Wednesday, April 4, 2012

I went for a walk today or everyday Animism

[I had originally begun this post on February 23, but did not get around to finishing it until now]

On my way home from work late yesterday afternoon, I decided that instead of waiting to cram myself onto an over loaded bus, that I would walk the six or so blocks home. While I did manage to get to "my stop" before the bus I would have been on, I was also reminded of how much I love walking as an activity. I hadn't actually gone for a 'good walk" in almost three years; which is about as long as I have had my car. I mean I used to walk a lot, and for no other reason than I enjoyed doing it and becoming familiar with my surroundings. Even when I was at university, on the day I had a five hour spare, I would simply pick a direction and start walking. There are just so many fascinating details that you miss when you're speeding along, and haven't got the ability or the time to notice them. So, since today was my first day off in a little over a week, I decided that I should go for one of those "good walks".

There are two major rivers in my city, and one which is very near my house, the Humber. Now I do devotional offerings to the Humber, and maybe one day I'll write about all the nifty little concurrences which lead me to do this, but suffice to say "she" is important to me. So, while I have visited the head waters, and the bay into which the Humber empties, and explored a few choice locations, I've never actually made much use of the system of parks which runs along side her. With a quick google earth + conservatory inquiry, I had my itinerary, and my route. The route was somewhere around 20 km, and followed a meandering system of trails, bridges, street connections and some "rougher" terrain. I managed to walk it in five hours, not bad considering that I made a good number of stops to look around and appreciate the scenery, and that I haven't walked this sort of distance in at least three years.

Where I entered, at Finch Ave. and Islington Ave., I decided to look for a stone from the river, which I would carry with me to deposit at the mouth, and found one in short order. Then something odd happened, I was just about to cross the bridge when I heard a splash, and saw a woman come rather quickly towards me, turn up the path and onto the street; I did notice that she had an empty black canvas bag. When I began crossing the bridge, I looked down and floating down the river where four daikon radishes and a turnip. I'm not sure if this was simply a case of someone dumping refuse (which makes little sense, since organic waste pickup is tomorrow) or something else, it was just odd to have (what appeared to be) perfectly good root vegetables thrown into a river.

Just across the bridge, there was a single large stone, which I joking dubbed Grainne's recliner; I did lay on it though, and it was surprisingly comfortable. Well if infertility is ever an issue, I know where to go. I made my way along the path and in short order came upon another foot bridge, and decided to feed some ducks who were swimming about just below it. Continuing on I encountered a number of fellow "travellers along the way" and did my best to greet all of them as we crossed paths. At this point, most were elderly and a few were walking their dogs. I continued on, came across a woodpecker, and then the sun decided to peek out from behind the clouds for a little while, so naturally I sang the Hymn to the Sun (CG 316):
Hail to thee, thou son of the season, as thou traverst the skies aloft
Thy steps are strong on the wing of the heavens, Thou art the glorious mother of the stars
Thou liest down in the destructive ocean, without impairment and without fear
Thou risest up on the peaceful wave crest, like a queenly maiden in bloom.
I continued on, taking in the warmness the sun now provided; enjoying the unseasonably warm February day and musing on the approaching spring. Already the signs were everywhere; the chlorophyll was returning to the grass, trees were already beginning to bud neihert surprising considering how mild the winter had been, and how noticibly absent snow was. I travelled south, crossing through several different parks and passing by an area where I maintained a sort of make shift shrine, dedicated to the Humber herself. Unfortunately, visiting it would have taken me off my current path, and as I had been there the previous week, felt no need to stop by. I was, after all spending the day with the river. Actually, now that I reflect on it the trail can roughly be split into three different segments, the first and third tended to follow the course of the Humber more closely, the middle ended up meandering away from it for significant chunks.

As I travelled further I noticed a few interesting things. At one point, as the trail skirted around an impressive golf club, I noticed some interesting grafitti which had been scrawled onto the ground near a cement drainage way, "This, the great divide". Perhaps it seemed more poignant at the time, for now it seems nonsensical. Further on I came across a Great Blue Heron, simply standing as they tend to, on one leg, letting everything around them take in how terribly majestic they look; though to be honest the nearby ducks didn't seem to be having any of it.

I made my way, noted that the trail was populated in spurts, with folks more frequently clustered around the parks proper, or between catwalks leading from various neighbourhoods. I am happy to note that everyone returned my greetings, and the creeping smiles were difficult to miss; amazing how much of an effect even the simplest of courtisies can have on someones disposition. Along the trail, especially the second and third sections, the city of Toronto has these small informational stands set up. They are usually shaped in small circles, refered to as "story circles" made of hewn stone and paved with white limestone; they contain infographics and texts explaining the significance of this particular area, or mention the tribe of first nations which had settlements where we now stood. At one such location, I met an elderly couple who were also enjoying the weather, but who lamented that the present stands were dirty, covered in a thin layer of dirt or mud, which obscured the information. Having a bottle of water handy, I did my best to clean them off, while the older gentleman did his part and wiped them dry with leaves. They seemed to be very glad that another person would care as much as they did, and I always love to see civic duty in action. We bid each other a good day, and I continued on my way.

I have to say that the most bizzare, and the most surreal moments of my journey happend very close to one another. The bizzare was that as I walked through one of the more intricate paths, which had been built up with logs and board walks, as opposed to the typical asphalt; I noticed a single log with the website written in thick, black permanent marker. It wasn't as if this was some sign post or permanent fixture, it was just a random log lying at the side of the trail, and someone had taken the time to advertise for the ridiculous conspiracy-theorist website, in the middle of an urban wilderness. The more surreal experience occured shortly after, when I can across a single mound, topped with a tree, which was covered by thick, emerald ivy. The contrast with the surrounding areas was stark, to say the least, as everything else was a muted brown. That a sunbeam managed to pierce through the cloud cover, and illuminate the mound just so, was simply too much to take seriouisly; it was the kind of beautiful image which would be overlain with some sappy quote or mind numbingly insipid poem.

There were other interesting things to make note of, which few of the other people who passed them by seemed to give much heed. There were all manner of memorial benches, stones and especially trees scattered across the numerous parks which made up a good chunk of the trail. Benches dedicated to members of local community groups who had helped in revitalization projects; a monument to a man who had "died while vainly attempting to save two boys from drowning"; a tree which was decorated with christmas ornaments, with a plaque which explained the planting was in memorium of a now deceased boy scout, still maintained by some degree, by his family or troop. There were, in fact, many small decorations or personal touches which accompanied the small plaques, mounted on cross cut cement cylinders, explaining who the tree was dedicated to. Living memorials, physical embodiments of grief and loss; growing in proxy of young lives cut short, or long lives now spent.

I eventually reached my goal, the Humber bay, after walking aong the trail as it crossed through two unique, "remnant" ecological areas. To the left of me was the Humber Marshes and to the right a Black Oak Savanna. The bay, as can be expected of most green areas of the lake shore, was fairly busy. I made my way to the shore of lake Ontario, and sat on the large rocks which had been deposited to prevent the erposion of the shore, and relaxed for a bit in the late afternoon sun. One of the very nifty things about this small parkette are the collection of standing stones which sit on top of a small hill, known as the "Sheldon Lookout" or the "Stones of Sheldon". One of these stones contain two plaques which will align with the summer and winter solstices at dawn on their respective days. I wonder if any of the local Pagans make use of them, and it may bare looking into.

I crossed the large Humber bay bridge, stopping in the middle to say a final prayer and dropping the stone I had been carrying with me all day, into the river. Both of our journiey's complete, I crossed the bridge and began to make my way back home. My souvenirs included a small blister on my right foot, and terrible back pain for the next day, but the experience was more than worth it. Being out in the tame nature we in this great metropolis have maintained, exploring the different environments through which the Humber flows, and really coming to appreciate just how significant this one river is to the city. I may be one of the only people around who would admit to leaving offerings to the River, but if my journey taught me anything, I am far from the only person in this city who still worships her.


 PS. I linked above to a website which seems to be a labour of love, the Toronto Historical Plaques site. This is maintained by Alan L. Brown and for anyone in the GTA or who may be interested in the multitude of plaques placed around the city, there really is no better resource.

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