The chirping sounds of the crickets, the stutter of the woodpeckers, the fluttering of birds on the water and the faint hum of distant traffic muffled in the background all combine to let me know I am in my happy place.
At 47 hectares, Bois-des-Esprits in south Winnipeg is the largest remaining riverbank forest in the city. (Who do I thank for saving this piece of heaven?). You may take your out-of-town guests to The Forks, but I take mine to the woods. The beautiful tree carvings created to enchant and surprise you and pristine wooded surroundings make even the murky waters of the Seine River look lovely.
While I frequent Bois-des-Esprits multiple times a week, no two visits are the same, as this perfect space offers an ever-changing cornucopia of delights year-round.
Today, for example, my canine companion Cosmo-Dawg and I started out for an early-morning run. With the moon behind us and the sun rising in front, we began on the familiar path, when what to our wondering eyes should appear but a black-and-white skunk and I said, "Oh dear!"
Now Cosmo-Dawg had never seen a skunk before and was quite intrigued. Cosmo advanced, the skunk puffed up, I yelled, and we all ran. It may be peaceful in Bois-Des-Esprits, but it's never dull.
Often, we will encounter deer in the woods or a fawn on the trail. We all stop and look at each other and try to figure out who is going to move first. I feel like it is their space we are encroaching on, so I wait for them to make their move, feeling privileged to watch their white tails as they take a few graceful strides and disappear in mere seconds.
But it is not just nature you see while in Esprits. I see couples nestled on benches, hard-core runners with their earbuds in place. I see leisurely dog-walkers with pooper bags in hand, and I see geo-cachers far off the trail crawling around in search of a treasure. Mostly, I see others who are loving and appreciating this space as much as I do. No one is cranky or miserable. No one, ever. It is a happy place.
Paddling through the woods, although challenging when water levels are low, is another fun way to explore. We have had to portage now and then, and we sure scratched up the bottom of our canoe, but it is worth it to have the opportunity to see the beavers and turtles and other water wildlife up close.
If you want to feel like a 12-year-old again, hop on an off-road bike and take the monkey trails through the woods. Not only a test for your quads, these trails will challenge your core to the core as you navigate the tight turns around the trees and bump off those roots and stumps. Thirty minutes out there on the bike make this 40-something chick feel young again.
Of all the treasures I have discovered in "my" forest, Love Tree is my favourite. Cast not by a human carver, but by Mother Nature herself, this hidden gem inspired my year-long "Love Everywhere Project." Currently on Day 342, this life-changing concept involves photo-chronicling love in the world, purposefully doing an act of service or sharing a story of someone who has done something loving. It has had ripples of positive effects in my life, in our community and even globally. Reaching far beyond my expectations, it further proved that some of my best thinking, idea-generating and productivity occurs in a place where I do nothing at all.
However you decide to enjoy your time in Bois-des-Esprits (Rollerblades highly discouraged and swimming definitely unpleasant -- although Cosmo disagrees with the swimming part), I can guarantee you that no matter how you feel when you go into the forest, when you come out, you will feel different.
Without spending a nickel, without saying a word, your mood will be shifted and your spirit will be lifted by spending some time in this incredible special place.
Stephanie Staples is an internationally acclaimed motivational speaker and the author of When Enlightening Strikes -- Creating a Mindset for Uncommon Success.
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