Places to Walk: Giselle or A Swan at the Toronto Zoo (originally posted April 2011)

"Giselle" after post-processing with textures

"Giselle" straight out of camera (SOOC)

Swans have a long history in many world cultures, usually known to represent beauty, purity, perfection and grace. In Greek mythology, the swan is associated with Aphrodite and is a symbol of chastity. The Celts believed swans were benevolent deities and would forge their images into silver medallions that could be worn around the neck for protection. Swans are also revered in Hinduism, and compared to saintly persons who have attained great spiritual capabilities.

These elegant birds can pair for years, and are often a symbol of love or fidelity because of their long-lasting, apparently monogamous relationships. I took a picture of this swan at our last family outing to the Toronto Zoo on Saturday, April 9. It seemed quite lonely and sad, and reminded me of the heroine in the ballet Giselle (who wasn't a swan but rather a peasant girl who had met an untimely death). It's fairly uncommon to see a lone swan here in Ontario - we've mostly seen them in twos, threes or a whole flock and we were hoping to perhaps glimpse its companion but none appeared in the half hour or so that we were meandering around the stream. As we headed towards the parking lot, I saw it drift into a clump of bushes with plaintive cries. It was quite heartbreaking! I like to imagine it finding a mate, and living happily ever after. Foolishly sentimental, perhaps but as Voltaire said, "Love is a canvas furnished by Nature and embroidered by imagination."

The SOOC (straight-out-of-camera) shot was post-processed in Photoshop CS4 with the following recipe:
(1) Assign Profile to Adobe RGB 1998
(2) Florabella Textures III --> Seaside (Flip vertical, Multiply @ 50%).
(3) Flypaper Textures, Spring Painterly pack --> Ovid Banished (Flip horizontal, Lighten @ 75%)
(4) Flypaper Textures, Spring Painterly pack --> Ovid Banished (Multiply @ 25%)
(5) Flypaper Textures, Spring Painterly pack --> Apple Moss (Multiply @ 75%)
(6) Photoshop -> Levels and Curves adjustment
(7) Added back Apple Moss @ Multiply 30% at this point because the image looked a bit too light and faded, and just re-boosted the colors/contrast with some tweaking in Levels

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Places to Walk: To Sail Away (or An Imaginary Foray in Pursuit of Happiness)

Heroes take journeys, confront dragons, and discover the treasure of their true selves.
Carol Lynn Pearson

Happiness is like those palaces in fairy tales whose gates are guarded by dragons: we must fight in order to conquer it.
Alexandre Dumas

The first image was taken at Ward's Island Beach in the summer of 2011. The Toronto Islands beaches are among the cleanest in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) despite their proximity to the downtown core. We took a tent with us that day, a good thing since we experienced one of the biggest thunderstorms of the season that afternoon! Despite strong wind gusts and lashing rain, our tent held firm and we stayed dry and cozy for the hour or so that the weather raged over us. My daughter was pretty unfazed during the whole episode, and thought it was a pretty cool to have snacks and work on jigsaw puzzles with rain drumming on the roof of the tent. The dog, however, was not that impressed! :) I took the shot of the lake about half an hour after the storm had passed and the cruise ship was making its rounds again. I waded out to the water until I was about thigh-deep to try and get a nearer shot of the boat (I only had my 35mm camera lens with me that day) but that was about the best close-up shot I could get.

The second picture was post-processed in Photoshop CS4, using textures from Shadowhouse, Flypaper, and Florabella. I "stamped" the dragon onto the composition using a Photoshop brush I had made of a vintage illustration in a 1906 book entitled "Fictitious and Symbolic Creatures in Art". If you would like to download the brush for personal use only, you can click on this link.

(This post was originally published on July 31, 2011.)

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Places to Walk: Winter Play at Earl Bales

All walking is discovery.
On foot we take the time to see things whole.
Hal Borland

Taken on the last snow day we had in Toronto. The colored tubes and the purple moose sculpture are part of the Sarah and Morris Feldman Sensory Garden and children's playground at Earl Bales Park in the North York neighborhood. Apart from the children's area, there is an off-leash area for dogs, and the park is also home to the Earl Bales Ski & Snowboard Centre (also called the North York Ski Centre), one of the only two ski hills in the GTA (the other one is in Etobicoke). You can get some really good exercise around here since the park is quite hilly. There are paved paths as well as wooded trails although I wouldn't go on the paths if they're icy since some of the slopes are pretty steep. The sensory garden and playground easily keep my 3 year-old daughter occupied for a couple of hours, and there are also a few good spots where we can play hide-and-seek. :) We definitely find Earl Bales to be one of the best parks in Toronto for a kid who has energy to spare!

(This post was originally published in March 2012.)

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Places to Walk: Hardly Winter!

In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me
there lay an invincible summer.
Albert Camus

We've been extremely lucky this winter - it has hardly snowed at all and even when it has, warm temperatures quickly follow so no accumulation remains on the ground. We've had enough snow to make snowgirls - Snow Mattie, Snow Daisy and Snow Alice (the last two being my daughter's invisible companions; yes, I know, we need to find her some real friends) - but we haven't had to endure drawn-out stretches of bitterly biting gales, treacherously slippery sidewalks or dreary-drabby gray days. Best of all, we've been able to get outside for more walks than we normally would during this curmudgeonly season. It's made it easier to stay more upbeat; I generally find the winter months quite oppressive and it can be a challenge to search for thoughts and images that remind me of happier, balmier times.

These photos were taken at Rotary Park in Ajax, Ontario on one of the warmest winter days on record. The sun shining on our heads and the stinging purity of the lung-cleansing cold air combined to fill us with giddy exhilaration. Monochromes startled with unseasonal vibrancy, and wildlife partied it up with hisses, honks, flaps and swishes. The light was incredible and winter played dress-up in the guise of its torrid, sultry cousin. Feeling indomitable, I marched along the parkways and learned that indeed, I did have within me, an invincible summer.

(Originally published in January 2011, during an extraordinarily warm winter.)

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Places to Walk: Winter Foliage at Alexander Muir

What fire could ever equal the sunshine of a winter's day?
Henry David Thoreau

With the amazingly good weather over the past few days (double-digits and sunny), it's felt more like summer than winter in Toronto. It's somewhat disconcerting, therefore, to look around and still see monochromatic foliage when bursts of brightly-colored annuals might seem more appropriate for the unseasonally warm temperatures.

Not having shot a lot of photos in the Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens during the winter months, I thought I'd take the opportunity to get in a couple of late winter foliage shots before the city crew spruces up the park, and all the spring bulbs and early perennials start pushing their heads through the dark earth. If you've never been to this beautiful green space in the Yonge and Lawrence neighborhood, be sure to check it out for its easy walkability (especially with a 3 year-old), friendly dog owners, and the architecturally interesting buildings that can be glimpsed all around the park as you meander down the adequately maintained paths.

If you take the subway, just get off at the Lawrence stop, then walk south on Yonge, past Lawrence until you see the Locke Public Library. You can wander down to the playground in the little valley behind Locke and continue heading south from here. When driving, we tend to park on Lympstone Avenue, just right off Yonge. From here, we generally trot down into the mini ravine that runs parallel to St. Edmunds Drive, then uphill again where St. Edmunds turns in a loop back to Yonge. Cross from the north side of St. Edmunds to the south side (watch out for crazy drivers barrelling around the bend in their BMWs, Audis and assorted luxury cars), and you will be able to enter the Gardens through a series of little stone steps to the left of the park sign. We usually walk across the Gardens towards Mount Pleasant Road and Blythwood Road, and turn around once we reach the bridge that marks the entrance into Blythwood Ravine Park. I think that when my wee one is a little older and feeling more ambitious, we may continue onto Blythwood and tackle the Sherwood Park Reach. To get walking directions for this latter stretch and other walks as well as a guide to historic houses and points of interest along the mapped routes, be sure to browse through the Lost River Walks website. It's such a wonderful resource for urban walkers!

(This post was originally published in February 2012.)

© 2014 Flora R. Powell. All rights reserved.

Places to Walk: American Dagger Moth Caterpillar at Black Creek Pioneer Village

Remember what I said after we escaped unscathed from the encounter with a White-Marked Tussock Moth (Orgyia leucostigma) caterpillar at Rouge Park? Never again, I lectured my family, will we pick up unknown creepy-crawlies, and let them roam unchecked over bare skin where they could cause bumps, rashes, welts or worse. I went on along this line of reasoning for at least ten minutes, ad nauseam, and I saw two heads bob in agreement that of course, I was absolutely right.

Well, guess what?

The two "kids" - my husband, the gleefully bug-obsessed, and my daughter, the intrepidly curious - almost stepped on this fuzzy, bright yellow caterpillar with black, spiky "hair" as we were walking through the grass in front of Burwick House at Black Creek Pioneer Village. Since there was a pretty big horde of pre-schoolers and summer campers running around (we had seen two big school buses pull up with them when we arrived), the caterpillar naturally had to be "rescued" so it wouldn't get trampled if a stampede should ensue! Whether it was dumb luck, tough skin, mutant genes or a combination of all three, the audacious duo once more escaped unharmed from handling the furry critter.

According to a Google search, the hairs or setae of the American Dagger Moth (Acronicta americana) caterpillar can trigger mild to severe reactions in people. It seems to affect children more (I guess they are less tolerant of the toxin contained in the black "spikes") so I wouldn't advise letting your child touch it unless you're prepared to risk a possible trip to the doctor. Here is a somewhat old but really good link to a post and comments about the caterpillar's behavior and lifecycle, and here is a post from Kelly, a Cincinnati mom whose son did experience a reaction. You can also find a link to "stinging" caterpillars in Kelly's post.

I probably won't be able to stop my husband and daughter from touching or handling any more creatures they find in the wild - both are extremely inquisitive - so I guess the next best thing is to stay informed and educated about the different species we might come across. Come to think of it, investing in a few pairs of fine latex gloves might not be a bad idea either! :)

(This post was originally published in August 2012.)

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