Walking: a matter of discovery

To Murray Seymour, the distinction between hiking and walking is clear: “Hiking is done to get some place. Get out and move, go there. You feel very tired at the end, and that’s great.”“Walking is more a point of being some place else. It can be therapeutic. It can’t be just for exercise. The whole point is to go out and look at everything that’s around you. It’s a matter of discovery.”

Seymour’s a walker and the author of the new guide, Toronto’s Ravines, Walking the Hidden Country. In it, he outlines over 40 walks within the city’s extensive greenbelt areas running beside the creeks and rivers flowing into Lake Ontario from all parts of the city.

“We’re blessed in Toronto with ravines. Some people tried to build on them, but Hurricane Hazel came along in 1954 and scoured them all out. So somebody said, it’s probably not a good idea to put anything in them.”

The narrow bands of wilderness lie beneath the dense urban street level. Seymour outlines walks in the ravines along the Don and Humber Rivers on the east and west side of the city, and in the northeastern watershed areas of Highland Creek and the Rouge River.

Accessibily is key
Although Toronto’s walking pleasures are the focus of the book, Seymour has a philosophy about walking that’s transferrable to any city or town. First, any walk should be accessible by public transit. Or easily reached by car. 

“Very often, in smaller places, you’re 15 to 20 minutes from good walking places. And it doesn’t have to be a provincial park, in fact, it’s probably better if it isn’t. Just the side of any field, you can stop and look, and listen to what’s going on around you.”

“In the summer, hydro lines are a fantastic place to find flowers. Underneath, the fields are just filled with wildflowers, and flowers that blow in from nearby gardens.”

Seymour says walking doesn’t have to be rigorous. It’s going out for a little while, an hour or so, and sitting down, watching and listening. Over the years, he’s slowly built up his knowledge about things he sees on his walks. He uses field guides, the library, the Internet and free government publications. 

“There comes a point when you get tired of saying-there’s a little brown bird, there’s a yellow bird. And eventually, I found myself driven to getting a book and finding-ah, it’s a finch, or a thrush of some sort. Same with flowers. There are yellow ones, and white ones and purple ones-but there’s more than that. Then you start looking at bugs. It’s never ending. And that is the appeal-it’s never ending. It’s a process driven by curiosity, of ever more closely defining what it is that constitutes this different world. I’m amazed, every time I go out walking, at the depth and breadth of my ignorance.”

Cheap to do
Seymour says walking is also cheap. It’s one sport which doesn’t require a lot of gear, just a good pair of running or walking shoes and comfortable clothes.

“I have a six-dollar rain cape which I’ve had for years which will keep the rain off me. I can sit on wet logs and on snow on it, and sleep on it, which I’ve done, using it as a blanket.”

Seymour is retired, a former middle manager with the Ontario government and small business. He and his wife go out walking a couple of times a week. He says it’s hard to get up and go out sometimes. It requires making the time to do it, taking two or three hours just to “do nothing”. He says walking is not productive when you assess it for profit in the traditional sense. It’s hard to put a dollar value on it. Only it is productive-for your own mental health and personal sanity. It’s a part of looking after yourself.

“Some people don’t get it. I think partly it’s age. Because whether it’s a matter of having more time, or whether it’s a physiological change-it seems, after 50 or 60, people or both sexes have a tendency to want to take a little more time, to stop and literally smell the flowers”

“And the reason for the book is-well, great, where do I do it. I don’t want to drive to the Muskokas. But we can go walking right here in our own back yard. And the same thing applies just about anywhere in the country.”

Seymour has a hard time identifying his favourite walk. That changes with the seasons. But in the fall, he likes a particular spot in the huge 4,700-hectare park surrounding the Rouge River watershed.
“There’s a long sloping hill in there, and I have a visual memory of the air being gold.”

Murray Seymour’s book, Toronto’s Ravines, Walking the Hidden Country, is published by the Boston Mills Press.