Bruce does a slow burn my old buddy jorge looks a little pasty and rough around the edges as we tuck into our fried breakfast and steaming coffee this late October weekend.
I'm not feeling too perky myself. We're at Sidekicks Café in downtown Markdale, surrounded by relaxed country folk with fresh complexions.
Our mission this weekend was to get out of Toronto and enjoy some serious tranquility in Grey County, but last night our slumber was interrupted by a gang of raccoons partying in the attic of the farmhouse we stayed in.
Today we aim to spend a few hours hiking the Bruce Trail along the Beaver Valley. As we head out in the truck, the sky is heavy and the air bracingly cool.
Canada's oldest and longest public footpath runs through areas of incredible natural beauty from Niagara to Tobermory. The Beaver Valley segment spans 80 kilometres.
We park at the end of a dusty farm road; the valley stretches out below. Jorge knows the area well. He tells me a glacier carved out the valley 10,000 years ago, around the time people crossed the Bering Strait from Siberia to Alaska to begin populating the Americas.
Personally, I prefer ancient aboriginal stories about how the first humans to inhabit this continent came from the stars or were fashioned from the earth or transformed from other creatures that roamed the land.
Though the season is more advanced here than in Toronto, the trees still have splashes of colourful foliage. In the forest, we're really struck by this magic, following the undulating trail over a blanket of reds, yellows and oranges between the steely grey of the maple trunks and the startling white of the birches. Patches of wild chicory and violets add a dash of purple to the intensity of the forest palette.
The path weaves past small cedars that, Jorge tells me, may be hundreds of years old, surviving along the inhospitable cliff edges with very little soil or nutrients. Some trunks are twisted at strange angles like elbows and knees, perhaps because they grew as saplings over a rock or another tree that has long since disappeared. I wonder about all they've witnessed in their long, stationary lives.
When the trail dips down into the valley, we decide to spend some time exploring near the base of the cliff. I'm surprised by evidence of a range of animals in this sheltered area. We find blue jay, crow and turkey vulture feathers and the scat of deer. Tufts of fur and quills tell of the end of a porcupine's life.
High in a leafless tree, a large wasps' nest hangs from a twig like some strange puncture in the sky. We marvel at its papery weight and wonder how such a skinny twig supported it when it was full of wasps in the summer.
We move more quickly, in contented silence, on our way back to the car. Our cheeks are rosy. A day in nature has purged us of tension. As the light fades, I'm left with a strong sense that the trees, creatures and Grandmother Earth are well into their cycle of slowing and settling in preparation for their long winter slumber.