I’m just back from a quick trip to Canada. It’s amazing how just a few days away from home can feel like weeks. I drove up to Quebec alone, stopping once in a while to stretch my legs and admire scenes like this – the flower bed at the Williston, Vermont rest stop. What a great display of sustainable plants – everything from rudbeckia and echinacea to phlox, monarda and eupatorium. The plants were thriving, probably because of all the rain.
I was staying in Mont St. Hilaire, less than 20 miles southeast of Montreal. The focal point of the community is the mountain, which rises up out of the flat land quite abruptly, to a height of 1,358 feet. In 1978, it was recognized by UNESCO as a biosphere reserve because of its unique ecology which includes some of the last remaining virgin forest in the region, and many unique animal and plant species.
It is also a federal migratory bird sanctuary.
One morning, I decided to hike one of several trails that explore the mountain. It was going to be a hot day, so I started out early, and took the “Pain de Sucre” or “Sugarloaf” trail that went to the top. The trail climbed steadily through the forest, which includes trees that are hundreds of years old. Many of the beech trees closest to the trail had been vandalized – something that drives me crazy.
It took me just over an hour to reach the top. The upper part of the trail was very rocky, and when I finally got to the summit, I was greeted by a knotted rope embedded in the smooth rock dome.
This was the only way I could haul myself up to the final section – the part with the view – and I sure wasn’t going to miss out on that after all the huffing and puffing it had taken to get me up there. The specks in the photo below are flies. There were hundreds of them hatching, which made resting at the top less than appealing.
McGill University administers the Mont St. Hilaire Nature Centre, which guarantees public access to certain areas, while much of the mountain remains a true preserve, permanently closed to visitors. It’s a real treasure for visitors, scientists, and especially the flora and fauna that live there.