Walks in Autumn

Autumn has always been my favourite season. In Toronto, there are phases to it. Coming out of September and through early October, we usually keep our late summer warmth with the bonus of dryer, clearer weather with lots of bright blue skies. Then as you drift through the rest of October and into early November, the nights get cooler and the autumn colours take over the parks and neighbourhoods. Around then, usually by early or mid- November, we’ll get our first frost overnight and our first snowflakes. Our autumn usually turns into winter temps and weather well before the winter solstice and turn of the season on Dec 21, so when you think about it, between the late summer bit and the early winter bit, a Toronto autumn is really the 4 weeks or so between about early October and early November.

And while it’s a short stretch of the calendar, it’s made for walking. We’ll get lots of dry days, not too cold, and with scenery that never gets old no matter how many times you’ve seen autumn colours transform a park. When we lived in England back in the 1990’s, I missed that turn of the season more than anything else.

This year, autumn arrived right on cue. Late September and early October were glorious – blue-sky autumn days that demanded to be used because you knew that in just a few weeks, those gentle blues would turn to steely greys and the autumn rains would turn to frosts and snow.

So I did – I headed out for several longish walks through favourite parks and soaked up the sun for as long as I could. One favourite hike in early October was through Mount Pleasant Cemetery and down the Moore Park Ravine to the Brickworks. The autumn colours were starting to develop and on a mid-week afternoon, there were only a few people about so I could savour the quiet. I love this place.

Wandering the paths through the park, it’s easy to forget that you’re in the middle of the city. The park is only about 15 years old, and is the result of natural regeneration nudged by careful planning, turning the clay quarry that provided many of the bricks that built Toronto landmarks like Old City Hall and Massey Hall into an urban oasis. It’s wonderful any time of the year, and at its best in the autumn.

Later, in mid-October, I did a hike through Highland Creek Park, Morningside Park, and the Gatineau Corridor as part of my completion of the Great Trail sections that are in Toronto. The weather had cooled just a bit, especially overnight, and the foliage in the parks was perfect.

As the month of October wore on, we started to get some grey skies and gusty rains, stripping those gorgeous colours off the trees and turning the trails to pointillist visions.

Every year, around mid October, there will be newspaper articles and social media posts about where to go to see the perfect fall colours. I ignore these. The perfect fall colours are right outside, in my favourite parks along my favourite trails. Toronto is awesome pretty much all of the time, and autumn is when it’s awesomeness on display, the more so because it’s natural and unforced. We take it for granted at lot of the time, so it’s worth reminding ourselves that we live, as the Parks Department motto says, in a city within a park.

And then in early November, other walks became reminders that winter is around the corner. I went up the East Don Trail on a blustery chilly day, maybe 4-5 C at best with an actual wind-chill under a grey forbidding sky, and was teased by a few snow flakes.

Then a few days later, we had actual snow, only a cm or 2 but enough to leave a trace on the ground. It feels like our 4 weeks of autumn have come and gone for this year. The forecast going forward is early winter – snow showers and low single digits as day time highs, with negative temps overnight.

That’s ok. The cycle of seasons means change, which means variety. Were the weather constant year-round, it would get tedious I think. So walking in wet leaves under blustery skies, now, is the path that leads to walking under soft spring breezes amongst new growth, in a few months. There’s greenery coming – you just have to be patient.

Walk Journal – May 19, 2019

Where: Chaplin Estates, Belt Line, Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Moore Ravine, the Brickworks, Pottery Road and Pape Village to the Danforth, then back along the Danforth over the Bloor Street Viaduct and then through Castlefrank and Rosedale to Summerhill & Yonge and up Yonge to Deer Park and back through Chaplin Estates to home.

Duration: about 3.5 hours walking, and around 17 km

Weather: Spring! 18 C and sunny enough for a sunburn

My walking regime this year so far has been patchy at best. I’ve put back on some weight that I’d lost, and I’ve been feeling flabby and out of shape. My weekly target of 60 minutes of walking 5 days out of 7 has mostly gone by the wayside, and the weather has been chilly and teasing – the calendar might say spring but the temperatures don’t.

On a holiday weekend, you never know what you’re going to get. Last year on Victoria Day we had a great walk through High Park and then up the Humber River. This year we decided to walk east, and visit the Danforth and Toronto’s Greektown neighbourhood, and the weather forecast was promising.

The most direct yet still interesting route took us through familiar streets to the Beltline Trail and then east along that into Mount Pleasant Cemetery. From there we followed the Trail into Moore Ravine and down into the Don Valley into the trails of the Brickworks. On a nice holiday weekend day, there were hordes of walkers, families, dogs, bikes, runners, and self-snapping young couples. We took our time going through the Brickworks trails, and then crossed Bayview to the Lower Don Trail to head back north up to Pottery Road. Walking along that brought back memories as we passed Fantasy Farm – back in the 1980’s when I was at Glendon College we’d had several formal banquets there at which I had let down my student hair in epic fashion – and then it was the grinding climb up the hill to Broadview.

From there we meandered through back streets to arrive at the Danforth at Carlaw. The sun was out and the outdoor tables were packed. We found a spot at the Alexander the Great Parkette and grabbed takeout gyros from Alexandros to eat in the sun.

After that tasty pitstop, it was a stroll along the Danforth to Broadview, where my wife decided to hop on the subway home, while I kept walking. My route took me south on Broadview to Riverdale Park and down to one of the trails. I was trying to connect to the Lower Don Trail, but I guessed wrong and didn’t find the connector trail over the Don Valley Parkway – instead I ended up heading north and back up to Danforth at the Bloor Street Viaduct, so I decided to cross the bridge (since I’d come to it!) and cut through Rosedale to head home.

Walking through the neighbourhood, I thought about the essay my son is currently working on, on the subject of sustainability and how that is manifested in Toronto. One of his study areas is Rosedale. On paper this neighbourhood doesn’t have a large amount of green space, at least when defined in terms of public parks. And yet, the trees coming leaf and the ample yards and gardens of the large houses certainly gave a strong impression of verdancy, and the wealth displayed by the luxury cars parked in front of every house contrasted with the TTC bus stops scattered along the side streets. Does it count as sustainable if that neighbourhood has a higher percentage of Tesla’s than other areas of the city?

At the same time, there’s no question that it’s a lovely place to live. It’s always quiet and charming walking through Rosedale and it was no different on this walk. I know my way through there by now, having walked it many times, and I meandered along back streets between Castle Frank and Summerhill where I connected with Yonge Street.

Interesting fact – on Castle Frank Road, the Netherlands consulate owns a house, marked by the large Dutch flag out front. There is also a commemorative plaque beside a tree, planted in honour of the many thousands of Canadian troops who helped to liberate the Netherlands during the Second World War.

At Summerhill, Yonge Street led me up the hill to St. Clair and into the Deer Park neighbourhood, and onwards to Oriole Park. I passed a baseball game in progress that brought back memories of my son at 7 playing there. I kept going through the Chaplin Estates back to Eglinton and up Oriole Parkway to reach home footsore and sunburned.

In the end I’d done more walking in one day than I’d done in several weeks over the past few months. It felt good to be tired, like I’d worked out and deserved to sit for awhile and watch a baseball game.

It was a great spring walk, on our first really proper sunny spring day of the year, and now I need to build on that and get back into my routines. Stretching out your strides with the rhythm of walking feels good at anytime, but it’s especially sweet when it’s the first time all year you can finally go out in shorts and a T shirt.