Plus ca change

It took me forever to get out to the woods today. I missed Frances, and I missed the boyfriend. And, I came to realize, I missed my old pond, near my old house in North York. I wanted deeply to just put on my shoes and head out the door for a long walk in a natural setting without needing to drive or bike first, and I wanted to end up at a pond and putter around it for an hour or so, looking at frogs and wildflowers and herons and ducks. I wanted to sit at the bend of the Don, on the big boulders, where the current continually tosses up one perfect cowlick of froth. I wanted to hear the water thundering over the stones, and then go into the woods and stare at the trunks where generations of woodpeckers had hollowed out a dozen homes for other small creatures.

old-style sacred grove

And because I couldn’t have it, I nearly didn’t go out at all. But then forced myself into the car and down to Webster’s Falls, a favourite of mine, where you can clamber out right onto the stones where the river rushes over the edge, and it feels ludicrously dangerous and safe as houses, both at once. It was packed today. Two weddings and at least a hundred other people besides, on the waterfall, the bridge, and the trail down below. Not quite the thing when you want to sulk, you know.

The trail down to the bottom of the waterfall (packed) led to a trail beside the river (not packed); I followed it for the first time. Not quite as civilized, in the best way: no rails, no stairs, no paving. Lots of dirt. Lots of clambering over fallen trees and up or down root-stairs, on wet rocks, or through small trickling creeks. Lots of measured steps where the earth fell away on one side, and the path sloped towards it. An hour and a half or so along this river, thinking, thank god I got myself out of the house today.

new-style sacred grove

It was in every way better than the old river. Waterfalls every twenty or thirty feet. Boulders at the water’s edge one can lie on–and not gabion baskets or erosion boulders but “natural” boulders likely dragged there by glaciers millennia ago. Forests stretching away on either side up the escarpment, lovely old trees spaciously filtering the sunlight through leaves showing the first traces of fall colour. Trunks straight and slim as temple columns. And thinking, every so often as I stopped to take in the view–slopes covered with spread-out tree trunks, the light streaking in high above through the leaves, the palpable hush–that there might be something biological to the calm and reverence those views inspire.

I especially like the way the branches meet in a nicely arched canopy.

Because it’s the same view seen in temple and cathedral architecture worldwide: columns, spaces, high ceilings, filtered light. I wondered if, for thousands of years, we haven’t been building our sacred architecture as highly stylized stone forests with glass leaves.

At first I thought that must be why a walk through the woods always makes me feel better–peaceful, aware, stronger, more alive. But then I thought, no, that’s backwards.

That’s why people always feel better in churches. Because they look like forests.


Absolutely none of these photos are mine. I take no credit for them. They are lovely, though, aren’t they?

2 thoughts on “Plus ca change

  1. We used to live just off Main Street on Sydenham. And I used to drive up Sydenham to the top of the escarpment where I recall there being a park with amazing pine trees. That was well over forty years ago, and so it might well be a housing development now, but it might be worth a look.
    For an excursion with daughter, Balls Falls is still amazing. And there’s a fine old mill in Ancaster that is now a restaurant where the stream runs under the floor of the building – or it did twenty odd years ago.
    Dundas shines in my memory as the best urban place I ever lived.

    1. We will have to check out that restaurant for sure. Thanks!

      There are lots of great things about living in Dundas. I just wish I could have taken my pond with me.

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