Making time when the time is right.
- Land: High Park is located on the traditional lands of the Seneca, the Huron-Wendat, and most recently, the Mississaugas of the New Credit. Folks like First Story Toronto have produced lots of resources that can help you get more acquainted with Toronto’s Indigenous history.
- Transit: Subway, streetcar, bike, car, you name it.
- Cost: High Park has no entry fee.
- Crowds: Large-ish near the Japanese cherry trees, but pretty quiet and respectful.
- Attractions: Masses of springtime blooms, fresh air, photography, hiking, biking, strolling.
- Accessibility: Some of the trees can be seen from a car. It can be quite a distance from transit or parking to the trees. A pleasant distance, but a distance nonetheless.
- Click here for map.
This post was originally published 31 March, 2016.
As part of being good for whatever, I’ve been trying to enjoy each day, each season for what it is. I’ve savoured a lot of rainy days, for instance, listening to the patter of rain on my umbrella. I’ve remembered how to appreciate the quiet of a winter day. They’re ephemeral pleasures – come and gone, quite literally, with the winds.
Few things are more ephemeral around here than the beginning of spring. The first flowers are even given that name, ephemerals, popping up in the forest understory before the canopy trees leaf out and gather up all the sun for themselves. And spring in these parts is notoriously short, with lingering winter flipping quickly over to lazy summer.
High Park offers offers a prediction of peak cherry blooming time here.
But while the ephemerals show up across the province, the spectacular but fleeting Japanese cherry blossoms of High Park are made all the more evanescent by their scarcity.
Because of those factors I’d managed to miss them every year but last, finally sneaking two hours out of my schedule when I was more-or-less in the area to see the spectacle.
There are lots of ways to get to the cherry trees. High Park (at over 160 hectares, Toronto’s largest park) is reachable by subway, streetcar, bike, foot, and car. I took the High Park College St. streetcar, which cuts through the middle of the city and drops you off at the edge of an old-growth black oak savannah at the eastern edge of the park. It’s a bit of a trip back through time as that type of forest used to cover much of southern Ontario before nearly the whole province was clear-cut.
As soon as I was on the streetcar I was glad I’d prodded myself into going. And once I stepped off into High Park, I practically high-fived myself for making the choice. The trees sheltered me from the wind, but, without their full foliage, not from the sun. It felt like a sneak peek of summer.
I relished the meandering hike from the streetcar stop into the centre of High Park, down through the oaks with their teeny-tiny baby leaves, and past yellow-green willows and enormous pines. There were a few times that I thought I might be lost, but I just kept going in more-or-less the same direction and ended up right where I wanted to be.
After all, getting lost in a beautiful, open, sunny park under the high azure dome of the sky is a wonderful nuisance.
It was such a good time that finding the cherries was, rather than the highlight of the trip, just as fantastic as the rest of it.
There are a few large clusters of the trees in High Park, and I arrived at the easternmost, at the west end of a flat, grass field. Families, students, tourists, painters, and amateur photographers were clustered around them; most were at a respectful distance, a few sidled up next to the trees to get a close-up view of the blossoms.
On its own, each flower and each tree is beautiful. But the swarm of blossoms on the many trees becomes magnificent, almost overwhelming.
And by this point I was wonderfully hot, actually sweating, a marvellous feeling after a long, angry winter. The shade of the trees and their powder white and pink petals was a welcome comfort.
On the other side of the trees I found a road down which motorists were lined up to view the trees. (A woefully inferior way of seeing them, in my opinion.) I noticed more cherry trees dotting the forest on the other side of the road, and I wound my way through them, down quiet dirt paths where I saw maybe three other people.
The peace and solitude amid a forest in bloom were delicious; having the distant sounds of a city of millions just at the edges of my hearing brought the beauty of where I was into high relief.
Here, the cherry trees didn’t spread out low like the ones I’d seen already; they competed with the other trees, graceful trunks reaching up to the canopy, branches fanning out to catch the sun first.
I wanted to keep going west, to follow the trails to the oldest groves of cherry trees, but it was time for me to head back to the streetcars.
It was now early afternoon and retracing my steps led me through greater crowds of people. In a number of quiet places people were spreading out blankets for picnics, or to kick off their shoes and shirts and enjoy the sun.
It struck me – and I’ve since used this for trip planning – that having a singular objective upon which to hang an entire trip brings a certain coherence to it, a distinct psychological satisfaction. While I would say that seeing the cherry blossoms wasn’t the best part of this outing (that would be the whole-body experience of a perfect spring day, the entire forest just on the cusp of exploding into green), like the waterfalls of Ball’s Falls it provided an unnameable something, like a scaffolding around the little adventure. Something that brought everything else together.
And I’m glad I went. A few days later the blossoms were fallen petals blowing in the wind across the field. Gone, like the first breath of spring, until next year.