Walks in Winter

Today was a day for a winter’s walk, January cold and about 15-20 cm of snow overnight. When you get out early on a day like that, especially on a Sunday when people are up later anyway, you appreciate the city in winter and the clean fresh face it wears this time of the year.

I hadn’t realized how much snow we had gotten overnight until I went out – the sidewalks were still covered in snow in many places and the roads were also covered except where cars had made paths to follow. It made for a more strenuous walk than usual for our neighbourhood but it was quite cold so the exercise was welcome to keep the blood flowing.

I headed north from our place, into the Lytton Park and Chatsworth neighbourhoods. There is a school called Glenview near us, and when our son was younger we would go there to go sledding on days like we had today. Seeing other younger parents brought back memories of his adventures then.

At the bottom of the hill at the school and east out the back of the schoolyard is the Chatsworth Ravine, and that was gorgeous in the sun with a fresh coat of snow.

Chatsworth Ravine park

As I followed the trail through the ravine, I could hear the sounds of digging out – the scrape of snow shovels and the hum of snow blowers. There is also a small creek flowing through the park (Burke’s Brook) and it hadn’t frozen over so there was the ripple and splash of that as well.

Burke’s Brook in Chatsworth Ravine

From the ravine I kept east to Duplex and up the stairs, crossing the road to Chatsworth and then down the hill to Yonge. From there I crossed and went into Alexander Muir Park, and along the trail east through the ravine under the Mount Pleasant bridge and then up Glengowan into the Lawrence Park neighbourhood. This is a lovely part of Toronto, with mature trees heavy with snow, brick and stone homes dating back to the 1920’s and 1930’s, and quiet streets that reward a wanderer with the sounds of birds and squirrels.

By the time I climbed the hill on Glengowan and looped back north up onto Dawlish, I was pretty tired after slogging through the snow, so I went west back to Mount Pleasant and then south to Blythwood, so that I could go west back to Yonge and make my way home.

Today brought many things to mind about walking in Toronto in winter:

  • the smell of wood smoke in the air
  • the excuse-me shuffle as you pass others heading the other way on the narrow shovelled portion of the sidewalk
  • the curse of unshoveled stretches and the blessing of clear patches
  • salt, salt, salt in some places and ice, ice, ice in others
  • the friendly nod and smile as you pass homeowners digging out
  • the glad-it’s-not-me thought when you see a snowed-in car
  • the crunch and squeak of cold dry snow underfoot
  • the uncertain navigation of drivers without winter tires
  • the laughter of children rolling down hills and their excited shrieks on sleds and toboggans
  • the snow hush muffling the streets, as traffic sounds are deadened

You know a city by it’s sounds and smells and people and streets, and in winter all of these change. Toronto in spring, in summer, in autumn are different places, and winter has its own character too. I’m like many people in the city, I like it when the sun is out and when it’s cold I can’t wait for spring.

And still, I have to admit it’s beautiful, in any season. I read an article on the BBC news website today, about words in Japanese that have no direct translation into English. One phrase in particular came to mind as I walked in the snow – “mono no aware”, which the BBC article translates as “the ephemeral nature of beauty – the quietly elated, bittersweet feeling of having been witness to the dazzling circus of life – knowing that none of it can last”.

Snow melts, we all know that, and even before then the wind and sun play upon the surface, sculpting the shapes and casting shadows that change with the movement of trees and boughs. No two moments in a snowy landscape are the same and no amount of photography can capture them all. Standing still, absorbing, you take them in and let them go like breaths, exhaling clouds.

Mono no aware. Snow in the city. Winter calm.

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