It is a proven and accepted fact that long term isolation in rural areas can easily lead to mental instability, depression and severe anxiety. I’ve written about my first hand experiences with the cognitive effects of my own journeys into the bush, recalling moments of moroseness and temporary insanity while I slip into the state slanged as ‘bushed’, but what of the opposite? Can one experience similar consequences after prolonged periods of time away from nature?
While cities offer access to many important facets of life - education, healthcare and social support, etc., what they sometimes lack is a close relationship to the big wide world beyond the hinterlands. Just as we tend to go a little crazy when separated from the comfort of our devices and the luxuries of the modern world, it is also true that a lack of wild places can lead to major stress. Balancing urban life with nature can be tough, and I’ve responded with a list of scenic reprieves easy accessible within Canada’s largest city, so that in between shopping sprees and fine dining you can:
1) Hike the Humber River
Hiking is the perfect outdoorsy activity. Fully accessible and friendly to all ages, there’s no better way to experience a little nature than on foot. Henry David Thoreau, the forefather of modern environmentalism and wilderness romantic, quotes on his work Walking: ‘We should go fourth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return’. So, if HDT said it, you better go for a damn walk.
And what better place than the Humber River? With a variety of trails to enjoy, including paved for bikes and families or off-path for the more adventurous, the Humber accommodates all, with the added bonus of being freakin’ huge. From its summit in Toronto’s North End at Steeles and Islington the river and surrounding parkland runs south to lakeshore, yielding a plethora of options for trailheads and access points. If hiking is your game, Humber River is the name.
2) Tree Plant in Rouge Park
Achieving oneness with nature doesn’t always have to involve doing yoga on a mountaintop. Trade in your spandex pants and smelly roll mat for a garden shovel and pair of gloves and get ready to get dirty. The Rouge Valley in Toronto’s East End is a perfect place to escape and offers plenty to recreational activities. Did I mention this is Canada’s LARGEST urban park?
|The Rouge Valley River|
Planting programs are abundant in the area and include the 10,000 Trees Project, Natural Heritage Projects and other park-based planting programs. They are easy to get involved in and help keep Toronto’s urban wild areas sustained. While you’re taking advantage of parkland, why not contribute?
3) Take in the View from the Scarborough Bluffs
|Looking up to the Bluffs from Bluffer's Park Beach|
Looking for a little romantic getaway but not interested in leaving the city? Or perhaps you want a workout beside the perfect beachfront scene? Welcome to the Scarborough Bluffs – a naturally eroded carving in Toronto’s lakeshore landscape that borders Scarborough along Lake Ontario. A network of trails and parks can be found near the water, both above and below the gorge, each offering unique activities. Places like Guildwood Park and Gardens inject a little history into Toronto’s East Lakeshore where a well-manicured setting surrounds hundreds of displaced artifacts, all significant to the establishment of the area.
Further West is Bluffer’s Park, complete with a wharf and beach boardwalk that winds all the way to Ashbridges Bay. Climb the Bluffs for a wonderful panorama of Lake Ontario or discover the unique ecosystems and tide pools at the water’s edge – the Bluffs are a ‘something for everyone’ activity.
4) Get Schooled in High Park
Nature has a crapload of things to teach us, and at an environmental education hub at High Park, there’s no end to what we can learn. Close to downtown and just off the trendy Bloor West area, High Park reaches from Bloor Street to the Gardiner Expressway and can be accessed via subway. While you’re visiting, drop into the High Park Nature Centre for a nature walk or see what’s growing at the High Park Children’s Garden.
Other great on-site locations are the High Park Zoo and Colbourne Lodge Museum. Take a walk around Grenadier Pond or check out the amazing Cherry Blossoms – only in bloom a few days during each spring!
|The elusive spring cherry blossoms in High Park.|
Although this short list does not nearly encompass all things nature-related in Toronto, it is meant to acknowledge the wilder parts of the city; and the places we go to distress. Next time you’re bogged down by city life, take some time to reconnect with Mother Nature. The results might surprise you.