New Year’s Resolution

Every year I make the same resolution – to continue to walk 12 kilometres every Saturday throughout the winter.  I haven’t quite made it in any year but will continue to try.  This weekend I had a commitment to care for my granddaughters for the weekend from early Saturday afternoon till Sunday afternoon.  So I wasn’t able to commit the time for another loop on Saturday morning.  After breakfast it was my intention to add another few kilometres by walking to the market to pick up groceries on my way home.  But I was thwarted by the weather.  As we ate breakfast, I noticed a lot of snow flying sideways by the window.  Stepping outside, I slipped on the doorsill.  I realized that the sleek streets, the wind and the epic snowfall would make the walk too challenging.  So another week of only 6 kilometres.  Next week!

The Breakfast Ritual

I read this week that food plays an important role in keeping people healthy.  You raise your eyebrow and say, “You needed to read that?”  But actually the article was about mental health.  Sharing meals, especially ritual meals, is an important part of maintaining our identity as we age.   Saturday morning breakfast has become that kind of ritual for me.

The ritual involves the first people to arrive at the restaurant after our walk trying to figure out how many places we will need.  They call out the names of those they know will be coming and, with the help of the restaurant staff, pull tables together.  No-one is to sit alone.  Then, as people arrive, they move along the bench to include latecomers. Coffee is served and orders are placed, some eating the same thing every week, others studying the menu for novelty.  There is sharing of hash browns and bacon.  The food is the background to wide-ranging conversations – political (what has he done this week?), sociological (new social norms we are noticing), practical (where to find a good plumber) and stories of life’s adventures, big and small.  We don’t stay long; we are busy people.  We rise from the table, refreshed in body and spirit.  We have renewed our bond.

This Saturday we had a large crowd of 20 walkers, probably because of the dry, not terribly cold, weather.  Over a dozen of us joined “our” table after the walk.  One of our talented members produced boxes of home-made baking and chocolates to share.  She’s been doing this every year for a long time.  Imagine beautiful truffles with a shiny coat of dark chocolate or white chocolate with limoncello or petit shortbread pinwheels. Another spectacular ritual!

Brave or Bonkers?

The weather could not have been more miserable when seven TPW members arrived at the cemetery. Freezing glop was falling on our supposedly waterproof coats, pants and shoes, as we struck out to walk the 6.3 km. The two most intrepid walkers set off quickly, only to disappear from view. We sincerely hope they did not become breakfast for the soggy coyote the rest of us encountered as we shared our sorrows and recent tragedies with the apposite weather.

The other five turned around at the tunnel and headed through the icy puddles to hot drinks and breakfast. We generously shared our dripping clothes and squelching shoe noises with the restaurant staff, who treated us with remarkable kindness. Only one server slipped in a melting TPW pool, but since he wasn’t carrying anything edible, we forgave him.

As you can see from the attached photo, the bonds of friendship and the shared smiles broke through the gloom. And the long hot showers when we got home were not half bad either.

Freaky Weather!

On Wednesday, our temperatures were only a degree warmer than Alert Bay!  We continued to have heavy snow and record lows until Saturday.  Our walkers arrived in full winter gear in the middle of November.  None of us could remember winter arriving so early with the accompanying ice underfoot.

Travellers to Toronto were told on tourist websites that, “with travel bargains aplenty, crisp yet mild weather, and fewer crowds, November is a great month to visit Toronto.”  I hope they have layers!

On Sunday, Toronto temperatures are forecast to recover to near or just above freezing on Sunday afternoon with sunny skies, which will make for more pleasant conditions for the Santa Claus parade.

I look forward to a short reprieve before winter sets in for good!

Heroic Rescue

What do heroes look like? To one mid-sized black dog, they look like women of a certain age – TPW to the rescue!

This week as we walked up a short hill in Mt. Pleasant cemetery, several of us noticed a sleek, beautiful golden-coloured coyote loping between the gravestones. He appeared to be in the same area where we had seen deer the week before. Maybe he was looking for breakfast?

As we turned a corner (always turning to the right, of course) we saw two or three more coyotes running in formation. They were a blur of motion. But wait, what was that streak of black among the pack? It was a dog who looked as if he were trying to make some new friends – until he realized that the new friends were not very friendly at all.

Quickly, the TPW walkers who saw what was happening, realized the danger to the dog. Our brave friends ran, called, and got hold of the dog. Then a certain heroic walker (initials DD) made herself “look big” and roared at the coyotes until they disappeared. The dog was in love. He had no intention of leaving his new-found REAL friends. Unlike coyotes, TPW folks do not eat dogs for breakfast.

Ever resourceful, the walkers found the dog’s owners and returned him to his foster family. He is a rescue dog from Texas who has only been in Canada a week. Lucky dog to be rescued twice: Smart TPW folks who always travel in packs!

 

Encounters with Animals in Mount Pleasant Cemetery 

We weren’t early enough this past Saturday to see the larger animals that we often encounter in the cemetery, but we quite frequently see coyotes, and often deer in the park. The end of the cemetery park tapers off into a ravine, and being fairly sheltered, the ravine hosts packs of coyotes and herds of deer, as well as skulks of foxes, swarms of muskrats, and colonies of some of the smaller predators.

Coyotes and deer are keystone species, which are animals that play a unique role in how ecosystems function. Without keystone species, the ecosystem would be entirely different, or cease to exist, so they are therefore very important in the larger scheme of things.

White-tailed deer are considered a keystone species because they are important herbivores in their ecosystem, and they are prey for other species, although not often coyotes. Eating plants benefits the ecosystem by controlling the physical and biological habitat. As both herbivore and prey, white-tailed deer are important, and our forests and farmlands would be completely different if they weren’t around.

Coyotes are also a keystone species, in that they control various populations of other creatures by hunting them for food. Squirrels, in particular, are a favourite prey of coyotes, and the squirrel population in the cemetery is kept reasonably small by the coyotes, making it easier for smaller creatures who fill the same niche as squirrels, such as chipmunks and voles (both essential to the ecosystem) in check. Coyotes are also the apex predator species of the cemetery ecosystem.

All this to say, that ecosystems are fragile, and Mount Pleasant Cemetery is an important urban ecosystem for Toronto. The presence of deer, coyotes, foxes, squirrels, chipmunks and many birds, sometimes surprises us, and often makes our walks more interesting because of these sightings.

From Summer to Fall – walking the Lakeshore

Five of us braved the possibility of rain yesterday morning to walk west to Humber Bay, but we were lucky and made it back to High Park just as it started to drizzle again. I will miss the Lakeshore walks when we switch back to Mount Pleasant, especially the lake birds – swans, egrets, cormorants, geese and ducks all swim and fly along that trail, and they make the walk seem shorter, somehow, as if we might fly too. Two weeks ago, we saw clouds of Monarch butterflies swirling around the newly planted gardens on our way east, and those too inspire us to walk just a little bit more quickly and lightly.

According to some new scientific studies, there are nearly 3 billion fewer birds in North America than there were in 1970. That means that fully a third of all species, both common and rare birds, have disappeared, mostly through habitat loss. There is some hope though, since some waterfowl species, including many of the kinds we see along the Lakeshore, such as mallard ducks and Canada Geese, are increasing in numbers due to targeted conservation efforts. Monarch butterflies are another species that has benefited from targeted conservation efforts that show us that we can help to preserve species in decline. Monarchs were considered to be a species of “special concern” in Ontario, and their numbers were declining for two decades before a resurgence this winter. The reason for this recovery is partly because people in Ontario have been planting more milkweed – the primary food for Monarch caterpillars.

Part of walking is experiencing the outdoors in all weathers, and the beauty of our city’s green spaces. We are very lucky to live in an area that offers so much diversity, and that our access to it is just a short walk away.

 

A Glorious September Morning

September is a great month, especially when the monarchs are clustering for their trip across the lake.  Let’s hear it from Helen Hunt Jackson, my favourite nineteenth century activist.

The golden-rod is yellow;
The corn is turning brown;
The trees in apple orchards
With fruit are bending down.
The gentian’s bluest fringes
Are curling in the sun;
In dusty pods the milkweed
Its hidden silk has spun.
The sedges flaunt their harvest,

In every meadow nook;
And asters by the brook-side
Make asters in the brook,
From dewy lanes at morning
The grapes’ sweet odors rise;

At noon the roads all flutter
With yellow butterflies.
By all these lovely tokens
September days are here,
With summer’s best of weather,

And autumn’s best of cheer.
But none of all this beauty
Which floods the earth and air
Is unto me the secret
Which makes September fair.

‘T is a thing which I remember;
To name it thrills me yet:

One day of one September

I never can forget.

A CHALLENGE IS AS GOOD AS A REST, SOME SAY

  And boy, were we challenged; four senior Canadian women who decided it would be so much fun(???) to hike around Mont Blanc in the Alps. To be fair, the Tour de Mont Blanc is absolutely staggeringly beautiful with snow capped mountains, glaciers, mountain meadows full of wild flowers and scattered with cows whose bells were ringing as they wandered, beautiful alpine villages nestled amongst the valleys, waterfalls gushing down mountain sides, spectacular viewpoints everywhere you looked. At any moment we expected Julie Andrews to appear before us singing…(and I haven’t even mentioned the wonderful Swiss/French/Italian food, wine, pastries that we enjoyed every day)
To be brutally honest, the hikes were 6-8 hours long a day, 16km-20km in length a day, hiking up steep inclines and down steep descents, along dirt trails, switchbacks, over rocks, boulders, scree, tree roots, balcony ledges (you know the type, mountain to one side, 2,000 foot drop to the other) and occasionally inching across rock faces and up/down ladders screwed into rock faces and, oh yes, carrying heavy packs on our backs. Ten (10!) days of it with no break. I consider it a miracle that I survived intact to return home. I’m not sure my legs or knees will ever forgive me.
But all of that said, it was a fantastic trip that I will never do again (my new motto is: if you’ve seen one mountain you’ve seen them all), a challenge that I would never have been able to accomplish without all the wisdom, training and endurance I have gained by being a Power Walker and a reminder to us all that we are capable of what seems to be impossible.

I have questions

Did anyone turn up at Sunnyside Beach to walk this Saturday morning?  If so, which way did you go?  How wet did you get?  What did you wear?

I’m always dithering on a rainy Saturday.  Should I go or get back into bed? What does “light rain” feel like?   Can I stand to perspire in a raincoat or is it better to just get wet from the rain?  You’d think, after all these years, I’d have decided where I stand!

Three of us arrived in the rain at the door of the café at 8 this morning.  One of us remembered we were to meet at Sunnyside so we headed down the hill, hoping to catch others.  Half-way down the hill, the rain intensified and it thundered so we returned to the café and had breakfast and a great conversation, sparked, of course, by some tough questions.