The Riverwood Conservancy has quickly become my favourite local place to practice shinrin-yoku (“forest bathing”). Since writing about my first discovery of this wonderful urban oasis, I’ve visited many times, usually after a long day at work, to rejuvenate and seek peace. In this post, I’ve included images from September and October. I look forward to experiencing what the property has to offer in all seasons.
So far, I’ve followed new trails and enjoyed the deep solitude of the woods, meadows and riverside. I’ve taken dozens of photographs of the park, and I’ve sat on the back terrace of Chappell House, nursing a cup of tea and feeding the black-capped chickadees by hand. (I usually bring a pocketful of wild bird seed; these cuties are easy to coax to the hand.)
The gardens, still so full of foxglove, Japanese anemones, hydrangea, monkshood, echinacea and roses in September, are drowsing now, awaiting the first blanket of snow. (We had flurries here the other night, but nothing stuck.) The volunteer gardeners, however, have ensured that shrubs and small trees will provide structural interest – and food for birds – during the colder months.
On another part of the property stand the McEwan house and barn, the foundations of which date from 1850. There and in a new building, the Conservancy and Visual Arts Mississauga offer community programs for school children and adults. In the surrounding gardens, there is a raised-bed Sensory Garden featuring plants with different scents and textures, and the Enabling Garden invites disabled participants to pitch in and help grow an amazing variety of herbs, flowers, fruits and vegetables.
It is from this area that several trailheads lead to more discoveries, including a grand allée of Norway spruce planted over a century ago to protect the fruit orchards (remnants of which can still be seen) from wind damage. Dotted around the woods are 19 “tree caches”, different species of trees marked with QR-coded tags. Scanning the tags with a phone app brings up a website with all kinds of interesting facts about each of the marked trees, some of which are quite rare.
Each time I go to Riverwood, I have a little quest in mind. The Conservancy’s website hints at structures associated with the 1919 Chappell House, but doesn’t specify where they are. These mysteries eluded me at first, but, in best Time Team spirit, I followed obscure paths and paid attention to archaeological clues, and eventually stumbled across the original stone-lined swimming pool and paved tennis court. The pool is now fenced off for safety (not very picturesque, so no photos), and the tennis court’s remaining bits of broken asphalt are now home to moss, weeds and monarch butterflies – and Tai Chi practitioners. Both are a poignant paean to the privileged life of the early 1920s.
I’ve enjoyed watching the autumn colours come into their glorious own. There’s a particular part of the forest that is incredibly peaceful, full as it is of towering sugar maples (one in particular is known to be over 250 years old), beeches, oaks, birches, evergreens and a number of Carolinian (southern) species. The squirrels and chipmunks are quite entertaining, and I’ve been serenaded by the calls of resident and migrating birds: blue jays and robins, woodpeckers, goldfinches, kinglets and sparrows. The other day, I spotted my first dark-eyed juncos of the season, which means only one thing: winter is coming!