Reflections on an unprecedented year of solitude – Dorset – 2020

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It’s December 26, 2020 and the first day of the second Covid19 lockdown. I am sitting at my desk looking out at the blanket of pure white snow, which covers my garden in Toronto.

2020 has been a year of tumultuous global scale events that have affected us all as individuals, in deeply personal ways. During this time of restraint, while following the provincial isolation guidelines, I have had time to focus on the master plan for the nature preserve that I am creating near Dorset, Ontario.

I have been assembling the property in Muskoka since 1996 and after purchasing the last portion of the small lake (located in the foreground of the image below) two years ago, I am now able to preserve this complete watershed and lake ecosystem. Its 200 acres of dramatic geology has many distinct environments which together represent a microcosm of the numerous waterside niches found within the St. Lawrence Highlands Bioregion. Over the last two and a half decades I have been envisioning how I would create a unique landscape experience on this property that would celebrate it’s beauty while retaining its wilderness appeal.

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With my social calendar all but erased, I have been able to push ideas that have been conceptually brewing for the past few years. The wall behind my drafting table is a collage of imagery, quotes and inspirations – and a testament to the progress I made this year while envisioning the way this property will be curated to ensure its appreciation and long-term survival.

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The construction last fall of the entry driveway and the oval turnaround transformed how my partner Kyle and I have been able to access the site, which was previously both metaphorically and literally impenetrable. This new space within the vast forest provides a spot for orientation, from which a series of pathways lead through the Muskoka wilderness.

We purposefully situated the oval on the site with a compass orientation to provide bearing for anyone entering the property. The long axis of the oval is oriented east/west. The short axis aligns with an ancient stump on the south, with a path leading north into the forest.

Following the path from the oval clearing northward, the landscape undulates down a natural ravine and gently winds its way around a series of moss-covered boulders. A few metres further a stream serves as a natural barrier to the remainder of the path. A large stone in the stream serves as the perfect solution to crossing this modest waterway.

Further along, the path leads to an opening in the forest where I envision an outdoor installation or sculpture in honour of one of my favourite relatives who passed many years ago. From this emotionally significant place of reflection, there are three distinct paths from which to choose.

The first extends around an enormous cliff face and winds its way to the highest elevation on the property. From here, the view of Rabbit’s Bay is clear, and the Dorset Lookout Tower can be seen on the distant horizon.

The second path involves crossing (leaping) several small streams in the river valley enroute to the breathtaking shoreline of the Lake of Bays. Along the way, observant hikers will notice several dams that have been constructed by the inexhaustible beavers who can be seen in the early mornings and late afternoons.

The third route follows a stream that flows through a boulder strewn river valley and ascends to the secluded  upper-level lake, which is located thirty meters above the much larger Lake of Bays.

This pristine 10 acres of water is the jewel of the property, and is best observed from a massive rock formation that I’ve affectionately named “Whaleback Rock” given its similarity in size and shape.  

With the forced isolation imposed by the Covid 19 lockdowns, Kyle and I were able to spend almost every weekend since the middle of July until the first snow fall in mid November creating these paths, and have developed an understanding for how they complement the existing conditions.

This year we focused primarily on the third route described above, which we have been trekking intermittently for the last 25 years. During those years we have followed a stream through an adjacent property to safely reach our own private lake hidden deep within the forest. In 2018 we were able to purchase the adjacent property and have made subtle changes that have had great effect in the experience of enjoying this landscape.

The sound of trickling water compelled us, to strip almost one hundred years of debris off a massive pile of rocks, thus exposing a series of small waterfalls that were present on the property but had remained hidden beneath the tangle of vegetation.

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BEFORE
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AFTER

Based on this experience I established an approach that I am going to take for the layout, organization and curation of the entire property. With relatively little by way of cost, we have been able to expose the valley’s unique characteristics. Simply put, I’m trying to showcase the best of what nature has provided.

I chose this property because of the stunning variety of natural conditions found there, from wind swept highlands with gnarly oaks, to intimate beaver ponds and a secret lake from which flows a crystal clear stream, through a bolder strewn valley.

With the arrival of the first snow in Dorset my focus has now moved back to the drawing board. Between bouts of pruning and clearing, Kyle and I were able to explore other areas of the property that had been undiscovered until this year.

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While I created a draft master plan for the site during the first lockdown, the new information discovered this past summer will further inform and strengthen my overall concept.   

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The thought of a lockdown can be daunting, but much like the tulips I planted in October which are now under the blanket of snow in my backyard these bulbs are using this time to strengthen their resolve to thrive and survive. I will do the same, and I look forward to exploring the many paths that lay ahead.

 

 

 

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