Saturday, November 9, 2019

Urban Hiking

This fall I've been putting on my beautiful handknit fingerless gloves and taking very long walks in the city, often with Jan, who agreed to refer to our marathon errand-running sessions as Urban Hiking. They feel more virtuous that way, though honestly: they are!  Even if you aren't speedwalking, 2-4 hours of moving around and (eventually) carrying purchases is a workout.


Also the views are amazing.  I love this time of year, even on a gloomy day like the one we had when I took this picture. The foliage colours are just so rich, and the texture of leaves underfoot so interesting, and the air itself so wonderful.  I mean anything that isn't swelteringly hot or three inches deep in precipitation is good for me but I am crazy about October and November.

A couple of weeks ago I went to a pen show with Holly and had SUCH an amazing time.  We both got beginner fountain pens and have been excitedly checking in ever since to share how much we are loving writing with them.  Being me, I came home with a ton of writing paper as well - notebooks and memo pads with a texture as cool and smooth as polished stone.  I still write better on a computer when it comes to work that will need many revisions, but I'm finding that working through ideas on paper with a gel or fountain or felt pen is both calming and fruitful.  Good paper makes the experience even better.  Today my attention is firmly focused on a new Moleskine letter-sized notebook with an unassuming brown paper cover, compliments of Costco, but I acquired quite a lot of Japanese paper at the pen show.

After the show I walked home, a distance that took about an hour to cover, through a wealthy old neighbourhood I like and have dreamed of living in some day.  It's set among ravines, so there are bridges with stunning views of forested areas just vast enough to make you forget you're in a large, busy city.


Also the temperature was absolutely perfect: just cold enough to need a sweater and scarf and fingerless gloves and to feel perfectly protected while inside them.

Yesterday I took the same route in the opposite direction.  It's been colder and windy, and the trees have lost most of their leaves, so now from a distance they look like ghostly fuzzy things.  Here is the same hill now, from the same spot on the same bridge:


And this is the area where the road runs through the trees.  I actually lived in one of those distant highrises for a few years when I had my first few jobs out of school.


I walked through that area with Jan later in the day and she showed me all the places she'd lived in at the same time in her own life.  We were almost neighbours! But we didn't know each other then.

A city is a funny place because there are so many layers of experience in every generation that passes through it.  Well, I guess any place has that quality but I notice it more in Toronto because there are an enormous number of wildly different people having intense, unique connections to the same places at the same time.  Sometimes I'm aware that these are people I don't know and will never know, of different cultures, from different parts of the world, for whom a particular street or building has as much meaning as it does for me. Other times I'm aware of a strong connection that's barely tangible.

Like in this spot for example:


This is an empty-looking hill in a cemetery near our house with another ravine running along behind it.  It's not the popular cemetery where everybody goes to have a gorgeous walk or run or cycle ride, but it does attract some of the same crowd at times, and I sometimes cut through it as an alternative to the busier street to the south.  But it's also where my grandparents and one of my uncles and his wife are buried.

I took this picture just after I learned that another uncle is buried somewhere within the frame, alongside other children whose parents could find the money for a personal grave but not a marker.  He was one of three who died before my dad, their baby brother, was born, and I hadn't known about any of them until I started looking at my family's history.  Isn't it amazing to think that just one generation back there could be so much lost?

The uncle who rests here was not even four years old when he died away from his mother in the isolation hospital, and he has a younger brother who lived longer buried a little farther into the background, beyond these trees, closer to the ravine.  That one made it to eleven; both succumbed to diseases for which we have vaccines now.  The not-quite-four-year-old was one of just three children who died of his disease that month, out of twenty-five children who were sick with it.  It wasn't even epidemic at that time of the year - that was typhoid, I believe, and though that took quite a few, tuberculosis took many, many more over the four weeks. I found the newspaper records tallying up the numbers and wondered if my grandmother read them too, and thought of her own child being represented in a statistic.

Now when I hike through the cemetery, I think of my grandparents, who were buried just south of these two sons and east of the one who grew up and married and brought my wonderful cousins into the world.  They came here to say goodbye to this toddler, their third child, and then a few years later for their fifth who had a longer time to imprint himself on their family.  I try to imagine how the grounds looked when they gathered for the burial, and to realize that they may have walked in the very place I am. Just as if we all lived in one small town where everybody has known everybody for generations!

People say this about Toronto, that it's too big and too cold and impersonal, but I have never found this to be true.  I run into people I know almost every time I go out, as though I were still in one of the smaller communities where I grew up.

One thing I especially like about the city is how far you can go while being within range of a warm (or cool) place to duck inside for relief and refreshment.  Fellow walk-loving friends who live in small towns describe the 45 minute loop they do every day and I wilt a little, because as much as I love those towns I like to go farther and I'm a fan of a good sidwalk.  I like off-road walks too and there are lots of options for that (have I mentioned the ravines?), but in so many weather conditions, a nice clear level sidewalk is tops.  And from where I live, there are so many directions to take and routes to explore.  What seems too far to attempt is accessible by public transit in one direction if not both, all for one flat fare.

So that's me these days, not writing Hugs but getting out for some amazing walks while the weather is perfect for them.  I've been eyeing my spinning wheel and slowly stitching a sock to the end of its toe, but my mind is on crispy leaves and cool air.

And also, oddly, on how much I am not objecting to a prolonged Halloween this year.  Normally I want to get our creepy decor back out of sight the minute we turn out our light at the end of trick or treating, but this year I left Alma out on the porch with her new pet rat for a week after the big day was over.  Check out her twig shawl pin!


Something about the grey skies we've had and the carpets of rotting leaves under bright orange newbies was just so perfect for her.  And she was so relaxed with her spiders and her pumpkin friends.


But now she's back in the laundry room, telling me what to do and being annoyed every time I have to ask her to budge so I can get at the sweater-drying mats. Good ol' Alma.

Hope you've been enjoying some scrumptious fall weather, or at least some good walks!