Toronto Island chill is fresh

Rating: NNNNN

Only two of us are paying passengers on this first run of the day. Since the harbour is only frozen in patches, we head for the Ward’s dock. The ice heaves up in thick chunks, like sugar cubes scattered across the blue-grey expanse separating the city from the islands’ solitude. In more frigid weather, the ferry goes to Hanlan’s, and buses run east to the school and homes.

The cozy cabin of the Ongiara offers the last warmth I’ll enjoy until tonight. The sun turns from magenta to orange to yellow as the whole sky lightens.

Biking to a sheltered space, I scavenge wood, finding dead branches tossed from the trees by autumn wind or chewed by beavers. I build a fire in one of the BBQ pits, and flames soon flicker yellow and orange, dancing and crackling when the wind gusts. Tonight I will go home smelling outdoor-sweet like a smoked salmon.

It’s 8 am and there isn’t a sound, save for the crunch of hard snow under my feet or ice creaking on the lake. I stay quiet, watching for the red fox.

Conifers in greens from teal through lawn contrast with the grey-browns of bare deciduous trees ringed by dogwood shrubs, crimson in sunlight, purple in shadow. Tall yellow grasses mingle and quiver with gold Queen Anne’s lace. Inches-thick icicles descend from stumps and overhanging branches ringing the lake. This is country in the city.

By 1o am the sun reaches the north shore. Geese and gulls honk and shriek. Small aircraft buzz. As the sun arcs higher, ice rafts on the lake stirred by the Ongiara shrink, crash and squeak in the wind, sounding like whales echoing off the city.

Watching the sun set is better done from Hanlan’s, so I extinguish my fire and remount my bike. On my way I want to find Duchess and Conrad, the horses from Centreville’s Far Enough Farm that roam freely in winter.

Near Algonquin, local boys play hockey by the figure-eight ice rink shaped with ice slabs cut from elsewhere in the lagoon. On Long Pond by Centre Island, figure skaters glide. Jake the donkey brays loudly across the farm, dispatching ducks over the cedar fencing, wings flashing silver in the noon sun .

Near Gibraltar Point, the horses graze. Without a fence between us, I feel tiny next to their big bodies. They devour my carrots and apples and still want more, so I offer raisins brought for my own snack. Conrad sniffs, tentatively nibbles and decides that, yes, he likes raisins very much. As I step around him, offering a mittful to Duchess, he circles to cut me off. I offer him more, then try for her again. It becomes a dance with the two huge beasts until the raisins are gone.

I remount my bike, leaving them to scavenge the remaining bits strewn in the stiff grass.

At Hanlan’s Point the orange sun reflecting off the lake blinds me. Each year, crashing waves carve the outer shoreline dramatically. The horizon is distant and hazy, but the drone of airplanes is near, sharp, dissonant. Swans bob into view, rising and falling on the waves. Upending to feed in a synchronized routine, heads down, tails up, orange feet paddling at the surface, they right, stretch, pause, dip again.

Facing the last rays of the sun aboard the Ongiara, I feel enveloping warmth for the first time since this morning.

Magenta rays bounce metallic off rush-hour cars on the Gardiner, silvery as shards of glass, as the sun completes its cycle.

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