Sometimes I wonder if the world’s so small…

I took a walk yesterday, into the sprawl. An exercise in clearing my head. A chance to relish autumn’s fleeting colours, and feel the crunch of leaves under my shoes. A recent assessment of what I like to do when I travel left me realizing that I don’t take enough day hikes when I’m at home, and it’s something I’m trying to change. A few years ago in Montreal, I hung out a bit with the Montreal Psychogeographic Society and had a lot of fun.

And off I went. Down the block, around the corner. Ontario’s thinning foliage welcomed me, but there was still some hint of life left behind.

A bus ride through the down and out area of Scarborough, a few twists and turns of the road, and I emerge on a path in the woods overlooking the Scarborough bluffs.

Can we ever get away from the sprawl?

Toronto’s looming sprawl is never too far. Along the horizon, the ever expanding waterfront development begins to encroach on the tranquil setting.

The edge of Toronto's sprawl.

For a few brief weeks in October, Canada unveils her inner beauty. A final gasp of life before we huddle under a blanket of snow, a final burst of colour to keep us warm all winter.

Deep in the Scarborough bluffs forest

I walk along the waterfront for a few kilometres, passing maybe a dozen people in total. I’ve got a brisk pace, I’ve got a almonds and a banana in my backpack, and I am singing at the top of my lungs as I make my way along the bluffs. Formed during the last Ice Age, the bluffs mark the shoreline of the Glacial Lake Iroquois, and I try to take in as much of the 14 km escarpment as I can before daylight fades.

Who knew Scarborough could be so pretty?

Sunglasses make a great filter, no?

The bluffs are a strange feature. Isolated from the rest of Toronto, yet close enough to venture over on a sunny Sunday afternoon in late October. With intermittent cell phone reception, I was disconnected from email, Twitter, Facebook, Angry Birds, and all of my favourite time wasters of late. An otter slid silently beneath the waves in one cove, a family of ducks dove for food, a sailboat slid silently across the horizon. With the sun beginning to dip towards the west, the path abruptly ended in a pile of rubble.

A path built on the rubble of old Toronto

With no visible exit in sight, slow panic began to set in. Cell phone reception wasn’t working right. Darkness was creeping in. I only had a banana left. The temperature was starting to drop and I was not adequately dressed for evening. I doubled back over the path. If I walked fast enough, I could probably make it to the road 5 or 6 km back before light failed.

I quickened my pace. A kilometre back, I ran into a couple on an awkward first date. They had no chemistry, and they were making haste in the opposite direction of me. “The path ends in a kilometre,” I informed them. The woman advised that there was a steep path up the escarpment not far from where the main path ends, difficult to see in the fading light, and lacking proper signage. I followed them back along the shores of Lake Ontario, thinking this that this is usually the opening sequence of a low-budget horror film.

They didn’t mislead me. We went around a small fence I neglected to notice when panic set in, and made our way up a well-maintained path up a steep ravine. Shadows danced over the fading maple leaves as twilight crept in over the woods. Another kilometre up the ravine, a bend in the path, and the trees cleared. Suddenly I was in the middle of suburban Scarborough, waiting for the bus to take me back to the subway, to comfy slippers and fresh socks.

And what was I singing at the top of my lungs as I skipped along the waterfront?

Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)

They heard me singing and they told me to stop
Quit these pretentious things and just punch the clock
These days, my life, I feel it has no purpose
But late at night the feelings swim towards the surface
‘Cause on the surface the city lights shine
They’re calling at me, “come and find your kind!”

Sometimes I wonder if the world’s so small
Then we can never get away from the sprawl
Living in the sprawl
The dead shopping malls rise like mountains beyond mountains
And there’s no end in sight
I need the darkness. Someone please cut the lights!

We rode our bikes to the nearest park
Sat under the swings, we kissed in the dark
You shield my eyes from the police lights
We run away, but we don’t know why
Black river, your city lights shine
They’re screaming at us, “we don’t need your kind!”

Sometimes I wonder if the world’s so small
Then we can never get away from the sprawl
Living in the sprawl
Dead shopping malls rise like mountains beyond mountains
And there’s no end in sight
I need the darkness. Someone, please cut the lights!

They heard me singing and they told me to stop
Quit these pretentious things and just punch the clock.

Sometimes I wonder if the world’s so small
Can we ever get away from the sprawl?
Living in the sprawl
Dead shopping malls rise like mountains beyond mountains
And there’s no end in sight
I need the darkness. Someone, please cut the lights!

I need the darkness. Someone, please cut the lights!

-The Arcade Fire

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