Appreciating My Own Backyard: A Long Autumn Walk

It’s Sunday, one day before my birthday (that’s 48 years old, for the curious), and I can feel my usual mental pattern settling in. The weather is cooling down, the clocks have just gone back an hour so I can expect the sun to be gone at 5PM tonight and earlier by the day until December 21st.

My reaction for the past few decades has been consistent. I brace myself for hating the cold weather, feeling trapped inside by the cold and oppressed by the darkness. I feel a palpable resentment at Mother Nature for seeming to take a personal interest in ruining my life by bringing cold and darkness. Forget that not only has this cold and darkness been coming every year for tens of thousands of years, thanks to climate change, it’s not nearly as cold or snowy as it used to be when I was a kid.

My reaction to winter is completely inconsistent with every other aspect of my life which is pretty much summarized in the infographic below:


You will notice, that there is no circle that says “Complain about your unhappiness while changing nothing.” It was time I took the advice of this infographic.

So in the interest of having a better time this year, I’m going to get out more often. And it starts with me inviting Daegan along for a photo walk. I’m particularly excited because thanks to his buying a new D-SLR camera for school, his old one has become a “hand me down” to me. So he is going to show me how to use it.

For a few weeks I’ve been looking out over the city’s ravines, watching the trees turn from green to red, orange and yellow as the weather got cooler. Today we will head in to the woods to see it up close.

The first thing I do is bundle up. While it’s not too cold yet – 3-4 degrees C, I still wear a sweatshirt under my coat and even have a hat on. The cold is my number one complaint about the winter. The best way to avoid being upset is to dress warmly.

Like in his own life, Daegan only uses paths as a general guideline. We walk down the sidewalk toward a bridge over the ravine and then he veers off to the left. The hill is so steep we have to run down to avoid falling, grabbing small trees to keep from somersaulting down the hill.

After all this time looking at the colours from above it makes me happy to not only see all of the leaves but to smell them. There is a really sweet smell to maple leaves that is forever associated with autumn for me. After a quick orientation he set me loose with the camera.


Soon we find our way to a path leading south toward the downtown part of the city. Looking at it, though, you wouldn’t imagine we were in Canada’s largest city.





Eventually we come to a widening in the river where a gnarled tree stands. There are some big old trees in this forest, many in the 100+ year old range. Imagine how much this city has changed since they first sprouted.


As we walk, we find our way deeper in to the ravine. The sides rise around us, covered in colourful leaves.


There are a few clues, though, that we are not in remote wilderness as highrises, including our own, peek through the trees at us.



Despite that, there is very little noise other than the sound of the river, and the occasional mountain bike rider going by.



Eventually we find our way to a bit of civilization as the path leads us to a paved parking lot. There, several large trees show off their colours to us.


Now we’re on a more well-travelled path. This is the same path I took some time ago to the Fort York library. Cyclists travel quickly in both directions, and there are many people out enjoying an autumn walk like we are.

Soon Daegan, startled, looks down at his feet and says “What the heck is that!”. There, waddling through the grass is a fist-sized ball of fur. It’s a mole. I’ve never seen one in person, but it’s clear from looking at it that that’s what this is. Its eyes are barely visible and it has really large claws, perfectly suited for digging. Daegan lies down on the ground with his camera in front of it, and takes many photos. As he takes the photos he keeps having to back up because the mole keeps coming up to see him. Daegan has always had an uncanny way of attracting animals.

Photo Credit: Daegan Lunsford

Daegan isn’t one to be content staying on the path for long, though, and soon after we see the mole, he turns off on to a gravel path, and then to a narrower path.



And then, we’re done with the path entirely and head in to the bushes, squishing through mud and navigating through the brush.


Soon we are climbing a big hill. Though it’s still cool outside, I’m getting overheated. I need to take my hat off. At the top of the hill we find a fence. Daegan climbs over it and I follow.

When we get here we realize we might be trespassing. Not in the sense of going to a business’ land, or a corner of some factory’s land. It isn’t even exactly like going to someone’s back yard. But something is different. We pass an old bicycle trailer that has seen a lot of weather. Soon we see two more. And then we see a large tent covered with tarps. A short distance from this tent is another tarp-covered tent and a few more bicycle trailers – a total of six in all. Clearly some homeless people have moved in here. More than once from up in our apartment we’ve seen signs of campfires at night in the ravines. Not every homeless person sleeps in a shelter or even on the street in this city.

Soon we come to another fence with a hole cut in it. We go through that hole and Daegan says “Ah – here we are!” and now I see where we are. We’re at the Don Branch, an abandoned railroad he’s told me about.



We follow this railway, seeing very few others. There are no more mountain bikers. This area is too rough to ride comfortably on. Occasionally we encounter someone walking their dog. There is little sound of civilization. The trees muffle any sounds that might be coming from the city.

After about 20 minutes the spell begins to be broken. We can see a busy street below us and the sounds of a highway come to us. And soon we find ourselves at the Evergreen Brickworks – a place I wrote about biking to a few months ago on one of the hottest days of the summer.

It’s now almost 2:00 PM, and this is the first day after the clocks were turned back an hour so our stomachs both think it’s 3:00. We’re hoping for food. As we approach we smell baked goods and hear the sound of crowds. We come around a corner and there it is. After walking in the woods for several hours, we’ve hit the jackpot. There’s an artisan’s market here today and with it a huge area for food sellers. There is Turkish food, Persian food, one seller with two big tawas seems to have been selling dosas but now are completely sold out. They only have a bit of kheer left for sale. We find our way to a stand advertising Mexican Street Food. A sign says that many of their dishes have chorizo (spicy pork sausage) in it because they make their own. We order chorizo and egg burritos and they begin cooking them immediately.



I really wish I could share smells like I can share photos because this all smells amazing.

Once it’s all done, she takes the chorizo, eggs, and in Daegan’s case, cheese, and rolls it up in to the big tortillas. Once they’re wrapped she grills them further to make them extra crispy on the outside.


We find our way to a picnic table and eat. The food is delicious but so hot I can’t eat it as fast as my hunger would like me to.

Soon we finish our lunch and look at the clock. It’s almost 3:00. Daegan has to get to work and I have a few errands to do before making dinner that night. We walk over to a nearby shuttle bus stop and within five minutes, we are taken from our forest escape to a subway station.

As we ride in the bus we talk about what a good idea this was. That it wasn’t a matter of planning and figuring out the perfect outing, but just getting out with a destination just as we did in New York City this summer. It’s something we seem to constantly have to remind ourselves of. Sitting indoors feeling dismal that it’s cold outside and “there’s nothing to do” is not an excuse. The solution to feeling that way isn’t sitting at home until you think of the perfect thing to do. It’s picking anything – even just a walk to the store – and then being open to what happens along the way. Invariably, those days end up being the best ones.

22 thoughts on “Appreciating My Own Backyard: A Long Autumn Walk

    1. Thanks! And yes, it will definitely be different. Of course I have some warmer clothes still so I won’t be completely shut in. But I’ll have to work harder to overcome the resistance to going outside. Then in January I’ll be back in India and warm again. 🙂

  1. I wonderful trek with you son. I imagine that living in the yurt as a little kid gave him some comfort with the outdoors. And the mole looks much better in the park than in our yard!

    1. Yes – I think you’re right. Also, not long after we moved here, Sage’s mom (who also lived in the woods) would also come to visit often and they’d go in to those woods together. So the ravines here have many positive associations for him I’m sure.

      1. I remember – when Daegan and I were biking to NYC we rode south in to Connecticut just west of Hartford (basically parallel to I-91) then turned west on 202 to Torrington and beyond to New York. It was beautiful though the hills were ridiculous at times! (Uphill was slow and hard, downhill – well let’s just say we managed to top 50 mph at one point!)

      2. 202 was a stressful bike ride from Hartford to Torrington but it improved after that. The stretch from Torrington to NYC is one of my fondest memories of the trip. We met so many good people and saw so many interested and unexpected things. I hope we could do an even longer ride some day.

    1. True. In North American cities it’s also fairly rare. In our case, after a hurricane devastated the ravines in the 1950’s, the city banned rebuilding / construction there. So they’re empty.

      Your mention of how it is there made me think of the Mehrauli Archaeological park in Delhi. It felt very similar, actually. Lots of trees, hardly any people. But just as I see here there were signs that people quietly were living there as well.

  2. Happy birthday, Todd!

    I love that Daegan has given you his old camera & is teaching you how to shoot. You two always have the best father-son times. I love it!

    I’ve never seen a mole before either!! Luckily he noticed before he stepped on it. He sounds like a male Snow White haha.

    All of these photos are beautiful & you know I can’t end my comment without saying how badly I want a bite of that burrito!

    1. I told Sage about that experience with the mole and she emailed me a photo of Snow White – it was absolutely like that.

      Thanks for your comments on the photos. And yes – the burrito was pretty amazing. Truly I wanted a second one, or even a third one.

  3. Haha, we’re exact opposites in terms of weather preferences: I spend all year waiting for winter. To my great shame, the Cleveland, area – formerly known for snowy winters – now has a mild climate.

    Fall hikes can be incredible though, because of the smell of the leaves that you mentioned. I can’t believe that you saw a mole above ground though, and in the middle of the day.

    1. I hear you – Even when we first moved to Toronto the winters were much more severe. Even this winter which was colder and snowier than recent ones was still not as bad as ones 10-15 years ago.

      Thanks for stopping by – hope you get a bit more winter to enjoy before it ends. 🙂

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