Personal thoughts and creations inspired by the natural wonders of High Park
by Tim McCarthy (Dec 2018)
Hi, My name is Tim. I'm the guy with the notebook and binoculars who sits on that lawn chair up on Hawk Hill every day from Sept. 1 until Nov. 30. The group who occupies that special place has a very important job. We count all the Raptors that pass over the Hawk Hill as they continue their Southward fall migration. Each evening the count gets entered in a database called Hawk Migration Association of North America. HMANA. You can access it yourself and see what we and approximately 120 other Raptorwatch sites spread all over North and Central America are recording. Because we wish to do something to contribute to the conservation of North America's Raptors we volunteer to watch every day (when it’s not raining), each year for 3 months.
Hawk Hill is an especially good place to see Raptors migrating in the fall especially if the wind has a Northerly component to it. If you have a little time (the more time the better) and wish to learn about Raptors and Raptor spotting, and birds in general, come up the Hill and visit with us any day between 10 am and 3 pm. There is always an expert on the Raptorwatch who would be glad to introduce you to our (sometimes) exciting pastime.
by Manny Pavao
Ever wonder who names paint colours? I did. Name them that is, not wonder about it. Approximately ten years ago I had the honour and privilege of working on a project for the corporate offices of Benjamin Moore & Co, Ltd. I was one-third of the Benjamin Moore design team working out of a small office located near Keele St. & St.Clair Avenue in Toronto, Canada. The company was looking to create a new colour collection for its product line aptly named the CC collection for Classics Collection. The collection is currently named the Designer Classics Collection. Shouldn't that make it the DC or DCC collection? Good question. I'll let you in on a little secret. The working name was to be the Canadian Collection and I was partly responsible for assembling the colours (from our database of favourites and historical colours) and naming them.
I can't take credit for naming the entire collection but it was my connection and affinity for High Park that had me submit Grenadier Pond (CC-650) & High Park (CC-620) as viable options. Our panel of judges also shared my views on commemorating this special place and after I assigned what I thought were the only colours relative to the names, green. They became a part of this popular collection.
So what happened to naming it the Canadian Collection? Our Canadian President was a savvy person and although he did like the working name, he also felt that it could create tension with our geographical counterparts. We didn't wholeheartedly agree but hey, he was the president. Besides, I also snuck in a few other names of places and things that I appreciated......... Cabot Trail CC-480, Inukshuk CC-460 and one of my favourites Purple Haze CC-980 (after Jimi Hendrix).
I'm an artist, that's what we do.
By Tony Pus
I was walking along the trail when out of the corner of my eye I see something fly by. An owl. The only bird that flies at night is an owl. I looked around and saw three fly from one tree to another. Then I saw all four - Mom, Dad and the two kids. I saw one alone, really low to the ground on a branch. I set up my camera and was just about to shoot, when it took off to another tree. I saw another owl and moved to shoot it, when out of nowhere the original owl I was about to shoot swooped, shoulder height, arms length away, right beside me, back into the same tree it came from.
Four times I tried to shoot it, four times it flew away and as soon as I moved away, swooped beside me back into the tree. We have a love/hate relationship. It was almost as if it was saying, "don't go, let's play some more". Well, you know the old saying, "fool me once, shame on you, fool me four times......".
After our little meeting, I turned around to look at the other owls and that same owl swooped to the ground no more than five feet away. I felt like a kid in a candy store. I didn't know which one to look at, they were all so beautiful. One owl I could see, but four? How lucky can you get eh? Right in the city, 10 minutes from downtown. Some people never get a chance to see anything like this, but I can go there anytime and see stuff like this. Absolutely incredible!
[Ed. note: We are indeed very lucky to have wildlife living and breeding within protected natural areas of our busy city. Please use caution and respect when passing through such areas.]
Off Leash Dog Dangers
By Dr. Kate Zimmerman, DVM, Small Animal Veterinarian, May, 2013
For pet owners, one of the best parts of High Park is the space designated for off-leash dogs.
This thoughtful article written by a veterinarian discusses a variety of injuries that may befall off leash dogs outside of designated areas and the impact that they have on wildlife and plants. A must read for dog lovers.
Please forward this article to those with dogs using other parks.
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By Yasser Maniram, University of Toronto student
This article was written for a University of Toronto seminar on Community Resilience. The group in focus, High Park's Volunteer Stewardship Program (VSP), exemplifies a city-community partnership to safeguard High Park's natural ecosystem. Ultimately, I chose to write about High Park Stewards because unlike any other group in the City of Toronto they best represent the ideal of community mobilization and working with limited resources to achieve an objective beneficial for the entire community.
As a child, my parents often took me to High Park. Fast forward to the present day and my warm sentiment to the Park has not faltered. Yet, High Park's Volunteer Stewardship Program cannot manage the park alone, even with help from Toronto's Urban Forestry department.
I hope this article raises awareness, not just about the work of High Park Stewards, but the need for a wider discussion concerning the protection of this park from invasive plant species but also damaging human activity. Special mention goes to Sharon Lovett for her cooperation in this undertaking.
By Debbie Kolozsvari
I grew up in the country, but was always drawn to Toronto.It is a special place with its villages and many green spaces. My husband and I like it so much, we rarely take vacations outside of the city and prefer exploring within Toronto. In 2007, we were fortunate to find an affordable home in Swansea- a completely rundown place in the least desirable section of the area. But we had something special. We had High Park.
Shortly after moving into the area I became pregnant. Within weeks of having my daughter I took her for a walk nearly every day of my maternity leave, through this incredible park. Watching the progression of the flora from spring and throughout the summer on a day-to-day basis was incredible, and prompted the purchase of several books to help identify various species.
A fan of birds, I took great pleasure in watching them and their behavior too. I also marvelled at how many others also took pleasure in visiting the park: bikers, joggers, mothers/fathers, retirees, dog walkers, or friends out for a walk or to catch a few fish. It is an area where I can go- in the middle of the city- and pretend I'm in the middle of the country, and yet still feel safe. Now that my daughter is a bit older and I'm back at work, a favorite Saturday morning expedition is to the Jamie Bell playground and the small zoo. Her favorite animal there is the "peapock", and she does a great impression of the bison.
High Park is a true treasure in Toronto, and I am fortunate to call it my park. It should be held as an example of what public spaces can look like and should be supported with the appropriate amount of staff and funding so that its many users can continue to enjoy all it has to offer.
By Melanie Milanich
In my Toronto the Stewardship programs in High Park are a vital part of bringing people together to learn and share knowledge about the relationships of our plants, wildlife, pollinators, air and water, and the ecosystems that we all depend on.
It is an important link for people of all ages and all economic and ethnic backgrounds to connect together with outdoor physical activity to our natural world. It allows us an opportunity gain skills, to learn about seed collection, to use the greenhouse for learning about transplanting, to use events like the plant sale to spread native plants throughout our neighborhoods, to contribute to the web site and develop leadership. It is what my Toronto is all about.
By Sharon Lovett, Chair High Park Volunteer Stewardship Program
As I listened to the suggestions being made for the city's Core Services Review and found out that protecting the environment is not considered to be a high priority I thought about how our city would look without its green spaces being protected and nurtured. I went to the park and watched the hundreds of people enjoying their visit and took these photos in our All-Star site, the Table Lands and Grenadier Pond.
Just being in the park made me feel so much better and I thought of all of the volunteers and Urban Forestry staff who have come out over the years to plant and weed, even in the rain to create a place of beauty, diversity and hope for a better future. It is so much easier and cheaper to maintain what we have than to destroy it and later try to recover it.
By Anila Sunnak
Visit my blog about trees in my Toronto neighbourhood of High Park. This personal online diary will document and follow my family’s appreciation for five of our favourite trees within this city’s largest urban park.
By Dianne Korchynski
It is the first real heat of summer. The smells of wild flowers, run wild during the strike, the calm willows, the stillness of the water, the thick dusk air, rose sky – if only we could shut off the Gardiner somehow, maybe we could hear better the peep-peep of a robin, is it? or the honk and flap of the Canada geese on Grenadier pond, or the soft crunch of approaching footsteps on the sandy gravel path. But maybe not. Maybe this is good enough.
People writing in the failing light, still picnicking, giving massages, sitting respectably on benches, hanging out, hanging out. The hiss and sizzle of water running over rocks in the Japanese Garden, voices in the gathering dark, the smell of weeds, or weed, the hollyhock, free spirit, making a statement among the rush-crowded banks of Grenadier, and the people in the park, plugged into their ipods, or the pond or each other, murmuring softly, squeezing every last drop out of the day. We do go gently into this good night.
By Dagmar Baur
There is an old Celtic saying that heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in "thin places" that distance is even smaller; the centuries drop away and raise the veil separating us from ancient splendour.
A thin place requires us to step from one world to another. It is no wonder that thin places are most often associated with wild landscapes. High Park has many thin places where there is beauty below us, beauty above us and beauty all around.
We sense the sacred in a blue heron taking flight from Grenadier Pond; we find it in the fragrance of the Sweet Fern and the Sassafras Grove below West Road; it's in the knowledge of a million year old glacial river coursing beneath us or in the fragile beauty of a Blue Hare-bell and Upright White Morning Glory at the feet of ancient Oaks that lift our eyes to the sky.
Being in High Park is a way of coming home to ourselves.
Editor's note: Dagmar contributed this personal reflection a year before her untimely death in April 2010. She was a long-time volunteer and an inspiration for many of us involved in the restoration effort.
See also: What I like to do in Winter(pdf), Dagmar Baur, Wildflower magazine, 2003
By Sharon Lovett
For many city dwellers like myself, going to local parks is a means of getting away from the endless concrete and buildings, to admire gardens and walk in the shade created by trees on a hot summer's day. High Park is one of the few places where you can actually forget that you are in the middle of a city. The natural areas are large and contain a number of provincially designated Areas of Scientific and Natural Interest (ANSI) and Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESA). The important part of these designations for me is that not only are these areas lovely for people to walk through, but they provide a very rare habitat for a variety of wildlife that are rapidly losing their ability to survive the loss of their homes. I have found that "if you build it they will come". Habitat restoration (enhancing the existing native plant population) in areas like the Black Oak Savannah and Grenadier Pond attract birds, mammals, amphibians and insects that historically would have been there as well as newcomers who are adaptable.
Walk through the Black Oak Savannah in High Park behind the Grenadier Restaurant and look around. You see trees, flowers and grasses. Looking down you can see that the soil is sandy and butterflies are flitting around. Listen and you can hear birds and the wind (you can try to tune out the cars and people sounds). Either you like the feeling of being there or you find the wildness unfamiliar and "messy", not like the pretty lush floral displays in other parts of the park like Colborne Lodge or the Hillside Gardens.
If you knew that the trees you saw were called Black Oak, Sumac and Sassafras and the flowers were Cup Plants, Blazing Star and Harebells, the grasses had names like Big and Little Bluestem and Indian Grass, would you feel differently? Being able to name things gives them an importance that is not otherwise perceived. Delving further, being able to distinguish the many species of goldenrod and the variety of sun and coneflowers would mean that you started looking at the details like height, colour, when it bloomed, leaf structure, bark, petal distribution and knew how to look up such things in field guides so you could continue to learn more on your own.
Once you are comfortable with that you can start the same process for birds, butterflies and other insects looking at colour, size, sound, beaks and antennae shape and a myriad of other distinguishing features.
Putting it all together you can learn about the interrelationships between the plants, soil and all the supported wildlife. Deduce what a caterpillar will turn into based on the plant you found it on, the birds by the location and shape of their nests in the tree, the animal by its scat or the butterfly by the plant it is collecting nectar on.
The dependencies are fascinating, for example the Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker (a woodpecker) pecks holes in trees that early arriving hummingbirds use to extract sap. Ants carry aphids to plants so they can create the sticky syrup that the ants love. Honeybees are not native to North America, most of the native bees live in the ground not in hives. Goldfinches eat the seeds from thistles. Snags in dead trees and decaying logs are home to many birds and insects.
I learned all of these things and much more through walking tours given by people who had the curiosity to explore and observe and took the time to create a learning experience that was fun as well as informative. Everyone remembers different things from these tours but the main thing is that it is important to care enough to build on what you already know, to care what happens to creatures like bees and frogs and how their loss will impact all of us.
Our sense of "order" and aesthetics can cause immeasurable damage as can our view that everything should be about us, what we want or like. Nature walks are a way of connecting us to the world around us that we normally do not see, the large, small, close and far and makes us much richer for the experience.