Meditation in a Bog

23 July 2018 – With thanks to Sally, who provided this photo, with this title, which shows Frances (R) and me disappearing around a bend in the boardwalk, among towering trees.

We are indeed in a bog. Burns Bog.

Located on the delta of the Fraser River, and originally some 10,000 hectares or so in size, it is now reduced to about 3,000-3,500 hectares but is still the largest raised peat bog on the west coast of the Americas. The Joho Maps website has a diagram that situates it nicely — and provides a lot of other information as well in its excellent guide to the Bog.

Though, inevitably, now much disturbed by mankind, Burns Bog  is a globally unique ecosystem, a major regulator of regional climate, a stopover for more than 400 species of migratory birds, and is still home to a wide variety of plants and wildlife.

And trains.

Freight trains run along one edge, which is also the side that, in the Delta Nature Reserve, affords the only public access. As we descend into the Bog proper, we hear and then see a train train start rumbling by.

It takes a while, freight trains being the length they are.

Clatter-clatter, rumble-rumble, thump-thump, squeak-squeak…

Then all those other sounds of train-in-progress give way to the squeal that signals either (A) a 4-year-old throwing a tantrum, or (B) a very long freight train grinding to a halt.

There is no 4-year-old in sight.

The freight train stops. Blocking our cross-over access to the Bog and its trails.

Mature, philosophic adults that we are, we stand about in some handy shade and admire the boxcar artwork.

And then, squeal-rumble-rumble, the train shakes itself into action again and rolls on its way.

We take the now-available access path, and hop over the tracks.

I promise you, Sally (L) and Frances are athletic and nimble of foot. I consider them my personal trainers (along with much else), and I am grateful for the on-going stimulation and physical challenge.

My camera just happened to catch them … ummm … like this. Sort of a Lindy Hop, as performed by the Marx Brothers?

Over the tracks, and now across a stream. “It’s called the River of Dreams,” says Frances, who is a veteran of many Bog walks over the years and effectively our tour guide today. The water is so astoundingly clear that, in a photo, it is transparent to the camera. All you can see is the thin line of reflected sunlight …

but water does fill the riverbed, bank to bank.

Moments later, I think we are stretching our greedy fingers toward wild raspberries, but Sally knows better. “Thimbleberries,” she says, and she’s right. (Rubus parviflorus, if you want to get all official about it.)

Soon after, Labrador Tea blossoms (Ledum groenlandicum — curiously attributed to Greenland in the Latin). So delicate, and so sturdy! So tall, also — the shrubs tower over our heads.

At one point there is a choice of loops. We opt for the one promising us a sunken tractor and Skunk Cabbage Meadow. I think of my dear Ontario-based friend DJ, who has a thing for skunk cabbages, and can’t wait to see a whole meadow of them, alive-alive-o.

Can’t miss ’em, once you’re among ’em.

Wowzers.

I send DJ this photo and, thanks to her reply, I now know one more difference between The East and The West.

Aha!  This, my dear Penny, is indeed skunk cabbage, but the western one (Lysichiton americanus) with a big yellow flower, followed by HUGE leaves, as your photos show!  The eastern one is Symplocarpus foetidus — a smaller, shyer version with purplish flowers and smaller leaves.  They’re both in the arum family and both smell skunky in bloom to attract flies and beetle pollinators, hence sharing the common name.  Thank you!!

On past the half-buried tractor, left over from days when peat was being harvested and equipment often met with misadventure.

Bog beside our feet, towering trees overhead.

And, always, boardwalk beneath our feet. Kilometres of it — installed, watched over, patched and replaced as needed by volunteers with the Burns Bog Conservation Society.

Sometimes the Boardwalk Gremlins wisely leave a gap. No need to argue with tree roots.

We head back out …

climbing past homes on the bogside slope and somebody’s welter of birdhouses as we go.

The Magic of Water

10 August 2016 – Not a particularly profound thought, but a profound visceral reaction: in the dry, hot season, we respond to water. (And feel, or should feel, great gratitude to have it available to us.)

The Tuesday Walking Society is in Mount Pleasant Cemetery, a peaceful & largely shady route to the Discovery Walk trail south through Moore Park Ravine and on down to Evergreen Brick Works. We pass fountains in the cemetery but, even more soothing, this limpid watercourse weaving through some memorial gardens.

watercourse in Mount Pleasant Cemetery

We pass poignant inscriptions, as well.

memorial inscription, Mt Pleasant Cemetery

Across Moore Avenue, and we start the descent into the ravine. Sun dogs dance in the camera lens, & dapple the path.

Moorre Park Ravine trail, at Moore Ave.

Everywhere, thistle fluff exploding on the seed heads, waiting for a breeze to whirl them away.

thistle heads, exploding into fluff

And the suction cling of burdock pods, proving why they were the inspiration for Velcro.

burdock pods clutching our finger tips

By now path-side greenery is almost obscuring bike racks at the upper entrance to the Brick Works.

side entrance to EBW, from the ravine trail

We leave the trail, enter the parkland that surrounds the Brick Works itself … and again stand entranced by the magic of water.

ex-quarries, now the Weston Family Quarry Garden

Once quarries for the raw materials for the bricks produced here from 1889 to 1984, the mammoth cavities are now repurposed & naturalized as the Weston Family Quarry Garden. We don’t sit in the Muskoka chairs, too hot.

We walk on, up & around the perimeter of the site, back down to cool off inside … and then linger a moment for one last glance at the water before we head home.

Wildflowers, Wild Canoes … & a Touch of Z’otz

3 July 2016 – We’re on for wildflowers. That’s why Phyllis & I are trotting down Pottery Rd., heading for the Lower Don Recreational Trail that will take us north along the Don River, surrounded by nature. We don’t expect wild canoes, though — let alone Z’otz.

The unexpected comes later, upstream; we start with the expected, in Todmorden Mills Wildflower Preserve and Wetland. It lives up to its name.

Look! Wetland.

pond in Todmorden Mills Wildflower Preserve and Wetland

And look! Wild roses. I bury my nose (checking first for bees). Nothing smells as sweet.

detail, wild roses in Todmorden Mills

The smell and the sight flood me with memories of Calgary back alleys, bursting with wild roses all summer long. (Alberta is called Wild Rose Country for a reason.)

Out of Todmorden Mills, and sharp right to start north on the trail along the Don River. We had a fairly short, but intense rainstorm a day or so ago — the extra water is now boiling its way downstream to Lake Ontario. Rapids are higher than usual around the rocks, and noisier.

Don R. trail nr Pottery Rd junction

Salmon leap — some of them right there in the river, or so I am told, but they’re not the ones we see. We admire the ones leaping in and out of the waves painted onto this section of the trail, accompanied here & there by inspirational text.

trail mural nr Pottery Rd junction

“Life” is good. I’m willing to be inspired by that.

More wildflowers as we go, some of which we can even identify! Not this one, though, but we love it every time we see it, so we wish somebody would enlighten us.

It is not exactly a wildflower, but it certainly is wild.

mystery wild plant by Don River

We chatter once again about how beautiful it is, how sculptural. Somebody else obviously admires its artistic properties as well — here it is adorning a prosaic old Natural Gas Pipeline pole.

Lower Don Recreational Trail

And, while we are on the subject of art …

Leaside Bridge trestles, art by Z'otz

That’s the Leaside Bridge (aka Millwood Rd.), spanning the river and an adjacent train track while it’s at it. But we’re not here to admire the bridge, are we? We want to check out the mural.

detail, Z'otz mural

Who is this artist? A little research later, and I can answer the question — but first reformulate it. Who are these artists?

Right. They are the Toronto-based Z’otz Collective, formed in 2004, still very active — proof right here with their 2015 “Panamania” project, i.e. commissioned artwork to brighten the Pan Am Bike Path. Click here, and get a CBC video of the creation of this mural as well as background on the collective itself.

We are now into the Wild Art stretch of our walk! Next up, the promised Wild Canoes. “Wild” simply because, well, they are not where you expect canoes to be. Namely, in or beside the water.

I suppose you could argue they are indeed beside the water. Just not in the usual direction.

art installation, Don R. underpass south of E.T. Seaton Park

Wouldn’t it be nice if I could tell you what underpass this is? Somewhere south of E.T. Seaton Park, is the best I can do. Sorry. For that matter, wouldn’t it be nice if I could credit the artist(s)? No plaque visible, so — again — sorry.

Finally we are in E.T. Seaton Park, practically up to the Ontario Science Centre grounds. We have gawked at some archery practice (in a well-fenced, off-to-one-side enclave), and dodged the wilder throws of some disc golf enthusiasts. “Sorry!” they shout. We are gracious: neither of us has been decapitated, so no need to fuss.

We’re about to climb steps up out of the ravine, on up to Don Mills Rd.; nothing more to see down here, we agree.

Hah. There is always one last bit of magic.

slack-wire practice, in E.T. Seaton Park

Slack-wire artists!

We watch for a bit, and then, suitably slack-jawed with admiration, we climb those steps & catch a bus.

 

 

 

 

 

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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