As the sun sparkles through the patchy green roof overhead, John Foster jots down all of the flora and fauna he spots.
“This is the time of the Aster and the Golden Rod” he says, as monarch butterflies flutter by young asparagus stalks.
A French immersion supply teacher by profession and qualified botanist in his spare time, Foster is one of the regulars who meet at 1:30 every second Sunday of the month to enjoy a theme hike.
Put on by the Rouge Valley Conservation Centre, located on the cusp of the Rouge Valley, the hikes generally last for two hours.
On this week the theme was ‘butterflies, birds and mushrooms’ as “Barracuda Bob” (volunteer conservationist Robert Marshall), led the seven people that turned up.
“What we’re trying to do is make the public and everyone in the community aware of the importance of the environment for climate change and any other problems,” says Murray Johnston, president of the Rouge Valley Foundation.
“We emphasize understanding the environment so we know why to protect it, not only for this generation but generations to come.”
For first-time hikers with tour, mother-daughter duo Bawany and Arany Shan viewed this time as more than just the opportunity to see garter snakes and acorns.
“This is where me and my mom bond,” says Arany, who has just graduated from medical school.
Bawany, who is an artist, uses these walks to draw inspiration for the landscapes, pastels and still works she renders.
Arany, who grew up in the area, remembers it from a simpler time.
“We came here with school once. Maybe because I was shorter back then everything seemed bigger, but it looks the same. They’ve kept it well,” she said.
As the hike begins, the surrounding wilderness seems to envelope the trails, edging closer and closer.
“This is the part I was looking forward to,” says Arany as she looks up. “Being covered by trees.”
With numerous types of Aster, such as heartleaf interspersed among various types of orchids, the Rouge Valley is home to people who enjoy seeing nature in all its intricacies.
And for retired chemical engineer Adolf Ebinger, this includes something a bit larger than flowers.
“Sometimes we’ve seen deer. Usually they go down to the river to drink water, but we have seen them.”
Fellow hiker Dhani Nallainathan says it is because the area is an old apple orchard, which is what attracts the deer.
But what attracts Nallainathan, who has studied at the meditation school the Dharma Centre, is the peaceful elements of the Rouge Valley.
“I like to sit and meditate. Behind Pearse House [the building of the Conservation Centre] is a medicine wheel. It is a very spiritual place that was used as a Seneca peace grounds where anyone could come to meet and not be attacked.”
But there are larger (literally) things residing in this ecosystem.
Approximately 275 to 300 years old, a gargantuan white pine tree measuring over 280 centimeters in circumference and 63 centimetres in diameter at breast height, quietly resides in the deepest folds of the valley.
With equally majestic greenery scattered throughout the valley it is no wonder that Nallainathan is a regular hiker.
“I really enjoy being in nature and breathing lots of oxygen. It revitalizes body, mind and spirit.”