Brief Encounters in the Ravine

“Are you lost?” said the woman.

“No we are not. Just checking the map to make sure we are where we are supposed to be.”

“Well if you want to go to the Brickworks turn left. Go right for the ravine trail,” she said. Her brown hair was pulled high on her head in a messy ponytail. It was held in place by a neon purple headband. The woman smiled, turned right and resumed her brisk walk.

My friend and I were out for a Sunday afternoon stroll in the woods. Within a 15 minute walk from my downtown apartment and we were among groves of maple, oak and linden trees lining the Rosedale Ravine. Dappled sunlight filtered through the trees.

“Are you seeing a pattern here?” I said.

“That’s the third person who has asked us if we are lost.”

“Maybe they are just being friendly,” said my friend.

“Because we are Black?”

“And we are in the woods. The two don’t generally go together.”

“No one asked the three Chinese couples if they were lost. They were not wearing hiking boots and carrying backpacks.”

“Let’s put the map away and see if it makes a difference.”

We hiked for the next hour following the little stream gurgling in the woods on its way down to Lake Ontario. The ravine was deep and steep for such a small brook. During the last ice age, some 10,000 years ago, the stream was not so languid. It was a massive river sweeping away the land and ice blocks as it rumbled down to the lake.

Many houses were perched on the lip of the ravine. Quite a few retaining walls had worked their way down the steep slope, mangled and twisted by the shifting earth. It would not be too long before a few of the houses tumbled down there too.

A cottontail rabbit froze when it heard our footfalls, even as its nose twitched and its eyes shone. I remembered eating rabbit stew in Spain. Jerk rabbit. Barbecued rabbit. Would they be best served with rice or roasted potatoes? With fried plantain and roasted corn on the side.

The rabbit bolted into the dense bush. The recipe had to be amended – first, catch your rabbit. Then kill it, skin it, gut it. Better still buy the rabbit at the butcher’s where all the unpleasant work is already done, so that one can focus on the best spices to use to season the meat.

The trail narrowed on a ridge. A knot of hikers were coming up as we were going down. The all-male group walked slowly and were rather quiet. They were dressed from head to toe in shades of black. Including their sunglasses. The men walked in pairs. Holding hands.

We squeezed to the left, our back brushing against the railing as they passed. One hiker was the lead in each pair. He held a short rope which was clutched by his partner. It dawned on me that it was a group of blind hikers and their guides out for a walk.

Around a bend in the path, I saw a man walking towards us, with an old dog trotting by his side. The man was dressed in corduroy pants, a flannel shirt and a denim jacket. His thick face was ruddy in the cool air.

“Are you lost?” said the man. “The road ahead will take you to Dundas Street and back into the city.”

50 Places: A Black History Travel Guide of London

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