The past few months have been exciting, unnerving, and overwhelmingly stressful. Thankfully, this past weekend I had the great joy of leaving my second boyfriend (aka the city of Toronto, my hot hazy piece of love on the side) to spend some time reacquainting myself with that which we call the Great Outdoors. The bf and I rented a car and motored off to Oka, Quebec, a land I once knew solely for its delicious cheeses and Mohawk territory tensions.  Turns out, Oka is also the site of Parc National d’Oka–a Quebec national (or ‘provincial’ if you’re a true Federalist) park. In other words, woods. And beach. Oh, glorious beach. Sure, it was car camping (which some will argue is not *really* camping at all), but it helped me to clear my head. So, there.

For one, we hiked. A lot.

We acted out Quebecois stereotypes by drinking Molson Dry beer and eating beachside poutine in the sweltering, 30 degree celcius sunshine.

(Actually, only Jon did that. )

We visited the Abbey of Notre-Dame du Lac, the Trappist monastery where Oka cheese used to be made. It is now a heritage site, and the cheese is made in a factory down the road.

While at the abbey, we looked at pictures of the monks who used to make the cheese. This picture here is from 1960. There were others from the 19th century, as well, but I liked this one because it showed the cheesemakers in action. They look so serene, as though the creation of cheese is a devotional act. I wonder if making cheese brought them closer to God, if it gave the monks a heightened sense of religious vocation. Maybe they were just hungry.

On our last day in Oka, we had friends come to visit us for a day of beaching and fireside barbecue. One of them is staying in nearby Montreal for the month, so we opted to pack up and join her for the grand finale of our vacation. The jazz festival is wrapping up there, so we caught some stiltwalkers and musical acts. We also hit up Tam-Tam, the weekly Sunday drum circle at Mount Royal park. Jon (as a highly skilled drummer) and I (as a bore) tend to find drum circles irritating, but Tam-Tam is always a good time. Our friend quickly spotted a separate group of men playing an assortment of Brazilian percussion instruments, and Jon joined them for a brief jam on the tamborim. The drummers’ eyes lit up as soon as he started playing. “Samba!” said one older man excitedly. Cliche as it may sound, music really does bring people together.

I met up afterward with a friend who closely follows (and blogs about) the Montreal jazz scene. Her boyfriend was drumming as part of an “organ jam,” a late night jazz improv session featuring some really astounding musicians (including a jazz organist, of course). I’m not a jazz expert by any stretch of the imagination, but even my novice ears could tell this music was HOT. It was a suitable ending to a solid weekend–and an appropriate segue into the literally hot, real-life heatwave that awaited me back home.