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The tracks curved and emerged into broad daylight to cross the Avenue Road overpass. We gazed south to a hazy view of Queen’s Park. The afternoon auto traffic approached and passed under us. Turning to look north we watched the traffic climbing the hill toward the clocktower of Upper Canada College.
We continued east, once again in a tree-lined corridor with occasional glimpses into leafy back yards and workshops on small sidestreets. White butterflies flitted before us. They were so pale and slight that maybe I should call them moths. The Italianate tower of Summerhill liquor store came into view, which indicated Yonge Street ahead. It’s a liquor store now but historically the CPR put the building up as its North Toronto passenger station, and I understand it was a snazzy place to catch a train in the 1920s. From our perspective the tower poking over the trees seemed hopelessly deracinated, as if some eccentric had erected a scaled-down imitation of the Venetian campanile of San Marcos here in the North American wilderness.
Past Yonge, the railway right-of-way was wider and was flanked mostly by concrete block walls covered with graffiti. The gravel road had disappeared so we slogged along the tracks, a chore because the ties seemed to be deliberately spaced in such a way as to prevent humans from striding smoothly from tie to tie. We encountered some fellow humans — finally! — an Eastern European family posing for a group photo on the tracks. I thought Annie seemed a bit dispirited. It was time for a change of scene.
Ahead of us the railroad crossed another trestle — from here the tracks would pass over the Moore Park Ravine, through Rosedale, across the Don Valley, into Scarboro, clear out of the city. All the way to the Pacific, you may as well say. Instead, we went down a plank stairway that led into the ravine.
At once the whole complexion of our journey was transformed. It became Edenic. We were surrounded by tall shady forest, enveloped in a minty chlorophyll scent, spellbound by birdsong. We could hear the babbling of a brook.
At the foot of the steps, a dirt path plunged further into the ravine at such a steep angle that we had to catch at trees to keep from tumbling. We arrived at the bank of a stream that ran swift and burbling between stone retaining walls. The water looked mountain-clear and cold. Should we follow the path downstream or upstream? Upstream, we decided, sensing that there would be more forest in that direction.
The path rose, dipped, rose again, the net result being that we were climbing, coming closer, presumably, to the source of the stream. The trees stretched immensely high in what was clearly an sustained effort to grab every last ray of sunlight flickering over the lip of the ravine.
The trail became muddy, nearly vanishing at spots. The retaining walls were overrun with plant life and sagged from erosion from the watercourse brushing its base. The constant sound of rushing water was exhilerating. Taking advantage of a series of rocks strewn like ellipsis dots across the stream, we hopped over to the east bank where the path was firmer.
We passed under the tall bridge that carries traffic on St. Clair Avenue over the ravine. There was a grove of wild crab apple and berry trees. Annie sampled the fruit but I distrusted it. I’ve got in the habit of believing there’s toxic chemicals in every natural product nowadays. Annie laughed at me over that. Then she wanted to kiss. That was nice, in the sun. We looked around but there was no plausible covert place to lie down.