Yesterday was our anniversary, and as is our tradition, we spent a good part of it outdoors exploring someplace new. This time we put our bikes on our new car rack and went to the national park on the Iles de Boucherville in the middle of the St. Lawrence river, only a few miles from the city. (If you visit the link, be sure to watch the video, even if you don't speak French, for an introduction to typical Quebec emotive discourse, courtesy of the park service's Marie-Helene.)
There's a series of three islands that are part of the park, each one increasingly remote, and 20 km of cycling trails. The first island has a fairly conventional parking lot and under-the-trees picque-nique sites, but that's as far as cars are allowed. After a short bike ride or walk you come to a channel that divides this island from its next neighbor, and can only be crossed by a solar-powered ferry. So after a short wait, you and your bike-rising or pedestrian friends are taken across the water and can set off on a circuit around the second island (which contains a golf course, and an interior which is farmland), or head out to the last island, Ile Grosbois. As we were riding along a large cornfield on the second island, we passed the old city center of Boucherville on the southern shore, with its heavy stone river wall, tall church spire, and Hotel-de-Ville, all made of the same grey stone, when the church bells rang out at 4:00 pm, and it felt like something that has been happening every Saturday for at least three centuries, calling the faithful out of the fields.
The third island is reached by a narrow bridge. We went all the way out to the end, and then rode back along the northern shore, which is marshy and much quieter; the islands on the northern side of this one are protected wild sanctuaries with no public traffic at all, with a quiet channel and marshy areas inbetween, so this is the area where migratory birds and native waterfowl hang out. Once we figured all this out, we know the areas we want to go back to; there's a tower that functions as a blind and would be an excellent place to spend a fall midweek afternoon, when I'm quite sure we'd be nearly the only people on the island. As it was, we only saw three or four other people all the time we were on the third island.
We didn't see any exotic species yesterday: gulls, sandpipers, cormorants, and various songbirds from warblers and goldfinches to swallows. And we finally saw one of the small deer from the herds which are resident to the islands. The fields we rode along were bordered with goldenrod, purple asters, tansy, and thistles, and the birds and insects were very happy -- so was I. What a remarkable sanctuary - and so close to home!