Nature, (oh) boy

Whenever you enter a park in Toronto, no matter what its size, you see the sign: “A city within a park”. Now I never thought that made sense, until we moved to our new home in The Annex.

We’re on the 17th floor and have a (small) balcony and when you look OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAout, this (left) is what you see. I showed the view to my sister and mam on Skype and they, like me, were amazed at how green and leafy the city is. That’s when I realised that the slogan was right: Toronto is a huge park with homes in it. Lots of them, granted, but they live side by side with nature.

I should have realised earlier how cheek by jowl the city is with the natural world. After all, on our second night here I watched a raccoon dance across the neighbours’ rooves. “Welcome to Canada,” said my cousin when I Facebooked it. “Oh, you’ll get fed up of them,” said my Torontonian friends. News flash: I haven’t. I won’t. They’re fantastic. With their little Zorro masks and fluffy fur – and claws which mean I will never get within 10ft of one unless there’s a glass wall between us. Nor is there any fear of touching their faeces, which I was also warned about. These OPI nails aint going anywhere near that.

Raccoons aren’t the only animals to make their presence known. Squirrels jump around everywhere while our route home to The Other Place (so terrible I’ve gone into The Liz Jones World of Diary Writing and capitalised descriptions that don’t need capitalising) used to take us past the Don Valley and the river (there’s even a creek!) and one night I saw its deer calmly munching on the grass of the nearby office blocks. After all the years of trying to see one in Scotland…

Then there is the wide variety of birdlife which makes me think OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAtwitchers aren’t quite so geeky after all – we caught this magnificent heron at the Parc national des Îles-de-Boucherville but the groundhogs proved a little more elusive to photograph. Fair enough, it was long past February 2nd and to be honest, they’re quite scary little buggers when they start di gging. I felt much happier oohing and aahing over the sunlight glinting off a dragonfly’s wings.

The weather is, of course, the biggest presence Mother Nature has to offer. The days now are getting hot and very, very humid and April’s bitingly cold winds and snow are hard to remember. But the rain is still around, although it’s a pleasure when it means we’re treated to sunsets like this (below).

We were reminded that we weren’t in Kansas (okay, Madrid) anymore on Sunday, while watching American Dad, when a tickertape from Environment Canada started feeding its way across the screen warning OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAof a tornado and telling those in affected areas to go down to the ground floor or the basement if possible. Although the tornado was nowhere near us – and thankfully didn’t amount to much – there was a sharp change in the wind before the lightning hit. And what lightning. At times I felt like Richard Dreyfuss watching the clouds light up before the spaceship arrives in Close Encounters… othertimes it was as if I were at a Yes concert enjoying the light show but thankfully without the music. Also like a Yes gig, the show seemed never ending.

But the natural world is not all sweetness and light. My lavvie love affair has gone down the bog after a trip to High Park, where long queues and lingering smells meant a day trip to Toronto’s biggest park turned into the biggest exercise in cross-legged walking ever seen. Eventually, I’d had enough. I’ve seen I’m A Celebrity… and if the woodland is good enough for Carole Thatcher, well it would have to be good enough for me. So I found a secluded spot, left Ged on watch and answered the call of nature.

But Ged seemed to be fussing a bit, trying to catch my attention at a time when you don’t really want your attention caught, and I asked him what was up when I climbed back onto the trail.

“Did you see any plants like that?”

He pointed at a bizarre pen-and-ink drawing of a… leaf.

“Don’t think so…”

I took a closer look at the sign. Warning: Poison Ivy.

Now beyond the song, I wasn’t much sure what else was bad about Poison Ivy but a Will Robinson-type warning only means bad news. We tried to match the drawing with the leaves around us; however, as they were all green and sort of leafy-shaped, anyone of them could have been Ms Ivy. I spent the rest of the day wondering about every itch on my body and cursing the Thatcher family once more.

Toronto may be a city in a glorious park but when it comes to toilets, I think I’ll keep the two separate from now.

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