My Toronto

Ly­ing on my back in a ca­noe on Gre­nadier Pond made me see stars

NOW Magazine - Best of Toronto - - Food - By CHRISTO­PHER DEWD­NEY

The ozone-sweet scent of High Park poured through the open car win­dows, and the sky was stud­ded with stars. The fur­ther west we drove, the fewer cars seemed to be on the road, un­til, ex­traor­di­nar­ily, they dis­ap­peared en­tirely. We were alone, de­li­ciously, ab­so­lutely alone, skim­ming through the mid­night dark­ness as we headed along Bloor to the bun­ga­low we were house-sit­ting for the week­end on El­lis Av­enue.

A few min­utes later, glow­ing green in the head­lights, the sign for El­lis Road. The street snaked around sleepy houses and through grot­tos of dark fo­liage. Sev­eral times we had to stop for rac­coons that stood with their eyes shin­ing pink in the high-beams.

The street signs changed from Road to Av­enue, and we counted house num­bers, then parked and brought our things in­side. It was al­ready af­ter 1 am and we should have been tired, butwe weren’t. The night had charged us up; we wanted to get out into it. I dug out a flash­light and we went into the yard to look for the ca­noe, which was tipped against a shed. We grabbed a cou­ple of pad­dles and car­ried it to the small dock, where we slid it into the wa­ter.

The night was com­pletely, breath­tak­ingly, clear and there was only a slight whis­per of traf­fic from the Gar­diner Ex­press­way to the south. Pad­dling on Gre­nadier Pond was like cross­ing a liq­uid mir­ror. The re­flec­tions of the stars in the wa­ter quiv­ered only when our wake jos­tled them. Oth­er­wise, the lake held the con­stel­la­tions steady, as deep as the night it­self. As we reached the cen­tre of the pond, it seemed that the wa­ter dis­ap­peared and our ca­noe floated in the im­men­sity of space, with stars above and be­low.

We stopped to savour the still­ness, and I had the idea then that we should both lie down in the ca­noe. We slid un­der the seats with our heads touch­ing in the cen­tre, our feet in the bow and stern. I was a lit­tle ner­vous at first – if we tipped we might be trapped un­der the seats – but the sheer spec­ta­cle of the sky took away our fear. Af­ter the ca­noe had stopped rocking from our move­ments, a cu­ri­ous sen­sa­tion took over. It was as if we weren’t float­ing at all. In fact, if I hadn’t known we were on wa­ter, the ca­noe might have been rest­ing on solid rock.

And then, right on cue, we no­ticed pale bands of light rip­pling through the sky. They be­gan to spread and brighten un­til the en­tire sky above us was flick­er­ing with the most ex­tra­or­di­nary show of aurora bo­re­alis ei­ther of us had ever seen in Toronto. The heav­ens, from hori­zon to hori­zon, be­came a gi­ant screen for a pale, phan­tas­magoric light show, a vast, ghostly spec­ta­cle of rip­pling, flash­ing, puls­ing lights. The aurora seemed al­most ar­ti­fi­cial. it was so in­tense, and we “ooohed” and “aa­hed” like chil­dren at a fire­works dis­play. We were at the top of the world, sur­rounded by a danc­ing crown of ethe­real elec­tric lights.

The ex­trav­a­ganza con­tin­ued for hours and then, as dawn ap­proached, be­gan to fade. We as­sumed that the ca­noe had drifted while the show was on, but when we got back into our seats we found it hadn’t moved an inch. We pad­dled back to the lit­tle dock, went in­side and fell ex­hausted onto the bed as the first pink rays of dawn tipped the tree­tops.

Christo­pher Dewd­ney, an ex­pert at all-night ex­pe­ri­ence, can’t get High Park out of his mind.

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