Ontario Travels with Tessi
by Cheryl Smyth
(Shrewsbury, Ontario, Canada)
Posing in front of Georgian Bay
I found myself standing at the top of a bluff gazing at a spiral staircase that would take us to the rock laden shoreline and stunning blue water below. I was ready to descend the narrow steel mesh stairs. Tessi, however, resisted no matter how much I coaxed her. I knew she would enjoy the exploration below, but I couldn’t convince her of that. She snuggled all of her 16 kg (36 lb.) into me as I carried her down.
Once we arrived at the bottom, I met up with two women resting on a small boulder. They were surprised to see a dog. They thought I had carried a child down the stairs.
Though Canada is a relatively safe country, the remoteness of many of its regions concerns me. Since adopting Tessi, my dog, I’m less apprehensive about travelling alone, if only for the fact that she is very friendly and would probably scare off a potential attacker with her wet kisses. Tessi also makes an awesome companion as she loves to experience new places as much as I do. Small obstacles, such as the staircase at the Spirit Rock Conservation Area in the Bruce Peninsula (called the Bruce by locals), are well worth the joy Tessi brings me as we travel our small part of the world.
We’ve savoured our outings onshore, where I’ve admired the Caribbean-like Georgian Bay and Tessi has busied herself sniffing around the rocks interspersed with grass and weeds. I had never been concerned about any small creatures we may have trouble with. The brief information I had read about the declining existence of Massassauga rattlesnakes stated that encountering one would be rare as they avoid contact with humans if possible. Even the snake’s bite is not as deadly as that of its southern rattlesnake cousins. I realized how fortunate we had been when told later that the Massassauga snake’s nasty bite can result in serious wounds in a human adult and death to a dog Tessi’s size. The creatures make their home around the rocks Tessi had been sticking her nose in. I also realized I needed to wear something more substantial than sandals. Solid shoes and thick socks would have been smarter.
While hiking on the rugged shore, I was too busy keeping an eye on the bordering forest for any appearances of black bears, which live throughout most of Ontario, to worry about what may be around my feet. Having grown up in the southern area of the province where there are none of the huge animals, I made sure I understood what hiking involves in bear country before heading north the first time with Tessi. Keeping her leashed ensured she wouldn’t chase a bear; because once a dog realizes the chase wasn’t a good idea, he or she will return to you with the bear following.
Like snakes, bears tend to avoid contact with people. Tessi and I have had many hikes through bear country without ever seeing the animal. Keeping Tessi leashed gives me peace of mind just in case. It also lets us safely enjoy sections of the amazing Niagara Escarpment stretching 725 km (450 miles) between the northern tip of the Bruce and the Niagara region in southern Ontario. Numerous smaller trails, such as the one at Spirit Rock, will lead to the famous Bruce Trail. The 773 km (480 mile) trail follows the escarpment revealing waterfalls and deep gorges in the southern portion; and many spots overlooking Georgian Bay.
Poison ivy grows among the wide variety of vegetation flourishing throughout the escarpment, and the rest of the province. Not only can I suffer directly from the nasty plant’s irritating sap, but Tessi, not bothered by it herself, can get it on her fur and transfer it to me when I pet her. During one outing, a friend, who often accompanies us on our hikes, ended up with the itchy rash on her face, arms, and legs. I’ve managed to avoid it so far.
Having to avoid certain buildings because canines aren’t allowed, can make travel tricky. It limits our options, though I generally prefer the outdoors anyway. During one of our visits to the Bruce, I wanted to check out the view from the observation tower in the Bruce Peninsula National Park. I had to enter the visitor centre to pay the admission fee. Since Tessi wasn’t permitted inside, I left her tied to a post. Fortunately, I could see her while I quickly made my purchase. The annoyance I felt disappeared once I saw the stunning scenery, from the tips of the cedar trees below fanning out to the bay where islands dot the horizon.
Our enjoyment of the natural beauty of the outdoors makes it worth the inconveniences we encounter. I thought of this after our wander along the bay at the Spirit Rock Conservation Area, when I carried a wet and dirty Tessi back up the spiral staircase. This time, I held her away from me so she wouldn’t muddy my T-shirt. I didn’t want to get messy yet; we still had the rest of the day and more scenery to experience.