Southside Hills, St. John's, Newfoundland
A trailhead I've never noticed before. A steep and sweaty climb up the Southside Hill. Appreciating the new angles: looking down at the Battery; straight across to Cabot Tower; and the view of St. John's, all of it, spread out like a boomerang across the harbour. Partridgeberries and blueberries are still underfoot. There are ponds up here, good swimming holes. The hills are wide, and we follow a path across the top until we are stopped by a cliff and a view. Freshwater Bay barachois to the right, Cape Spear straight ahead, and the Grand Banks somewhere out to the left. The views, and the particular shades of green, and the rocks, and the water everywhere. The rhythm of walking and talking, wind and breath, punctuated by happy dogs. It was a good walk, this one.
Location: Southside Hills, St. Johns, Newfoundland
Length: 4 km
Companions: Stephen & dogs
Date: 23 October, 2018
Southside Road, St. John's, Newfoundland
It's an industrial route, passing by the shipyards, the powerlines, the Coast Guard, the wastewater treatment plant, Irving oil, the factory fishing ships, small local fishing boats, wharfs and warehouses, the road itself under construction. A narrow road, no sidewalks, with a scattering of houses tight between the hillside and the street, home still to a few families.
Across the Narrows from the Battery, and across the street from the Small Boat Basin at Fort Amherst, I dropped by to visit an artist at his studio. We had tea with honey in his half-renovated wooden house that leans into the rocky hill, and talked about art. Raymond accompanied me partway back. It matters who you walk with, as they influence the direction of your gaze, your thoughts, your conversation, and your footsteps. In a good way. Back to the footbridge across the Waterford River, and off on my own towards downtown again.
Location: Southside Road to Fort Amherst, St. John's, Newfoundland
Length: 7 km
Date: 17 October, 2018
St. John's, Downtown & Signal Hill
This is the tourist route in St. John's - downtown, along the Harbourfront, Water Street, Duckworth Street, the Battery, and on along the trail around Signal Hill. If you have one day in town, this is the recommended walk. It's a good one, and it was a lovely day for it.
Location: Downtown and Signal Hill, St. John's, Newfoundland
Length: 10 km
Date: 15 October, 2018
Downtown St. John's, Newfoundland
On a sunny Sunday morning, I set out for one purpose, ended up with another, and time in between to wander around the downtown neighbourhoods of St. John's. My old neighbourhood. Picked up by a friend at the corner of Prescott and Gower, I went on about the day with this 20-minute wander tucked in my mind's eye.
Location: Downtown St. Johns, Newfoundland
Length: 4 km
Date: 14 October, 2018
Gampo Lhatse, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
It rained all day as I drove around the Cabot Trail, and didn’t let up when I hiked up Gampo Lhatse. It’s a steep climb, so I was warm in spite of being soaked through. The view of shore hills rolling up the coast, wild and treed, and the ocean below. The smell of wet pine and earth. The trail narrow and rooted, and the enormous friendly boulder about halfway up that I pat as I go by. The sudden darkness of singed forest with a cave-like shrine to Kuan Yin. Tattered prayer flags tangled in the branches. Ashes and rain.
Gampo Lhatse is a symmetrical, wooded hill at Gampo Abbey, a Buddhist monastery in Cape Breton. Gampo Lhatse is a Tibetan mountain spirit, and the protector of Gampo Abbey. Gampo Lhatse is where the ashes are buried or scattered, including those of Ani Migme who taught me during my days as a monastic at the Abbey. I have a history with this place too.
Can it be that residue of experiences resides in the place where they happened, that memories remain in the soil and are revived when you set foot on it again? It seems that way sometimes, and what a bundle of memories were waiting for me here. Climbing Gampo Lhatse with Norbuu after the consecration of the stupa, the hum of monks chanting resonating in our bones. Walking back from the village one night after a baseball game with Rachel, Spencer, and Clarity, the four of us walking hand in hand in hand, spread out across the road and full of love. The long walk through the snowy forest on snowshoes with Karma Ghyatso, making it back just before dark with snow-covered robes. So many walks that were taken just to have a private conversation, because living in community and largely in silence meant that the only place to talk was outside and on foot. The moose and fox that we’d see on those walks, and all the rainbows. Walking in starlight so bright it flung our shadows across the ground.
Location: Near Pleasant Bay, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Length: 2 km
Date: 3 October, 2018
With only one day in Montreal, I set out early from my hostel, heading east on Ste. Catherine Street. It was Sunday, and the street was uncharacteristically empty. I was on the tourist trail today, and headed down to Old Montreal, across its 400 year old cobblestone streets by the St. Lawrence River. Barely pausing for coffee, I looped back up on St. Laurent, thinking I might walk it from end to end. I followed it like a story, this historic boulevard at the heart of the city. But once I passed the Rosemont Viaduct, already footsore, I turned back and circled around through the lively Mile End neighbourhood, down to Parc Mont-Royal where the drummers were, across the park to McGill, and west along Sherbrooke. The sun was already low when I abruptly decided to continue up Cotes-des-Neiges to St. Joseph’s Oratory (one of those interesting sites of miraculous healings), adding a good two hours to my walk.
Montreal is the city where I learned to long-distance wander. When I lived here years ago I was a student and had no money to do anything, so I spent my time walking the streets and neighbourhoods for days on end, exploring, observing, thinking. I learned to love how the city feels, its character, people, architecture, the way I saw art everywhere, as I also learned to love this method of being in the world, on foot and at a human pace. I used to buy the cheapest thin-soled canvas sneakers on St. Laurent, and could feel every stone under my foot. These days I’m grateful to have good shoes, ridiculous-looking, but comfortable for many miles.
Location: Montreal, Quebec
Length: 24 km
Date: 30 September, 2018
Burlington to Hamilton, Ontario
Hot and sweaty, but I wonder why I’ve never done this walk before. It’s a nice one, around the western tip of Lake Ontario, the end of Burlington Bay. The best thing about walking is that you can take routes that you can’t drive, like through cemeteries - there are several on the way - or down to Carroll's Bay and across the rattling old one-lane bridge which has been blocked off to cars for years now. It’s peaceful down there, quiet in the summer heat. People are fishing, paddleboarding, birdwatching, enjoying the last days of summer. It's very green, and swans and goldenrod are everywhere.
There’s a waterfront trail once you cross highway 403 and the bridge into Hamilton, smelly but nice for its waterbirds, historical signage, and lack of traffic. I took the trail all the way downtown, coming up onto James St. N., which was closed to traffic for September’s Art Supercrawl. Live bands, food trucks, art, so much street life. I stopped for an iced latte with my cousins. Walking back along the streets, past Dundurn Castle, back across the bridge at the mouth of Cootes Paradise, then down into the Royal Botanical Garden’s shady valleys, along trails and wetland boardwalks, and finally back home to Aldershot.
Location: Aldershot, Burlington to downtown Hamilton, and back
Length: 18 km
Date: 16 September, 2018
Arriving by train, weaving through Union Station, out to Front street and the grand old Royal York hotel. Construction, always. I have my usual routes: Dundas, Spadina, Kensington, Bloor, Queen West. Art stores, galleries, Chinatown, Koreatown, Little Italy, narrow little stores, coffee shops, favourite parks and restaurants. The underground bathrooms. It’s invigorating, walking around the city, the energy of it, the relentless noise, smell, buildings, traffic, people.
It was a hot day, and humid enough for a walk to arouse a drench of sweat. Air conditioned stops, anywhere cool for a break. At a coffee shop on a street corner in Kensington Market, I sat in the window with an iced latte and watched other people walking. Endless walkers in this city, all kinds of walkers – striding, mincing, sauntering, shuffling, stomping, stamping; some heave themselves along the sidewalk; others almost dance, efficient and beautiful; some in an addled stagger, about to lose their footing all the way along. There was a young woman in Chinatown who walked quickly along continually spinning a parasol over her head.
The front and back faces of the streets are so different. The alley a gallery of garbage and graffiti art, back doors to restaurant kitchens and high bedroom windows. I always like walking the alleyways in any town that still has them. I always like walking in cities where people still walk.
Location: Downtown Toronto, Ontario
Length: 10 km
Date: 5 September, 2018
Labyrinth Walk, Stittsville, Ontario
There are so many ways of walking and so many reasons to walk. We walked the Peace Park labyrinth morning and evening today. Often when I say sitting, I mean sitting meditation, and sometimes walking is walking meditation. A labyrinth is designed for walking meditation, although it certainly isn't the only place to do it, but it is a nice reminder of other ways to walk, other ways to be in a place, to practice being present. Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh is a well-known proponent of walking meditation: "Walking brings the mind and body together. Only when mind and body are united are we truly in the here and the now. When we walk, we come home to ourselves." (from How to Walk by Thich Nhat Hanh, 2015).
Location: Rotary Peace Park, Stittsville, Ontario
Length: 1 km
Companion: Ani Samten
Date: 28 August, 2018
"When you walk, arrive with every step. That is walking meditation. There's nothing else to it." Thich Nhat Hanh
Woods walk, Carling Township, Ontario
It was a windy day, it was a nervous day. Windy days are good for walking in the woods, because there are fewer bugs. The last time I remember walking this trail to the end was with my sister, my Dad, and a 22. On a ridge in the woods we set up tin cans for target practice. It must have been fall, and it was decades ago now.
The walk from the cottage to the trailhead is along Sand Bay Road, which I’ve walked, run, and driven many times over the past 30 years. The trail itself is wide. It passes an abandoned-looking, orange hunting camp not far in, and is clearly used by 4-wheelers, hunters, trappers, and snowmobilers. Two mountain bikes had ridden in and out again sometime after last night’s rain, but there was no other sign of recent human activity. I was on the lookout for whitetail deer, black bears, moose (I would love to see a moose here!), beaver, and Massasauga rattlesnakes, but only saw some small birds and puddle frogs.
The trail winds through woods and wetlands, and is the best kind of walking – shady, and soft underfoot. A thick layer of pine needles, dead leaves, and moss cover the forest floor. Large puddles and some rocky outcroppings for variety. There is a particular smell to the Georgian Bay forest, mostly pine, birch, oak, maple, lots of ferns and moss, cattails, the rocks and the ground itself all smell like here. The shooshing of wind in the tree tops was continuous. A few maple leaves already red on the ground.
Sometimes the reward at the end of a walk is an excellent coffee shop, but in this case, it was a small hidden lake - the otherwise inaccessible Lockett Lake. There was a weathered red canoe chained to a tree that someone had left by the shore. The water was dark and inviting, and I found an oak tree by the shore to sit under for a while. It was evening and I walking quickly back out to the road, unprepared to be in the woods in the dark. It started to rain just as I got back.
Location: Silver Birch Road to Lockett Lake, and back, Carling Township, Ontario
Date: 22 August, 2018