Oblivious. And Observant

5 October 2018 – These people are oblivious …

to the whole busy other world going right here next to them, all around Norman’s Fruit & Salad market .

They’re put to shame by these Plum Birds, who are so observant they’re practically falling off their wire.

See? It’s a world of activity, all stretched out, right beneath those bright beady eyes …

layer on layer.

All quite fanciful, too, with a certain ornithological flair.

That’s a cardinal on her head, I like to think, and on his finger, oh, let’s call it a cockatoo. (The rare crestless variant.)

Perhaps distracted by the wine, they are oblivious to the scrutiny from above.

Up there, an observant trio, who watch what’s happening below …

despite their own distractions of book, apples and, I’m willing to guess, a daffodil. (Clearly they are not the least bit distracted by untied shoe laces.)

Beside them, a second trio, the sleeping cat nicely counterbalanced by two watchful crows.

Beside them, yet another trio. A trio of trios! This time it’s a sad clown, a perhaps-concerned crow and, underneath, an I-have-my-own-problems sad civilian.

I confess. This is not where I began. Not what first switched me from oblivious to observant.

I was hiking right along at that street corner, when the young Joe Stalin caught my attention.

There he was, back from the dead to glower over a box of cabbages.

It took me a long while to notice the — what? Benedictine monk? — reading his breviary in the background.

What I noticed next was the bad-tempered cat, there at young Joe’s feet, giving that Plum Bird on the pole a hard time.

Or, perhaps, Joe & the cat are just ticked at whoever scrawled all over them.

Street artists should respect existing street art, right?


The East Is Red …

24 September 2015 – Or at least rouge. If approached from downtown Toronto.

Which is exactly what the Tuesday Walking Society does, this exuberantly beautiful fall Tuesday. (One day short of official fall, but who’s counting?)

The perfect day to revisit — after a 16-month gap, or so — Rouge Beach Park. So-named because it is at the mouth of the Rouge River; in turn so-named, back in the early 18th c., by French explorers struck by the red clay in its riverbanks.

Today this is the south end of Rouge Park (+40 square km., stretching north to beyond Hwy 407), and noted among other things for its magnificent wetlands — described in its promotional literature, not just as the biggest marshland in Toronto, but also “the best.”

These swans seem happy enough.

swans in the Rouge Beach Park wetlands

Phyllis & I stand there, woefully ignorant, but appreciative and at least able to distinguish swans from egrets, and ducks from geese. We even know about “GBH”! That’s thanks to the very patient, very helpful birding ladies we met right here a year ago spring, who taught us the slang for Great Blue Heron, and much more besides.

We plan to walk farther east along the Waterfront Trail, on the far side of the Rouge River, but first explore a bit along the lakeshore back west toward the city. Rolling waves, slight breeze, a marine tang in the air — and even one hit of street art.

Commissioned, I soon realize, but full of punch & sass for all that.

clubhouse back wall, at mouth of the Rouge River

We also walk the water’s edge along the river’s mouth for a bit, marvelling at all the bird tracks in the firm wet sand and the piles of feather-rubble all about. Enthusiastic groomers, these swans, but they don’t exactly tidy up after themselves.

one isolated e.g. of all the preened feathers lying around

We pass quite close to some Canada geese as we walk along. They give no signs of alarm, indeed show no interest whatsoever, so we simply walk quietly & keep moving. Different story with a grooming swan. Swans for all their beauty are hissy, irritable creatures, I have always thought, and this one raises his (her?) head to fix us with a beady stare. No fools we, we back off.

Never mind, there’s plenty more shoreline to be had, and a very handsome view on eastward. The cluster of white structures in the distance makes a satisfying resting point for the eye — even when you know it is a nuclear power generating station!

view east from mouth of the Rouge

Now we backtrack, to cross the Rouge via a pretty pedestrian bridge that angles over the river mouth on a sturdy white pillar. Parallel to it, but out of frame in this next shot, a railway bridge. Not pretty, but striking in an industrial-geometry sort of way.

pedestrian bridge across the Rouge

I’ve already carried on about the shaggy mad beauty of late-summer growth. Now I’m doing it again. Because — just look — it really is terrific. But what wouldn’t be, on such a sparkling day?

view over Lake Ontario, from First Nations Trail, part of Pickering Waterfront Trail

This is a delightful stretch of the Waterfront Trail, up on the bluffs, great views over the water, great sense of being lost in nature even though in fact the Trail here is practically ribbon-wide in most places, with the railway track running close on the northern side.

I keep forgetting about the scope of the Waterfront Trail; I reduce it to the stretch that snakes its way across lakefront Toronto.

Coming elsewhere, even somewhere as close as this next municipality of Pickering, reminds me what an achievement it is: 1,600 km. total along the Canadian shores of lakes Ontario, Erie and St. Clair, plus the Niagara, Detroit and St. Lawrence rivers, linking 75 communities and more than 405 parks and natural areas. I am again wowed, and grateful.

We slow our pace to read a sign that we can see has been posted regularly all along the luxuriant meadows that stretch between trail and cliff-edge.

posted  frequently along the trail

I had no idea of this kind of parkland management; how interesting, how sophisticated. As we walk on, we pass parks employees implementing the program. One machine levels the existing plant life (though some stands, e.g. of Staghorn sumach trees, are left); the next turns the remain stalks into the soil beneath. Several hours later, when we again pass this same spot, it too is bare.

We walk as far east as Frenchman’s Bay, with Pickering proper lying to the north, and then up the western shore of this sizeable bay before doubling back west. Occasionally the Trail takes us along stretches of city street. Most homes reflect their close relationship with the water — beach chairs, canoes, nautical garden froo-fraw.

One home thinks horses instead.

garden swing by Frenchman's Bay

The rubber-tire garden swing variety. I’m not sure it is actually “swingable,” if you follow me, but I must add it is very sturdily attached to a great tall tree. Either way, what fun!

Back we go, the return trip seeming so much shorter the way return trips always do — though also yielding some views we missed when going the other way, also a characteristic of return trips.

At Rouge Beach Park, I stand a moment under the railway bridge for a last look down the sandbars along the river’s western shore. People laughing, strolling, fishing; a couple, each carrying what appears to be one half of a snap-it-together kayak.

Then I hear a soaring voice. Contralto in range and singing opera, I think.

I finally pick out the woman, move closer, begin to distinguish some sounds, and refine my guess to Chinese opera. Not that I have any idea! It just sounds very formal, very traditional — I am quite confident that she is not boppin’ some Chinese equivalent of a show tune.

Her voice is good, her pleasure evident, and I am delighted to be here, at this moment. And it is only a moment — her friends catch up & she turns to talk with them instead.

An hour or so later, another musical gift. This time it floats above the ambient clatter as I stand on the Davisville subway station platform, waiting for a southbound train.

flautist on the Davisville subway platform

An urban Pan, as skilled, and as abosrbed in his music as the lady back in Rouge Beach Park.

How lucky I am, to have heard them both.

Spring on the Spit

4 May 2015 – And all the way to Leslie Spit as well. We suddenly have warm weather, warmth we can count on, and this Saturday, the city is giddy with joy.

We are celebrating.

At Cherry Beach, for example, where people flop right down on the sand, knees & faces toasting in the sun …

Cherry Beach Park

And just east of Cherry Beach in Jamieson Kuhlman Field, where zillions of kids are tearing around in soccer practice. An Irish-accented coach explains a move in detail to his charges & cries, “I want to see your brains in action!” as he turns them loose to try it for themselves.

soccer practice, in Jamiesdon Kuhlman Field

All fun, but my target is Leslie Spit. As I have confessed before in this blog, I am a Leslie Spit junkie.

Five kilometres long & some 500 hectares in size, it is a Man/Nature joint venture project that began in 1959 as a lake-filling operation off the foot of Leslie Street — for port-related facilities they later decided they didn’t need.

From the start, Nature was busy developing an eco-system on all that clean fill. Humans caught up with the idea, & now the entire site is officially known as Tommy Thompson Park. Roughly half is already managed as an “urban wilderness” park (accessible weekends only); the rest is still a week-day dumping site, but contoured and managed with eventual park use in mind.

I have time to think about what I hope to see, as I cycle east. Yes! Today Walking Woman is Wheeling Woman — nothing fancy, just my sturdy old clunker, but I’m happy as I explore the day’s route from a slightly different perspective than usual.

map in TTP visitor centre

South on that left-hand orange line (Sherbourne St.) to join the yellow Martin Goodman Trail as it hugs assorted roads across town. South with the yellow line down Cherry St. to Cherry Beach, east again along the lake to the Spit. And on out the Spit.

Here’s my wish list:

  • Birds – it’s an important birding area, with over 300 species sighted & 55 known to have nested here. I will observe with a friendly, if ignorant, eye.
  • Bridge – There’s a funny little bridge mid-Spit, a good place to see birds, talk to fellow walkers & cyclists, look out over the ponds & landforms.
  • Beaver Lodge – Every visit, I hope it is still there. And inhabited.
  • Sculpture – What else to call it? All this rubble & rebar, people make art. I have seen magic out here.

Native shrubs & grasses are just beginning to wake up, but birds are already in high gear. Screeches bounce through the air. I know there are gull nesting areas on both sides of the Spit and, I tell you, the sound carries.

So does the cry of the Red-Wing Blackbird, one of whom preens for me on while I stop the bike & pull out my camera. He is in full display, red and yellow stripes both, very dramatic — thus all the more fun for him when he flies off exactly as I raise the camera.

Never mind. Moments later I’m cycling past a line of Bluebird boxes and — I think for the first time ever — I see a bird posing atop his box. Who stays there.

Eastern Bluebird on Leslie Spit

I’m still pleased with that happy gift from the Spit when I receive another.

There’s the beaver lodge! I don’t see any beaver, I never do, but the grasses to and from the water edge are flattened in what I hope is a beaver trail. (Later, in the newly opened Visitor Centre, I learn that beaver are indeed active in the park.)

beaver lodge on Leslie Spit

Just left of the lodge & mostly behind the grasses, you can see a flash of white. That’s one of the Mute Swans that also live here in considerable numbers.

And then … the bridge. I’ve crossed this bridge in all seasons, snow & glinting ice, summer warmth, fall colours. It’s like a little mid-Spit break in the trip, a place where people easily fall into conversation.

bridge partway up Leslie Spit

I remember standing here once, hanging over the railing to watch Long-tail Ducks eddy to and fro, trying to memorize their call. No ducks this time — but there is another bird, another reason for people to stop in their tracks, point in amazement, and smile at each other with the discovery.

Canada Goose atop piling, Leslie Spit

The City silhouette is quite handsome from here, but who cares? We only have eyes for the Canada Goose, peacefully settled atop the old wooden piling. Nesting? We don’t know.

I’m ticking my wish list very nicely: birds, check; beaver lodge, check; bridge, check.

Ah, but. Sculpture. True, I haven’t been up and down every single trail or along every shore edge, but I’m surprised that I haven’t yet seen anything much. Just a few rebar & rubble pop-ups along the eastern shoreline …

rebar & rubble art, Leslie Spit

Well, maybe there’ll be something interesting right out at the tip.

That is where, in January 2013, I saw a brick & cement “bed,” with a loving diary carefully inked into its concrete “pillows.” I called that post Magic and Found Poetry in its honour, and — though it is long gone — I have never forgotten it. (Visit the post for more images.)

the 'bed' at the tip of Leslie Spit

So I am slightly awash in nostalgia as I approach Lighthouse Point, and hopeful.

Hah. Piles of rubble, all right, but each mound is just as the dump truck left it, claimed by noisy gulls rather than creative human hands.

gulls at tip of Leslie Spit


And then I see it.

Not a great creation, not even very good, frankly — just some bricks that have clearly been shoved around & roughly organized into a big circle. There is a slightly more developed ante-chamber to one side, but it’s still not that terrific, not really.

I am trying to persuade myself it deserves a photo, though I know perfectly well it doesn’t, when — suddenly — the whole thing is transformed.

A child flies in from one side, yipping with delight, and flings himself down to play with the bricks.

at tip of Leslie Spit

And that is worth a photo. Not whatever it is he may create, just what it stands for: the sheer human urge to create, and the joy that act gives us in return.

Leaving the park, I see a street vendor & tick one final item from my list. I make my yearly springtime purchase of a Polish sausage in a toasted bun, and I love every bite as I lick escapee relish off my upper lip & watch swallows looping though the sky.

All good. Happy spring.

River to Lake, No Ice

19 April 2015 – Finally warm! Look, no gloves! The Tuesday Walking Society is all girlish giggles of joy as we set out from the Old Mill subway station & start south along the west side of the Humber River. New growth is beginning to appear, but last fall’s rusty leaves still carpet this marker in King’s Mill Park.

lookout west side of Humber R.,  just south of Old Mills subway station


The park is well-named: Toronto’s first industrial building was a mill — the King’s Mill — built here in 1793. It is long gone, though traces remain of subsequent mills on the same site. No traces at all, these days, of the Huron-Wendat villages that once populated this watershed, except for a map showing the locations of some archaeological digs.

This fact makes me grimace a bit at the next map, one of the colourful big ones that dot the route of any of the city’s Discovery Walks. We are following Humber River, Old Mill & Marshes, and the trail bears this name:

Discovery Walk map, posted on  Stephen Dr at Berry Rd.

My grimace is for the title. “The Shared Path”? More likely the seized path, given the typical course of European-indigenous interactions. (But yes, all that is long ago, and now is now. We cannot change then; we are responsible for now.)

At this point Phyllis & I are out of King’s Mill Park. We have to put in a few fairly boring blocks of city streets before the trail enters South Humber Park. Back to the river, back into nature, though always with the city dancing on the horizon.

view east from South Humber Park

The Humber River watershed is the largest in the Toronto area, an important corridor for migratory birds & monarch butterflies. (All the more reason to celebrate the Humber Bay Butterfly Habitat just west of the Humber, on the lake.)

There are marshes along this stretch of river, one of the city’s few remaining river-mouth marshes, prime breeding habitat for ducks, turtles & fish.

And prime wading grounds for Great Blue Heron.

GBH in the Humber Marshes

Down, down we walk. I tie my jacket about my waist, revel in the warmth. Nothing gradual about the transition from one season to the next, not in this part of the world: we jump straight from winter’s Full Stop to spring’s Fast-Forward, ka-boom.

The trail goes under two major expressways close to the lake: first the Queensway, then the Gardiner. Traffic overhead, concrete pillars all around, a few charmingly old-fashioned light standards along the way.

under the Queensway & Gardiner bridges across the Humber River

Painted in firm black letters on one of the pillars: “Retake the lake.”

Now a prettier bridge, one of my great favourites from any angle, the pedestrian bridge at the very mouth of the Humber.

pedestrian bridge at mouth of Humber River, from the north

We turn westward through lakeside parkland, a narrow but amazingly effective ribbon of peace & recreation between the lake on one side and soaring condos on the other. It is also a good viewing spot for the downtown silhouette, back there to the east …

view from Humber Bay Shores park toward city to east

You see that Mute Swan, gliding through the inlet? These guys are around all winter — not like those sissy Stratford (Ontario) swans, carefully relocated to protected habitat each fall & then ceremoniously paraded back to the Thames (still Ontario) in spring!

Sorry, I got distracted there, smirking at the Stratford swans. The thing we notice about our local tough-guy swans is that, today, they are all fluffed up as they cruise around. As if they’d watched one too many Michelin Man images in the tire commercials, and got ideas. (“Hey look, I bet we could be even rounder than that!”)

Mute Swan, all fluffed up

I’m sure any ornithologist could explain the phenomenon, but I prefer to think they’re just having fun. They look like they are, as the wind catches all those surfaces and propels them this way & that.

Not fun at all, our next stop, but one I always make. We walk out the east lobe of Humber Bay Park, jutting into the lake, and stop for a moment at the monument to Air India flight 182. The flight originated in Toronto; so did the terrorist bomb that, on 23 June 1985, exploded over Ireland, killing all 392 passengers & crew.

Air India 182 memorial, Humber Bay Park East

Terrorism is commonplace, a chilling truth. Yet each act of terrorism matters, each lost life matters. I once stood at the wall of victims’ names, by chance next to a young man who gently touched a name, and said that fellow had been his work colleague & his friend. I see people come upon this memorial unawares, chattering happily about other things; they halt, first puzzled, then — always — touched. I am also touched, in a world of so much violence, to see the power of remembrance.

A happier finale to the walk, symbols of life not death. We head back to the main shoreline, & start weaving our way east through the Humber Bay Butterfly Habitat along the lake.

Our path angles through the HBBH Home Garden, with its great metal ravens standing guard. Each hollow sculpture is stuffed with straw — real birds with real nests, tucked inside the artwork. Their backdrop is a line of waterfront condos. Everybody like a lake view!

Home Garden, Humber Bay Butterfly Habitat

Then off down Marine Parade Drive, the ever-busier roadway between condos & park, for a bistro with a patio and our first outdoors latte-&-something of the season …


    "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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