Kittens and Pho Soup Walk

A lot has happened since the last time I posted anything here. I found a new job. I quit that job to return to school. Now I’m in a PhD program, focused on walking as an aesthetic practice. And my little sister died. I never intended for eight months to pass between blog posts, but I haven’t had time to walk or write or read anything outside of my courses. I haven’t even been walking to the university, partly because it was so icy in February and March (I fell on the ice and landed flat on my stomach and broke my baby toe, the one that always breaks), and partly because I had the flu for several weeks and was just too tired to walk. But, when the semester ended last week–when my papers had been handed in and my students’ grades submitted–I decided to start walking again. And, yesterday, that’s what I did.

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I went for a couple of short walks during the week–short, but long enough to blister my feet, so I wasn’t sure my feet would be able to stand a long walk. And it was hard getting out the door. My water bag had gone missing. My phone needed to be charged. So did my camera. But I had promised myself to go for a walk, on a familiar route: north and west along the creek to Rochdale Boulevard, where I would get a bowl of pho soup for lunch, and then back south again. And that’s what I did.

But first, Christine and I walked over to the local cat café. I had never been. The cats were playful, kittenish, and I realized how long it’s been since we had a young cat in our house. We only have one cat right now, Annie, who was old when we got her 10 years ago and must be around 20 now. Of course, without a phone or a camera, I couldn’t take any pictures of the cats for this blog. Such is life. After twenty minutes or so, we left the cats and their admirers to their work, or play. Christine carried on towards the city centre. I went back home, got my walking sticks and my pack and my phone–I left the camera to continue charging–and headed off.

I know what you’re thinking: why carry a phone and a camera? After all, phones have cameras these days, right? That’s true, but if a camera is in my pocket, and not slung around my neck, I won’t use it as much. I know that from experience. So this post doesn’t have many photographs, because I had to remember to stop and dig my phone out of my pocket when I saw something photogenic.

So I didn’t get any photos of the dead carp in the creek. I don’t know what caused their deaths. Maybe a lack of oxygen underneath the winter ice? And I didn’t get a shot of the cormorant I saw sitting in the water further downstream, a sign that not every fish in the creek died over the winter. But I did get a shot of this foursome about to tee off. It was the first day the courses were open, and the two golf courses I passed were busy.

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I walked past the abandoned beaver lodge–one of my landmarks on this path–and I wondered, as always, where the beavers are now. Did the park authority trap them out? They are hard on the trees, of course, and it’s worth remembering that every tree in this city has been deliberately planted, so protecting them is important. That’s why the trunks of so many trees along the creek are wrapped in chicken wire or hardware cloth, to discourage the beavers. Maybe that’s why the beavers left; maybe further downstream, in the Qu’Appelle Valley, there’s more to eat.

I also walked past a lively cricket match. This is not uncommon these days, but it would’ve been strange 10 years ago. Cricket, I think, is a sign of how the Queen City’s demographics are changing. Everyone on the pitch–that’s the correct word, isn’t it, to describe the ground on which cricket is played?–was south Asian.

At Dewdney Avenue, the path was blocked off. I figured the underpass was flooded. It happens. But how bad could it be? I stepped around the barrier and carried on. In the underpass, the pathway was flooded, but there was ice to walk on, and I figured I could get through without getting too wet. I was wrong. I stepped into the water and onto the ice. The ice shifted under my weight. I shuffled forward. The ice was floating and as I reached the far side, it sank. The next block of ice was several feet away. So I stepped into the water. It was deep–deeper than my boots–and cold and dirty. My pants and socks got soaked. I waded through the water and stepped up onto the next block of ice. It tilted ominously. I picked my way across, carefully, and eventually found my way onto dry pavement. “I won’t go back that way,” I thought.

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It was sunny and warm and windy, and the stiff breeze blew a winter’s worth of trash–several winters, perhaps–before it. I thought about David Sedaris, the way he picks up garbage on his walks around Sussex, where he lives. Maybe I should do the same thing, I thought. But if I did, if I gathered all the trash I saw, I wouldn’t be walking anywhere. I’d just be picking up trash. There’s just so much around: years of coffee cups stuck in bushes, plastic bags stuck to branches, trash flags snapping in the wind. “If you stopped to pick all this stuff up,” I thought, “you’d never get up to Rochdale and you’d never get a bowl of soup.” Plus I had no gloves, no garbage bag, nothing. Sadly, selfishly, I put that idea away.

What do I think about as I’m walking along? Nothing really. Sometimes I wonder what I’ll write about in this blog. Sometimes I sing scraps of songs (“She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” was stuck in my mind yesterday). I was thinking about Cree vocabulary and the way the university misspelled the Cree title of its strategic plan so that it translates as “Together we are raw” instead of “Together we are one with Mother Earth”–“aski” is very different from “askiy“–when I saw a slight man with a bicycle pausing to take a picture with a camera equipped with a longish lens. When I got closer, I recognized him–from his photos on Facebook–and introduced myself. “You’re Solomon Ratt,” I said. “I’m enrolled in your intermediate Cree class for next fall.” He recognized my name, probably from the class list. “Oh, yes.” We talked about the path, about the icy water under Dewdney Avenue. Then we carried on in opposite directions. Of course, I didn’t take his picture. Even if I’d had a camera around my neck, I probably wouldn’t have thought of it, or I would’ve decided not to ask for permission. I need to get over that reticence.

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I trudged north, past the loggerhead shrike nesting area, where I’ve never seen a loggerhead shrike. Maybe they can’t read the sign or don’t like the shrubs that have been planted for their benefit? I crossed the railway tracks and then the creek, and followed the path north away from the water. Eventually I reached Rochdale Boulevard. It was 2:30 in the afternoon and I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast and I was hungry. I stopped at the first pho restaurant I saw and ordered a bowl of soup. I didn’t take any pictures of it, either. I was too busy eating. I spent an hour there, resting and drinking tea and reading a New Yorker article about H.R. McMaster on my phone. It made me think about personal integrity, and how to be true to who you are in an environment which pressures you to violate the truths you believe to be important. And that brought to mind Armando Iannucci’s excellent film The Death of Stalin, which I saw on Thursday night. Did any of the characters in that film have any personal integrity or sense of truth left? Perhaps Steve Buscemi’s Krushchev. But the others?

And those thoughts made me grateful that my work doesn’t demand that I believe in things I know to be lies.

After lunch, I turned south, walking along McCarthy Boulevard. To avoid the flooded underpass, I walked along the grass in front of the big RCMP training facility on Dewdney Avenue (another place where the City of Regina has refused to provide a sidewalk to pedestrians) and crossed the creek that way.

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Then I retraced my steps on the path along the creek. I was pretty tired–a 26-kilometre walk is a tough way to begin–and my feet hurt. But I made it home. And tomorrow, perhaps, I’ll go for another walk.

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