Gaia’s Fingernails

12 January 2014 — First an ice storm; then plummeting temperatures, with a Tuesday high of -17C; and after that rocketing temperatures, with a high yesterday, just four days later, of +8. The resulting fog obscured streets slick and treacherous with water running over compacted hummocks of ice.

Carlton St., for example, east of Parliament.

Carlton St east of Parliament

And this is just our own tiny spot on the globe. One small and quite modest example of the volatility that now characterizes weather patterns worldwide.

It makes you imagine a restless Gaia, drumming impatient fingernails on the skin of Planet Earth. “How many signs and portents do you need?” she asks. “Wake up!”

I’m out in this surreal foggy world, planning to explore my way east into Riverdale Park, down its ravine pathways to the pedestrian bridge across the Don River, over and up the other side, and then… oh well, something-or-other involving Danforth Avenue and eventually back home.

I pick my way cautiously along Carlton, avoiding sidewalks and step-sliding my way on the street itself, taking advantage of as many bare patches as I can find. There’s a metallic pulse ringing in the air, as residents chip away at the ice, hoping to break it up so the rain will wash it away before  we’re into another freeze-up.

resident chipping ice, Carlton St

This gentleman is breaking up ice at the edge of the street, clearing a path for water to run into the drains. Please admire his civic virtue and, while you’re at it, enjoy the splendid example behind him of the Victorian architecture to be found in this part of Cabbagetown. Those enclosed second-storey balconies are one of its characteristics.

I reach the park and stare at the amount of ice-storm damage. This is just one tiny bit.

Riverdale Park West after the ice storm

A lot has already been cleaned up around the city, but not everything. Parks have lower priority than city streets and so they should, but still, it’s a sad sight.

On into Riverdale Farm, an integral part of this park. It is home to the Francey Barn and to an array of heritage farm animals in that barn, another out-building (visible through the arch) and some open pens beyond.

Riverdale Park archway into Riverdale Farm

The Francey Barn is not only an 1858 pioneer, moved from its original Markham homestead and reassembled here, it is also an example of the Pennsylvania Bank Barn. As the name suggests, they are built on the sides of hills or river banks and take advantage of the steep incline to have two ground-level entrances, one lower and one (on the opposite side) higher.

Francey Barn, 1858, at Riverdale Farm

In this photo the higher entrance is on the left (the parked van shows where equipment comes and goes), and the lower one is on the right (leading to the animal stalls).

I head down a path that leads past the barn to skirt the series of open pens used for appropriate breeds at appropriate times. (How vague can I get? Now you know the extent of my farm-girl knowledge. Nil.)

Anyway, right animals at right times — and today that includes goats. We humans are all exchanging “wow’s” about the fog; the goats don’t care. There are two. (Yes, there are. Find the hidden goat.)

goats and fog, Riverdale Farm

I soon discover that the entranceways to the lower trails — the ones down into the ravine — have all been taped closed. “Not safe” says the signage. I believe it!

So good-bye to my original, hopelessly naïve intended route. Hello to a new route, on city streets. I double back past the barn,  and past the ghostly silhouette of the Necropolis just to the north, part of St. James Cemetery and Crematorium.

the Necropolis viewed from Riverdale Farm

North now on Parliament Street along the side of the cemetery, which was established in 1844 and is the oldest one in the city still in operation.

St. James Cemetery, Parliament St.

Then east on Bloor, and across the viaduct over the Don River. Fog and faint headlights on the road to the left; fog and trees in the river valley to the right.

Bloor Viaduct over the Don River

All that strutwork is called “the luminous veil.”  It’s a pretty name for a reasonably attractive structure, with a grim purpose. To prevent suicide. This bridge had become a destination for jumpers, the second most deadly bridge for this purpose in all North America. The veil works, no more deaths here — but the city’s suicide rate is unaffected. People determined to die simply go elsewhere.

I slightly shorten my intended walk (though I still end up with a respectable 9 km). Instead of prowling along Danforth Av. for a while, I turn south on Broadview Av., just east of the Don River. I have a destination in mind…

It involves Rooster. Not Rooster-the-Clydesdale, the glorious great heavy horse back there in the Francey Barn, but the Rooster Coffee House, halfway south to Gerrard St. East. Equally glorious, in its own way.

entrance to Rooster Coffee House, Broadview Av.

The faded letters on this old awning pay tribute to the past. They say: “Variety Store.” Which is what this little building used to be.

I buy a cranberry-lemon scone — bliss! — and sit at a window-front bench. It takes me a moment to realize what the intense young man next to me is being so intense about. I blink slightly when I see he is studying a laptop display of the chambers of the human heart. I slant my eyes sideways at his backpack. Aha! Neat stitching proclaims: U Ottawa, MD 2017.

Snakes on the Spit

Some of you were quite taken with the snake-crossing sign in my Ice on the Spit post about Tommy Thompson Park and the Leslie Spit (29 Dec 2013) and wanted to know more. I went to the park website and found six species on the herpetile checklist: Eastern Gartnersnake, Midland Brownsnake, Northern Brownsnake, Eastern Milksnake, Northern Red-bellied Snake, and Northern Water Snake.  Thank you for asking.

Highways as Art

And now more specific thanks, this time to Rick, my English second cousin-in-law (or something like that). Knowing my fascination with street art, he told me about a wonderful post where the streets themselves are the art. (See the URLs below.)

Happy Anniversary

A final round of thanks — this time once again to all of you. WordPress has just informed me that I signed on exactly two years ago today. This 140th post celebrates that fact. And I celebrate my readers, who make it so much fun.


Leave a comment


  1. No shortage of atmosphere in this post!
    We get a few foggy days being so close to a temperate rainforest but they are still quite rare. When I worked nights I would often see patches of fog on my way home. There is something quite Gothic about fog.
    Keep warm…….. we are in the midst of a heat wave here.

    • Take care in the heat — I’ve seen some reports of the heat wave, and it sounds fierce. I guess we are always more overawed by the weather that others have, since we’re not as familiar with it ourselves. Today isn’t foggy, just grey and mushy. Yuck.

  2. Really enjoyed the tour and the photos brought you right into the mist – the ones of the necropolis and cemetery captured the mood of the day perfectly! Sounds like a great walk and yes there is something very strange about all this bizarre weather and we don’t seem to be rushing to take the hint.

    • such a strange day, and even stranger when put in the context of other days right around it — you’re right, humans are not exactly rushing to take the hint that things are going wonky on us

  3. Forest So Green

     /  13 January 2014

    Your photos capture the mood and the weather of the day. Congratulations on two years! Annie

    • The day itself sure was the star and topic of the post! Thank you for feeling that I caught the mood — that was my hope.

  4. Happy New Year! 🙂 eerie photos; love it.


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    "Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking" -- Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

    "The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes" -- Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

    "A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities" -- Rebecca Solnit, "Wanderlust: A History of Walking"

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