Having long ago delighted my children with the wisdom and humour of A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh tales, I intended to visit the Royal Ontario Museum’s special exhibit about Winnie-the-Pooh. Through an over-abundance of Covidian caution I didn’t do it last summer; by fall the Museum closed and the exhibit was dismantled and returned to the Victoria and Albert. I hope to see it there sometime in the future.
Part of the charm of the Winnie-the-Pooh stories is that they happen in a distinctive physical setting, the Hundred Acre Wood. I have the good fortune to live near my own Hundred Acre Wood.
A Walk in the Wood
Not far from my house is a small park in the flood plain of one of the creeks running into Toronto’s Don River. The park encompasses the creek, open fields, hills for tobogganing, and a paved path that is cleared in the winter. As you go down into the park from the local Community Centre, the paved path bends to the right. But if you turn left, you come quickly to an unpaved trail that leads you into a wood that extends to the southern end of the park.
Using a map, I calculate the area of the wood alone as approximately 20 acres. Not quite as large as Winnie-the-Pooh’s wood, but similar is scope. It takes about 10 minutes to walk from one end of the wood to the other on the trail, which is somewhat hilly, with frequent exposed tree roots (runners beware!)
The forest itself consists of tall maples and oaks, some of which have been blown down. The creek is shallow and meandering, with gently sloping banks and a sandy floor. In the middle of the wood is a teepee someone formed by standing branches against a large tree.
The wood is well-used by runners, walkers, dog-walkers, and parents with children. The wood displays four distinct seasons, particularly the yellows and reds of autumn. Sometimes in winter the unpaved trail gets icy and regular users stay away.
The Hundred Acre Wood is magical because I can plunge myself in a genuine, wild forest that is a ten-minute walk from my suburban home. This does require ignoring the large homes overlooking the wood, which is easier to do when there are leaves on the trees. I like to think that the children who visit this Hundred Acre Wood with their parents consider it as magical a place as Christopher Robin’s Hundred Acre Wood.
Preserving the Wood
The Winnie-the-Pooh stories end on a sad note, with Christopher Robin coming of age, no longer being allowed to do nothing, and leaving the Hundred Acre Wood, Pooh, and the other animals behind. I can’t imagine any adult reading the last story to their children without tearing up, conscious of the passing of childhood and the loss of innocence.
People imagine – I know I do – the past as being a physical place and express the desire to revisit different rooms in that place. Of course we can’t do that, but we can carry in our minds memories of the places where moments or periods in our lives unfolded. We can sometimes revisit such places and find that that they have physically changed or, even if they haven’t, they may seem different from our memories of them.
My wish is that my Hundred Acre Wood remains unchanged. Because it is in a park on a flood plain it can’t be developed for housing. Taking down the trees would serve no purpose. There is no need to pave over the trail.
I want to be able to visit, almost every day, that tiny bit of forest that exists in the middle of the city. And I want the children for whom this little forest was as full of enchantment as Christopher Robin’s Hundred Acre Wood to be able to return to it as youths and adults and nostalgically contemplate their childhood.