by Malgosia Halliop
I met Alan and Carol by the Toronto Botanical Gardens on a bright and breezy Sunday in early August. While they gathered with the participants for that day's LUNA sketching tour, I slipped off to the ravine to explore and draw. My intention was to find a subject for one more piece for our fall exhibit. I could see our group's work starting to come together: drawings and paintings in various media; some close-up studies of individual trees, plants, and small creatures; some wider-angled landscapes of the ravine and Wilket Creek. I had sketched some purple-flowering raspberry shrubs on a previous visit, and decided to head down past the first berry bushes, past the fallen cottonwood - which still seemed to be nourishing bright green leaves amongst the drying ones - and still further down the path to an open area with many raspberry shrubs that I could potentially work with.
The berries were ripening, and instead of settling in to draw, I spent some time standing in the sun searching for red berries to eat. A few other people walking by stopped and picked a berry or two, one family speaking a Slavic language from which I recognized a few words. Repeated more than once was the word malina: "raspberry" in Polish, my first language. I was pleased to realize that the word might be the same in some other Slavic languages (something I confirmed later at home), and pleased too, as on previous visits to this ravine, to hear the wealth of languages - both familiar and unfamiliar - spoken by people walking past me on the trail.
As I meandered along the path and onto some side-trails, I stopped to look at various late summer wildflowers and shrubs, and decided to start a sketchbook page with some of these: vibrant blue chicory flowers; red clover, with pale chevrons on its leaves; tall elderberry shrubs, with still-green berries; tiny white asters; and the towering clustered fruits of staghorn sumac, with the plants's reddening leaves showing the first sign of fall's coming changes. Two plants stumped me: one, a single tiny orange flower on a creeping stem close to the ground; the other, a tall shrub growing among the staghorn sumacs, with rounded clusters of fuzzy red "berries" and triple leaves slightly reminiscent of poison ivy leaves. I love a good mystery.
I walked back through the ravine towards my transit journey home, stopping briefly to examine - but not draw - a few familiar flowering plants among many others in bloom: Joe-Pye weed, jewelweed, Queen Anne's lace, goldenrod. I stopped to look at the purple-flowering raspberry again, and took a few leaves home with me for a sketch I'd started on an earlier visit. As we walked towards the bus stop, Alan told me he had found ripe black raspberries, and that the people on the sketching tour had been lovely and enthusiastic. At the top of the stairs, we stopped to admire the lone rare cucumber tree (Magnolia acuminata), with its strange bulbous fruit, and speculated on how it had shown up here and whether it could somehow be propagated.
At home, I solved the question of the fuzzy red berries: fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica), a plant I don't remember meeting before, although perhaps I have and needed to re-learn it on my own. The tiny orange flower remains a mystery.