The Path Less Travelled

There’s a certainty to nature, I think to myself as I walk along a trail with my family on Thanksgiving weekend. So many aspects of the outdoors are unpredictable—grey skies can brighten in seconds and, similarly, a sunny day can turn stormy before you even have a chance to produce an umbrella—and yet, something about nature does seem so inevitably grounded in an unchanging reality. Maybe it’s the way that, year after year in the fall, the leaves turn crimson and flutter to the ground; maybe it’s the way I watch the fiery leaves every year at this time with the same awe.

Roots cross the path I walk, creating a kind of haphazard staircase covered in pine needles, fallen leaves and the occasional fern. Massive, mossy rocks line one side of the trail; the sparkling shoreline on the other side is framed by red and orange leaves. It is beautiful, and fleeting, because while the forest hasn’t completely turned to fall—many of the tall trees are still green—in the grand scheme of time I’ll blink and the trees will be skeletons sitting in pools of coloured leaves. But it is in that certainty, that time will pass and the trees will do what they do every autumn, that I find solace as I walk.

Somehow on our afternoon hike, my family and I have traversed off the trail we meant to walk. We planned to take the short route, soak up the scenic sights before heading into town for a bit. But we’re on the longer route now—something we discovered only when we realized that the walk was taking a lot longer than we had thought it would. We laugh about this as we continue walking, past a little waterfall trickling into a stream, past fallen birch trees with white bark.

Nature might be sure of itself, certain that the sun will rise in the morning and set in the evening and life will carry on—but as humans, we aren’t always as certain about our own lives. Sometimes we end up on the wrong path (both literally and figuratively). When this happens, we have to look at where we came from, figure out how we got to where we are and decide where to go next. Because sometimes, we’re actually on the right path—we just, for whatever reason, doubt that it is truly what is right for us.

We’ve all had those moments in life where we feel as if we are standing at a crossroads, looking at two paths, imploring one of them to show itself to us as the correct one to travel down. There is no way to be certain in life that we are going in the right direction—we have to trust ourselves and the decisions we make, and be brave enough to turn back when we’re wrong or forge ahead when we’re right. As poet Robert Frost wrote, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.”


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Algonquin Escape

As I write this, I am sitting on an empty bag of firewood with my back up against the base of a tall, twisted tree. I’m writing in a notebook, my cursive letters tripping over each other like the tangled roots of the trees around me. By the time you read this, I will have typed my words; but I don’t want to think about that in this moment. Right now, I am content where I am—on a hill facing a lake, listening as loons cry out and waves gently lap against the rocky shoreline.

I go to school in a big city, and I love the skyscrapers and bustle. But I also love where I am now; camping in Algonquin Park. Here, tall glass buildings are replaced by soaring trees and the craziness of the city is replaced by, well, the solitude of fleeting nothingness. I say fleeting because I will not be here forever—tomorrow, my family and I will pack up our tent and canoe back to where we started out from. But for this moment, I am here, and I am happy.

Now, a week later, I am on my couch, typing the words I wrote as I sat against the tree at my campsite. I could write about my camping trip all day, but I think photos capture the essence better. Since I’ve been getting into photography recently, I brought my camera on the trip. I wanted to capture a bit of everything; the big lakes which reflect the trees in the water, and the small branches and water lilies. 

These photos bring me back to where I began this post: breathing in the scent of campfire mixed with pine. In that moment, I was peaceful and content. Even if you’ve never been to Algonquin Park, I hope looking at these photos of the floating fields of lily pads and fiery flames of a nighttime fire fill you with that same feeling.


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Spring Nostalgia

There is a certain nostalgia, I think, in the way the seasons turn. We revel in the autumn trees, red, orange and yellow like a campfire captured in leaves; then one day the leaves are brown and falling to the ground, leaving us with the memory of the fiery forests that stood what seems like only yesterday. We sometimes forget the true beauty of the season around us—fall leaves, freshly blanketed snow, flowers beginning to blossom or the feverish heat of the summer sun—until the weather shifts and we are left with memories.

This spring I was struck by the simple elegance of the flowers that sprouted around my house. My wonder is nicely summarized in this passage from The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood: “There is something subversive about this garden… a sense of buried things bursting upwards, wordlessly, into the light, as if to point, to say: Whatever is silenced will clamour to be heard, though silently.” I love those words because they paint flowers as more than delicate pink petals on green flesh. Flowers are a subtle sign of nature’s strength; that a seed can be buried and then grow bravely, deliberately, through the soil and towards the sky.

Back in April, I published a post of photos on a whim; I had just arrived home to find a colourful sky and flowers still with raindrops from a storm. I loved photographing the flowers so much that I continued throughout the spring. Now, although I am enjoying the warm summer weather I find myself missing the bright yellows and painted pinks. In case you, like me, are having a nostalgic moment for the beauty of spring, here are some of my favourite photos of flowers; bursting up, wordlessly, to show themselves to the world, if only until the seasons inevitably turn.


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Fleeting Moments

A bowl of citrus fruits was smeared across the sky, deep oranges and smoky yellows blended together like paint on an artist’s canvas. Then someone threw a shower of glitter on top of the fiery mosaic sky. It was a long weekend at the cottage and, over the lake, fireworks were exploding into the sunset. I wanted to run and grab my camera, but I paused. Could I have captured the beauty of the sky, without the camera altering the colours? Maybe. But I was less confident in my ability to change the camera’s settings and press the shutter at the perfect moment to photograph the fireworks. So I stayed by the window and watched not through the lens of a camera, but with my eyes.

The next day, I was struck by a similar situation. It was a sunny afternoon, the kind that feels too good to be true. I was in a kayak, enjoying the rippling water in the otherwise calm bay. In front of me there was a pathway of sorts, an arch of tree trunks bending over the water. I passed a cluster of lily pads as I paddled under the hanging trees. The trees, the water and the sun gave way to pure serenity. If I had my camera, could I have taken a photo that reflected the absolute silence of the bay? Could I have immortalized, in pixels, the clear water and the reaching branches? Maybe, but maybe not. I stopped wishing I had brought my camera and started to soak in the scene, sans technology.

Believe it or not, the evening after the fireworks display, the same thing happened again. The sunset had come and gonepink this night, not orangeand outside it was pitch black. But then the sky lit up. Someone was setting off a spectacular firework display from a raft. Red lights flew into the sky; then green, then what appeared to be purple. Then dazzling white lights erupted, stark against the black backdrop of the evening. This time, I grabbed my phone. I didn’t worry about taking the “perfect shot”; I used Instagram’s “Boomerang” feature to capture short videos that reversed themselves. In my videos, the fireworks exploded spectacularly and then retreated into themselves.

Oftentimes the moments we want to saviour are fleeting. We sometimes have a tendency to try to make those moments immortal; in other words, fool ourselves into thinking that we can make them last forever. Taking a photo is one way to make a moment last forever, but there are so many things that a photo doesn’t capture: the scent of fresh air on the open lake; the feeling of complete calmness when the blue sky fades into a painter’s palette; the screeching sound that the fireworks make as they soar into the sky, and the crackling sound they make as they fall.

Sunsets fade to black. People run out of fireworks. Moments end: this is an inevitable fact of life. But the fact that these moments exist at all is what makes life worth living. Because the sun rises the morning after it sets; because there is another firework-filled holiday to look forward to in the future. If we capture a beautiful moment, however imperfectly with a camera or however hastily with our eyes or other senses, we can find something to remember it by. And maybe, then, in a way, we really can make a moment last forever.


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A Weekend in the Windy City

On the weekend I went to Chicago with my family. I’m home now, but part of me still feels like I’m in the windy city — steps away from shopping on the Magnificent Mile, walking in Millennium Park and alongside Lake Michigan. I’ve been to Chicago twice now, and there’s something indescribable about the city that I just love.

This visit was made even more special because I had the opportunity to see Hamilton, AKA the best two hours and 45 minutes of my life. I think that experience warrants a separate post, but as you read on, remember that more is coming. I can’t stop thinking about Hamilton, so I won’t stop talking (and writing) about it. If you can’t tell, that’s kind of my unofficial blog mandate.

It was hard for me to narrow down photos to include in this post, but I’ve selected a group of photos that, to me, capture that indescribable feeling about my visit to Chicago. It’s the ornate architecture juxtaposed against the trees in the park; it’s the tourists milling around the stainless steel Bean and the locals jogging past Lake Michigan on a sunny morning. It’s all of these things, and more. There’s always more. But for now, here are some of my favourite photos. Enjoy!


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4 Things I Learned In My First Year of Journalism School

I recently wrapped up my first year of journalism school. It went by so quickly, and although it was challenging I had a great year. In some other blog posts where  I’ve mentioned my journalism experiences, some commenters have been curious about the program. And, seeing as I’ve interacted with some bloggers who are also either aspiring or current journalism students, I decided to write a post about four of the many things I have learned this year. If you’re curious about anything else, feel free to ask in the comments!

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I took these photos in the morning of Nov. 9, just before I went out to interview people for my article about the election results. 

1. As a journalist, you have the opportunity to witness history.

I didn’t have any journalism exams this year; instead, we had “Story Days”; four or five days throughout the semester where we had to conduct interviews, take photos, record audio… to file by 5:30 p.m. the same day. One story day in first semester fell on Nov. 9, the day after the U.S. election. I was planning to write about Hillary Clinton becoming the first female president; but I ended up getting people’s reactions to Donald Trump winning the election.

Even though I wasn’t able to add my personal opinion in my article (I saved that for a blog post that I wrote a few days later) it was still an incredible feeling to be writing the same story that other journalists all over the world were writing. Witnessing Trump’s historical victory through writing an article about it was a really cool moment in my first year of studying journalism.

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I took tons of pictures of the CN Tower this year, but this is one of my favourite shots. 

2. Get photo composition right in the moment.

I learned pretty early on this year that heavy photo editing is frowned upon in journalism because it means altering the reality of an image. Not relying on editing or filters after the fact means it’s important to pay attention to compositional elements when taking the photo. I took most of my photos horizontally, and tried to remember elements like rule of thirds, lines, and framing. Thinking of these things when taking photos — and taking multiple shots instead of just one — helps you take good photos, without needing to edit them afterwards.

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OK, this photo is vertical (and slightly edited). But, hey, artistic rules are meant to be broken… right?

3. Forget “Less is more” when it comes to gathering material.

The adage “Less is more” may be true for word counts due to readers’ increasingly shortening attention spans, but it doesn’t ring true for the process that comes before writing. My journalism professors gave us guidelines on how many voices to include in our stories; often we’d need at least four.

However, this didn’t just mean going out, interviewing four people, and calling it a day. Four voices means four good voices who have interesting stories to tell. This means getting more interviews than required so that you can narrow it down to the best ones. As one professor said in our last lecture, you know you’ve done your job well when you have good quotes on the cutting board.

The same thing can be said of research, and even emailing sources; I remember one story day where I was looking for an expert in war journalism. I reached out to several war journalists, but ended up only hearing back from one. If I had only contacted one person, I probably wouldn’t have had a quote to include in my article.

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Toronto has no shortage of cool buildings to photograph!

4. You can do so many cool things with a journalism degree — and you don’t have to wait to graduate to get started.

When I reflect back on this year, I wrote a lot of things that I’m really proud of. For one of my last story days I pitched a story about press freedom on campus since there had been some incidents where student journalists were denied entry to on-campus events. This was a story that was important to me, and it ended up being my favourite article that I wrote this year. Having that opportunity to choose the story I wanted to cover has made me even more excited to branch out into other types of news writing and to continue pitching my original ideas.

And that was just for an in-class assignment — outside of class, there are so many interesting opportunities, from writing for on-campus publications to working on your own journalism-related projects. Working towards a degree in journalism is exciting because you don’t just get to do “real” journalism once you graduate; you get to do it while you’re in school!


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A Glimpse of Spring

Today was one of those too-beautiful-for-words kind of days. It was warm and sunny during the day, but by early afternoon dark clouds had set in. The clouds gave way to rain and a tiny thunderstorm (I say “tiny” as if I didn’t jump out of my skin when I was walking outside and was surprised by a clap of thunder). After the clouds parted, a double rainbow appeared. Now, as I write this, the sky is pink and yellow and orange; all of the colours, all at once.

It’s been a rainy April where I live, but I’m not complaining about it — the rain has made the grass green, and brought beautiful, blossoming flowers. I decided to photograph the flowers tonight, alongside the sky, and I immediately knew I wanted to include my photos in a blog post. If a picture says a thousand words, then this post is a spring novel.


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Appreciating Our Earth

This past weekend, I went to one of my favourite places on the planet: Algonquin Park. It was Thanksgiving weekend in Canada, and as my family and I hiked alongside beautiful lakes and trees I certainly felt like I had a lot to be thankful for.

Whenever I visit Algonquin, I am curious about the effects of human impact on the park. On a previous camping trip (which I detailed in this blog post) I wrote about how, upon minutes of arriving at our campsite, a chipmunk came right up to us to investigate our granola bar wrappers – and later ran away with the plastic knife we had been using for peanut butter. The animals of Algonquin must be used to human visitors, and I’m sure their lives (and especially their eating habits) are different than that of other animals because of this.

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I didn’t see any wildlife when I hiked in Algonquin this past weekend, so I couldn’t judge the impact of human visitors to the park in that way. Still, I saw some litter on the trails. It wasn’t a significant amount; but then again, I suppose any amount of garbage in nature is significant. This led me to further question the equality of what I previously called “the partnership between humans and nature” in the park. It also reminded me of a dilemma I posed in my other post about Algonquin.

“If Algonquin Park existed, but didn’t allow visitors, no one would be able to appreciate the beauty of seeing the trees reflections in the water, or seeing a mother Loon swim with her baby. On the other hand, its beauty would be preserved forever if humans did not visit.”

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The trees in Algonquin will change colours, even if there are no humans there to witness them (if a tree falls, however, that might be a different story). In other words, nature will run its course – it doesn’t depend on having humans admire its beauty to do so. That’s scientifically speaking, though, because in a way nature does require us to witness its beauty.

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I have always known that it is important to protect the environment, but I feel especially strongly about this after my recent visit to Algonquin Park. It’s like putting a face to a name. Being environmentally conscious for the sake of being environmentally conscious is one thing; but doing it because you feel a personal connection to nature, because you’ve hiked through nature’s forests and canoed through its lakes and marvelled at it’s wonders, is entirely different (not to mention better).

There is no question that humans have a negative impact on the environment; but I can’t help thinking that without visiting Algonquin to see it’s beauty firsthand, protecting the environment wouldn’t matter as much to me. Being able to see the trees changing colour, and the still, pristine lakes, helped me to grasp the true importance of protecting and saving the environment.

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I believe that if everyone in the world was able to witness the beauty of such a place with their own eyes and feel a strong connection to it more people would advocate for protecting the environment.

In my previous post about Algonquin Park, I wrote, “Humans may inhabit the Earth, but it is not ours to destroy.” I would like to add on to that thought. The Earth is not ours to destroy, but it is ours to appreciate. And perhaps a deeper appreciation will lead to less destroying.

Capturing the Moment

This afternoon, it started snowing. A lot. In fact, it’s still snowing now, and I’m holding out hope for a snow day tomorrow. I went into my sister’s room to comment on the crazy amount of snow. Her windows face out onto our street, and as soon as she saw the white blanket of snow covering the ground she rushed to open the camera app on her phone and photograph the snow through the window.

As she moved her phone around, trying to capture an angle that showed just how much snow there was, I said to her, “you know, there’s really no good way to show just how much snow there is.” In her pictures, you can see the snow blanketing the ground. But you can’t see the blizzard of white flakes falling from the sky at a crazy pace. A picture tells a thousand words – but her pictures didn’t tell the right ones.

In an email to my brother, I tried to describe the snow in words. I ended up writing something along the lines of “It’s snowing here. A LOT.” Those five words barely even scrape the surface of the amount of snow. How much is “a lot”? In my head, I know what I mean. But my brother is in Australia. “A lot” of snow to him where he is now would mean any amount of snow at all.

I think this is the struggle of writers: to say what is on our minds, and to find the right words to do so. Sometimes we try to describe something and although our description is in fact adequate it does not seem “right” to us, because it does not match up with the perception and thoughts that we have in our minds.

We can never show people exactly what is on our mind. We can’t hook up a USB to our brains and export the data to show people our image of something, or our thoughts or perceptions. To me this is what writing is about. Trying to convey your thoughts in words.

It is easy to find words. It’s harder to find the right words.

As I write this, I am continually opening my curtain to check my window. It is still snowing, as hard as it was hours ago when I walked home from school. Now, the sky is a delicate purple-grey, and the streetlights are on, and as I try to describe this I realize that maybe the fact that we can’t always find the right words isn’t always a bad thing.

If the right words were easy to come by, then we wouldn’t seek out new experiences. If someone could perfectly describe in words what it is like to scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef, then no one would ever do it – because they could simply read about it.

Because I can’t perfectly capture the moment of watching the snowfall against the glowing sky, I stare a little longer. I try to remember this moment in my brain, and although it is not easy I try to remember it in my writing.

I have always loved writing for the fact that it was a way to remember. I have a note saved on my phone, titled ‘Why I Write’, and a lot of it is about how I write to capture moments so that I never forget them.

As I reread this note that I wrote, the last lines struck me: “I write because the real words aren’t complicated.They lie on the tips of our tongues. They are in a place where our dreams and reality are one. And that is a place I visit, every time I write.”

It’s hard to capture a moment – such as a beautiful snowfall – in pictures, and even harder to capture it in words. I don’t dispute that finding the right words is certainly difficult. But, reading those lines that I once wrote, I can’t help but wonder if it is not the words that are complicated, but if it is only us who make them that way.

My Blogging Journey

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, I visited my favourite place; my cottage. As I marvelled at the beauty of the colourful trees, it struck me how so many things can stay the same when Fall brings so many changes.

A tree across the street from my cottage. Too pretty not to take a picture of!
A tree across the street from my cottage. Too pretty not to take a picture of!

I recently saw a quote on a board outside a church that read ‘If you are adverse to change, look at fall.’  I have found myself thinking a lot about this quote, especially during my time at my cottage.

In the past year, a lot of things have changed in my life; but something that has remained constant is my love for writing. This is perhaps only grown stronger in the past year, as I have pushed myself to write more and explore where my writing can take me. A lot of this exploration was through this blog, and so I thought today I would write about my blogging journey.

It began last September in English Class. My teacher was explaining a semester-long project that we would have, called a Passion Project. As she spoke, my mind immediately jumped to the prospect of writing a blog.

At that point, I didn’t really know what a blog was. All I knew was that my dad had written one, and that it was definitely what I was going to do for my project. I arrived home that day talking a mile-per-minute, and my dad emerged into his office only to come back minutes later with a stack of books about blogging.

After I realized what a blog actually was, I became even more excited. I chose to host my blog on WordPress (an easy decision), but had a lot of trouble choosing a name for my blog. Originally, I wanted ‘Sherina Says’; but now I look back and am glad I decided on ‘Sherina Speaks’.

The header of my old theme. Oh, how times have changed!
The header of my old theme. Oh, how times have changed!

My next decision was choosing a theme. Up until very recently, I kept the same theme. It was called dusk to dawn, and I chose it because my middle name is Dawn.

The background of the theme started out a dark shade of navy blue, and transitioned into various lighter shades of blue before arriving at a light yellow colour. The first time I saw the yellow colour appear as the background to one of my posts, I was terrified. I had no clue the theme did that! I later realized it was called dusk to dawn for a reason.

I like to think of my blogging experience a lot like that theme. At first, everything was new and unfamiliar to me. But then, just as dusk turns to night, and night turns to dawn, things changed for me.

Post by post, follower by follower, I began to see what this whole ‘blogging’ thing was all about. In truth, there’s a lot they don’t tell you about blogging in those books, because like with any art form there are a lot of things that can’t be explicitly expressed about blogging – you just have to find them out for yourself.

If you have just started blogging, or are struggling with any aspect of it, let this be a sign to keep going. Because you might have a few days with no views or dismal statistics; but those days build you up for the better days, where you look at your views and think, “where did all of these come from?!”

The autumn season, to me, is a beautiful reminder of change in a positive sense, and also the fact that while many things can change some things never will. For me over the past year, many positive changes have occurred; but something that I know will never waiver is my love for writing and blogging.