HAVING A BALL AT THE FALLS (Ball’s Falls)

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Tessi's sense of smell is her most useful asset with which to perceive the world. For her to have a satisfying adventure, she needs a variety of smells to explore; whereas, pleasing sights mostly satisfy me. On this early spring day in May, I was looking forward to discovering another waterfall - this time in the Balls Falls Conservation Area (just a short drive from the QEW highway, near St. Catherines). Tessi would be able to do what she loves best - search out the scents that nature has to offer in the area. I would be pleasantly surprised to have my sense of smell delightfully overwhelmed with the fragrance of lilacs as we approached the upper falls, where bushes, some clustered with purple blossoms and some with white, crowded the trail. I took pictures of the alluring flowers, all the while wishing I could record the aroma, which was intensified by the warm sun and cool, fresh breeze. Paying the Fee Looking forward to our first spring outing, I parked, as the sign instructed, at the Centre for Conservation. The fee of $5.50 per adult had to be paid inside. Since I didn't notice any signage regarding dogs, I brought Tessi in with me. We walked up to the unoccupied interior window. The staff member, when she appeared, didn't notice Tessi below. While Helen paid her fee, I scanned a group of information brochures and cards. I must admit, I was distracted by one advertising a photo contest and wasn't paying attention to Tessi, though I had her tethered closely. She eagerly greeted the newcomers behind us. Thankfully, they like dogs. While I was apologizing, Helen pointed out to me that the staff member had informed her dogs aren't allowed in the building. I apologized and casually mentioned the lack of signage at the door. I am left wondering if the staff member may have let Tessi's presence slide had I kept her under control. Cataract Trail After learning that the conservation area has an upper and lower falls, we decided to follow the Cataract Trail (via the Switchback Trail) to the upper falls. Most of the trail hugs the steep hill separating it from Twenty Mile Creek - the cascade's water source. The depth of forest we walked through revealed unique rock formations and twisted tree roots. A couple ahead of us posed their Boston terrier amid the naturally artistic scenery for their camera. The dog sat like a pro, just as Tessi does. We came upon the ruins of the Woollen Mill. I directed Tessi to sit in the doorway of the one remaining stone wall. As I joined her for a picture, I grabbed her leash in time to prevent pursuit of a chipmunk - not that she would have had a chance to catch the animal since it scurried up the wall. Once back on the trail, the roar of the waterfall became as strong as the fragrance of the lilacs. A pathway had been worn into the grass away from the beaten trail to meet a fence barricading the abrupt drop in land. Bushes obstructed a vista of the 11 m (35 ft) falls. A few metres farther, we came to a proper lookout with a stone barricade in place. I was disappointed to be rewarded with only a view of the top edge of the waterfall, though the creek was pleasant to watch as it flowed over layers of rock before plunging below. The Cataract Trail loops away from the creek at this point and disappears into the forest, eventually reconnecting with the Switchback Trail. Since we spied no one along that part of the route, I let Tessi loose for some freedom. A few minutes later we heard voices. I had enough time to call her back to her leash before the people appeared. Officially, dogs are to be leashed at all times while in the conservation area. We headed back to the Centre for Conservation, where we took a quick break before finding and crossing the pedestrian bridge, leading us to an open area with several historical buildings. I once again assumed allowing Tessi to accompany us wasn't a problem. As we proceeded, we spotted other dogs with their owners. In the Midst of History Most of the buildings were barricaded at their doorways and offered only a dark glimpse at a lost way of life. The exception was a path running from one doorway to the other inside the barn. Equipment was roped off on either side of the path. I took Tessi through, confident she wouldn't pee on the old wooden floor. Dogs prone to accidents should stay outside. The one-room family home was open to enter to the inside of the doorway, with artifacts beyond another roped-off barricade. A historically dressed woman was available to talk about the era. When I hesitated to cross the threshold, she invited Tessi in with us. We stood while we listened to the woman as she answered Helen's questions. As I gazed around the room, I recognized the simple quilt-covered bed that an old friend had once taken a beautifully window-lit picture of a few years earlier. Outside the blacksmith's building, a small tub with a bedding of straw proved a tempting photo opportunity. So in Tessi went. What a sport she was as she patiently sat with one paw draped on the curved rim while she endured another photo session. On the far side of the buildings, back in nature's realm, we discovered a set of stairs. These lead to the Twenty Valley Trail, which connects to the Bruce Trail. As the day was flying by, this further exploration would have to wait for another adventure. The Lower Falls We came upon the 27 m (90 ft) lower falls, which we could easily observe from a stone wall lookout. Tessi put her paws up on the edge of the wall; she must have been wondering what we were looking at. I lifted her so she could see the other side. Fortunately, she couldn't make out the mallards sitting contentedly close to the edge of the precipice or she would have been wiggling in my arms in an attempt to go after them. Before we headed back to the car, I noted names of plants listed on the information board by the lower falls. Wildlife names were also listed, but I only scanned over them since most, such as the whitetail deer, were familiar. As we crossed the bridge, I spotted a snake in the water below. After taking pictures of it, I ran back to the information board to find out the name of the creature. Meanwhile, Helen had been able to record the northern watersnake, as it turned out to be, swimming over to a rock to sun itself. As we explored, lilac bushes dotted throughout the conservation area continued to tantalize my senses, giving me as much enjoyment as Tessi had gotten from whatever hidden smells she encountered throughout the day. This was one trip where my senses of sight and smell were both satisfied. For More Info

(c)Cheryl Smyth, 2009

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