Rethinking Wild Places or Search for Trees in the City

“Let’s go find some trees,” my friend said a few days ago. So here we are sitting on a rock in High Park where trees are not hard to come across. They are right in front of us, sticking their bare branches into the sky. I try to block out the noise coming from Queensway and imagine I am in the forest. Not an easy task so I focus on birds chirping and twittering instead.

setting sun in High Park

My friend tells me about going on an ecotour in British Columbia a few years ago and how every sudden sound made her think a subway train was coming, every cliff reminded of a highriser. I can relate to that. City life is so deeply etched into us that it can be hard to shake off. She also tells me how this desire to search for vegetation was born during a meeting when she was continuously distracted by a tree outside the window and realized how badly she needed to be in nature.

On my way home, I start thinking about wild places. When we talk about nature, wildness, wildlife, we usually think of remote, uninhabited by humans locations, lions prowling around a savanna, bears lurking in the woods, signifying danger for some, solitude and bliss for others. City and nature are often perceived as mutually exclusive. In fact, the whole reason we, humans, retreated into cities was to protect ourselves from wildness. The irony, of course, is that even though we have built high, thick walls to physically separate ourselves, we haven’t managed to squeeze nature out from inside us.

High Park in November   High Park in November

The need to spend time outdoors is in the spotlight right now. Doctors prescribe nature walks. Ecotherapy is a rising trend. Numerous studies demonstrate various positive effects of getting outside: better physical and mental health, improved cognitive functions, increased concern for the environment. I never needed convincing that nature is important. I always sought it out even in the busiest parts of town: the sound of a cricket amid traffic noise, a sunflower by the curb, a spider web on my balcony. But I always saw nature in the city as inferior to that other, faraway nature, too tame, almost artificial. To me, it was a stopgap before we could go camping again.

spider

Over the past month, I have spent a lot of time exploring parks in and around Toronto and it helped me rethink my understanding of wildness. Two Thirds Wild blogger captured it perfectly in her comment to one of my posts about microadventures with this quote by Roger Deakin from Robert Macfarlane’s book The Wild Places: “There is wildness everywhere, if we only stop in our tracks and look around us.”

squirrel eating an apple

dandelion    green maple leaf on the ground

And that is what this past month has been about: not just finding beautiful, can’t-believe-they-are-in-Toronto places, but also searching for wildness in my daily life.

On our walk through High Park that day, my friend and I spend good twenty minutes watching a northern cardinal. The bird isn’t afraid at all and seems just as curious about us.

northern cardinal in High Park   northern cardinal in High Park

We then make our way down to Grenadier pond and come across a bunch of ducks. Most of them are mallards but then I spot a wood duck among them. I get overly excited because I have always wanted to see one and here he is, right in the middle of the city. My friend waits patiently while I snap dozens of pictures. Ducks seem mildly interested in us but get bored quickly and move on. And so do we.

wood duck in High Park

wood duck in High Park   wood duck in High Park

Later, there is also a heron and swans, which at first seem so incongruous with the traffic down on Queensway and condo towers rising along the southern edge of the pond. But then when I think about it, they don’t seem so out of place after all.

Grenadier Pond in High Park

swan in High Park   heron in High Park

Don’t get me wrong. I am not giving up our camping trips any time soon. I still need regular doses of undiluted nature. But from now on I will cherish these short expeditions to look for trees in the city just as much.

setting sun in High Park

23 thoughts on “Rethinking Wild Places or Search for Trees in the City

  1. Love this post! It is so true! I feel like we are somewhat on the same type of journey together, but separately. lol As always, fantastic photos with brilliant vibrant colours. No clue you are anywhere near a city from this end! 🙂 thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Christina! Yeah, I can see you have been exploring a lot of local spots as well. I enjoy following your adventures. It’s funny you mentioned that those photos don’t look like they have been taken in the city. I try hard to make sure no signs, buildings or any other urban markers get into the frame. The downside is I wanted to submit some of my photos for the National Geographic’s Wildlife in the City assignment and one of the requirements is that it should be clearly visible that the photo was taken in the urban environment. Turns out I don’t have a lot of pictures like that 🙂

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  2. First off as always fantastic photos. I find it strange that you’ve mentioned wilderness in the city. I’ve just (yesterday) bought a book by Jason Ramsay-Brown called Toronto’s Ravines and Urban Forests. It’s ab out 180pages profiling 29 major Toronto locations. I’ve already finished reading it. Nature is all around us and it stubbornly refuses to let go. We just need to learn how to enjoy it better.

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    • I like how you say that nature subbornly refuses to go. I think it’s lucky for us that nature is stubborn because humans have been very persistent in trying to destroy it. I agree that it’s time we learned to enjoy it more, but also cherish it and preserve it and learn to live as part of it not opposite to it.
      That book sounds interesting. I will make sure to check it out. As always, thank you for your feedback!

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      • Conservationism is the key. But we can only foster conservationism through personal interaction and experience in the areas we want to conserve. I’ve got a few spaces from the book that I want to check out. Did you know there is an old part of the Don river that’s been cut off from the rest by the DVP that’s still got water in it?

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      • I absolutely agree. As Robert Macfarlane said, “We don’t care for what we don’t know.” No, I didn’t know that about the Don. I don’t know much about ravines in East Toronto. Will definitely get the book and try to explore more that part of the city.

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  3. Beautiful pictures….I love the instances at which they have been captured.Quite natural. I can spend weeks inside a jungle to get those pictures. Nature has a typical way to help humans reconnect with their inner self, and my trips into these woods and away from the chaotic city life pursues the same.. Great to know we have similar travel interests…

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    • Thank you for a beautiful comment, Rajat! I find that wildlife in the city is sometimes easier to photograph, probably, because these animals are used to people. I agree that time in nature helps us rediscover ourselves. I think the main reason is that the city and our everyday lives are always so busy and distracting so we have very little time to stop and listen and watch. But once we get away from all those distractions, we are forced to look around and inside ourselves and that helps us to find balance. Time in nature is beneficial in so many ways!

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  4. Oleksandra, thanks for the ‘shout out’! I love this post. Are you sure you haven’t read “The Wild Places” – Robert Macfarlane? The running thread of your post echoes the sentiments that Macfarlane expresses throughout his whole book, and is what made me change my mind about where wild places can be found. I now look for them wherever I am, and often spy them through the window of my car as I am zipping along the freeway, or a not-so-used back-road. After having read Macfarlane’s book, I now see these places as little treasures, unnoticed by most, but full of hidden potential to those with a keen eye, and an observing mind. Thanks for spreading the word about finding the wild places 🙂 Love your post, and photos, as always, amazing! 🙂 Leah

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    • No problem, Leah! I though it was a great quote. Thank you for sharing it and thanks for the book recommendation. I got “The Wild Places” at the library today. Can’t wait to start reading it!
      I agree that when we start looking, we can find wildness everywhere, and those nature encounters, no matter how big or small, are always exciting. I think nature is an endless source of awe and fascination but because it is so quiet and unhurried we usually fail to notice it. We need to make a commitment to slow down and pay attention, listen and observe, spend less time inside in front of screens and more time wandering around. Thanks again for reading and commenting! It is always great to hear from other nature lovers!

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  5. Excellent post! I can certainly relate to what you’ve written here. In my first year of blogging I found myself unable to do many long adventurous trips and ended up posting more about my own micro-adventures at the parks in my city. Lunchtime walks became my nature therapy. I’m a huge advocate for green spaces in our city since many people do not have the time or the money to travel far. Local parks give kids a taste of the freedom many of us had as children. That little piece of green can be so comforting. Thank you for sharing your stunning photos and beautiful inspirational thoughts, as always. 🙂

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    • Thank you, Jane! It’s great to see that so many people agree with this post. As urban population keeps growing, green urban spaces become more and more important to help bridge the disconnect between people and nature. You are right, travel to remote places isn’t always an option plus it’s important to have access to green spaces on a regular basis for full benefits. It’s great to see that a lot of urban planners finally started to understand it. I hope to see more neighbourhoods that are less reliant on cars and have access to parks and green spaces.

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  6. What a beautiful post. I too think solace can be found in parks or even busy urban areas and believe that open spaces in cities serve as an opportunity (and spark the opportunity as well) to slow down and notice where we are and what’s around us. Your phrase, “to look for trees in the city” works perfectly as a metaphor for us taking a moment out of our normal lives and being aware of what’s around you.

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    • Thank you for a beautiful comment, Meghan! I am glad you enjoyed the post. Since majority of us spend most of our time in urban settings, city parks and green spaces become more and more important to provide opportunities for us, to borrow your words, to slow down and find solace. If we found more time for wildness in our daily lives, we would all be better off.

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  7. Pingback: Hiking at Rockwood Conservation Area: limestone cliffs, caves and potholes | Gone Camping

  8. Pingback: Winter yurting at Silent Lake: birds, friends and bonding moments | Gone Camping

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