Down the Bluffs with Doris McCarthy

3 November 2016 – Finally on the Doris McCarthy Trail! We found it in spring — and also found it closed for restoration. Grrr. It has now reopened, and we are back. (Thanks to Phyllis’ perseverance, I must add.)

I knew of the artist Doris McCarthy; even, decades back, attended a showing of her works at which she was present (though I was too shy to approach her). I also knew vaguely that she had long lived out on the Scarborough Bluffs.

Now the artist and the place come together beneath our feet, as we start down the gravelled trail. Signs warn cyclists to dismount, to respect the steep slope.

partway down the Trail, with Lake Ontario already visible

Not that steep, we agree, as we march on down, Lake Ontario already in view.

The day is sunny-cloudy, but not raining, so we are content. And anyway, how could you not be content, with views like this?

view west, from foot of Doris McCarthyTrail

Down there in the distance to the west, Leslie Spit. Up close, rusty fall colours in the shrubbery. Linking the two, great striated bands of glacial material, layer on layer, North America’s most complete record of Pleistocene geology.

Smack at the foot of the Doris McCarthy Trail, a sculpture.

Passage, by Marlene Hilton Moore

Passage, it is called, and it is perfect. The work of Marlene Hilton Moore, a tribute to both Doris McCarthy and the Bluffs she loved so much. We peer down the ribs …

Passage

see two columns of dates along the spine, & rush back to the plaque for help.

One column tracks major events in the life of Doris McCarthy, from birth (1910) to years training in & then teaching art, to her 12-acre purchase of land on the Bluffs (1939) and subsequent establishment of first a cottage & then a permanent home on the site (Fool’s Paradise, 1946), her travels & honours as an artist, her induction into the Order of Canada (1987), her donation of Fool’s Paradise to the Ontario Heritage Trust (1998), & her death, age 100, in 2010. Fittingly, the Trust now runs her beloved home as the Doris McCarthy Artist-in-Residence Centre.

The other column tracks major events in the life of the Scarborough Bluffs. It starts a little earlier: 23,000 B.C., when Lake Iroquois is first formed.

We amble westward on the lakeside trail, enjoying the warmth, the breeze, nature’s extravagant textures.

heading west along Lake Ontario, from foot of Doris McCarthy Trail

And, oh, in a while, the path successively narrows and finally ends.

Scarborough Bluffs, looking west

We turn back, explore our way to the east; explore, too, what else is on offer, along with those sweeping vistas.

Rocks, for example, along the beach …

beach rock

and beautifully crafted little bird nests …

at path's edge

and, of course!, an inukshuk, out on a point.

inukshuk, beyond the tree

Finally we loop back once again to Passage …

marking the foot of the Doris McCarthy Trail

and head back up the Doris McCarthy Trail to the city streets of Scarborough.

It is, we agree, much steeper to climb than to descend!

 

 

 

We’re Bluffing

3 August 2016 – Bluff. One short word, at least three meanings.

  1. noun or verb: a pretence of strength or confidence, to gain an advantage
  2. adjective: good-natured, blunt, frank, hearty
  3. noun: a cliff, having a vertical or steep broad front

I teased you with # 1 in the post title, but in fact the Tuesday Walking Society is out there enjoying # 3.

Phyllis & I are down by Lake Ontario in Bluffers Park, with its stunning 14 km of … yes … bluffs.

Scarborough Bluffs, from Bluffers Park

We first head west from the parking lot, suitably grateful to the Wisconsin glacier for all this beauty — and, layer by layer, this geological record of the last stages of the Great Ice Age.

The glacier first swept in some 70,000 years ago, creating a large river delta and depositing the sediments, now laden with fossil plants & animals, that compose the first 46 m. of the bluffs. The final 61 m. are alternating layers of boulder clay & sand, laid down in subsequent glacial advances & retreats until the final retreat, some 12,000 years ago.

It truly is awe-inspiring. It also, apparently, tempts idiots to do idiotic things.

warninf! don't be an idiot

Ah well.

Lake-side we look across an inlet to a grassy, treed point of land. See the synchronicity of picnic tables? Up top,  finicky humans, who expect the table to include legs & benches. In the water, a humble swan, who thinks the table-top is quite enough, thank you.

two picnic tables...

We find, then walk a path that takes us from our lake-side beach to that point of land. It leads us along a very pretty pond, with water-lilies & a rather large drowsing turtle, and the shimmering reflection of that westward range of bluffs.

view over settling pond westward to the bluffs

But it’s not just a pretty pond! It’s hard at work, 24/7. Walkways & screenings tell us what’s happening here; we’ve seen them in Humber Bay Park, at the western end of the city’s chain of lake-front parks.

view of apparatus in settling pond

These ponds catch storm water surging toward the lake from city sewers, and settle out the sediments. Thank you Karl Dunker, the Swede who invented Dunker’s Flow, the system that allows some heavy-duty water management to be carried out so unobtrusively.

Now Phyllis & I turn eastward, doubling back past the parking lot, then on a blissfully shady path alongside various marinas, and finally to the public beach and, beyond that, the eastern range of bluffs.

view along the eastern range of bluffs

Message to idiots: don’t climb the bluffs, right, you’ve got that message. Also, should you happen to be in parkland atop the bluffs, don’t prance yourself out to the very, very edge.

This is why.

overhang along the eastern range

Quite the overhang, yes?

We stand mesmerized for a bit, watching some idiot prance himself darn near the very, very edge. We fantasize watching him do a Homer-Simpson cartwheel down the cliff, squealing as he goes.

It doesn’t happen. He retreats, safe & sound. We walk on, soon diverted by a narrow rivulet that widens as it twists & turns its way down to the lake.

a rivulet joining the lake, on the western edge of the public swimming area

We follow it, then walk on, at water’s edge, our boots pressing into the firm wet sand. It is all very peaceful & very beautiful.

And also very hot & very sunny. Perhaps this is enough? we ask each other, not wishing to join the ranks of idiots, albeit for a different reason.

We decide to walk almost to that striated bluff down there …

a bluff near the eastern end of the range

its layers a striking example of all those glacial advances & retreats … and then, prudently, we turn back west.

This time we follow a broad path away from the lake edge, caught between trees on one side and grasses & other greenery at the foot of the bluffs. Wooden fence posts mark the way, the musky high-summer odours of wildflowers fill the air, cicadas sing, everything is bleached & somnambulant.

path along the eastern range of bluffs

We, too, feel bleached & somnambulant.

Don’t worry. A little later we’re tucked up in a favourite café, and we’re all perky again.

Speaking of coffee …

Some of you were as amazed as I, to discover coffee cupping. (See “In My Cups,” 23 July.) Here’s your chance to take part in a cupping — or perhaps join a workshop in roasting or brewing coffee, instead. If you live in Toronto, that is. Visit the education page of Merchants of Green Coffee to learn more. And hurry: the next cupping workshop is Wednesday, Aug 10.

 

Danger at the Cliff Edge

11 May 2016 – Never mind “Into the Woods” and “Into the City,” my friends — that’s for sissies. If you want a little excitement in your life, just go dance with the cliff edges.

warning near Sylvan Park, Scarborough Bluffs

Never mind the cliff edge. By now, the Tuesday Walking Society itself is tempted to collapse, from sheer frustration.

First, we take ourselves all the way east into Scarborough (for downtown girls, a thrilling adventure in itself); then we struggle to find parking anywhere near the launch point for the Doris McCarthy Trail down through Gate’s Gully, since everything on the closest residential street has been commandeered by a film shoot; then we discover our ultimate parking success is irrelevant since the Trail is temporarily closed, due to a washout; then we drive on, hoping to find another launch point for this assault on the Waterfront Trail and the Scarborough Bluffs, in whatever combination may offer itself …

You get the picture.

But we persevere, and we succeed, and soon we are parked on another tucked-away Scarborough residential street above the Bluffs. Where to our joy we discover a sign pointing to Sylvan Park.

And another sign warning us about those cliff edges.

warning sign, near Sylvan Park

The “I [hemp] TO” is a sticker, some marijuana-lover’s addition to the warning. You may disregard it, though perhaps loving Toronto in that particular way could add a new variable to your cliff-edge experience.

We don’t add that variable to our experience. We are sufficiently taken with the challenges of finding our way via streets & connecting pathways to the park.

Where, indeed, we are at cliff’s edge! Albeit behind a fence.

view east from Sylvan Park

Photos never show you the drama of the vertical drop. Please note the teeny-tiny size of those human beings ‘way below, and be suitably impressed.

Not a large park, but secluded, very pretty, and quite rightly equipped with benches from which you can admire the views eastward & westward along Lake Ontario.

view east from Sylvan Park

Phyllis points across the fencing toward the west side of the park. We note the concrete slab where a bench used to sit — but has prudently been withdrawn, from a collapsing edge.

abandoned bench slab, facing west

Not that teenage boys care about collapsing edges. (Though one does seem to care, if only slightly, about the click of my camera.)

Right, fine, that’s Sylvan Park. Now what?

A pleasant dog-walking man gives us instructions on how to get ourselves over to Guildwood Park and, with some bushwhacking luck, find a switchback path down to those beckoning trails ‘way below at water’s edge.

His directions are good, we navigate farther east, park again & start walking across Guildwood Park on its upper level.

Spring is jumping up all around us. With baby-bronze leaves just starting to unfurl …

new leaves, Guildwood Park

and pretty yellow, if anonymous (to us) wildflowers …

wildflowers, Guildwood Park

and wetland bits, especially welcome this dry spring.

standing water, Guildwood Park

And — of course! — more dire warnings about collapsing cliff edges.

Guildwood Park warning sign

We are becoming connoisseurs of these warning signs. We agree this one wins the award for Most Dramatic Imagery.

We find & scuffle on down the switchback trail, knees bent, leaning slightly back on our heels, and arrive still upright at the lake.

Where we look up at those much-touted cliff edges, now towering over us.

Scarborough Bluffs, from base of Guildwood Park

And agree, that yessir, they obviously can suddenly collapse. Those pretty turf edges are curling out into empty space, aren’t’ they?

We follow the gravel path on toward the east …

path east, below Guildwood Park

and spy one sole inuksuk.

How odd that he is the only one, given all the breakwater rubble lying around.

inuksuk, below Guildwood Park

He isn’t really that wonderful, either, but I find I am very protective of him. He is doing his best.

Phyllis admires a spider web, whose “best” — given its fly-count — is clearly very good indeed.

spider web, below Guildwood Park

The flies undoubtedly admire it rather less.

We begin chattering a bit about when to turn back. Will there be some logical point at which to about-face?

And then it presents itself: the end of the trail.

trail's eastern end, below Guildwood Park

Back we go. And climb back up the cliff. And do not fall over the edge.

And reward ourselves with fine coffee, back in town.

  • WALKING… & SEEING

    "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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