Highlighting the Power of Community and Caring in 40 Days and 40 Hikes

True to its Loops and Lattes forebears, Nicola Ross’ latest book, 40 Days and 40 Hikes continues what has become a trademark form: historical guide meets purveyor of anecdotal finery. It is a story of landscapes: inner, historical, geographic, ecologically sensitive, endangered, and contested landscapes. It is a must-read addition to the Loops and Lattes library, and is for trail lovers and local historians of all stripes.

It is an atypical soul-searching adventure in that there is no inner battle wrought from the fires of self-discovery that sparks the journey. The battle is extant and seems distant from the comfortable space one might read it: developers, climate change, highway 413’s looming effects on Caledon’s landscape, invasive species, and the need for more green space amidst seemingly unstoppable sprawl. Where nature’s abundance flows freely, for many of us concerned with Ontario’s green spaces and Greenbelted Niagara Escarpment, the somber news of aggregate mining and development can punctuate our enjoyment of it. Rather than stick to grim axioms of “enjoy it while it’s still here,” Ross’ writing is defiantly, albeit cautiously optimistic of the future of the Niagara Escarpment.

I’ve heard of songwriting, that a song title is good only if you can say it after every line in a chorus such that the song makes even more sense. Similarly, Ross asks a question that nestles into the start of each chapter as its guiding question: Did I love the Niagara Escarpment enough? She seeks an answer to this question on the trails, and readers are treated to stories from her life, and hikes along the way.

Ross’ book also brings to life the best sense of community that I was fortunate enough to find solace in during the worst of the pandemic. Much like the infamous “Jeep Wave” of Jeep drivers, the Bruce Trail and Escarpment trail-goers have a “Trail Wave,” accompanied by a short greeting, quip about the weather and, if you’re lucky, a tip about the terrain or wildlife spotting ahead. The kindness of strangers was a steady feature of Ross’ journey along the trail and though a memoir of her experience alone, the cast of characters turn a very long walk into wonderful storytelling. Our environmental future is uncertain but what Ross makes clear is the fact that we can be certain of the power of one another in caring, which is more than enough to create ripples turned waves to protect the Escarpment.

I related profoundly to her thoughts on hiking in Caledon that, “Being here is like snuggling in bed on a rainy morning. I know the trails, the hills, the trees, its smells and sounds. I fit into this landscape. It’s a connection that has taken decades to develop.” It’s what made the book so special as I read more of it: Nicola Ross writes a story about her journey on the trail that is as much her story, as we find ourselves in it too. Born and raised in the Region of Peel, then living in Halton Hills, Wellington and now Kitchener-Waterloo, the Escarpment has been a main fixture of my life. I read part of the book as a memoir, a handbook on how to do a similar end-to-end hike, and a clarion call to protect the lands that developers are slowly encroaching on in policy and politics.

Ross’ reflexivity also encourages reflection on what it means to be “from” the Escarpment lands. She relates her deep ties to the landscape while considering the intergenerational effects of displaced Indigenous communities from varying parts of the Escarpment: “What would it feel like have Caledon that deeply ingrained in me? What would it feel like to be forced to leave?” It is something all trail-goers ought to consider when heading for the sanctuary of blue and white blazes on the Bruce.

The book was as much about the scenery as it was the wisdom in Ross’ initial question: Did I love the Escarpment enough? I’m reading and reviewing from the edges of what is effectively Millennial midlife, given decreased life expectancy, and scientifically anticipated climate change induced threats to my generation’s lifespan. Sloughing away the saccharine coating of positive thinking helps me appreciate the wisdom in Ross’ writing. As more and more of us hold our raison d’être to the light of “what did I really do and make of my time here?” (perhaps part of the Millennial-driven “great resignation”) books like 40 Days and 40 Hikes remind me that there is power in loving what you love, and sharing it with others as foundational to building a good life. It doesn’t have to be about the massive pursuit of a goal, but the massive action of caring that ripples outwards. It’s what makes Ross’ book so inspiring. Big goals and hopes are okay, but Ross’ book contains no death-defying feats (though she does write about being stuck in the May 2022 derecho) that would hold similar journeys out of reach for many. Her book and writing make it very clear: just about anyone can do this!

My hope is that the generations of caring Ross has inspired with her Loops and Lattes books, work with the Bruce Trail, and more echo back to her: you loved it so much that we couldn’t help but care too. Where the end-to-end Bruce trail draws comparisons between the Camino de Santiago and the Camino de Costa Rica, Ross’ offering is a reminder that there is magic right where we are when we care about the nature in our “backyard.” The plaque she spots on Day 34 of her hikes sums up how it felt to read about her end-to-end journey: “Be Present. Connect. Protect this place of healing. Because when we are in nature, We are home” by Alex Reid, 2019. Another reason to read? For the Loops & Lattes devotees, and nature lovers of all kinds, Ross rewards readers towards the end of the book with information about a new project she is working on (no spoilers here!). You can pick up a copy of her book and read for yourself, or join us at the Eastside Branch on May 21 to ask about it in person.

Charlie C.
Programmer & Library Assistant, Main Library

Charlie loves to read across genres. His favourite part of working at the library is connecting people with resources to help better their lives and experiences; knowledge is a path to empowerment. Accordingly, he is interested in reading and borrowing adult non-fiction books related to almost everything. He enjoys reading about business, self-improvement, environmental sciences and spirituality/esotericism. Books that help ask big questions and invoke equally big wonder are among his favourites. Charlie’s other hobbies include writing, hiking, photography and cooking.