High Park Toronto

Walk your city: off-leash in High Park

Mmm yes. It’s spring. At long last the city is thawing out.

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And I can finally smell the earth.

That’s always been my immediate sensory cue that the warm seasons have arrived – the smell of raw, muddy earth and preserved plant matter peeking from beneath the snow blanket.

I’m sure you’ve heard countless times that scent is one of the most powerful memory triggers. Here’s why:

Your amygdala is a wonderful tidbit of tissue jammed deep in the middle of the temporal lobe. Way out of reach of Q-tips. In rough terms, it is responsible for processing emotions. The seahorsey-shaped hippocampus an inch away processes associative memory. The receptors in your nose gather information, pass it to the tendrils of the olfactory bulbs which then feed it to the emotion and memory centres.

Wet earth smells like spring.

Sometimes I think of these scent memories as crystallized moments in time; little synaptic Post-it notes that say “Smile and frolic, the city is yours again

What a beautiful day to discover my Hello Kitty rain boots aren’t really waterproof.

High Park Toronto
High Park Toronto

High Park is one of the first places I visited when I moved to Toronto 12 years ago. It wasn’t really what I had expected. The parks I was familiar with from back home were manicured Victorian era inspired gardens with carefully cultivated flower beds, ornate benches and narrow cobblestoned alleyways beneath the crowns of century old oak trees.

In comparison High Park was anarchic wilderness.

Sure, the park features all sorts of managed gardens, the beautiful Sakura cherry trees, a zoo and even a kids amusement zone. It nevertheless sprawls over 398 acres (161 ha) and a lot of it is snaked with hidden paths, strange gathering spots marked only by circles of logs.

If you’re a dog walker this is the place for going off-leash. There are long stretches of woods where your pooch can run to his heart’s desire, splash around puddles and jump felled tree trunks.

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I can relate.

I’m pretty off-leash by nature too.

I experienced the same palpable excitement of the quadruped frolickers with every step I took through the sunny glades. Calf deep in mud, I chased snow bank rivulets up and down the hills in the north east end of the park. I love when the city disappears as I sink into valleys; save for an odd faint siren in the distance, you could be anywhere.

Straight down the rabbit hole.

High Park Toronto - Curiouser and curiouser
Curiouser and curiouser

Leave it up to me to find strange things in ordinary places.

If you want a wonderful escape experience in High Park, here’s the trick: enter from the south east corner of Yonge St & Parkside Drive. There is a concrete water fountain, a few benches and just beyond the entrance to a long strip of forested area.

Welcome to Wonderland!

Just below the level of Parkside, you are concealed from the noise and concrete of the city. It’s a somewhat treacherous path in fall and spring, so no screaming children, no large, lazy groups and no joggers either – just dog people and their really excited mutts.

I came home covered in paw prints because I kept getting pounced by happy, hyperactive doggies.

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Beneath the spare canopy of skeletal tree limbs, I found just what the heart and mind craved: a seemingly haphazard ecosystem of pools and brooks carrying life through the park.

And the smell: the smell of last year’s foliage thawing and drying in the sun. It instantly brings memories of careless days rolling in the grass with a book, of festivals and fire jams, and running off with Spright into the farmland north of the city.

The world is waking up.

The season of adventures is upon us.

Welcome spring and walk your city!

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