Christine read Edward St. Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose books a while back, and when we learned that they were going to be turned into a TV series starring Benedict Cumberbatch, she wanted to see it. The series is carried by Crave in Canada, but we’ve had trouble with Crave’s app not working on our TV–so much trouble that I abandoned our subscription in disgust. Maybe, though, it would work if we had one of those Apple TV boxes. It’s worth a try, I thought, and if it doesn’t work, we could watch Borgen, which everyone raves about and which is only available through Apple. So yesterday I walked to the big-box retail jungle of the city’s east end, a 20-kilometre round trip, to buy an Apple TV box for Christine.
After I left the house, I noticed the first flowers on the western Canadian violet that covers the shady areas in our front yard. I also noticed some creeping bellflower mixed in with it. I hate creeping bellflower–it’s a terrible weed, and if left alone, it will simply take over–so I put the walk on hold and started pulling it out. I didn’t get the roots, so it’ll be back, but I didn’t want to disturb the violets and wild strawberries too much, either. Around the corner, a jackrabbit was sitting in the alley, inspecting the neighbour’s vegetable plot.
The street elms are beginning to leaf out. In another week or two, the streets will feel like green leafy tunnels again.
The path around the small end of the lake was busy. The Sikh community was having a parade, and there was some kind of run going on, and the usual cyclists and dog walkers and families were simply enjoying the sun. The big end of the lake, though, on the other side of the bridge, was, as usual, pretty empty, with just a few runners and cyclists on the path. I did see my friends Katherine and Paul-Henrik on their bikes, but I didn’t think to try to take their photographs.
I walked past an ambitious prairie restoration project that hasn’t worked out very well. Where the native grassland has been ploughed under, the soil is now filled with the seeds of invasive Eurasian weeds and agronomic grass species, and those introduced plants will outcompete indigenous plants every time–unless the restoration project is managed very carefully, which never happens. So instead of a field of June grass and little bluestem and blue grama grass, of gallardia and coneflower and asters, you end up with an expanse of quack grass and thistles. It’s almost inevitable. The lesson I take away from this sad truth: stop destroying native grassland, because once it’s gone, you can’t get it back.
I crossed the highway and walked along Assiniboine Avenue. It’s one of my favourite places to walk in this city, because the sidewalk turns into a gravel path, which reminds me of walking on similar paths along Spanish highways. It’s only 300 or 400 metres, but I like the relative softness of gravel underfoot, instead of pavement.
A footpath runs through a park from Assiniboine Avenue to Arens Rd., and I like that walk, too. It runs past a planting of bur oaks and along Pilot Butte Creek. The creek is very low this spring, because last year’s drought is continuing, but it still provides a home for mallard ducks and red-winged blackbirds.
I stopped for lunch and then pressed on to Best Buy. Then, with an Apple TV box in my backpack, I started walking back west.
I’ve been thinking about the difference between walking and driving lately, partly because at a symposium last fall, a colleague talked about his experience of the landscape being framed by the windshield of his car, and how that framing affects that experience. My immediate response was to think, “then get out of your car and walk,” but that’s not an option for most people. After all, walking 30 kilometres will take six or seven hours, but you can drive that distance in 20 minutes. So, given its slowness, given the physical exertion that it takes, why bother to walk? The answer, of course, is that you walk because it’s slow, because it takes physical exertion, but more importantly, because it allows for a deeper engagement with place, even a place as relatively unappealing as the suburbs of a small prairie city. In the glass and steel bubble of an automobile, you don’t hear or feel very much. Walking is very different. As I walked yesterday, I thought about what I was feeling and hearing and smelling, about the kind of sensory experiences I wouldn’t be having if I were driving. I saw the same things–the sky, the grass, birds, other people–but without the enframing a windshield creates. I heard birds singing, mostly red-winged blackbirds and grackles, and the omnipresent hum of distant traffic, and the constant sound of the wind. I smelled charcoal burning, as family picnics began around the grills provided by the park authorities. I heard my feet crunching on the occasional gravel path, the thud of the rubber tips of my walking poles on the more typical concrete or pavement, dogs barking. I felt the warmth of the sun and, simultaneously, the coolness of the breeze, and the heat and sting of blisters forming, followed by the explosion of pain when one of those blisters burst. Yes, nobody wants to experience that, but discomfort and fatigue is part of walking, too. Besides, I haven’t figured out how to toughen my feet so that they won’t blister except by walking.
I walked through the park (including a climb up one of the city’s two hills–the other is the landfill) and into my home neighbourhood. I bumped into my friends Kerri and Jess, who were out walking their dogs, but of course I forgot to take a photograph. “People should have to walk if they’re going to buy something,” Kerri said. “That’s how I stopped drinking pop when I was at university–there was just no way I was going to carry it home.” They carried on with their walk, and I limped home on my blistered feet, where I had a well-deserved beer and watched the last two periods of the Jets-Knights hockey game. Today, I’m going to have to catch up on the yard work I didn’t get done yesterday–and I’m going to have to set up the Apple TV thing–but all of that is a fair tradeoff for being able to walk across town yesterday.