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.

It is time to celebrate…

This past year, we have shared substantial loss and sorrow and, as the holidays approach, I think it is time to revisit joy and celebration.

Here are a few things that come to mind.

I love looking at the pictures of my fellow walker’s family babies and hearing the delight in their voices as they talk about them.

Our cemetery is a place of great beauty in the winter (okay, okay, I don’t like the slippery footing but the lacy trees are gorgeous and I marvel at our sightings of coyote, deer and hawks).

The season’s bright decorations and lights always give me cheer.

And this year especially, I cherish the warmth and friendship of the gang – both individually and as a group. My heart always rises as I turn into the cemetery and see the array of bright jackets and friendly faces.

So let’s all think about and celebrate the wonders in our lives – including each other!

A November Space

On Tuesday November 26, we had the Annual TPW Black and Medals dinner at the Harbord House. The food was delicious, especially the sticky toffee pudding, and the medals on display were numerous, varied, and even, international. Thank you to the organizers for a wonderful evening of conversation and celebration.

We had an impressive turn-out of close to twenty walkers this Saturday morning in Mount Pleasant Cemetery. There was a chill in the air, but no snow on the ground (yet), and a round of robins chirped in the tree tops. Apparently,  winter weather makes these normally territorial birds more gregarious.

Lucy Maud Montgomery (born on November 30, 1874) wrote about such a grey day in her novel, Ann of Windy Poplars: “But there is always a November space after the leaves have fallen when she felt it was almost indecent to intrude on the woods… for their glory terrestrial had departed and their glory celestial of spirit and purity and whiteness had not yet come upon them.”

Aged to Perfection!

I was shopping for a birthday card for an old high school friend of mine and saw it in a craft store window.  An artist had drawn a very happy looking glass of red wine beside a very happy looking chunk of cheese and underneath them were written the words “Aged to Perfection!”  It was the perfect card for my wine and cheese loving friend and, I like to think, a perfect one for we older generation who are lucky enough to be alive today.  But it also reminded me of how old I am now and how many of my loved ones are no longer with me.  My parents are gone, my brother and sister-in-law are gone and my husband is gone.  I know I am not alone in this reality, others among us are suffering heartbreaking losses of their own.  How does one have the spirit to keep going on?

Letting go is a very, very hard thing to do (and I had help in learning how from a very wise grief therapist who had a decidedly Buddhist tinge) and so very slowly over time I had to learn to let go of those I loved.  And now, battered and bruised by life as I am at this age, I am still standing, and more importantly, still walking with my TPW friends to the finish line wherever that may be.  I hope we will all be so fortunate to age to perfection as we walk there together.

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!


In sympathy…

The grey sky matched the sombre mood of the Saturday morning walkers. Collectively and individually, we were sharing the grief of one of our friends who lost her husband unexpectedly last week. Over breakfast, we talked about how grief is universal, no one escapes it and yet we each have to suffer it alone in our own way.

Here is how I characterize my own experience. At first sorrow is a jagged, crushing boulder sitting on your chest. It is always present and when you touch it, you bleed. Over time, it wears down, becoming smaller and smoother. It is still there, tucked into a corner of your heart, but it doesn’t rip you apart the way it did at first. It is bearable and you can feel joy again.

Let’s all be extra good to each other and our loved ones.

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.

Fall Colours

Saturday October 19th marked our return to Mount Pleasant Cemetery. Today was also the one-year anniversary of my first walk with Toronto Power Walkers! This morning’s walk was cool and crisp, but sunny. Hats, gloves and winter jackets were worn by the eight who turned out to enjoy the fall colours.

As usual, the conversation bounced from topic to topic: travels, moves, careers, hobbies, food, and family. It’s always interesting and informative.

When the walk was over, a fellow TPW member and I noticed a tree full of black berries. We studied the signage and found out it was an Amur cork tree. A google search revealed that the oil extracted from the fruit can be used as a cold remedy and the bark is an important herbal medicine in China. Who knows what we’ll discover on our walk next week….

Falling for Fall

The scenery, walking in the Cemetery,  rendered me speechless, so I called on my friend Jane.

“Her pleasure in the walk must arise from the exercise and the day, from the view of the last smiles of the year upon the tawny leaves and withered hedges, and from repeating to herself some few of the thousand poetical descriptions extant of autumn — that season of peculiar and inexhaustible influence on the mind of taste and tenderness — that season which has drawn from every poet worthy of being read some attempt at description, or some lines of feeling.” — Jane Austen