In the early 1980’s, I attended York University’s Glendon College. It was then, and still is, a small arts college attached to the larger university, maintaining a physically separate and culturally distinct campus. It is set in the former grounds of the Wood estate on the edge of the West Don River valley at Bayview and Lawrence.
I took an Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature with a minor in Canadian History, so my courses brought a heavy load of essays to write. I’ve always been a night owl, and as I moved through my degree I gradually organized my course schedule to take mostly afternoon classes. That let me work on papers late into the night, in fact often through the night – I would often go to bed at 6 or 7 a.m.
Come April, I’d be working on papers till the wee hours and the sun would be up by the time I pushed away the typewriter (pre-PC days!). I would be keyed up and jumpy from drinking coffee all night, so I developed the habit of taking a walk to unwind and relax before grabbing some sleep. I’d step out into a quiet, peaceful campus as the sun was coming up. Because I didn’t want to run into anyone, I would walk down into the valley and along the Don.
There was a path behind my residence that led the way down and I’d follow it, taking care to make as little noise as possible so that I could hear the birds. At that time of the morning, traffic noises were a faint distraction and it was often still, so you could hear the chirps and calls as birds awoke, and when you got closer to the river you could hear the lap and splash of the water.
In the valley, the Proctor Field House and athletic fields are bounded on the north side by the river. At that time there were walking paths on both banks, and I’d pick one or the other and follow the river downstream. Often there would be ducks or geese, and once I saw a muskrat. Squirrels skittered and racoons made their way to their nests after a night of garbage gathering. There were a couple of bridges that crossed the river, one at the west end of the campus and one at the east, so I could wander along one bank and cross to come back along the other.
It wasn’t a long walk, perhaps a km or 2, and I could be back to my room in about a half hour, relaxed and able to sleep. I rarely met another soul. Today there is just one path along the south side of the river, and the area is known as Glendon Forest. The path links to Sunnybrook Park, so there are more walkers and joggers about, and everyone seems to be walking their dog these days. But back then it felt like my own private wood, a place to think and to unwind, to escape the city and mentally return to the woods and fields that had surrounded my home outside Leamington, in South-West Ontario.
After I graduated, I rarely went back to the College and even when I did it was just for a social event in the pub. And then in 2016, 30 years after leaving, I developed some health issues that forced me to deal with the fact that I was out of shape and in dire need of exercise. I resolved to start walking, and my first destination was the Glendon Forest to walk that path along the river.
On an autumn day, the river level was low but the sun was bright in a crisp early November way. There were golden leaves falling and spiralling into the water to surf and ride the waves, and again not a soul about. As I walked, I remembered those dawn rambles and wondered why I had ever stopped walking.
It was the boost I needed – I’ve been walking ever since. I get back to the Glendon Forest at least once a season, each with its own character to savour. The walk always refreshes, and always reminds me that little walks lead to life’s long journeys.