been set out to melt snow and ice. Our AirBnb host, Kirk, told us that there was no way we wouldn’t see a moose while we were here.

Speaking of Kirk, his and his wife Mariska’s home is absolutely stunning. We found them through AirBnb and are staying in a basement apartment that has it’s own entrance, a full functioning kitchen, full bath, large bed, and combined dining/living space. It feels homey and rustic at the same time without being too much of either.

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They were kind enough to allow up to borrow an annual pass to the park, which will save us a lot of money as parking permits for Algonquin cost $17 per car, per day. Apparently they only started welcoming AirBnb guests this past January and have been a hit almost instantly. If you ever plan on visiting this area, I would highly suggest looking up their space.

Both Kirk and Mariska work for Algonquin, which gave us the added advantage of being able to ask them questions about the park and getting solid, educated answers. Mariska works for the Visitor Center and Kirk is actually a park ranger who has spent, as he told us, years running away from administrative positions that would require him to sit behind a desk because the favorite part of his job is being outside all the time. I totally get it – I would love a job like that, too.

So, armed with maps and guide books, we entered the developed area of the park late this morning and began our Algonquin adventure.

Highway 60, as I mentioned before, runs the length of the developed, southern portion of the park. It is 56 kilometers of gorgeous views of lakes, bogs, rivers, and forest. There are several paths coming off the highway for hiking and observing. Some of the trails take about an hour to complete and others can take six. Guess which ones we did today.

The first trail we walked was actually the Beaver Pond trail, which took us around two ponds/lakes that existed entirely because of the engineering skills of beavers. Although we did not see any actual beavers (we did see one earlier on, but not on this trail), we saw several beaver homes and one absolutely incredible dam that looked like the edge of an infinity pool. It was spectacular – rugged, strong, and perfect in its wildness.

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The second trail was called the Spruce Bog trail, which the provided guided book at the trail head called “the wettest desert.” Apparently there is tons of water, it’s just not accessible to anything except certain plants. The bog gives way to a sentinel of tall, skinny black spruce trees that provide a unique habitat for many creatures including the spruce grouse. Which we did not see. It would have been a lifer, but oh well. I did, however, have a chickadee land on a branch less than a foot from my face and a chipmunk come sniff my boots.

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I have to say that in general, I was surprised at the lack of wildlife we witnessed in the park today. With all the bodies of water, we barely saw any waterfowl and no loons. There was no sign of larger mammalian life either, and we started to become concerned that we wouldn’t get to see our moose, despite the previous assurances.

Although neither trail was overly difficult, both mommy and I were a bit worn out and decided to continue our exploring by car. Since the stretch of highway in the park wasn’t too long, I decided to drive to the other end to see if there was anything worth noting to come back for tomorrow. And I’m glad we did because at about Kilometer 35, we noticed a pod of cars stopped along the side of the road which could only have meant one thing – a moose!

Sure enough, a young bull moose was munching the grass and drinking the water by the highway, in search of the sodium he was in need of after a long winter.

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Admittedly, they are not the most beautiful animals. Even on the animal crossing signs they looked gangly and awkward next to the deer.

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To enhance the matter, moose are currently loosing their winter coats, meaning they look scruffy and scraggly. Almost everyone has told me that moose aren’t the brightest crayon in the box either (guess Brother Bear got that bit right), but somehow they are cute and majestic in their “ugliness” and awkwardness. I really like them and they are one of my mom’s favorite animals, so we were both super excited to finally see one for ourselves.

After seeing the moose we continued our journey to the West Gate of the park, turned around and returned to our comfy accommodations. Tomorrow there is so much more to see! Stay tuned. 🙂

Wildlife Count: 1 moose, 1 beaver, 1 woodchuck, 2 chipmunks, 4 red squirrels, 1 rabbit, 1 snake, heard at least 2 species of frogs, and 15 different bird species.

-Wandering Minstrelette

Rest Day

Today was spent mostly in shopping for groceries at St. Lawrence Market and then traveling to the Algonquin Provincial Park region, where our next set of adventures will take place. However, both my mother and I are exhausted from all the walking we had done the past couple of days, so we’re taking a break for the evening and will continue our exploring tomorrow (we’ve been promised that we’ll see moose – here’s hoping!).

I was hoping to perhaps share those photos I had promised from Niagara Falls, but once again I’ve run into some weak wifi. Those will probably have to be posted once I return home.

But if you haven’t had a chance to read up on our adventures so far, make sure to look back at my previous posts:

Initiate Operation Ontario

Sabbath By the Falls

Moment in the Mist

Toronto: Day 1

Toronto: Day 2

Look back tomorrow to see if we had a chance to spot a moose!

-Wandering Minstrelette

Toronto: Day 2

One thing I always appreciated about visiting cities is the amount of walking that I get done while exploring. My mom and I walked for basically eight hours, with breaks of course. We got to see much more of Toronto and decided that we truly did enjoy being in this city.

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Another spectacular sunrise from our AirBnb.

We had already learned to navigate ourselves without a map in the general neighborhood we are located in. My mom, who’s better at locating herself in cities than I am, charged ahead as we started towards our first stop for the day.

One thing I have to say against Toronto – there’s no signage to direct tourists to main attractions. Perhaps I’m simply spoiled from living in the DC area, but I am so grateful that our AirBnb host, Gen, left us a city map with all the points of interest on it because otherwise we may not have known how to get around. Well, we’d at least have had to buy our own map.

Anyways, on our way to the St. Lawrence Market, we stopped by the Cathedral Church of St. James to see if the interior was as gorgeous as the exterior. It certainly was, and it was magnified by an organist who was rehearsing for a recital later in the day. The architecture and art were to the eyes what the music was to the ears – beautiful, ethereal, and majestic. Waiting until the organist finished a movement of the work he was rehearsing, my mom and I quietly slipped away to continue on to the Market.

My first impression when I heard about the St. Lawrence Market was that it would be similar to Boston’s Quincy Market. In fact, they do share many similarities – both contain various shops and restaurants and are locations for high foot traffic. The St. Lawrence Market, however, leans more towards a farmer’s market than anything else, although the proper farmer’s market occurs on Saturdays from 5am-5pm. On Tuesdays-Fridays, the Market is comprised of several vendors carrying all sorts of fresh organic fruits and vegetables, seafood, meats, breads, and cheeses along with the arts, crafts, and souvenir vendors. It is definitely worth a visit when you’re in town – just be sure to check their website for the days and hours the Market is open.

Next on our list to see was the Royal Ontario Museum, but along the way we ran into several note worthy sights: Osgoode Hall, home to justice office and at one point provided accommodations for lawyers and students of law, with it’s serene gardens; the University Avenue Armouries; Queen’s Park; the Ontario Parliament Building; and the University of Toronto Faculty of Music Building. None of these were things we were looking for, but were so glad we found. The music building, especially, was cool for me as a musician and someone who wants to continue to work with musicians.

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After much walking with several tangents for photographs, we finally came upon an old stone structure with the deteriorating engraved letters above the large wooden doors “The Royal Ontario Museum,” known as ROM, for short. Other engravings along either side of the doors said, “The Record of Nature Through Countless Ages,” and “The Arts of Man Through All the Years.” The whole edifice was very classic in nature; it looked like any other museum one would expect in a major city.

Then we turned the corner and BAM!

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Welcome, modern, attention grabbing, in-your-face glass points shooting out the side of the building. The closest thing I can compare it to is the ice attack of the Bewilderbeast in How to Train Your Dragon 2. Yes, yes – I am a die hard HTTYD fan.

 

The architecture was simply stunning and I had a hard time looking away. Instead of going inside the museum, I actually crossed the street to take better picture. Once satisfied that I had a decent enough shot without being able to take an aerial view, mommy and I started up the street and were suddenly distracted by a store.

This was the hidden gem of the day – Remenyi House of Music is a music store that sells and provides maintenance for musical instruments AND sells sheet music. Since we started planning our trip to Canada, I was hoping to find music store where I could search for and purchase music from Canadian composers. Whenever I travel, I like to search for vocal, flute, or chamber music from local composers because they are often difficult, if not impossible, to find outside of the country or even online. I literally felt like a kid in a candy store.

After spending over an hour thumbing through the stacks like I used to do at Dale Music in Silver Spring, MD (may it rest in peace), I departed the proud owner of an anthology of Canadian flute music, a short piece for flute and piano, and a sacred vocal solo – all by Canadian composers. Oh, and the soprano solo from the Faure Requiem – that one was too good to pass up.

Both mommy and I were getting tired at this point, but we wanted to make one more stop before returning to our accommodations. The Royal Conservatory of Music was a mere block away from the ROM and glancing at it from across the street, one would think that it was a castle instead of a conservatory. It’s a beautiful brick structure with five floors, the top three of which are filled solely with teaching studios and practice rooms.

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I actually have two friends who have attended or participated in degree programs here, so it was cool to be in the halls they used to walk. Sadly, we weren’t able to peek into any of the performance halls because of rehearsals, but the taste of one of Canada’s best music educational facilities was enough for us.

After a day full of walking and sight seeing, our feet were very sore but our hearts were happy. A perfect sunset brought an ending to another wonderful day in Toronto. I’m almost sad that we’re leaving tomorrow afternoon… But there is more to see, and Operation Ontario must go on!

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I hope you continue to join me on the journey. 🙂

-Wandering Minstrelette

 

Toronto: Day 1

Toronto is Canada’s most populous city and the fourth most populous in North America after Mexico City, New York, and Los Angeles. Having been to all of these cities, however, I must say that the general atmosphere of Toronto is completely different than the rest.

Yes, Toronto is huge with a wide berth of suburbs (some include Niagara Falls as a suburb, other don’t) and is the anchor city of what is known as the Golden Horseshoe area (where some 26% of Canada’s entire population resides), but as my mom and I walked through the streets exploring and taking in the sights we couldn’t help but notice that the city was more… peaceful, quiet, and clean than the three previously mentioned cities or many others besides.

There was an interesting amalgamation of European style with North American attitude in the people and the buildings. Almost all the names of the streets and businesses bring to mind the nation’s connection with England, especially London. Buildings from the 1800s carry an Old World feel, including the original City Hall which looks more like a cathedral than a place of business and politics. (I particularly liked the gargoyles on the clock tower, quite a nice touch.) Then the new City Hall looks completely different: sleek, modern, attractive – everything one would expect of this type of building today.

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As we passed people on the street, we noticed that especially the men were dressed in what felt like a more European fashion – skinny pants, skinny ties, interestingly attractive shoes. Of course, I realize that these trends are seen all over the world, but I did suddenly have the feeling that I was back in Berlin or London for a moment in a way that going to New York or LA never does.

Another big thing was the smoking. In Europe, it seems like everyone smokes. In the US, it seems like hardly anyone smokes and if they do, they are relegated to specific areas where the habit is allowed. Here in Toronto it seems as if they’ve landed on a midway point where not everyone smokes so much as to make you gag, but where those who need a smoke often will just step outside their office buildings and places of works for a quick puff and then head back in. As long as they don’t smoke inside, they’re good – no other location designation.

One interesting thing for me, as the recent arts management grad, is that Toronto is a major arts hub with “more than fifty ballet and dance companies, six opera companies, two symphony orchestras and a host of theatres.” There are also two major museums, the Royal Ontario Museum and the Art Gallery of Ontario, and a host of other cultural activities in the city revolving around literature (they still have book stores!), food, tourism. Who knows… maybe I should start looking for a job here.

All these things come together to give the city it’s charm and allure. Mommy and I only got to scratch the surface of all the city has to offer, so we’re glad to have another full day and a half to explore before moving northwards.

Here are a few photos from today’s adventures. Enjoy!

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Oh, and I should mention that Mommy and I are staying at an AirBnb while here in Toronto and we are so glad to have found the host we did! Gen is an absolutely lovely person with an AMAZING space which provides phenomenal views of the city no matter what time of day.

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Due to circumstances beyond her control, she will no longer be able to host people after the month of May, so we feel especially blessed to have this opportunity to experience her warm hospitality.

If you’ve never used AirBnb before, I would encourage you to give it a try. It’s so different from staying in a hotel and will give you memories to cherish for the rest of your life.

-Wandering Minstrelette

Moment in the Mist

When Mommy and left the hotel this morning we were a bit distraught to see snow falling from the sky. Not a lot, mind you, but enough to make us both think, “We’re going to freeze today…”

Why? Because today we were taking the tour of Niagara Falls, Canada, which included our northern neighbor’s version of the Maid of the Mist called the Hornblower. When we signed up for the tour, the agent had mentioned to us that technically the Maid of the Mist was a better ride because the boats are better equipped and able to maneuver within the curve of the Horseshoe Falls but that one would only notice after having gone  many, many times. Either way, we were expecting to get really wet.

Our Gray Line tour guide for the day, Carl, picked us up right by the hotel and after gathering the other passengers from locations around Niagara, NY, took us to the border where all we were asked was, “Where do you live?” and “Are you carrying any firearms?” As both of those were easy to answer, everyone made it to the other side without any difficulty and were soon bused to the Hornblower Cruise.

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Mommy didn’t want to get wet and therefore decided to stay below, but I chose to brave the winds and mist on the upper deck. Throngs of people, cloaked by wildly flapping red ponchos, pressed at the railings in an attempt to have the best angle for a memorable shot and a decent looking selfie. Admittedly, I was thinking the same thing as I wanted to be able to share with my family, friends, and followers here, on Facebook, Instagram, Yonder, and Google+. As I couldn’t get to the railing myself, I found the shortest people I could and reached over them until I got just what I wanted.

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Then I heard a father tell one of his kids, “Don’t worry about taking the best picture – be present in the experience. It’ll make a better impression.”

I’ll be honest and say that it only had me pause for a moment, because I was playing the part of a tourist and throughout the rest of the day as we visited different locations of importance on the Canadian side of Niagara and wanted to take photos of the floral clock, the Skylon Tower, the whirlpool, etc., not just to share but really for myself. I want to have memories that are somehow saved, that won’t fade and can be recalled at a click of a button.

But… his words did make me think. How often, in this day and age is our first reaction – when we something interesting, exciting, or even scary – to document and share it? Social media has pushed this urge to new heights and it makes one wonder if we know how to wonder anymore. How to be in awe. How to just be.

One of my favorite movie scenes comes from the film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, when Walter finally finds Sean O’Connell, the wildlife photographer he’s been trying to track during the entirety of the story, up in the Himalayas waiting for the perfect shot of the elusive snow leopard. Walter, trying to figure out what was on a special negative he thinks he’s lost, is trying to coax and answer from Sean when a snow leopard comes into the viewfinder.

Sean motions Walter to peer through the camera at the beautiful “ghost cat,” and then continues to sit and stare across the valley. “When are you going to take it?” asks Walter.

Sean replies, “Sometimes I don’t. If I like a moment, for me, personally, I don’t like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it.”

I need more of this attitude in my life. To enjoy the moment without any distractions and cherish something real, honest, and true. I’m not saying that I won’t be taking anymore pictures during my time in Canada, but this is a philosophy that I hope to make my own – perhaps you will consider it to.

That being said, today’s tour was very enjoyable, even with the random moments of precipitation. It was never too cold and the flimsy ponchos on the Hornblower actually kept us dry. Despite the gray skies, there’s no denying it – the Canadians have the better view.

We returned to our hotel in the afternoon, only to turn right back around and go through US-Canada customs a third time (this time with a little more questioning) and spend a few moments in the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake before heading to Toronto, the next destination of our trip.

Mom and I are truly having a wonderful time on our trip so far. Here’s hoping that as this week continues we’ll learn what it truly means to just stay in the moment, so that it’ll be saved not only in our hard drives, but our hearts.

-Wandering Minstrelette

Sabbath by the Falls

What a lovely Sabbath!

The morning was spent with the warm, welcoming congregation at the Pioneer Memorial SDA Church on Cedar Ave here in Niagara Falls, NY. (Yes, they are aware of the shared name with PMC at Andrews – they are actually making plans to drop the “Memorial” from their name.) It is always so refreshing to attend a smaller church and be reminded how simple and honest worship can be. 

  
  
 Pr. Renee Sims personally welcomed us and actually asked me to give the church a “shout out” from Hope Channel since she and one of the elders recognized me as a participant of Hope Sabbath School. Mom and I were invited to stay after church for a late Mother’s Day potluck, which was delicious and gave us a chance to eat some much desired salad. 

We were very blessed to be visitors at this church today. 

The afternoon was spent braving the wind and exploring the American side of the Falls. We got to see so much more than last night. 

Thankfully we were able to find free parking by a hotel near the state park entrance (why is Niagara not a national park??) and walked across to Goat Island, which then allowed access to Luna Island. 

On Luna Island, you can follow a walkway all the way to the crest of the falls. 

  
Of course, it was crowded, but we were still easily able to get great pictures with the falls in the background. 

Sadly, I’m still in a location with poor wifi, so I’ll have to share those pictures later. 

We’re looking forward to seeing the Canadian side tomorrow! 

-Wandering Minstrelette

Initiate Operation Ontario

I’ve always found it rather amusing that I have been to so many places around the world, but have never made it to our northern neighbor, Canada. Now that all my duties with George Mason University are complete, I decided that it was time to make the pilgrimage.

Packing was an interesting ordeal – I normally am very good about packing light, but since it was going to be just my mother and myself and the fact that we were driving up in her van, I allowed myself the liberty to bring along some things I otherwise would not have considered like a tripod, extra books, my binoculars, etc. I still ended with a rather compact set up, despite having several bags. 

My mom and I were soon on the road and were blessed to have seven straight hours of NO traffic. The on and off rain didn’t even bother us too much and thankfully by the end of the day, the sun came to greet the world in its full glory.

Route 219 is officially our new favorite highway – almost no one was on the road, there was a variety of large highway and small country road, and there was plenty of green all over.

  
Upon arrival, we get settled in to our room at Americas Best Value Inn, some four miles from the American side of the famous Niagara Falls. Not the best, but not the worst place either. 

  
There is a visitor’s center nearby that we popped into to get information on what to see, the cost, etc. Mike, the gentleman behind the counter, was very helpful in explaining the available tour packages for both sides of the falls as well as other things to do around the area. He even told us to make sure we went to see the falls lit up in the evening along with the fireworks. After thanking him and bidding farewell to his little furry companion, Charlie the shih tzu who was chilling on the counter during the entire discourse, we returned to the hotel to rest until dusk. Firstly, because we were tired. Secondly, it would keep us from spending too much money in the first day of our trip – we want to make sure we have enough to enjoy the rest of our trip!

   
 We did end up seeing the falls in the evening, and the lights were gorgeous – although it was obvious that the Canadians had the better view.  

  
We returned to our hotel satisfied and ready to rest so as to tackle tomorrow’s adventures. It was a great way to start off what I am dubbing “Operation Ontario.”

(NB: My wifi isn’t very strong right now, so additional pictures will be added to this post at a later date.)

Be sure to follow my Instagram account to see my latest pictures too: @wanderingminstrelette

Happy travels!

-Wandering Minstrelette

 

Mason Pride

It’s hard to believe that my time at George Mason has officially come to a close.

I somehow managed to extend my stay for a year longer than most full-time graduate students, but I am thankful for every moment that I have had on this vibrant, robust, growing campus.

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My first day of graduate school. 🙂
Things have changed a lot since I first came in Fall 2013. Firstly, I started off as a masters in flute performance student, studying under the amazing Julianna Nickel. She was the main reason I chose to come to Mason, despite opportunities to attend the University of Oregon and the University of Akron (with a full ride to the latter). Never before had I been with so many flutes in one place, and I was honestly surprised at how nice and supportive everyone was. For an instrument where competition is high to get a minimal amount of positions, this studio only showed love and encouragement to each other. I’m confident to say I rather blossomed during my time in Nickel’s studio. IMG_6935

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Prof. Julianna Nickel coaching a fellow flutist, Fall 2013.
Besides the flute studio, I had some amazing experiences that fall. My music in research class had the opportunity to handle old, original manuscripts from the Middle Ages.

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I also made some great friends and together we created wonderful chamber music – oh, and survived graduate level music analysis class. Those who suffer together, bond together, haha.

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Poulenc Sextet

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A typical day in analysis class
But what would change my life forever was joining the Mason Symphony Orchestra. I didn’t know it yet, but I was in for a lot more than I ever imagined when I came to that first rehearsal to play piccolo.

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About halfway through the semester, people started asking me what my plans were for the future. When I told them about my dreams of starting a youth ensemble or opening a conservatory, the question I kept getting was, “Then why are you in performance?”

The first time it shocked me and I didn’t know what to say (very unusual, by the way). After I got it several times, I came up with some half-baked answer that I didn’t entirely believe myself. It wasn’t until I was leaving class one evening and discussing this situation with a classmate that I realized that God was telling me something.

I was in the wrong program.

After much prayer and discussion, I decided to drop my masters in music performance and applied to be accepted into the Arts Management program at Mason. Spring semester of 2014 was a fresh start, with new faces, new classes, and a whole new campus.

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I actually found it harder here to make friends, because most people came for class and left directly afterwards, but eventually I connected with some individuals that have now become dear to my heart. Together we went on field trips to places like the National Portrait Gallery and NPR. Some of us volunteered at the Association for Performing Arts Presenters (APAP) in a frigid New York January. A whole squad attended the Emerging Arts Leaders Symposium (EALS) at American University to attend panels and experience art ourselves as a reminder of why we chose this field. Our Special Event class took us outside of the classroom as well by encouraging us to participate in events near us so we could have the experience of what working as an arts manager feels like in the real world. And of  course, who could forget our culminating Capstone projects!

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I was also blessed with the opportunity to do not one, but two international internships  during my program: Summer 2014 in Niterói, Brazil and Summer 2015 in Berlin, Germany. I have written about both experiences in previous blog posts – be sure to check them out!

 

What I will always cherish the most, however, was the surprise of when I was hired to work for the same orchestra that just a couple of semesters ago I had been performing with. The previous orchestra manager had to leave suddenly in the Spring semester of 2015 and of all the candidates interviewed, I was chosen.

It felt like going back home, not only because of having once been part of the ensemble, but because I had worked for my orchestra in undergrad and felt comfortable in this supporting and managerial role. What I learned over the year and couple of months of my service to this ensemble and its director, Dr. Dennis Layendecker, will be carried with me for the rest of my life. The frustrations and joys, the tensions and celebrations, the overwhelmingly, ridiculously “proud parent” feeling I had at the end of each performance – I’m really going to miss that.

Managing this group not only became my job but my joy. I wish each and every member, especially those who are graduating, the very best in the future and many blessings from the Lord.

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Speaking of graduation, I actually graduated in December, but stuck around to continue working with the MSO until the end of this semester. I had my sister do a graduation photo shoot to celebrate since I couldn’t attend commencement, and boy did they turn out nice. Check our her online portfolio to see some of her great work.

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But now I feel like things are really over. The orchestra had it’s last concert, everyone’s done with finals and presentations, and then yesterday was a celebration of Fall and Spring Arts Management graduates. Once again, I was shocked, surprised, and honored to receive the Erin Gaffney award which, according to the GMU Arts Management website, “is named in honor of Erin Gaffney, MA in Arts Management in 2007, who was instrumental in advancing new programming within the College of Visual and Performing Arts, graduated with High Honors, and was the first recipient of the Dean’s Award. Erin Gaffney passed away on July 10, 2008. The award is presented to an outstanding student who exemplifies Erin’s respect for self, for others, and for the power of the arts to transform.”

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I am pictured here receiving the Erin Gaffney Award with Erin’s parents, brother, and niece.

Truly, I am overwhelmed. God has truly blessed me during my time at Mason and I could not be more proud to call this school my own.

Thanks for the memories, Mason. Now onward to the future.

PS – Keep in touch over the next several days as my mom and I will do a victory tour of Ontario, Canada in celebration of my graduation from GMU. We’re bound for some exciting adventures!

-Wandering Minstrelette