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

Loss and joy…

Fall is a bittersweet season. There is both beauty and death in its eye-delighting colours and monochromatic landscapes.

A dear friend died this week, after a long and awful illness. I am glad she is at peace and I grieve her absence.

I have been here before and know that my feelings will vacillate between all-consuming leaden blue sorrow and sparks of uninvited joy at being alive. It is glorious to breath in the crisp autumn air, to feel the swing of my arms, to hear the life-affirming murmur of my friends talking as we walk.

I choose to treat this joy as a celebration of the people, here and gone, that I love and care about.

I will end by sharing some of my friend’s final wise advice to us all:
• Be kind to each other.
• Look after those who can’t look after themselves.
• Be generous.
• Love yourself.
• Eat ice cream.

Keep walking the distance (either actually or metaphorically for those with injuries), my friends, and give yourselves a big hug from me.

A reminder that next week is the last week at High Park and then we move back to our beloved cemetery.

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.

 

Whew!!

Did you get out to walk this weekend? By all accounts it was great walking weather. Two TPWers participated in the Zoo Run and report a beautiful day. Somewhat cooler conditions are really ideal for getting out there. You may don a jacket to start out, but it isn’t long before it’s tied around your waist.

Meanwhile, further to the northeast in Ottawa, Phyllis and I took part in the Canadian Army Run, doing the half-marathon. Saturday afternoon, when we picked up our kit, it was very hot – about 27 degrees. Fortunately (or so we thought) the forecast called for cooler and cloudy for Sunday. And so Sunday came and as we lined up things were looking mostly good, with even the hint of rain as the odd raindrop fell. But it was humid. Very humid. And then the sun started to come out. And runners started going down from the heat. So much so that towards the end of the race, the course was shortened.

Now I must say that the race is very scenic. It starts by going through the centre of Ottawa, past the parliament buildings, etc. Shortly after we were going past the Governor-General’s residence – through one gate and out the other, with a military band in dress red uniforms providing music. Then through a lovely cemetery and out into a country-side park along the Ottawa River. Across the bridge to Hull and we were in Quebec! Then back across to the finish. Lovely.

Funny how I still have the competitive edge in me during the race, but I’m learning to accept the vagaries of race conditions (and how much I have or haven’t trained) with a growing modicum of grace. I’m going to put it down to growing wisdom rather than anything chronological.

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.