Diana and the Four Elements – Earth

The BEAR TRAIL

I know that a bear lives on our property and have seen it numerous times. He once scurried away from me as I crested a hill, and another time as I stepped out of my car, but my most vivid connection to this black beauty was when I stumbled upon his “washroom” in the forest. This site was situated just outside the upper reaches of Bear Trail, a walking path that I am currently creating at our nature preserve near Dorset, Ontario.

I initially noticed a single conical lump of dung with its telltale sign of berry seeds, but quickly realized that in the half acre of forest floor around me were dozens of lumps. It was at that moment that I realized I was trespassing on his most private space, and fear overcame me as I looked around for signs of his presence. I know now to keep a good distance from this spot and have made sure that the paths I have created are equally respectful of this space.

The Black Bear, while quite common in Canada, is currently experiencing several challenges to its survival in Ontario’s cottage country. Poaching has been a persistent problem as the animal has been hunted in the last couple of decades for their gall bladders which are used in traditional medicines. It is also threatened as more areas are developed, fragmenting the bear’s habitat, and resulting in more of them being struck by cars and trucks as they move about the landscape. The interaction with humans is also causing conflicts due to poor food waste disposal, as garbage odors attract them to forage at roadside garbage cans and dumps.

Another significant stressor on the bear population is the increase in the length and severity of mid-summer droughts caused by climate change. These dry periods which occur in July and August, seem to be getting longer as the years pass, reduce the quality and quantity of the berries and acorns which make up the bulk of the bear’s diet. They require ample quantities of these foods to build up a thick layer of fat before the many months of winter hibernation.

Together these stresses are causing a decline in the overall health of the wild population of bears, especially in the area around our property. The goal with the creation of our preserve is to maintain a large tract of undisturbed wilderness for them to inhabit and by the plump silhouette of the bear I saw last fall as I was exploring our property; he seems to have found ample food sources in the forests we are protecting.

To ensure ample space for our local bears, the paths within our preserve will be kept to the areas immediately adjacent to the oval clearing that I have created at the end of the entry drive. From this ceremonial point of arrival, the view north is towards the Diana Monument with its three arched pergolas (refer to my charcoal sketch below).

The middle arch announces the Bear Trail and is marked a the top of the arced pergola by a large sculptural element which evokes a bear skull. The route of the trail follows the deep, shadowed valley created by Berley Creek which drops 30 meters, over a series of water falls from Carl Rideout Lake, into the Lake of Bays.

The valley’s steep, rocky slopes rise abruptly on each side, creating a darkened moist environment with the sound of waterfalls filling the air, as the water rushes over huge moss-covered glacial boulders.

A journey on the Bear Trail proceeds on a staccato rhythm, with naturally occurring sights positioned almost every thirty meters along the walk. 

I have captured some of the most beautiful moments along this winding trail in the series of photographs below. I have placed these images on the page in the way that you would encounter these sights along the Bear Trail. The rhythm of these features occurs left and right of the trail as you move up the valley from the Diana Monument. The way the hiker experiences this route is analogous to the way a bear walks in the woods, its eyes looking back and forth, as it lumbers through the landscape.

Looking Left after the passing the “Bear Sculpture” that leads the eye from the Diana Monument, the granite cliff covered with abundant moss and lichen, comes into sight.

Looking Right the sound of Bertha Falls can be heard as you depart from the rock face and the falls comes into view as you ascend the valley.

Looking Left across from the falls is a 90-degree rockface I have entitled the “Shifted Room” where a large piece of the Canadian Shield is cracked at 90 degrees and shifted five meters downhill creating an unusual architectural room within the forest.

Looking Right, Berley Falls comes into view after a short walk up the fern covered valley.

Looking Left (and up) at the rugged, sun filled hillside, with gnarly oak trees clinging to this rocky landscape, one can catch a glimpse of the Wolf Monument which will be placed at the highest point of the rockface. This sculptural piece while visible from the lower valley is accessible only from the Wolf Trail.

Looking Right as you crest the rockface that Berley Falls cascades over, the view is directed immediately upwards toward the slit in the hillside to the east.  A sculptural piece will be visible beyond this cut in the rockface.  While this route is not assessable directly from the Bear Trail the hiker will remember this spot if they hike on the Moose Trail later in their journey.

Looking Left the trail proceeds up the rocky hillside which is populated with young oak and white pine trees.

Looking Right the view is downward from the rocky hillside toward the multiple cascades of Shirley Falls.

Looking Left once you reach the upper section of the rocky hillside, the view will be toward the Shirley Temple which I will be constructing adjacent to Shirley Falls.  At this second “compass point” on the landscape the Wolf, the Moose and the Bear Trails, which began at the Diana Monument, meet again.

Looking Right the view up towards the opening in the forest canopy, created by the upper lake, is towards the Gatekeeper Bridge which is the sculptural piece dedicated to my mother, Shirley Rideout. A bridge provides access over Berley Creek, creating a threshold onto the paths linking the Four Follies around Carl Rideout Lake.

At the site of the Shirley Temple hikers can either proceed to the Gatekeeper Bridge and follow the paths which connect the Four Follies around Carl Rideout Lake or may decide to explore the Wolf or Moose Trails which will eventually lead them back to the Diana Monument.

The interlocking routes of this system of trails can accommodate the desire of each individual yet remain an easily navigable route either way they are travelled upon.

While hikers traversing the Moose and Wolf Trails have views which expand outward toward the surrounding landscape, the Bear Trail is self contained and introspective. This trail focuses on the intimate details of Berley Valley, which has been carved by glaciation and eroded over the centuries by the creek which flows through it.

While I want to permit the exploration of this stunning landscape by my guests, I have kept the trails confined to a small section of the overall preserve and in doing so I hope to ensure that the bear, and any of his family, will have ample room to live undisturbed in this huge expanse of Canadian Wilderness.

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