Still Land, Chill Water, & Ice

11 January 2015 – The sign says “Open” & inside all will be toasty-warm & full of glorious discoveries, because this is a wonderland, Arcadia Art & Rare Books on Queen St. East.

But I am strong! It’s about -10 C and windy, but also bright, and I am determined to stay outside this time around.

est. 1931 whenArcadia, est. 1931 when her dad bought the bldg

So I walk on past, though with fond memories of Irma. She’s now in cat-heaven, but you don’t forget Irma. She was skinny & raucous, and she’d land on your startled shoulders & hitch a ride while you browsed, purring loudly. It was like wearing a furry cement-mixer.

Bye-bye Irma, and I’m down on Lower Sherbourne St., heading into Sherbourne Common, a park cum water purification system that stretches south to the lake. The iconic towers jut into the brilliant sky.

detail, "Light Showers," Sherbourne Common

This is just the  top corner of one of them, one of three Light Showers sculptures (artist Jill Anholt). All summer long, they tumble water from great heights back into the hidden reservoir, completing one stage in the larger water treatment process.

They are beautiful as well as functional, and dramatic in part or in whole.

southernmost of the "Light Showers" towers

Mind, winter is when they rest. No water tumbling down the mesh curtains now! The towers are all snugged up having their beauty sleep, the better to work again come spring.

Play equipment is also motionless, gleaming in the winter sun, carving snow / no-snow shapes against the surface beneath.

play equipment in Sherbourne Common

I pass a young couple laughing & embracing & skating on the little rink near the lake. In summer, it is a splash pond, waters rippling. Now water is ice, still & glassy; only the couple is in motion. A few more metres and I’m at  lake edge. I look south-east, the Great Lakes boat a streak of colour against the ice & chill waters, with the Port Lands beyond and, beyond that, Leslie Spit.

a laker waiting out winter in Toronto Harbour

Only three of us are walking west along the lake. The temperature isn’t really that cold, but we are facing a steady wind, with occasional great gusts that make us do a little shuffle-hop to regain balance.

So, not being idiots, we are walking backwards — a bit drunkenly, but it protects our faces. I stop to look again at the sweep of ice & water; so do the couple with whom I’ve been more or less in step. The woman peers over the edge. So do I.

water's edge in Harbour Square Park

By now we’re in Harbour Square Park, walking between fancy condos & Lake Ontario. I know what’s coming next — an area where there is some water outflow, meaning open water, meaning a place where ducks tend to congregate.

Oh, indeed they do.

Mallard ducks in Harbour Square Park

A whole great world of Mallards, squatting and swimming and bottoms-ups’ing as if it were mid-summer. I’ve never looked up their physiology, but they must have nature’s equivalent of anti-freeze in their blood.

those Mallards!

I round the point, pass in front of the spherical structure you see beyond the ducks in the longer-view above — it houses water management equipment, near as I can figure — and I admire the bleached rushes, sculptural now mid-winter, tall & stiff against the metal structure and the residential towers beyond.

looking west

Nothing tall & stiff when I pass the rink in Harbourfront Centre! Full of laughing or squealing skaters, depending on age, twirling around. This, too, is a pond in summer. (I find it pure magic, this cycle of water-to-ice-to-water-to-ice-&-repeat-forever.)

Harbourfront Centre ice rink, Toronto Island in background

The fringe of land beyond is Toronto Island, and that airplane, streaking low, is about to land at Billy Bishop Airport on the Island.

I round another corner, walk up the side of a slip, and the wind wallops me. My cheeks & nose sting, then start to burn. Next they’d turn numb. Time to find shelter & warm up.

Fortunately, the very next quay houses the Craft & Design Studio associated with Harbourfront Centre. It houses a string of studios, open at one side to a gangway, from where the public can watch the artisans at work.

Including a glassblower! I remember standing there once, and how, even at that safe distance, I was shielding my eyes from the glare of his furnace and pulling back from its fierce heat. That will warm me up.

glassbower's studio, Craft & Design Studio, Harbourfront Centre

Oh. He’s not here today. But check the temperatures written on the furnace: 1150 C or 2050 F. Even reading the numbers is somehow warming.

Back outside I admire the Simcoe Wave Deck from the east rather than west end, a whole new perspective on its dramatic curves.

Simcoe Wave Deck, Queens Quay W & Lower Simcoe

Why does it exist? For fun. There are three wave decks along this stretch of waterfront, all of them functioning city sidewalks — but sidewalks that play with us, invite us to play with them, and together we ride the waves.

In summer I watch pedestrians slide this deck like human Slinky-toys. Not today!

I head north into town, turn east toward home.

One more park along the way: Cloud Gardens, on Temperance Street.

Cloud Gardens, Temperance St.

Each square on the wall symbolizes one of the city’s construction trades; together, they form a mosaic of tribute to the people who, literally, build our city.

The park’s name refers to something else, though. See the glass structure jutting out toward the mid-left? It is a conservatory, full of tropical plants. A cloud garden, indeed. I can’t wait to go inside, inhale some moist tropical air, expand tight muscles into the warmth …

Locked doors. Closed for maintenance!

So home I go.



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  1. I feel cold even reading that walk! Great photos – long winter shadows on those skaters.


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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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