Forest in the City

After our last wander through our city’s forest, Daegan and I decide on Sunday to do another long walk like the last one. This time we pick a different direction – northwest, and head out. Like last time we get to a high bridge and veer off in to the forest just before it starts, running down the side of a steep hill leading to one of the many mountain bike paths in our area.

Once we hit the path we take off. Daegan leads much of the way because he spends a lot of time down here and knows the forest well. We pass a few people, some on bicycles, some, like us, walking. I continue to be pleased with the courtesy of the mountain bikers. All slow down for us, thank us for moving out of the way and always let us know how many others behind them there are. We are never shocked or surprised. It feels like true sharing of space that I don’t feel on the paved multi-use trails or roads of the city.

There’s quite a lot of love for the ravines and many community members have been pitching in to remove literally tons of trash from the ravines. It is definitely appreciated and noticed. I remember when we first moved here there was everything from mattresses to shopping carts in the ravine. It’s not perfect now (it’s a constant battle) but it’s much improved as you can see from the photos I have shared.

This group has a lot to do with the cleanup and current state of the valley

The trail leads us through several parks, small and large. On the other side of the river for much of the way runs a paved path and it is full of people walking, running, biking and sometimes even driving (where permitted). On our side it’s just us and a handful of people. The terrain is hillier and a bit more difficult walking but it’s definitely a good trade-off – especially as we try to physically distance from people.

Walking along here I’m struck by just how close to home we are. Our meandering route has taken us just 5 km or so. If we walked directly it would be even less. And yet, the loudest sounds we hear are the birds. The smells are of trees, plants and water – and sometimes the occasional BBQ.

Near the northernmost part of our route things change a little bit. The route takes us near the Bridle Path – one of the most expensive areas in the city. We’re not too far from Drake’s house. Gordon Lightfoot lives there, Celine Dion lives there, Prince used to have a home there and Mick Jagger rented a home there for a while when he was touring in Canada. And with this change comes a change in the feel of the parks. At one point the entire park for easily a kilometre with several branches of the path are a boardwalk through 150 year old forest. Homes can be seen near there and they have their own gates to enter the park. The area is spotless and even the underbrush seems as groomed as the purebred dogs in the off-leash area. We pass an outdoor space that appears to be inspired by Roman ruins. We walk up to see what they are for and see that they’re part of the amenities for a nearby condominium development. When I get home I look up some listings and find that all of them are well over a million dollars for two bedroom units smaller than the apartment we’re currently renting for far below that price point.

At one point we start noticing many painted rocks. At first there are just a few but then there are many – and for a good 20 minutes we keep seeing them, some hidden away, others in the middle of the path.

Further along we go, occasionally coming up to street-level to pass from one park to another. Soon we’re on Duplex Avenue. This street was part of my first bicycle commute in Toronto and runs parallel to busy Yonge street. Drivers were aggressive and in a big rush and there were often conflicts and the occasional near-miss there. But as you saw from my photos in this entry it’s changed. And on this Sunday it was even better. Kids as young as 9-10 were riding on their own or with friends. Even younger kids were riding with their parents. And drivers were being very respectful. I hope they see the effects of calming streets like this and consider keeping it like this post-pandemic – even if only on summer weekends.

Back in one more park we see a sign at the entrance:

Though this is likely someone’s good-natured attempt to keep kids interested and engaged, it’s worked for us too. We see a few (but only take these photos so as to not give the location away to the kids who were clearly searching)

In this park we hear something else unusual. Live music from a rock band. Though we never manage to find it it is so nice to hear. Whether an official concert or more likely a family jamming in their garage, it was a nice bit of normalcy.

After we come up out of this park it’s time to turn toward home. On the way we pass lots of signs. Many congratulate kids on their graduations. Others express gratitude. One house has a Canadian Flag, another “I am Canadian” flag and then next to all that are many many hearts cut out. On each one is an essential service job title: Transit operator, grocery clerk, doctors, nurses, and on and on. Out front a tree is wrapped in rainbow ribbons. It’s Pride month after all. I think to myself “This is what I consider Canadian values: tolerance, gratitude and positivity.” These qualities exhibited by others have made this pandemic much easier for me, I think.

Closer to home we pass through Leaside, another relatively wealthy neighbourhood. Daegan tells me that in a book about Leaside he is reading now there’s a line reminding readers that our neighbourhood, considerably less well-off, is also part of Leaside and the community.

At a church on a quiet residential street I see another reminder of Canadian values that make me happy:

I don’t believe, by any means, that Canadians are without fault when it comes to any -ism you care to name. We’ve got a long ways to go on many fronts. At the same time, the fact that many consider inclusivity and equality to be Canadian values is something that makes me happy and optimistic. If this is a value many of us say we care about and believe are part of our culture, the chances of actually heading in that direction are greater.

The church’s Little Free Library is also a church – and also has its own rainbow wrap.

Our route takes us back home about five hours after we left. In the end we have gone 18 kilometres – just a little over 11 miles. Over half of that was spent exploring a forest near a river. And all of that was within a few minutes walk from transit, grocery stores or restaurants (still take-out only for a little longer, it seems).

For the curious, the full route with all details can be found here.

This experience – of being forced to stay close to home has been such a learning experience. For this lovely hike there was no long transit ride, no rental car required (and that hellish sleepy ride home!). The “trail head” was within 5 minutes of our home and took us through hills, forests, fields and city streets. Wherever you are, I encourage you to look again at your own space and see what’s there. You might be surprised.

17 thoughts on “Forest in the City

  1. You are blessed to have forest trails in your city. Very few cities in the world have such large green spaces. It’s good to get lost in the jungle for a while. I’m glad Daegan also loves to spend time in the forest.

    1. We truly are. And to have them be relatively safe as well is nice. Some parts of the walk reminded me a lot of the Mehrauli Archaeological park near the Qutb Minar – but friends there warn me to be very careful except during the middle of the day.

      I’ve lived in other cities where we had trails like this but you have to be watchful to stay safe. And of course in other parts of the world jungle also can mean a risk of dangerous animals as well. Here we do have coyotes and ‘coywolves’ (wolf/coyote mix) but mostly they keep to themselves especially during the day.

      I agree – it’s great that Daegan also appreciates the outdoors like this and clearly gets so much out of it.

      1. I always feel that animals pose lesser danger in comparison to humans. I have never been to Mehrauli AP. May be someday….
        Enjoy the green cover, Todd. 🙂

    2. The irony of it all is the fact that had we not had a devastating hurricane in the 1950’s, we would likely not have this parkland. It would all be developed and paved over. So something so bad – that killed 81 people in our city – ended up creating good.

  2. You have given a virtual tour of the beautiful trail by your amazing shots. Seems you had a great time. It is always good to have such natural trails around the neighborhood. Well written, Todd.

    1. Thanks! Yes, we had a really great time. We always do. But it’s a great reminder that we don’t need to do a huge trip to have a fun adventure.

  3. Are there no people camping in those vast woods? Here I think that running into campers is more likely than the animals. I am always saddened to see that people are living in nearby woods.

    1. There definitely are people camping there. We can sometimes see fires at night. But more people camp in the ravine closer to downtown. Actually, though, in January they did dismantle one larger encampment.

      But for sure – given the choice between some of the (pretty terrible) shelters here and camping in the ravine I would choose camping for sure.

  4. Thank you for taking us along for your walk & exploration! It is wonderful that you can access a beautiful trail so close to home. I love the Enchanted Forest & the possibilities it conjures!

    1. Me too – and I love the idea of someone coming up with the idea to entertain people in the neighbourhood while we’re all in lockdown.

      1. Me too. We all want the virus to be gone but I intend to take note of the other things that I am enjoying now to try to keep them up.

      2. I just chanced upon and article on making a Covid 19 Time Capsule – I thought it was such a wonderful idea: so that when we look back at 2020 it will not just be a year we lost.

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