Books, Backpacks and the Bruce Trail, or: The Art of the Hike-U

Blog Books, Backpacks and the Bruce Trail, or: The Art of...

Living with Christine as Readers In Residence, we have witnessed repeatedly how the magic of the Children’s Reading Place bolsters a child’s imagination and creatively transforms their reading process. Tucking into a reading nook, or more recently underneath a tent-like, draped table with a flashlight and favourite book (sometimes with a parent too), enhances the experience! By encouraging children and families to take this experience home and read together, they receive an emotional, psychological, cognitive and spiritual first-aid kit; an activity that promotes health and learning; unplugging them from the complexity and busyness of life.

books sit on top of a table that has fabric draped between the legs, a flashlight illuminating a corner of a child's reading nook
a draped book-nook at the Children’s Reading Place

In October I spent six days backpacking with a dear friend on the scenic Bruce Trail from Lion’s Head to Tobermory, Ontario. This section, of one of Canada’s oldest and longest marked hiking trails, follows the dramatic edge of the Niagara Escarpment above the translucent, turquoise waters of the Georgian Bay, on the Northeastern arm of Lake Huron.

turquoise and blue water on a rocky Canadian coastline
Georgian Bay, Lake Huron

When hiking I always carry the “10 essentials” (compass, fire-starter, first-aid kit, etc.) however, on this adventure we added an 11th essential…books!

Months before the hike, my friend suggested that we both recommend to each other one book we had never read, and then each read both of the books prior to our hike so we could discuss them en route; a backpacking book club! He suggested a book on poetry titled “Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World” by Jane Hirshfield and I suggested “In the Shelter: Finding a home in the world” by Padraig O’ Tuama. We loved both books, but had no idea how much the pre-reading and discussing of these books would enhance our journey. Having both highlighted sections of the books, we then shared passages throughout the day and engaged in rich dialogue as we hiked along.  In the warmth of the tent at night we also read excerpts out loud  by headlamp, and drifted off to sleep with bits of poetry shaping our dreams. It reminded me of camping with my children and watching them doze off as we read Harry Potter.

Dale’s book suggestion (Ten Windows) contained some wonderful poems that lent themselves to being read out loud, slowly letting the words sink in. We particularly enjoyed a chapter on the famous 17th century Japanese poet, Matsuo Basho, who wrote in Haiku form. The following translation of one of his poems captures his emotion during an evening walk:

“this road
through autumn nightfall-
no one walks it”

On one particular leg of our backpack, dusk crept in on us unexpectedly as we walked down an abandoned farm road lined with flaming-red, maple trees. Reaching our night’s campsite, I remembered these lines by Basho and was surprised by how accurately they captured the stillness and my weariness.

an unexpected purple-blue dusk sets on a copse of red maple trees; in the foreground a rotting and greying wooden fence line an abandoned farm road
Dusk on an abandoned farm road

Basho also worked collaboratively with other poets…one poet would write the first line of a poem and then send it on to other poets to complete the next lines. Inspired by this idea, Dale and I decided to create collaborative Haiku on the trail. One of us would recite the first line (usually 5 syllables), and then the next person would follow it with a 7 syllable line, and finally we’d return to the first person to complete the poem with a 5 syllable line. We called this “Hike-u”, and it sounded something like:

“Hike without speaking (Dale)
Distance measured by inscape* (Terry)
Gratitude grows here (Dale)

*inscape roughly translates as a person or objects’ inner nature

Creating “Hike-u” heightened our senses (we noticed minute, colourful fungi on tree trunks) and brought playfulness to otherwise arduous
sections of the trail. I invite you to try this form of collaborative poetry with another person or your children. You don’t have to be carrying a backpack or be outside to enjoy this activity!

The book I chose (Finding Shelter) had many thought-provoking chapters, each followed by short poem. In one chapter the author, Padraig, describes a time in his life where he felt extremely lost (which can happen to any of us) and sought comfort in a bookstore. There he discovers a copy of The Lord of the Rings and reads the passage where Gandalf dies and his companions have gathered to comfort one another. I loved Paidraig’s description of the lifesaving power of a book, “…I read it over and over, standing at a bookshelf, holding a heavy book in the middle of the city. Hello to the need for shelter. Hello to the stories that shelter us.” Later he takes the book with him on his travels and states ” I had brought a fiction to hold me together.
It was a good fiction, and it worked.” So perhaps my idea of books being the 11th hiking essential was not so far-fetched after all!

Here in the Rockies, snow has begun blanketing the hiking trails, but it occurs to me that winter walks, cross-country skiing or snowshoeing might be other activities where books could be incorporated, much like during our backpacking book club. A nighttime reading in a backyard snow-fort by headlamp, turning off the phones and taking turns reading to each other while driving through the dark of winter, reading under the Christmas tree lights or…?

This fall and winter, we are once again offering the popular Read with Dads Night at the Children’s Reading Place. Without giving away the magic of these evenings, one component is an opportunity for dads to read with children by flashlight, in the dark. It is a way to conjure up the feeling one gets when tucked cozily into a tent or under the covers at bedtime.  What other creative ways can you come up with to promote and enhance the experience of reading?

At the end of the backpacking trip I came across this quote by Marcel Proust: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in seeking new eyes”. Back at the Children’s Reading Place I re-imagined this quote as “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new books but in seeking new ways of bringing magic to the reading of these books”.

May the reading place you create at home, on a walk, in a car, on snowshoes, or at night in a tent or snow fort, add a new dimension to an already wonderful pastime.

Bookfully Yours,

Terry (Reader in Residence)