Reading and Walking

Walking, Reading, and Reading about Walking

Month: August, 2016

Another Walk Around Wascana Lake

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My friends Neil and Sarah walk around a lake near their home in Canberra, the way we walk around Wascana Lake. But it seems that they get something profound out of the experience–something deeper than my engagement with this place. When walking becomes a routine, when I’m walking a regular path, I tend to tune out, to get bored. But Neil and Sarah seem to respond differently, and I’m not entirely sure how they do it. I wish I knew their secret.

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Sarah was interviewed by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation for a program about imagining the land as a spiritual home and she talked about how their walks are part of that imagining. I’m intrigued, especially if their walks take them around Burley Griffin Lake, which (Wikipedia tells me) is an artificial lake prone to toxic blue-green algae blooms and surrounded by institutions (the Parliament, Australian National University)–in other words, a body of water with more than a passing resemblance to Wascana Lake. I asked Neil when I saw him in Victoria two weeks ago, but we didn’t really get a chance to talk about it.

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I was thinking about these things when we walked around Wascana Lake for the umpteenth time today. For a change, we walked clockwise, rather than counterclockwise. Seeing things from a different direction made a slight difference. For instance, I noticed more native plants: buffaloberry, wild liquorice, and a large patch of blue grama grass. How the blue grama manages to survive amid aggressive agronomic species like crested wheat grass and smooth brome is a mystery to me. But I’m glad it does. It’s my favourite native grass, purely on aesthetic grounds. It’s just beautiful.

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We ran into our friend Troni, who was on her way to spend the afternoon working in her office. I wish I had that kind of dedication. To be fair, I did think about the essays I’m going to assign my students this fall, and later I’ll do a little reading. But I’ll be reading in the porch, not in an office on campus. And it’s possible that a gin-and-tonic will make an appearance.

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I was surprised to see pelicans still on the lake. I thought they would’ve already left. It’s a long trip to the Gulf of Mexico, after all. There were lots of ducks and geese, and even a cormorant. swimming along with his wings outstretched.

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Our path took us over the city’s only hill. I ought to spend hours repeatedly walking up and down it. Maybe that would help me develop some hill-climbing stamina. It’s worth trying.

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When we got back to our neighbourhood, we went to the local community centre, where 10 chefs from the Syrian community were putting on a food sale. I was too busy eating to take any pictures of the food. I hope someone opens a Syrian restaurant here. Although I’d want to eat there all the time, which could become a problem.

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It was a lovely walk, I’ll admit, but did it help me think of this place as my spiritual home? I’m not sure. The Saw Whet Trail makes me feel that way. Maybe asking every walk to do that is simply being greedy. I’ll think about it the next time I walk around the lake.

 

 

Sunday Walk on the Saw Whet Trail

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I was talking about the Saw Whet Trail at a birthday party the other night and realized that I haven’t gone out there for a walk in over a year. Time to do something about that, I thought, especially on a beautiful late-summer day like today. So I drove out this morning and went for a walk.

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The Saw Whet Trail is part of a group of three trails (the others are the Lumsden Trail and the Deer Valley Trail) that run from Lumsden to Deer Valley. (You can find a description of these trails, and a map, here.) Added together, the three trails are 17 kilometres long. But the walk out of Lumsden is a dispiriting slog along a paved road (the trail is supposed to run through the ditch on the north side of the road, but in my experience that means hacking through waist-high thistles), and the trail through Deer Valley is usually overgrown because it’s rarely used. I prefer the 7 kilometre Saw Whet Trail.

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The trail runs across private property over the height of land between the Qu’Appelle Valley and the Wascana Creek Valley, alongside barley and hay fields and through patches of native prairie and wooded coulees. The portion that runs along Wascana Creek is less interesting, although it’s a great place for picking chokecherries. But it’s worth the walk down into the Wascana Creek Valley for the chance to climb up the hill on the way back to the parking lot.

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I’ve been thinking about hills since I got back from Victoria. Living in a city that’s almost perfectly flat doesn’t give you an opportunity to prepare for going for a walk anywhere else, because almost no other place is as flat as Regina. To prepare for climbing hills, you have to find a hill to climb, and that’s not easy around here. Part of the attraction of the Saw Whet Trail is the fact that it has hills.

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Of course, I was huffing and puffing on every climb, just like I was in Victoria, although the hills here are smaller and not as steep. I’m clearly going to have to spend the winter in the gym, trying to improve my fitness level. I can’t say I’m looking forward to it. But it has to be done.

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I saw many abandoned bales of hay, both on the hills and on the valley bottom. I suppose the price of hay was too low when they were baled to make selling them worthwhile. I can’t think of any other reason to cut and bale hay and then leave it to rot. The creek has been eroding the cutbank, and a stack of bales is falling into the creek. Another winter or two, and they’ll be in the water. Deer are eating them. A piece of farm equipment–I don’t know what it is–has fallen into the creek because of erosion, too. It’s almost completely submerged now.

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One of the reasons I like this walk so much are the bits and pieces of remnant native grassland. I saw some of my favourite late-summer bloomers: coneflower, dotted blazingstar, asters, goldenrod, blue grama grass. Some hills are covered with purple stands of little bluestem. When I see these plants, I feel like I’m greeting old friends.

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I got to the end of the Saw Whet Trail and ate a sandwich. Then I turned around and headed back. The return journey is always shorter, except on a long walk, when it can seem to take forever. Luckily, this was a short walk–only 14 kilometres in all.

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It was a great way to spend the afternoon, and I plan to make this walk again before another year passes.

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Six Walks In and Around Victoria

We spent the last week in Victoria, visiting my friends Geoff and Annemarie. I met Geoff and Annemarie on the Camino Francés three years ago. We’ve kept in touch and I’ve always meant to go out to the coast to visit them, particularly after reading Geoff’s blog, where he writes about his walks around Victoria as well as various Caminos. He makes the city look very pretty, particularly in January, and I’ve always wondered if it’s really that lovely. (Short answer: yes, it is.) Still, it took a visit to Victoria by Neil, an Australian friend whom Geoff, Annemarie, and I met on the Camino, to get me to decide to make the trip. He’s giving a conference paper in San Diego and figured that once he’d flown across the Pacific, another few hours on another plane and a ferry would be worth it, especially if it meant seeing Victoria.

Christine came with me. We had a great time, walking and eating Annemarie’s marvellous cooking (including an Indonesian feast) and going on walks. Geoff is leaving for Spain in two weeks; he and his friend Rob are going to walk the Camino Francés from Léon to Ponferrada, and then the Camino de Invierno to Santiago de Compostela. Then he and Annemarie are going to walk the Camiño dos Faros–the Way of the Lighthouses–along the coast of Galicia. After that, they’re going to meet up with Neil and his partner, Sarah, who are walking the Camino Portugués, and walk with them for another three weeks. They’re all still getting ready, physically and otherwise, for a month of walking. Christine and I walked along with them, getting a sense of what it’s like to walk in Victoria. We made six walks together in all. A couple of those were serious training walks; the others were more like strolls. I want to write about all of them here.

1. A Walk to Cadboro Bay and Back

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We arrived two days before Neil. The first afternoon we were there, Geoff and Annemarie took us on a short walk to see the University of Victoria campus and a beach on nearby Cadboro Bay. We took a path through a ravine called Mystic Vale on the way to the beach. It’s a beautiful walk through tall trees. When the weather conditions are right, sunlight streams down through the branches. We returned through the university. It was a great way to stretch our legs and recover from our early morning flight.

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Where does the burl begin and the tree end?

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One of the architectural prizes at UVic: First Peoples House.

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There are no ravines back home, of course. No hills, either. And, compared to Victoria, very few trees. My excitement at seeing these things made me realize what a flatlander I’ve become.

2. A Walk to the Esker and Elk/Beaver Lakes

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In one of his blog posts, Geoff had written about a walk along an esker and I was curious about it. So on Wednesday the four of us walked along a bicycle path–Victoria has many bicycle paths–to the esker. We crossed it, and then headed further north to a trail around Elk Lake and Beaver Lake.

Geoff and Annemarie treated this outing as a training walk. Both carried full packs. It was Annemarie’s first walk with her pack this summer. Christine and I carried water in our day packs.

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I don’t think the bike path is a rail trail, although it’s long and straight and feels like one. We crossed a wooden bridge over a swampy lake where Canada geese and several species of ducks were feeding. A sculpture of a former mayor adorns the bridge.

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The bicycle path is mostly gravel and it’s very busy. Cycling is clearly popular in Victoria. Most of the main streets have bike paths running along the curb. Christine enjoyed the fresh air and the crunch of gravel under her feet.

Then we left the bicycle path and headed through a neighbourhood, across the esker–a pile of gravel left behind by the glaciers. People in Victoria are justly proud of their gardens. I loved the topiary dog. At least, I think it’s a dog. The hump on its back makes it hard to tell. Maybe it’s a bison? A camel? Whatever it is, it’s very detailed.

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Then we were on the path around the lakes. Geoff and Annemarie often walk here. One side is more populated, with beaches and day camps and lots of kids; the other side runs through a quiet forest.

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Eventually we left the path around the lakes and walked to a teashop, where we had lunch. Then we headed for the bicycle path again. Because he’s training for his next Camino, Geoff decided to walk home; Christine, Annemarie, and I were satisfied with having walked 23 kilometres, so we drove back. I was proud of Christine for finishing the walk, because she hasn’t walked 23 kilometres since we were in the Cotswolds two years ago.

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3. A Walk Up and Around Mount Douglas (Pkols)

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On Thursday, Geoff and I walked up Mount Douglas, which is also known by its Indigenous name, Pkols. First we walked to the park. Then we climbed up the hill on a footpath. I’m not used to climbing hills–how could I be, living in a city that has only one hill, a pile of dirt left over from digging out the lake?–so I was huffing and puffing and stopping for rests on the way to the top. But once we got to the summit, we were rewarded with views of the entire city below us and the mountains on the horizon.

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We walked back down the road that leads to the top. Then, near the bottom, we headed off on a footpath that took us around the base of the hill. We hiked all the way around before we left the park and walked down to Cadboro Bay, where we had something to eat at Olive Olio’s, Geoff’s favourite local coffee shop.

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Because it’s been so dry on southern Vancouver Island, the trees are stressed, and their leaves are already beginning to change colour.

After lunch, we walked back through Mystic Vale. It looked a lot different in the sunlight–more, well, mystical.

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Then we cut through UVic and finished the walk. I’d forgotten to set the GPS for the first 20 minutes or so of the walk, but we figured it to be about 25 kilometres. Geoff was happy because it was the first time he’d walked two days in a row since he started training for his next Camino. I was happy because I’d climbed up Mount Douglas. We had a little time to shower and change into clean clothes, and then we all headed to the ferry terminal to meet Neil. It was another Camino reunion!

4. An Oceanside Walk

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Neil was pretty jetlagged–a 29-hour time change will do that to you–but he was game for a walk beside the ocean. We all ate breakfast at a place on the breakwater–not surprisingly, it was called The Breakwater–and then walked out to the lighthouse and back.There were benches installed by the lighthouse in memory of people. We stopped to read the plaques. One read, “It’s a good life if you don’t weaken.” That woman must’ve been a real character.

Then we strolled along the shore. I’d forgotten to bring my camera but got a few pictures with my iPhone.

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We watched some people getting ready to parasail on our way out. On our way back, they were airborne.

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When we finished our walk, we went shopping for gear. There’s a Mountain Equipment Co-op in Victoria, and I always like to take a look when I’m near one of their stores. Besides, Neil needed a new pair of walking shoes, and they’re a lot cheaper in North America than they are in Australia. I ended up buying a new headlamp, one that’s brighter than what I had in Spain three years ago. We went to a Spanish-themed delicatessen, where I bought some chorizo. Unfortunately, it didn’t survive the trip home: I opened the package yesterday and discovered that it had gone mouldy. Oh well. I’ll have to find some other way to make caldo gallego, the Galician kale and chorizo soup.

Then we went back to Geoff’s and Annemarie’s place for a barbecue and more Camino reminiscing. Poor Christine, having to put up with all of that! But she was a good sport about it. Someday I hope we have our own Camino to remember.

5. A Walk in Gowlland Tod Provincial Park

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Another day, another hill. Neil, Geoff, Annemarie, and I went out to Gowlland Tod Provincial Park for a walk up a forested mountain. Christine stayed in the city; she wanted to see the museum and look around in stores that don’t involve hiking gear.

For some reason, we all ended up wearing greyish clothes and Tilley hats. It looked like a uniform, like we were volunteer park rangers or something. It’s not something we planned. It just happened. I blame the limited range of colours offered in technical fabrics.

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It was a steep climb in rugged terrain, and my legs were shaking by the time we reached the top. The rewards were a view of the fjord to the north, and a sense of satisfaction that I didn’t let the mountain defeat me.

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Experienced walkers take off their boots every chance they get. You’ve got to be kind to your feet!

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We ate lunch, then headed back down. There are supposed to be bears and cougars in the forest, but all we saw were ravens and woodpeckers.

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Arbutus trees are native to Vancouver Island. They grow in dry places, inhospitable to other tree species. Their peeling bark reminds me of eucalyptus trees and I wonder if they’re related.

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It was a great walk–either 12 or 13 kilometres long, depending on whether you believe Annemarie’s Fitbit or my GPS app–and it reminded me of the importance of finding some way to mimic climbing hills here on the flat prairie. Maybe I ought to climb stairs wearing a weighted vest, or a full pack? Or should I spend time on the stair-climbing machine at the gym? I’m not sure, but I have to do something.

When we got back to the house, Annemarie cooked a tremendous meal of Indonesian food–exactly what we needed after expending all those calories. I didn’t take any pictures of the table: I was too busy eating.

What a great day that was!

6. A Walk Around the Harbour

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Neil left on Monday morning. We all ate breakfast at one of Geoff’s and Annemarie’s favourite cafés. Then, after we dropped Neil off at the ferry terminal–he was flying to San Diego to give his conference paper–we walked around Victoria harbour.

Victoria’s gardens are lovely.

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We stopped and watched floatplanes taking off and landing while we waited for Neil’s ferry to pass by. We waved, but I don’t know if he saw us.

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Then we carried on walking. It wasn’t a strenuous walk, just a stroll on a sunny Monday morning.

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We stopped at Spinnaker’s, Canada’s first brewpub, for lunch. Then we headed back to the car. Christine and I were flying out that afternoon, and we needed to get packed and ready.

It was a great vacation, and we’re very grateful to Geoff and Annemarie for their generous hospitality. It was special seeing them, and Neil, again, and I enjoyed hearing about their walks and about Annemarie’s recent trip to Haida Gwaii. I left feeling envious of their upcoming walks in Europe and wishing I could tag along. But Geoff and Neil and I are talking about walking together in Spain in 2018, and that’s something to look forward to. Until then, there will be walks to make here–maybe even one this weekend.