Walk­ing my dog in Cedarvale Ravine was al­ways an adventure

NOW Magazine - Best of Toronto - - City Scape - By ANN-MARIE MacDON­ALD

Cedarvale Ravine was the first park where I walked my dog Zsa Zsa of­fleash. Itwas nerve-rack­ing at first be­cause she was so fast, a black streak and toothy flash through the bare trees in win­ter, up and down the sides of the ravine. A shep­herd-husky cross, at least she was easy to see against the snow. I loved Cedarvale from then on.

I al­ways set out near the sub­way exit on Heath Street and en­tered the de­scend­ing tree-lined path­way. Zsa Zsa al­ways shot out on ei­ther side, pick­ing up in­stantly on scents and sounds. As she got a lit­tle older and mel­lower, she’d re­turn sooner to the path and trot ahead of me, shoul­der-check­ing now and then to make sure I hadn’t been ab­ducted.

At the bot­tom of the hill, a wooden foot­bridge span­ning the creek that in win­ter bub­bles, au­di­ble but un­seen, pro­vided many ear-cocked mo­ments of in­quiry.

In spring, the ice would be pawed and pierced and some­times shat­tered with a run­ning plunge. Thus re­freshed, my dog would rocket off, icy drops fly­ing, recharged by the shock of cold like a shot of booster fuel.

The walls of the ravine sweep up closely on the left and far­ther away on the right. Where the creek widens, temp­ta­tion was in­ten­si­fied by the pres­ence of ducks – dog-savvy ones. The path stretches ahead, cut­ting a swath through tall reeds.

An­other foot­bridge crosses a per­ma­nent marshy pud­dle, a real stink-hole in sum­mer, and this was where I some­times gave in. It was so grat­i­fy­ing to see how grat­i­fied she was im­mers­ing her­self in all those reek­ing life­forms.

Then she’d tear through the reeds, mys­te­ri­ous and fleshy in sum­mer, pa­pery and ghosty-sound­ing in fall. The path bends to the right, and I’d meet her emerg­ing from those reeds, the odd burr clump­ing to her side or tail.

To the left, at the el­bow of the path, she in­vari­ably scaled a pile of rocks, paus­ing, head high, ears erect, as though in atavis­tic trib­ute to Rin Tin Tin, then scam­per­ing down and around to­ward where the con­crete legs of the first big bridge strad­dle the path.

I soon re­al­ized that it’s Bathurst Street up there, but some­how that ba­nal fact never quite com­puted, and the colos­sus strid­ing the ravine took on a mythic un­charted char­ac­ter. Straight sail­ing from here to the next bridge, and by now the first yas-yas were out.

Zsa Zsa would oc­ca­sion­ally take strongly to an­other dog, one who could match or even best her in the kind of ag­gres­sive play and heart-burst­ing prey-preda­tor pur­suit she en­joyed. She had a strange rev­er­ence for grey­hounds, al­ways stop­ping as though ar­rested at the sight of them and whim­per­ing in­scrutably.

Past the sec­ond bridge, a field opens up to the left and the ravine as­cends in a gra­cious in­vi­ta­tion to to­bog­gan and slid­ing car­pets. Here I al­ways had to re­strain my dog. Kids and par­ents couldn’t be ex­pected to un­der­stand the raw joy of the prey-preda­tor pur­suit game. (I used to slide with her bark­ing and bit­ing at my el­bows all the way down, and found it crazily ex­hil­a­rat­ing, but, then, I knew and loved – and trusted – ev­ery one of those shiny white teeth.)

This is where we’d turn around and start the walk back, she trot­ting fairly close to me now, pleas­antly tired, back up to Heath, where I’d hold the leash up for her to see and she would come. We’d cross to the car and I’d do my best to dry the mud off her paws and belly with a rot­ting towel. I liked the wet dog smell that per­me­ated my car. I liked her head, shoul­der-high and jut­ting for­ward be­tween the front seats, her front paws planted on the fray­ing leather skin around the emer­gency brake.

Some­times she’d rest her chin on my shoul­der and I’d feel her breath, the lovely prox­im­ity of her soft chewy dog-lips and, most gemütlich of all, those teeth, Granny. It was a 40-minute walk, I could tell by the park­ing me­ter. Thanks, Zsa Zsa (Novem­ber 1995- July 2004).

Nov­el­ist and play­wright Ann-Marie MacDonald re­calls her long ravine walks.

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