They say that planning a trip is as good for you as taking it.

Getting away from it all is good for you, but planning it and looking forward to it are actually the bits that are best for your health.  That’s why I’m particularly fond of travel blogs and travel books in the winter.

But they often come with a few inherent problems:  They’re about places I either don’t have time or can’t afford to get to; they’re about places I’m interested in reading about, but not interested in going to; or they’re about all the attractions the writer went to in a whole huge area, like France, or Bora Bora in one giant encyclopaedic post – not individual spots or neighbourhoods that I can locate and explore.

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This was a great day, part of a story I love to tell.  And it’s nothing like what my everyday actually looks like.

And while it’s great that people write about those places and in those ways, I’m often left feeling a bit mixed after reading them, and wishing I had something that spoke more to me.  Thankfully, in the long interstices between floating down rivers in Costa Rica’s emerald jungles and re-discovering the subtle pleasures of winter, I spend a lot of time sitting around and reading – and one of my favourite discoveries in recent years is Ontario’s Old-Growth Forests.

Funny, that.  Ontario’s Old-Growth Forests.  It doesn’t sound exceptionally sexy.  It doesn’t have an Adventure Sounding Title.  It’s not a travel guide.

Well, it has a few key ingredients for me.  When I look at them, none of them is particularly revelatory.  But, people often ask me how I plan exciting trips near-by, so here’s the combination that I’ve found works for me:

  1. Personal interest.  I love forests.  After being introduced to Mark S. Burnham Provincial Park, I wanted to learn more about Ontario’s few remaining old-growth forests (forests that have been left mostly alone since the arrival of European settlers), so I could go see them.  Travel guides and blogs tend to have a bit of everything, not all of which appeals to me.  This whole book is about something that appeals to me.  Boom.
  2. Locations.  It’s essentially a catalogue of places to visit.  Best of all, most of these places are free, so it fits my budget.
  3. It’s local.  I’m not going to break the bank getting to any of these spots, and each of them has helped me get over the idea that I have to travel far to travel well.

Ontario’s Old-Growth Forests helped me discover that that’s the secret recipe for me in reading about travel (even if the book’s not really about travel):  Learning about places of interest in an area that’s accessible to me.

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The magnificent hemlock forests of Clear Lake and Sampson Pond are only a few hours away.

For those of us who love green spaces and live around here, Ontario’s Old-Growth Forests is a fantastic and eye-opening guide to the topic and the area.  Reading it and visiting the locations it covers opened my eyes to the entirely different world that Ontario, especially southern Ontario, used to be – vast, ancient forest studded with mammoth networks of lakes and wetlands – demolished by European settlers to turn the woods into farmland and the timber into sail masts, soap, and pulp.  And now we here turn the farmland into bleak big-box parking lots and subdivisions named after the ecological features that were flattened to create them.  (It’s true; drive around southern Ontario and note all the subdivision names that end in “-Forest,” “-Meadow,” “-Hills,” etc.)

I’ll get off my soapbox now, but Ontario’s Old-Growth Forests left me wanting to preach from it.  It left me both excited to explore and ready to defend what remains.

Having visited several of the locations it mentions – the Niagara Glen, Ball’s Falls, Peter’s Woods, High Park, Mark S. Burnham Provincial Park, Fathom Five National Marine Park, Temagami Island, Clear Lake – has only grown my interest and inspired me to visit more of the sites in the book.

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Fathom Five National Marine Park has some of the oldest trees – and clearest waters – in the province.

Both happily and lamentably, all of these places (with the exception of Flowerpot Island’s east shore) were nearly vacant when I was there.  It’s wonderful as they need to be protected, but also sad that more people who live in Ontario don’t appreciate them.

Regardless, Ontario’s Old Growth Forests serves as an educational guide to exactly what it advertises.  It breaks the (gargantuan) province down into (vast) regions and explains the sort of flora and fauna you’ll see in each.  The history provided alongside gives depth to each trip.  It’s been a great gateway for me to building my local travel map, given me the chance to dream about green on dark winter nights, and to enjoy planning little vacations to places I could explore in a day trip or on a long weekend – or (given the immensity of Ontario) a much longer road trip.

And the lessons I’ve taken from it about how to read about travel have helped me much more broadly.  Less-than-helpful queries such as “What to do in Costa Rica” have narrowed (location!) to particular points of interest (they’ve got to pique my interest!) in a smaller area (keep it close to where I am/will be!) – like “the waterfalls of the Nicoya peninsula.”  (P.S.  If you’re ever in Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula, get your ass on an ATV and do a waterfall tour.  Amazing.)  And while that formula is no panacea (sometimes it’s just nice to explore and see what happens), there’s no perfect recipe anyway, and when I have used it, it’s provided great results every time.

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