Reading and Walking

Walking, Reading, and Reading about Walking

Category: Walking

Walking West, Once Again

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It’s the middle of June, and the forecast is calling for a hot and windy day, so I get off to an early start. Sparrows are chirping, and I hear children playing in a park. On Elphinstone Street, a dead squirrel, dessicated and stiff, lies in the middle of the sidewalk. At the corner of 13th Avenue, the crosswalk light is broken. Mosaic Stadium looms at the end of a side street. Two robins seem to be responding to each others’ songs. Are they arguing? Is it a competition of some kind? Or is it a duet?

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I’m not walking all that quickly, even though I’m not feeling particularly inspired this morning, and I think back to the day before last, and how quickly Christine was walking and how I had to work hard to keep up. It seems that this spring, because I’m walking slowly and taking notes and photographs, I’m not getting as fit as I might have done in previous years. Perhaps, like the writer Will Self, I’m not walking for fitness—that would be tedious, Self says—or for leisure, which would be “merely frivolous”; perhaps, then, like Self, I am walking “as a means of dissolving the mechanized matrix which compresses the space-time continuum, and decouples human from physical geography.”

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An astroturf lawn I’ve walked past before looks even rougher now, with dandelions forcing their way up all around the edges. Plastic grass: a bad idea. I press the begging button at Lewvan Drive and wait to cross. To the south, a digital billboard near the airport glows bright red, then orange. I cross the Lewvan and turn north. A circular saw whines. I follow the footpath under the Canadian Pacific tracks, past sweet-smelling poplars and gophers whistling in the dry grass. Across the highway, I can see the convention centre where the Saskatchewan Health Authority is preparing a field hospital for the anticipated second wave of Covid-19.

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Summer weeds—Canada thistle and goat’s beard—are growing everywhere beside the sidewalk. Outside a pink house with plum-coloured trim, I smell cigarette smoke. Dead cedar trees line a path to another house’s door. I walk past Luther College. A rabbit sprints across the road. A kid, sitting beside the sidewalk, nods hello. I start west, the long straight plod down Dewdney Avenue. It’s hot and humid, despite the wind, and I feel myself starting to sweat even though I’m walking in the shade of a row of half-dead Manchurian elms. A crow flies into traffic and somehow emerges unscathed. I notice a painting mounted on a bus shelter where an advertisement would normally go. At Wascana Creek, a red-winged blackbird clings to his perch in a tree despite the strong wind. Two geese and a clutch of goslings are swimming against the current.

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The sidewalk ends at the RCMP training facility. I think about the recent case where Mounties struck an Inuk man with their truck as part of an arrest, and wonder what on earth recruits are taught inside. I step on a realtor’s business card. To the south, a train on the CP main line sounds its horn. A row of streetlights clicks and groans in the wind. I hear a meadowlark singing in the vacant field that seems to be part of the RCMP grounds. A rubber glove is lying in the grass—an artefact of an earlier phase of the pandemic—and a magpie perched on a stump cries or laughs, ignoring the “No Trespassing” signs. Red caution tape tied to the fence blows in the wind.

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At Courtney Street, a cricket match is in progress in Sharp Park. Torn banners announcing homes for sale snap in the wind. The gusts are a lot stronger than the forecast I read this morning suggested; they threaten to tear my hat off my head, despite the strap fastened around my chin, and I take it off and stuff it into my bag. I duck behind the Westerra site office to take a pee. I’m hidden from the road, but then I realize I’m fully visible to everyone in a line of houses behind a wooden privacy fence. I hear another circular saw and catch the burnt wood smell that comes from using a dull blade. Tumbleweeds skitter across the road. Further west, the city’s bunker is silent for once. A baby crow, or perhaps a grackle, lies dead on the shoulder.

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My friend Glenn passes and honks. I turn on Pinkie Road. Real estate signs advertising apartments in Westerra have blown up against a chain-link fence. The pile of grain I saw a few weeks back has disappeared; maybe it blew away. Passing vehicles raise clouds of stinging dust. Finally I arrive at my destination: the RIIS burial ground. A week ago, I drove here early in the morning, before the wind came up, to record the sounds of birds and traffic for another project, but I didn’t bring any tobacco and I didn’t pay my respects. I haven’t felt good about that. It was extractive, even though I was only taking away a digital sound file, and Settlers need to learn to stop taking without giving back. That’s the reason I walked here today, despite the wind, to make amends for that extractive behaviour.

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The sign asking visitors to think about the children has fallen over and I set it back up. A rabbit leaps out of the ditch and scurries across the gravel road, and red-winged blackbirds fly towards me. I kneel on the ground and fish a pouch of tobacco out of my bag. I put some on the ground and am surprised that the wind doesn’t carry it away. I think about the children buried here, then I sit leaning against a fence post and drink some water. Across the road, a gas flare at the LNG terminal is blowing horizontal. The wind whistles in the power lines, but even so, it feels quiet and peaceful here. Maybe because I’m sitting instead of walking.

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I stand up and turn for home. Now I’m walking into the wind, and it’s neither easy nor pleasant. I’ve been finding the constant wind this spring scrapes at my nerves. I think about other seasonal winds—the Santa Ana in California, or the mistral in France and the sirocco in Italy—and how they are reputed to cause emotional distress. Maybe the wind that has been blowing almost every day this spring is affecting me the same way. I surprise a flock of grackles, which fly up out of the ditch into the air. At the corner of Dewdney Avenue, a man walks past—he’s been collecting bottles and cans for the deposit, it seems—and we wave at each other. Wind gusts threaten to blow me off the shoulder into traffic. I decide to take shelter from the wind at the Tim Horton’s at the Saulteaux Crossing gas station. I order a sandwich—maybe I’m getting cranky because I’m hungry, not because of the wind—and sit at a table. Am I going to keep walking, despite the wind? I decide to call home for a ride, but there’s no answer. I can’t sit at this table all afternoon, I think, and I decide to keep walking.

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The rest of the story of this walk threatens to become only about the wind. I stop taking pictures and notes and concentrate on holding my head so that the wind won’t tear my glasses away from my face. I walk past the industrial waste disposal facility and smell a chemical odour. What am I inhaling? I wonder. I turn onto 13th Avenue. Red-winged blackbirds flying above a slough are being blown backwards by the powerful wind. A train passes, heading east, hauling a line of double-stacked containers on flatcars that must be a kilometre long. A truck stops; the driver asks if I need a lift. I’m tempted, but I think about the pandemic and decide to walk instead of getting into a car with a stranger. “I’m okay,” I tell him. “But thanks for stopping.” I’m leaning into the wind as I walk, or stumble, up the gravel. My phone rings. Christine is offering to give me a lift. I tell her where I am and she says she’ll leave right away. I’m almost at the airport fence when she arrives. I realize I’m not that tired from the walk, or the wind, but that it’s just become too unpleasant to be out here. Without an alternative, I could keep walking, but it’s a lot easier to ride home in comfort.

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I look out of the passenger window and think about the land I’ve been walking on over the past few weeks. The Global Transportation Hub, the Regina Bypass, the Regina Indian Industrial School—they’re all about the land: who owns it, who controls it, who profits from it. That’s easy to see when we think about the GTH and the Bypass, but because the Industrial School was supposed to help eliminate Indigenous cultures and languages, it was also supposed to erase Indigenous people from this place, to void their claims to the land so that Settlers could occupy it without worrying about those competing claims. After all, once Indigenous peoples could no longer claim to be Indigenous, then their claims to the land would be forfeited. They would be just like Settlers, with no claim to the land that would potentially take precedence over the claims Settlers make with property deeds and land titles. That’s the argument Patrick Wolfe makes in an influential article on the genocide of Indigenous peoples in the Americas. “The question of genocide is never far from discussions of settler colonialism,” Wolfe writes. “Land is life—or, at least, land is necessary for life. Thus contests for land can be—indeed, often are—contests for life” (387). Rather than genocide, though, Wolfe prefers the term “logic of elimination,” because genocide can happen outside of settler colonial states (387). The “primary motive for elimination” of Indigenous peoples, for Wolfe, is simply “access to territory. Territoriality is settler colonialism’s specific, irreducible element” (388). “The logic of elimination not only refers to the summary liquidation of Indigenous people, though it includes that,” Wolfe continues; that logic “is an organizing principal of settler-colonial society rather than a one-off (and superseded) occurrence,” and that elimination can include activities familiar to Canadians: “child abduction, religious conversion, [and] resocialization in total institutions such as missions or boarding schools” (388). “Settler colonialism,” Wolfe argues, “destroys to replace”: it destroys Indigenous cultures and social structures and languages in order to replace them with its own versions (388).

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So the Indigenous presence on the land here, right here, was replaced—mostly—with farms and highways, with factories and an industrial waste disposal facility and a half-empty warehouse park. The Regina Indian Industrial School attempted to eliminate that presence in another way—by eliminating the Indigenous people themselves, by eradicating their languages and cultures, their spirituality and their connection to the land. It didn’t work, of course; the Saulteaux Crossing gas station, the Indigenous-owned Tim Horton’s where I ate lunch, the sign at the corner of Pinkie Road and Dewdney Avenue announcing that the land belongs to the Zakimē Anishinabek First Nation are all signs that the logic of elimination is imperfect and incomplete. But that logic is still in operation. Wolfe describes that logic, but he doesn’t explain how those of us who live in Settler states can break with that way of thinking, that ideology, and begin to make amends for our past behaviour. That’s the task ahead of us, though, if we’re going to live here in an ethical way.

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Works Cited

Self, Will. Psychogeography, Bloomsbury, 2007.

Wolfe, Patrick. “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native” Journal of Genocide Research vol. 8, no. 4, 2006, 387-409.

Walking Down Rotary Avenue

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When I started making these walks in April, spring hadn’t arrived yet; the trees were bare and the grass was still brown after the long winter. Now the city is green; the wild roses in our yard are in bloom, and our bur oak tree—always the last to leaf out—is bright green. Christine and I leave the house to walk to our allotment garden, and we notice a tiny bur oak seedling—probably from an acorn forgotten by a squirrel—is growing among the western Canada violet and solomon’s seal in the shade of the mature spruce tree in our front yard. Should we transplant it, or leave it where it is? Will it get enough sun? We discuss these questions as we begin our walk down the alley and through the neighbourhood to the pedestrian bridge over Wascana Creek. The neighbourhood smells of freshly mown grass. A Bobcat waits silently at the curb, and the elm trees create a lush canopy over the street. We hear a man whistling happily and tunelessly. On Hill Avenue, a city truck is watering the pavement, leaving behind a fresh smell, kind of like petrichor, but with an overlay of chlorine. We see a man sitting on the curb. He looks uncomfortable. “Do you need a hand?” we ask. Yes—he sat down to rest while waiting for a bus, and now he can’t get back on his feet. We take his hands and pull him up. He is grateful. As we walk away, conscious of the contact with a stranger, I open the small bottle of hand sanitizer I’ve been carrying in my pocket. “Don’t insult him,” Christine says. But it’s the pandemic—he would understand, wouldn’t he?

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At the garden, a woman asks, rather officiously, whether we have a garden plot there. Because of Covid-19, visitors are no longer allowed—a rule that must be difficult to police. That’s the reason for her question. I’ve seen her many times, and we’ve talked to each other, but apparently I left no impression. “Yes,” I answer shortly, and I carry on towards our plot. The corn is only a few inches high, but the potatoes seem to be happy enough, as is the chard. It’s been a cold spring, and very dry, so it’s a lucky thing Christine loves watering. She finds it meditative. I find it a chore, so we have worked out a division of labour. I weed, she waters. There’s no point watching Christine water the garden, so I say goodbye and head off on my walk. I’m on my way out of the allotments when I hear a bird singing happily and loudly in a tree. It’s not a song I recognize, and I take out my camera, hoping it might be a Baltimore oriole. We put out oranges in our yard to attract orioles, but none has visited. I approach slowly, trying to see who is singing. Despite my caution, I frighten the bird, and I catch a flash of reddish brown and a long tail as the bird flies to a distant tree. A brown thrasher, I decide.

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I cut through a parking lot to avoid walking on the edge of busy Pasqua Street—there’s no sidewalk, and it’s not a safe place for pedestrians—and notice a strange archaeological dig going on between the lot and the empty beach volleyball courts at the Rugby Club. What is happening? Why does there appear to be a barbecue grill poking out of the ground? I turn the corner and wait for the light to change so I can cross Lewvan Drive. I walked this way just a week or so ago. The billboards advertising the Harbour Landing development have not been repaired yet, and they continue to speak nonsense, but there are no picketers outside the Co-op supermarket today. Grasshoppers whir in the dry grass. I surprise two large jackrabbits, as big as dogs. Another lies dead next to the sidewalk—killed crossing the road. How did I miss that the last time I was here? A gopher whistles. Four more jackrabbits watch me, warily, from a field that seems about to disappear, if the heavy equipment parked on its edge is any indication. A grackle complains in a boulevard tree. I hear a turboprop taxiing at the airport. The neighbourhood is a strange mixture of things: houses, apartments, retail, a large business park—and, of course, the airport next door. I think about Garreau’s description of edge cities—the odd assortment of land uses assembled together—and realize that, in its own small way, Harbour Landing is an edge city.

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I turn onto Campbell Street and head north, towards the airport. Another rabbit suns itself in a greening field. An abandoned farmhouse warns trespassers about video surveillance; perhaps the owners are concerned that bored neighbourhood kids might vandalize the property. Red-winged blackbirds trill in a slough, and lights flash atop two cell towers. A Bobcat rumbles in a farmhouse driveway. The same rooster I heard last time is crowing. I can tell which fields have been seeded now; after last weekend’s brief rain, they are beginning to turn green. I think about what it means to be walking in my own footsteps. For years Nan Shepherd walked repeatedly through the Cairngorms, a mountain range in the Scottish highlands, and through that repetition, she came to know that place intimately. Her book about the Cairngorms, The Living Mountain, is a powerful evocation of that place. Could walking in the same way on these grid roads give me that kind of intimate knowledge of them? Would this space repay that kind of attention? I’m not sure. The Cairngorms are a marvel, a sublime gathering of mountains and plateaus, burns and lakes and valleys, apparently unscarred by the extractive economic imperatives of contemporary civilization. The edge of Regina, on the other hand, has been devoted to those extractive activities. On one side of the road, industrial agriculture; on the other, the airport; and, in the distance, trucks move along the Bypass and along Highway 1. This space is bounded by those highways. But surely the space I’m walking through has its own rewards: the cloudless sky, the western meadowlarks singing joyfully on the other side of the airport fence.

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It’s quiet: just the sound of my feet on the gravel, the birds, and the wind. Occasionally a vehicle passes. I notice a golf ball at the side of the road. It stands out from the usual empty coffee cups and beer cans. What’s it doing there? I kick a rusted pair of vicegrips off the road, mindful of the damage they might do if they were thrown up by a passing pickup truck. A killdeer tries to decoy me away form her nest in a field of stubble. A pair of grey partridges fly up from the ditch, and dogs bark at me from a farm just up the road—probably the same dogs I heard last time I walked this way. I hope they’re still tied up. Today the farmer is riding a quad around the yard, and we wave to each other. The old farmhouse that used to stand next to the new one has been torn down; just the basement is left. A dump truck is hauling in loads of dirt to fill in the hole. I can hear the Bypass now, a faint howl in the distance. There is a steady line of traffic heading south. Perhaps, as more people discover the new highway, it is getting busier; perhaps the Bypass is not an exception to the principle of induced demand. I turn on Centre Road and cross the overpass. A constellation of steel washers lies on the shoulder. Then I cross the road and walk down the offramp onto the highway.

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I hadn’t planned to come this way today, but it feels inevitable, walking here. If I’m going to study the Bypass by walking, at some point I was going to have to step onto it—or its paved shoulder, at least. The highway is now empty; that earlier traffic may have been an anomaly. The wind is getting stronger, and the sun is hot. Grackles creak. I pick up a galvanized nut belonging to a large bolt as a memento of my first steps onto the Bypass. Meadowlarks are singing above the wind. I stop to drink some water, and inhale the smell of a large manure pile in a pasture next to the road. A flock of red-winged blackbirds is sitting on the fence that surrounds that patch of grass. On the other side of the highway, a cyclist is heading north, slowly climbing the incline up to the bridge over the Canadian Pacific tracks, the only hill for miles. Two more cyclists follow. A grey partridge lies dead on the shoulder, its feathers blowing softly in the wind.

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I leave the highway at the Rotary Avenue onramp. Rotary Avenue is the main east-west street at the Global Transportation Hub, and there is an interchange on the Bypass to funnel traffic into and out of the development. The fields beside Rotary Avenue are empty but for dead grass and dandelions. Stubs of roads, blocked by concrete barriers, lead nowhere from Rotary Avenue. To the south, a locomotive shunts a few cars hauling containers onto the siding that serves the Canadian Pacific Intermodal Yard. The fields are crossed by deep drainage ditches, and a temporary sign announces that the land is for sale. Half of the land in the GTH has already been sold, it proclaims. I walk past the Loblaw warehouse and across Fleming Road. A sea of trash surrounds the Enterra waste transfer station. I thought there were rules about the kinds of businesses that were allowed to locate in the GTH; apparently, when the land didn’t sell, those rules must have been abandoned. Why else would SaskPower have been encouraged, or ordered, to buy land here? A row of concrete barriers blocks Rotary Avenue, and I walk past them to the end of the road. Rotary Avenue could continue further west. I’m surprised at the size of the GTH. When I walked here before, I crossed the north-south axis, on Fleming Road; the east-west axis, on Rotary Avenue, is three times as long, at least. It’s taken me some 45 minutes to get this far, and it’s clear that the GTH land goes even farther, past the end of the road: a right-of-way has been constructed, heading further west. I turn back and sit on one of the barriers to rest. The map on my phone tells me that Rotary Avenue—the part I’ve walked—is three and a half kilometres long, and I wonder how much farther the GTH goes. The official web site says that the development is 1,800 acres, and I’m starting to get a feeling for just how big that is.

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I finish eating the apple I brought for lunch and start walking again. On the way out of the GTH, I stop to look at the map posted on the sign at its entrance. Last time, I thought that map just exaggerated where companies were located, that it made them look closer together than they actually are, but now, after walking the length of Rotary Avenue, I realize that it indicates not just where companies are located, necessarily, but where they have bought land. There’s no sign of the SaskPower warehouses that supposedly sit where Rotary Avenue and Sharp Bay meet, nor is there any sign of Morguard’s building across from the Loblaw warehouse. SaskPower and Morguard might have bought land here, but they haven’t done anything with it. Is the purpose of that map to indicate which land has been sold, or to suggest what activities are going on at the warehouse park, who its occupants are and where to find them? If it’s the latter, then it’s extraordinarily misleading, and a worse attempt at deception than I had previously thought.

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I turn east on Dewdney Avenue. There are so many meadowlarks singing today, perched on wires or power poles. A hawk—maybe a Swainson’s, although I don’t know enough to be able to say for sure—is hunting gophers in a field next to the LNG storage facility. A cyclist passes, heading towards the city. I notice a jackrabbit, dead since last summer, on the shoulder. How did I miss that when I walked here before? I think about Nan Shepherd again, and the importance of repetition in getting to know a place, and realize that, in a small way, I am coming to know these roads by walking on them. My feet are sore—I’m not walking enough to toughen them up—so I head for the Tim Horton’s in the gas station at Saulteaux Crossing. I order an iced cappuccino—too sweet, as always, more like ice cream than iced coffee—and call Christine for a ride. She’s not home, and I wonder if I’m going to end up trying to find the capacity to walk another six or seven kilometres. Then, finally, she answers, and agrees to pick me up. I wait outside, on the concrete block that anchors the Esso sign. My friends Mark and Vonda stop to say hello; they are buying gas and then heading to Ogema, two hours southwest, to get one of the pizzas that village is famous for. A road trip: what a good idea.

Works Cited

Nan Shepherd, The Living Mountain, Canongate, 2011.

 

Walking to the Canadian Pacific Intermodal Yard

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I head west again. I’m trying out a different route today, walking south of the airport rather than north. I leave the house and startle a pair of mourning doves in the alley. A bold robin issues a challenge. In a sunny corner, ostrich ferns are poking out of a planting of juniper. There are signs of gardening everywhere, a side-effect of the pandemic. A passing driver smiles at me. Near the pedestrian bridge, I say hello to our neighbours, Brian and Judy. A cyclist is waiting at the other end of the bridge for me to finish crossing. I continue walking south. Thick drifts of elm seeds lie beside the curb. The sound of hammering echoes from both sides of the street; the pandemic is a time to renovate. A girl wearing a red bikini pulls the cord to start a lawn mower. In the playing field behind Lakeview School, little kids are playing a game together, cheered on by one supervising adult. Is this one of the few daycares still operating during the pandemic?

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In the front yard of a house, someone has built a small dirt track for mountain bikes; there are banked curves and moguls. I hear more hammering; an addition is being built onto the back of this house. A Bobcat waits silently in the backyard. Across the street, a leaf blower cuts through the quiet. A dog barks. I turn a corner and walk down an alley. A family cycles past. Two yellow warblers fly between the garages. A wheelie bin has been bandaged with gaffer tape. A plastic fence is broken, and a ruffled crow perches on a telephone line. A lawn is covered in dandelions; their seed heads are white in the sun. I walk past a fence, which smells like stained pine. Next door, I notice a curious homemade trailer, built around an upturned rowboat, as if someone had been inspired by the Peggotty house in David Copperfield. It has a flat tire. A man who smells like hand sanitizer walks past.

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I’m crossing at an intersection when I’m almost hit by a jeep; its driver isn’t paying any attention. He sneers, as if I’m to blame for his carelessness. A grey partridge scuttles across a lawn. A flock of grackles scolds a crow. Down the street, a pink pool noodle has been wrapped around the trunk of an ash tree on the boulevard. The sidewalk ends, and I start walking on the edge of the road, past empty playing fields and beach volleyball courts at the Rugby Club. Next to Lewvan Drive, a meadowlark is singing.

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It was calm earlier this morning, but now the wind is stronger and I’m walking right into it. Billboards, perhaps damaged by the strong winds, speak gibberish: “Now selling the final PhD.” Unifor members are picketing outside the big Co-op supermarket, and I stop to chat with one of them. I ask how long the lockout has been going on: six months. “I’ll never shop there again,” I say. “It’s no longer a cooperative,” the picketer replies. “It’s just another corporation.” I wish him good luck, and keep walking. A rabbit runs across the road, dodging traffic; in a vacant lot, it examines a stack of plastic sewer pipes and then hops away. Unconvincing plastic boulders have been placed in front of a new apartment building. A black pickup speeds past and makes a careless left turn. The sidewalk ends and I turn to walk down Campbell Street, a gravel road at the western edge of the Harbour Landing development. On the horizon, a red semi glides silently along the Regina Bypass. I walk past a farm. The road has been sprayed with oil here, to cut down on the dust from passing vehicles; there is a strong smell of tar. A rooster crows. The fields next to the road look like they haven’t yet been planted; are they about to be developed? A barn swallow flies low across the road. One of the native sage species—artemisia ludoviciana—is growing in the ditch. Gophers whistle and a killdeer cries. Birds sing in the windbreak around the farm; I smell lilacs but don’t see any.

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The road makes a hard left turn to skirt the south side of the airport. A city worker is sleeping in her idling truck. A meadowlark flutes beyond the airport fence. A tiny plane lifts into the air. I stop to look at a roadside memorial shrine: a stone cross; plastic flowers, animals, and birds; a beer glass; and one boot. I taste the dust raised by passing trucks. To the north, past the airport, a train sounds its horn: a long line of containers, heading west. At Courtney Street, the road is marked as Hill Avenue. The airport ends. The city ends. To the south, Courtney Street becomes a dirt road; a sign informs me that it’s “impassable when wet.” That’s not really a concern this dry spring. The fields on either side of the road have been seeded. There’s a farm ahead, and I hear an angry dog barking. Is it tied up? I hope so. Signs at the end of the driveway warn passersby to beware of the dog, but now it has fallen silent. Shrubs in the shelterbelt around the old farmhouse are in bloom; I look at their pink and white blossoms and wonder what they are.

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I’m getting closer to the Regina Bypass. I see the bridge over the highway that I’ve crossed so many times. The Westerra development is on the northern horizon. I see a sign marking the old Center Road; before the Bypass was constructed, this was the corner where I would turn towards the village of Pense, 25 kilometres west. A meadowlark is singing nearby. Beyond the Bypass, I can see the big white Loblaw’s warehouse at the Global Transportation Hub. I pause to drink some water. Over the rushing wind, I can hear trucks on the highway. To the north, an eastbound train is hauling potash.

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I cross the Bypass and trudge west. I can see stacks of containers in the Canadian Pacific Intermodal Yard. A pile of ashes lies beside the road. I turn north at Range Road 2210—otherwise known as Fleming Road—another dirt road that would turn to mud when it rains. This place is grimly unattractive; the fallow fields on either side of the road are the same colour as the dirt road I’m walking on. A dusty robin hops around. “tânisi, pihpihicêw,” I say. At the intermodal yard, I can see two large forklifts—they’re called “container handlers,” according to Google—jockeying containers around. A truck honks its horn, and the forklifts beep loudly as they carry their burdens from one place to another. They are tall and ungainly looking machines; they lift the containers from the top, using a giant claw. The constant beeping noises must drive their operators crazy. Without gantries, the Canadian Pacific Intermodal Yard looks temporary, even fly-by-night; there probably isn’t enough traffic here to justify the expense of building gantries. Containers are stacked three-high in a long line beside the railway tracks. There is a line of empty flatcars on a siding. A fence at the end of the road deters but doesn’t block access to the yard; I could easily walk around it, cross the tracks, and wander into the yard. A sign on the fence warns of video surveillance. I sit on a concrete barrier dropped in the road to deter drivers from getting too close to the yard and eat the apple I’ve brought. A red-winged blackbird trills and I hear another meadowlark. One of the forklifts drops a container onto a truck trailer with a screeching noise. I wonder what’s in those containers, whether they are full or empty, coming or going. There’s no way to tell from here. Trucks are picking up loads, then driving off. I try to record the sound of the yard, but it’s too windy, and I end up with nothing but a low rumbling noise. The forklifts move to a different part of the yard, and it becomes surprisingly quiet; the sound of the machinery blends in with the wind and the birds. The sun is warm. It’s peaceful.

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Then the forklifts move back closer to me, and the spell is broken. I drink more water, then turn to retrace my steps. My legs are stiff after my rest, as always. I notice wells for testing ground water. Discarded bottles of coloured dye suggest there’s been some kind of Easter egg party here. To the south, traffic is moving silently on Highway 1. I turn east. The only sounds are the wind and my feet on the gravel road. I can see the city on the horizon, with the Bypass in the foreground. A raven hovers on the wind. Two pairs of mourning doves fly up from the ditch, their wings squeaking, followed by a pair of grey partridges. I walk across the overpass. A police car speeds past, lights flashing and siren screaming. I hear another meadowlark. A flock of red-winged blackbirds is singing in an overgrown dugout. There are so many of them; every slough and dugout has its own population. I surprise a pair of ducks, which splash into the air. I cross the Canadian Pacific tracks. A towmotor is grumbling in the yard at Brandt Industries. I pick up a quartz crystal from the shoulder—discarded, perhaps, because its medicinal powers were exaggerated. An abandoned shoe lies next to the road. A plastic bag in a dry slough moves in the wind like a wounded bird.

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Walking West, Again

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It’s a breezy, cool, sunny day and I’m walking towards 13th Avenue. I notice a miniature Adirondack chair at the foot of an elm tree next to the sidewalk, and I’m reminded of the tiny chairs at the beginning of The Friendly Giant. Down the street, a lawn is entirely occupied by large rhubarb plants; a lot of pie gets eaten in that house. At 13th Avenue I turn west. A man is sitting on the library steps with his laptop, probably using the wifi. Across the street, a transformer on a power pole hums. Chokecherries are in bloom everywhere and the air is filled with their heavy, rank scent.

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The sidewalk is narrow, and I wonder if it would have been wider several generations ago, when my parents were young, before there was a demand for on-street parking. A robin sings. A volunteer Manitoba maple rubbing against a house makes a sound like a trapped animal. A scrap of cardboard, propelled by the wind, skips down the street. The wind seems to be coming from every direction. Creeping bellflower—this city’s buddleia—is everywhere it’s not supposed to be. As a gardener, I hate that plant, which is moving into the tiny prairie I planted when we bought our house, but at the same time, I have to admire its life force.

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I know where my walk today is likely to take me, so I’m wearing the high-visibility vest I bought at Lowe’s the week before. A woman waiting at a bus stop sees me and nudges her companion, and they both laugh. I guess the vest looks funny. A garage next to the sidewalk has colourful stucco, with shards of green and brown glass from broken bottles added to the stones. At Lewvan Drive, the light is green, but just after I step into the road it turns red. I’m not chancing the river of traffic here by jaywalking, so I turn back and return to the sidewalk’s shore. I push the begging button and wait.

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After I cross Lewvan Drive, I keep heading west. A man is cleaning windows, standing astride his step-ladder like a squeegee Colossus. At the edge of the city, the wind seems to pick up. It’s decided on its direction, blowing steadily from the west, and it carries the rotten egg smell of the creek. The off-leash dog park is almost empty. Grackles whistle and creak. The wind now smells like tar. A rusting bicycle wheel next to the creek that I photographed a couple of weeks ago is gone. Where did it go? Who would want such a thing? The freewheel has been left behind. I turn to continue walking and am surprised by my friend Mark, who has stopped to say hello. He was on his way to the Federal Express office near the airport when he saw me taking notes on the bridge over the creek. We walk together back to his car. “I thought you already walked this way,” he says. Yes, but I’m planning to turn south at Pinkie Road this afternoon. He asks where the Regina Indian Industrial School burial ground is, and I explain. Then he continues on his journey, and I on mine.

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Walking into the wind is like walking uphill, and I realize how unfit I am. Every winter I promise myself that I’ll go to the gym, and every winter I break that promise. I hate going to the gym, but I’m going to have to get over that feeling if I’m going to be able to keep walking. I walk past the garden centre. Its parking lot is full, as usual; everyone is gardening this spring. A train is approaching, a long, ponderous line of double-stacked containers slowly heading east. It has hardly passed when another eastbound train, this one pulling covered hoppers from the potash mine to the west, rumbles by. On the western horizon, trucks are silently gliding along the Regina Bypass and across the new bridge over the train tracks. A stack of railway ties on the other side of Pinkie Road fills the air with the smell of creosote. Swallows cast shadows across the road.

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The wind comes to define today’s walk. Its roar fills my ears. I get tired of holding onto my hat, and I take it off and put it in my bag. I bought it in Glasgow, and although it’s starting to show its age, I don’t want to lose it yet, and if the wind takes it, I’ll never see it again. Without the hat, though, I the top of my head sunburns: one of the dangers of walking while bald. Tumbleweeds blow past. Passing vehicles throw up clouds of dust and grit which the wind flings into my face. The wind gets stronger. The sand and grit stings. A pair of red-winged blackbirds plays in the wind, hovering and chirping. This isn’t Shelley’s west wind; neither destroyer nor preserver, it’s just a constant force, changing nothing.

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I turn south on Pinkie Road. The walking is a little easier, now that I’m not heading into the wind, but the gusts shove me towards the ditch. I’m leaning sideways. Someone has dumped a bushel of corn mixed with fertilizer on the shoulder. A blue plastic storage bin has blown into the ditch. When Pinkie approaches Centre Road, it arcs west, and I find myself walking into the wind again. On the overpass that carries Centre Road over the Bypass, the wind pulls at my glasses; it wants to tear them away and throw them onto the highway below. I’m bent double as I walk, like a wingwalker in a barnstorming show. I had thought that I would head up Fleming Road and take a look at the Canadian Pacific Intermodal Yard from the south, across the main line, but I decide I’m not going to walk into the wind any longer than I have to, and I turn south on Condie Road, towards Highway 1. The road is a gravel berm laid across the landscape, flat and straight. In a momentary lull in the wind, I hear a meadowlark singing.

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The wind is tiring, and I start singing to keep up my spirits. I startle two grey partridges, which scuttle into the air, complaining. Excess grain rots in a field beside the road; its plastic storage tubes have been torn open. A truck passes and I exchange a wave with its driver. I sit in the grass beside the road to rest for a minute. The city sits on the horizon: the glass towers of the downtown, the bronze dome of the Legislature, the university. Between here and there, in the middle distance, trucks move along the Bypass. A field of stubble is in the foreground. When I stand up to keep walking, I put my hand firmly on a thistle hidden in the grass. I keep walking. I pass the right-of-way of the Keystone pipeline and startle a jackrabbit.

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Earlier this week, I drove to Eastend, in the province’s southwest, to help a group of people maintain the markers that identify the route of the Northwest Mounted Police Trail, which ran between Fort Walsh and Wood Mountain Post between 1875 and 1912. My friend Hugh is the trail convenor, and he organized the work bee. As I drove out of the city, I realized that I hadn’t walked out to the complicated interchange where the new Regina Bypass meets Highway 1 west of Regina. That interchange is my goal today. That’s why I’m wearing the high-visibility vest: I know I’m going to end up walking on the shoulder of the highway, and the vest is a gesture towards safety. Condie Road doesn’t quite reach the highway, and I’m going to have to cross a ditch. I wonder how dry that ditch is going to be. When I get to the highway, I see that the ditch is wet. I can’t tell how deep the water is, and I walk along the edge of the field next to the road, hoping to find a place where it’s shallow. I give up and splash across; the water barely covers my boots. I walk east on the shoulder of the busy road. Two ducks fly out of a slough, and over the sound of the wind I can hear frogs singing there. Red-winged blackbirds and yellow-headed blackbirds chase each other.

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It takes a while to get through the interchange, mostly because I keep stopping to take pictures. The wind jostles me and it’s hard to keep the horizon straight in the viewfinder. I like a level horizon line, especially in this flat place. I notice a borrow pit—a hole where the soil used to build the overpasses was dug out—behind a fence; it’s filled with water. A remnant of the old highway is still standing between the onramps; it looks like a miniature asphalt-covered butte. Traffic roars past. Finally I’m clear of the interchange. Beside the highway, blue twine follows the shoulder for hundreds of metres. I wonder why its there. It comes to an end, eventually, but at the foot of a road sign, I see a large coil of it, and the trail begins again. I wonder what Theseus left a trail through this straight, flat labyrinth, and where the Minotaur might be hiding along these twin ribbons of pavement. Phil Smith’s mythogeography comes to mind, and I wonder if the Spectacle he writes about is a disembodied Minotaur. Later, I e-mail him to ask. No, he replies, the labyrinth is the Spectacle idealized, but it contains Minotaurs. I’m going to have to read Guy Debord if I’m going to understand mythogeography; that much is obvious. There are dark clouds on the horizon and I wonder if it’s raining in the city.

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I’m getting closer to the city’s new southwestern suburbs now. Each step I take is about a metre, so each kilometre I walk takes about 1,000 steps. I’m getting tired and I wonder whether counting my steps is reassuring or discouraging. Finally I’m at the city’s edge. Across the highway, earth-moving machines are flattening the already flat ground. At the foot of Campbell Street, or perhaps Courtney—the maps give one name, but the street signs another, not that there are any signs where I’m walking right now—somebody has driven through the signs and barriers that tell motorists that the road, which used to meet the highway, is closed; they’ve been smashed into fragments. I cross the ditch—dry, this time—and walk north. A wooden fence groans in the wind. I duck into the development: vacant lots beside new houses, with old-fashioned-looking carriage lamps for streetlights. Few contractors are working today. I’ve never been here, and I wonder how I’ll find my way into the city. Home is at least six kilometres away; do I have that much walking left? In a few minutes I’m in a different neighbourhood—at least, the streetlights are different—where all the houses are occupied. I cross the pipeline right-of-way again—it cuts right through the neighbourhood beside a park edged with boulders, where I consider taking a rest—and carry on walking east. I have no idea where I am, and I’m certain that I’m going to have to call home for a ride, which means I’m going to have to find a landmark where Christine will be able to find me. Then I see the roofs of the big-box stores on Gordon Road, and I walk through a linear park, built alongside a drainage ditch, to get there. Now I know where I am. I call home, and Christine agrees to pick me up at Lowe’s. I stand outside the store, watching two men rearrange a row of riding mowers, laughing and teasing each other. I realize how much I miss going to work, the casual encounters that used to shape my day. I count the number of shoppers who are wearing masks. Most aren’t. This city hasn’t been struck by Covid-19 the way Toronto or Montreal or New York have been, but we might end up being sorry for our carelessness.

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Walking to the Western Edge of the City and Back

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It’s a cool Sunday afternoon. I smell woodsmoke as I begin my walk. A family riding their bicycles on the sidewalk forces me into the street. I stop to admire tulips in bloom beside a mailbox. The same gardener has placed red flowers in an old, broken wheelbarrow. I wonder if they are impatiens—Christine has been looking for red impatiens at different garden centres but can’t find any—and recall the William Carlos Williams poem about the wheelbarrow glazed with rainwater. There is no rainwater here—it’s been a very dry spring—and if there were any white chickens, they would be in the back yard, behind the fence. The suspicious homeowner approaches and wants to know what I’m doing. “What are you writing down?” she asks. My answer doesn’t satisfy her. I turn away from her stare and keep walking. I’ve always wondered who lives in this bright pink house with the bright yellow chairs out front, and now I know.

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The heavy scent of chokecherries in bloom fills the air. I walk over the wide lawns of the park towards the creek. A northern flicker is in the grass underneath a spruce tree. Is it injured? I fumble for my camera and the bird flies up into the tree. Not injured, then. Few people are walking on the path running alongside the creek. Two male mallards land together in the water. A pair of kids is rollerblading awkwardly. Cyclists pass. A crow hops in the grass. In the willows where I once saw a hawk, sparrows and a red-winged blackbird are roosting. The dog park is now open, but there aren’t many people inside the fence. A train passes on the line that runs north of 13th Avenue and sounds its horn at a level crossing, heading west towards the coast. A gopher whistles. A handful of people are working at the community garden across the street. Another train approaches, heading east: a long line of empty covered hopper cars, marked with the logo of the federal potash exporting corporation.

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A group of men are playing softball at a groomed diamond; the clay infield is completely free of weeds. The garden centre where I bought tomato plants the week before is busy, the parking lot filled with cars. There is a sad line of chokecherries in front, next to a dead tree and two dead dwarf cedars—it’s too dry here for cedars—and a portapotty. Golfers are practicing at the driving range across the road. The province is reopening, and golfing is now allowed. I notice footprints in the soft gravel at the edge of the road. The wind rustles the leaves of a poplar tree. Someone has thrown packages of ketchup onto the shoulder. A runner passes me and we wave. The road is busy and I taste the dust of passing cars.

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I hear the first meadowlark of the day as I walk past the north edge of the airport. At Courtney Street, the city ends, and the road becomes a little quieter. I can see the Westerra development on the northern horizon. There is a farm between here and there. The wind picks up and the sky begins to clear. I listen to the rhythm of my feet crunching on the gravel. To the west, I can see the Regina Bypass. An injured bumblebee—perhaps stunned by a car—is crawling among the stones. A red-winged blackbird rests on the signal lines beside the train tracks. The wires are broken and some are touching the ground; I suppose Canadian Pacific doesn’t use them any more. Perhaps everything is wireless now. I stop to take a picture and startle two grey partridges, which scramble into the air.

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At Pinkie Road, I turn north into the wind. I pass the Agricultural Products Division of Brandt Industries Ltd. There is a heavy smell of rubber in the air. Is it coming from the farm equipment in Brandt’s fenced yard, or is it from the industrial waste management facility next door? A stumble over a truck mudflap lying on the paved shoulder of the road; it is surprisingly rigid. A stand of trees and a dugout mark the windbreak of an old home quarter next to the Saulteaux Crossing gas station. A pair of RCMP cruisers are filling up. Across the road, a Quonset and some grain bins wait to be demolished for the extension of Westerra. Behind me, I hear another train passing.

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North of Dewdney, Pinkie Road becomes gravel. Passing cars and trucks raise clouds of dust. I pick up what I take to be a hawk’s pinfeather. I see footprints again. They are my size. Am I following myself? A truckload of wheat has been dumped in a field of stubble; is it too weathered to sell? I walk over to look more closely at the golden hill. The dusty road allowance is marked with the footprints of animals and birds.

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I’m walking towards the Regina Indian Industrial School burial ground again. I wanted to try recording the songs of western meadowlarks again for another project, and since the last time I was here I heard them very clearly, I figure they’ll be here again. I’m disappointed; today the meadowlarks are silent, or elsewhere. The sign marking the burial ground has fallen over and I set it right. I put down tobacco and sit and listen to the red-winged blackbirds and grackles and the wind. The day before, I started reading Alicia Elliott’s memoir, A Mind Spread Out On the Ground, and I think about something she says about empathy in the essay “On Seeing and Being Seen”:

Empathy has its limits—and, in contrary to what some may think, it is possible to have empathy for a person and still hold inherited, unacknowledged racist views about them. How else to you explain the Canadian government’s apology for residential schools and pleas for reconciliation coexisting with its continued, purposeful underfunding of Indigenous children? (29-30)

Empathy isn’t enough, Elliott contends. Love is required, particularly if you are writing about a community (30). I think about the children buried here, and the distinction Elliott is making between empathy and love. Do I even have the right to come here, to apologize to these children, whose deaths were the direct result of colonialism and racism—both, as Elliott points out, characteristics of this country. After all, I’ve benefitted from that ongoing history. Every Settler has.

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I ask myself whether Elliott’s argument applies to places as well as communities. Do I love this place enough to write about it? I think I do, but it’s good to ask the question, to avoid becoming complacent about my relationship to the fields and the birds and the sky.

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I get up and start walking back south. I turn east on Dewdney Avenue. The city’s concrete bunker is still howling. A combine travelling west takes up the entire lane of traffic, along with the shoulder, and I step into the ditch to let it pass. The school bus that carries workers to the Global Transportation Hub goes by. I wonder what the workers at the Loblaw’s warehouse are paid if the company expects that they can’t afford to drive out to the GTH. At Courtney Street, the city begins again. I walk along the sidewalk. It’s quieter here, perhaps because the trees absorb the sound. A robin scolds me, and ahead I can hear an ambulance’s siren. I smell cooking and mown grass. At the bridge over the creek, a female red-winged blackbird is singing in a tree. I head south towards the footpath under the railway tracks. Lilacs fill the air with their hot scent. There are blossoming trees everywhere, it seems, along with robins keeping a wary eye on me. I smell someone’s Sunday evening barbecue: roasting meat and smoke. The pandemic can’t keep people from enjoying a sunny Sunday.

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Work Cited

Elliott, Alicia. A Mind Spread Out on the Ground, Doubleday, 2019.

Walking to the Global Transportation Hub

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I’ve spent a couple of days researching and writing about the Regina Bypass. From the outset, the purpose of this road, it seems, was to get truck traffic to the Global Transportation Hub. That’s it. Construction on the Bypass started in the west, in stages, before the government decided to build the southern portion and then, even later, to fold improved interchanges east of Regina into the project. The expansion of the Bypass helps to explain how the cost ballooned, from $100 million at the very beginning to $2 billion now—but only helps. At least $600 million is going to VINCI, the French company responsible for  operating and maintaining the Bypass for the next 30 years. Is that a good deal? From what I’ve read, nobody can tell. The point is that if I’m going to study the Bypass, I’m going to have to learn as much as I can about the Global Transportation Hub. I’ve been doing some research, but this morning I decided to walk out there and see what there is to see.

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It’s a good thing I’m walking this morning. I woke up out of sorts, and I’m hoping that a walk will improve my disposition.Once again, I commit an unpsychogeographical act: I check Google Maps to see how far I’ll be walking. Not only does it tell me the distance, but it directs me to a route I would never have thought of, through a neighbourhood where I’ve never walked. I put on my boots and set out. After the past week’s cold weather, this morning’s warm sunshine was a revelation. The elm trees are leafing out; there is a scrim of green on their branches. An old woman is raking straw at the vegetable garden in front of the Anglican church, and a bumblebee is fumbling about on a lawn covered in dandelions. A spindly shrub is starting to put out pink blossoms. Next to the sidewalk, I see a plot of rhubarb, raspberries, and horseradish.

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I turn down an alley, but it’s blocked by a Bobcat dumping dirt into a truck, so I turn back. A train horn sounds at the level crossing on Elphinstone. I decide to try a different alley. I see an old AMC Rebel, not much different from the one my mother drove when I was in high school. I see a baby robin in its nest waiting for a snack. On the corner, three men are tearing down an old wooden fence and loading it into a truck. Grackles creak. Robins sing. A house sparrow is resting on a purple martin house. A letter carrier climbs into his van and drives away. Dogs bark at my presence. In the back of a pickup truck is a pile of red tomato cages. A pair of jeans lies beside the curb.

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A red-winged blackbird trills behind me. I see an abandoned pair of winter gloves on the sidewalk and hear another Bobcat digging behind someone’s garage. A guy is fixing a flat tire. Dandelions are poking up next to a yard covered in Astroturf. I push the begging button at Lewvan Drive and wait to cross the highway. When the light turns, it gives me less than 30 seconds to walk across six lanes of traffic. I turn north and follow a sidewalk under the railway tracks next to the busy road. I had no idea that sidewalk existed. I stop under a poplar and inhale its scent. A cyclist passes. Later, I see the same cyclist come up off the Bypass and head back into town along Dewdney, and I wonder if he rode all the way around the city.

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At the corner of 11th Avenue, a portable sign directs people to a Covid-19 testing site. A woman standing in an alley blows her nose. Three men are roofing a garage across from a large seniors’ complex. A sign warns of slow moving equipment, and as if on cue, a Bobcat trundles towards me. A robin scuttles past a “No Trespassing” sign; it doesn’t apply to him. In the other direction, a city crew is patching potholes. A jogger runs past with a border collie on a leash. A mother and her two children cross the road. The infield of a baseball diamond is yellow with dandelions.

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I turn west on Dewdney, a long straight plod towards the Global Transportation Hub. I cross Wascana Creek; red-winged blackbirds are singing in the willows on the bank of the creek. A train sounds behind me. A single goose floats on the water. At the RCMP’s Depot Division, the sidewalk ends, but I keep walking on the lawn, green from recent rain. I notice the beginning of a desire path and think of Richard Long’s A Line Made By Walking. In the ditch, a crow pecks at something red; when I fumble with my camera, it flies off to join another, complaining. A sign from last year’s election is lying beside the road.

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At Courtney Street, the grass ends and I start walking on the paved shoulder. There are no more mature trees and the traffic seems louder here. There’s a park to the left, but a sign announced that the city has received an application to turn it into a “mixed use neighbourhood,” whatever that means. In the park, a fellow is practicing his golf swing and a woman is walking her dog. I see small footsteps in the wet gravel beside the paved shoulder. Meadowlarks and red-winged blackbirds are calling, and a family cycles on a path through a fallow field between the park and the new Westerra development. A sign invites me to build my freedom. Someone is throwing dirt over a fence into the ditch; at first I mistake the flying dirt for birds. I see the flattened remains of a rabbit in the road. Ducks take to the air. Another cyclist heads west.

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The strange windowless bunker that belongs to the city is still howling. I can see the Bypass now; the traffic on the horizon, the overpass ahead, just west of Pinkie Road. I notice a sign announcing the Saulteaux Crossing Business Park, which is owned by Zagimē Anishinabek First Nation. A liquid petroleum gas storage terminal is on the other side of Dewdney Avenue. Meadowlarks are singing; their song accompanies me for the rest of the walk.

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From the overpass, I can see that an interchange has been built to funnel trucks right into the Global Transportation Hub without having to travel on Dewdney. I can see the massive Loblaw warehouse facility in the Global Transportation Hub, too. Frogs are singing beside the Bypass. I look down at the highway. There seems to be as much traffic on Dewdney as there is on the Bypass. A raven croaks. Next to a cell tower, a strange black steel contraption sits; there are straps with heavy steel hooks on the end suspended from its vertical pipes, and the wind catches them, banging the hooks against the pipes with a clanging that sounds like church bells in Spain. I turn and look back towards the glass towers of downtown.

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I turn right and walk into the Global Transportation Hub. There is a lot of vacant land here. I realize that I’ve never liked the use of the adjective “Global” to describe this project. There’s a naive Babbitry in that word, a foolish boosterism, even a kind of ignorant hubris. In a globalized world, every transportation hub is global; every place is connected to every other place. A gopher whistles. Some politician came up with that name, someone who imagined that the word “Global” has some kind of talismanic power—someone who saw Field of Dreams too many times and thought, if we build it, they will come. Mostly they have stayed away. I think about Jane Jacobs’s description of “depot centres.” Regina has always been a depot, taking things made elsewhere off of trains and putting them in storage. How is the idea of the GTH an improvement on that notion? At the entrance, I see a sculpture: a tan shipping container stacked on a white one, its plinth. It announces the purpose of this place more eloquently than the sign, which announces “Canada’s Premier Inland Port.” I take a closer look at the sign. It includes a map of the development. Empty lots are coloured in to look like they are occupied. Maybe it’s just that the scale of the drawing is way off. I can’t be sure. Anyone looking at the sign could see all around it the empty lots it identifies as warehouses. It looks like a childish attempt at bending the truth.

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The warehouses here are featureless boxes without windows. They look temporary. Perhaps they are: structures that are bolted together can be unbolted again. When warehouses were built downtown, before the First World War, they were sturdy buildings made of brick and stone. Those buildings made an implicit statement: we are here to stay. Now that kind of brand identity is unnecessary. The point is to keep construction costs low. Besides, few people will ever see these buildings. Outside the Global Trade Exhibition Centre, a guy takes a handcart out of a van.

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There are dozens of trailers parked in the loading bays at the Loblaw Distribution Centre, and a row of white semis waits by the road. That building seems to house the only going concern here. Occasional trucks pass. It’s quiet. Maybe that’s because of the pandemic. A truck repair shop sits silently. A killdeer warns me away from her nest. On the other side of the Canadian Pacific Intermodal Yard, a long train loaded with containers is heading west, towards Vancouver. Geese sit in the empty fields of grass. Unlike the Intermobil terminal on the other side of town, the Canadian Pacific Intermodal Yard has no gantries. Instead, large tractors—like forklifts, except that they grab containers from the top with a giant claw—are moving cans around. Perhaps there isn’t enough traffic here to justify building a gantry. The road ends at the yard. Signs warn against trespassing. I think about the stories I’ve heard about railroad bulls and decide to turn around. I start walking north. Another tractor is moving cans around outside the Loblaw warehouse. A goose rests on the shoulder of the road.

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I turn back towards the city. Grackles are poking around on a recently seeded field. A dead jackrabbit, wearing its white winter fur coat, has been thrown into the ditch. The meadowlarks are still singing.

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Walking from León to Somewhere West of Astorga

The virtual walk through Spain continues. The sky looks like it might clear this morning, and if the rain stops, I’ll try to walk a few kilometres west to León.

Here are a few photographs I took on the actual journey several years ago.

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We met on Zoom Monday night—Tuesday at noon for Neil, who is in Australia—and we agreed where we would stop this week, but I can’t remember what we said! I hope my photographs haven’t gone too far ahead on the journey. Once again, I’m surprised by how few photographs I took. Even fewer were successful or worth sharing. I take more pictures now. I’ll take that as a lesson learned.

Walking North to Condie

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This morning I waited to set off until the temperature was well above zero. I was feeling rather anxious about this walk, because I knew I would be walking alongside Highway 11, and busy highways are dangerous for pedestrians. I’ve walked that way before; several years back, I walked 35 kilometres to Lumsden on Highway 11. It wasn’t a pleasant walk, and I’ve never done it again. I spent part of the morning checking maps, trying to see if there was another way I could get to the Bypass from here, but there really isn’t. So Highway 11 it was. Maybe it’s the pandemic, but I’ve been more conscious of my mortality this spring, and I’d rather not end my time here getting hit by a truck on the shoulder of a highway.

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Just after I leave the house, a car runs a stop sign in front of me. It feels like a bad omen. I consider turning back, but I don’t. I walk north on Albert Street. The vacant lots and empty storefronts on Albert tell a sad story. There are few pedestrians around. The sidewalks have been swept clean of litter and grit, though, and a flotilla of street sweepers passes. I stop briefly under a small basswood tree and drink some water. Fringed plastic pennants over a used car lot whisper and crackle. A train is heading towards the level crossing. I keep walking. The farther north I get from the city centre, the more activity I see. Here the city is alive. A man sweeps a parking lot with a push broom. My stomach tells me it’s lunch time, but I don’t feel like downloading an app and entering my credit card information just so that I can eat a hamburger standing in the cold. I walk up to a gas station. Maybe they have coffee or sandwiches, I think. No. The sandwiches look unappetizing, and there’s no self-serve coffee because of the pandemic. I carry on north to the bridge over the Ring Road. A gopher whistles. Jackrabbits are hiding in a copse of trees encircled by the off-ramp. They turn and run when they hear my footsteps crunching on the gravel shoulder.

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Albert Street has become Highway 6 now. Plastic trash has blown up against the bushes by the highway. There are houses to the left, and in one of the backyards someone is hammering. A small dog yips. The wind is cold. A grackle is squeaking. In the distance, I can see a new neighbourhood on the other side of Highway 11. Closer, to the left, new houses have been built right up to that highway. A dead squirrel lies on the gravel shoulder. Across the flooded ditch, a man is walking next to the fence separating the backyards from the highway. I wonder what he’s doing. He’s carrying a shopping bag. I am approaching the Highway 11 offramp. The steel mill looms across the highway, looking dark and satanic. Tumbleweeds blow across the highway into the path of a truck. The mill disappears behind the embankment of the overpass as I get closer. I walk up onto Highway 11. To the left are the city’s most northwestern neighbourhoods, where I’ve walked many times. The ditch is full of garbage: rusty steel, shards of plastic, shredded tires, cables, tarps, part of a wooden crate—all thrown there by passing semis, it seems. I think about Walter Bond, the cyclist Charles Wilkins met while he was walking from Thunder Bay, Ontario, to New York City. He had cycled across North America half a dozen times over the years—to Vancouver, Florida, Alaska. Wilkins says that Bond “made himself memorable by telling me that every time he saw a nail or piece of wood on the highway, he stopped and picked it up” (Wilkins 85). That’s because, during his cycling journeys, he had been hit many times, “by spikes, breaking glass, exploding tires, bolts, screws, and muffler parts” (85). Once he was blown off a bridge into a creek when a semitrailer’s tire exploded within a metre of him on a Quebec highway. “I’ve had industrial wire go right through my lip and break my teeth,” Bond told Wilkins (85). Because of those experiences, Bond made a commitment to throw highway debris into the ditch. Wilkins was so impressed by that story that he started doing the same (85). Maybe I should start following their example—not on this busy highway, though. I’m not venturing off the shoulder into the traffic here for any reason.

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The passing traffic is deafening, but when there’s a lull, I can hear the wind. The blast of a passing semi showers me with grit.  A faint smell of skunk is in the air. Across the highway a meadowlark is singing. A child’s wading pool lies beside the highway. An SUV veers towards me and the ditch, then corrects its course. I hear a train horn behind me. The wind shakes the grass beside the shoulder of the road. Farm equipment has left trails through barley stubble. The highway curves north, and I can see the Bypass in the far distance. A Swainson’s hawk on a power pole sees me and flies off, complaining. I walk past the old city sign, the one that uses the old city logo. When I walked to Lumsden, I sat in its shade and ate a sandwich. Another hawk is smashed on the roadway.

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On the horizon, I can see vehicles on the Bypass. It’s getting closer; I can almost read the sign announcing the exit to Moose Jaw. I pass under a crackling, buzzing high tension line and step over a discarded USB cable. A man’s shoe is lying on the shoulder. Across the highway, a seeding rig is making a turn, raising a cloud of dust from a field of stubble. Two ducks fly out of the highway’s flooded centre ditch.

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I’m walking beneath the overpass where the Bypass meets Highway 11. The Bypass seems empty. The noise of Highway 11 echoes off the overpass behind me. I see a yellow-headed blackbird resting on one of last year’s cattails in a slough beside the highway. Frogs are singing in the Condie Reservoir and Boggy Creek. A sign says that it’s 19 kilometres to Lumsden; I’m not even halfway there. A table leg is lying on the shoulder. Surveillance cameras are trained on the highway, and an electronic billboard refers motorists to the provincial government’s website for information on Covid-19. A giant black hat lies in the ditch near a truck’s mudflap.

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My goal is the Condie Nature Refuge. It’s there, on my left, on the other side of a fence. Birds are singing in a row of trees. The fence is broken and tire tracks lead from the highway into the refuge. Has someone been poaching ducks? I turn and look behind me. I can see the steel mill on the hazy horizon. I turn onto Highway 734. There is more traffic here, on this minor road, than there was on the Bypass. There’s no shoulder and I keep climbing down into the ditch to avoid oncoming traffic. I see an old flip phone, smashed, on the shoulder. Maybe a gangster decided to dispose of his burner. I turn south onto the range road that leads to the entrance to Condie. Robins and mourning doves and red-winged blackbirds call from a farm’s shelter belt. I hear a rooster crow.

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Then I’m at the entrance to Condie. The reservoir was constructed when a railway dammed Boggy Creek to provide water for its locomotives. Now the surrounding land is a park. I walk along the road. Horses are grazing in a field to my left. To my right, Boggy Creek winds its way along. I’m looking for a place to sit down; my legs are tired. I see a sign with a large sculpture of a crane and sit on the base. Something about the sculpture and the sign suggests a Centennial project. I listen to the birds and the wind and the distant traffic on the highway and wait for a ride home. After the deafening noise of the highway, it’s quiet. A bird in the tree behind the sign repeats the same questioning phrase, over and over. I wonder what it’s asking me. I turn to look at it, and it flies away.

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Work Cited

Wilkins, Charles. Walk to New York: A Journey Out of the Wilds of Canada, Viking Canada, 2004.

Another Walk to the Eastern Edge of the City

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I leave the house and walk north, towards Victoria Avenue. House sparrows are chirping in the cold air. At Victoria, I turn east. I’m going to walk in that direction, more or less in a straight line, for the next three hours. At the corner of Victoria Avenue and Albert Street, I pause in front of the city’s most famous vacant lot, the site of a failed condominium project which left a massive hole that the city had to pay to have filled in. It’s now fenced off, a gravel wasteland with big signs announcing it’s for sale. If at first you don’t succeed, try again.

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A heavy smell of pancakes and frying bacon fills the air, even though all of the nearby restaurants seem to be closed because of the pandemic. Where is it coming from? The seats and backs of all the benches in front of city hall ave been removed. A sign nearby says, “We Are All In This Together.” A long sheet of plastic hangs in a tree in front of the SaskPower headquarters, as if a guerrilla Christo has been at work. Across from this installation, a coffee shop is closed despite the handwritten “open” sign in the window.

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At the corner of Broad Street, a hotel announces that it is sending love to essential workers. What I remember as a print shop is now a detox centre. From a distance, I can see a thin layer of green on the branches of the street elms; close up, though, the branches look black. Maybe it’s a trick of the light. Pigeons are roosting on a roof. A lone sparrow is calling.

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An old frame duplex is being renovated. I mistake a plastic owl in a window for a cat. I notice an old house covered in red insulbrick; it reminds me of the house next door to my grandmother’s place when I was a kid. Insulbrick, I’ve been told, lasts forever because it’s made of asbestos. The next block is lined with houses that look abandoned.  A barking dog beside one of them startles me; clearly the houses aren’t empty, even if they look that way. On the corner of Winnipeg Street, a man is digging a hole in the sidewalk in front of a building that used to be a bank. The Milky Way is open, but it’s too cold for ice cream.

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A temporary fence surrounds a vacant lot. Dandelions are in bloom. The stores and restaurants here are owned by newcomers to the city: an African grocery, and Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Indian restaurants. The massage parlours have been closed because of the pandemic. I hear a man’s voice in the distance, broadcast through loudspeakers or a megaphone. Where is it coming from? I wonder. Could it be the auto auction I’ve walked past over on Arcola Avenue? A nightclub resembling a concrete bunker stands across the street. In front of a rundown house, two young dogs are on guard duty, barking behind a makeshift fence. Around the corner another dog barks at me. I ask myself if the dogs and fences are a symptom of the city’s problem with property crime.

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I cross Arcola Avenue. The sound of the auctioneer is clear now. I can hear every word he says—“and now lot 70, a 2017 Dodge Ram pickup truck”—but no bidders are visible. Maybe they’re inside the building, I think, but if that’s the case, why broadcast the auctioneer’s voice throughout the neighbourhood? East of Arcola, Victoria Avenue is a broad avenue with narrow sidewalks and few trees. This is the neighbourhood that the ceramicist Vic Cicansky writes about in his memoir. Now, though, the side streets appear to be mostly industrial; I can’t see any sign of the community where Cicansky grew up. I arrive at Park Street. The building that houses the local newspaper has been leased to other businesses. There are few reporters working there now, and the presses are gone; the paper is now printed in Saskatoon. A billboard announces that it knows our names. I cross onto the service road and walk past a McDonald’s. A man stands outside, waiting for his food. I can smell frying fat. Behind me, a threatening ridge of cloud is moving in from the west. It looks like it might snow. The frying smell is making me hungry, and I eat a granola bar. A gopher whistles. The service road loops underneath the Ring Road. Victoria Avenue is now a busy highway. I wouldn’t care to be walking there; I’m glad for the service road.

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East of the Ring Road, a trailer park stands next to a hotel. Birds sing in the mature trees of the trailer park. There are six lanes of highway here, in addition to the service road, but apparently it’s not enough; one of the rationales the government gave for the Bypass project was traffic congestion. Across the highway stand big box stores and a mall; on the north side, where I’m walking, there are fast food outlets and small plazas. Denny’s is offering a 20 percent discount on takeout and delivery. I’m surprised to meet three other pedestrians. Behind me, I can see the city centre on the horizon.

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There is no crosswalk at Fleet Street, and the sidewalk ends immediately to the east. Pedestrians are not welcome here. I continue my way through parking lots and along the edge of the road. The edge of the city is getting nearer. The temporary bridge over Pilot Butte Creek is closed to vehicles and pedestrians, and I follow the detour beside the highway. Sparrows are sitting on the bridge’s deck, and pigeons are roosting on the supports underneath. A pedestrian heading west ignores the signs and crosses the bridge anyway. I could have done the same. Next time I will, too.

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The service road veers north, and I follow, rather than taking my chances on the side of the highway. On the other side of the path, someone is walking a dog along a bicycle path. Houses stand in the distance. I smell diesel exhaust and wonder why I haven’t seen much litter on this walk. A meadowlark sings on top of a spruce tree across the street. I cross Prince of Wales Drive. I’m at the edge of the city, or at least what used to be the edge of the city; it has sprawled further east in the past few years. The service road turns south. It’s lined with empty-looking hotels. I walk past a mosque and a farm equipment dealer. A cigarette package expresses an unmistakeable sentiment.

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The Bypass, or at least part of it, is now visible on the horizon. I pass an RV dealer and a school for truck drivers. Another sign announces a redevelopment opportunity. Across the highway there is a large retail development and a new multiplex. I hear scraps of a meadowlark’s song through the traffic noise. The wind is picking up. I walk past a television station and the tall antenna mast that gives the road I’ve just crossed its name. I cross the Canadian National siding that leads to the Intermobil terminal. Everything seems abandoned, despite the traffic speeding past on the highway. Maybe that’s because it’s Saturday. The wet ditch is filled with garbage. No frogs are singing. Perhaps it’s too cold. A robin flies across the road, its mouth filled with a bundle of grass for its nest. Across the highway, near Costco, a meadowlark is singing. A cyclist passes me. His clothes and his backpack suggest he’s on his way to work somewhere. A grackle—I think it’s a grackle—makes a sound like a rusty gate opening. I hear a train in the distance, sounding its horn at a level crossing.

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Ahead is the interchange where the Bypass meets Highway #1. A red-winged blackbird stands on the shoulder of the road in front of an equipment dealer. A large muskrat is swimming in the flooded ditch. Two shovel headed ducks—a male and a female—fly up from the slough. I try to take a photograph of the interchange. It’s not easy: it’s too big, for one thing. The light is now behind the overpass. Maybe if I started from Emerald Park or White City early in the morning and walked west I could get a better picture. I call home and ask Christine to come and get me. If it weren’t so cold, and if my feet were tougher, I could turn around and walk back, but I feel I’ve accomplished what I set out to do on this walk.

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A yellow-headed blackbird chases the red-winged blackbirds out of the slough. A cyclist is heading west; we wave at each other. An orange cat is hunting on a farmhouse lawn. The farm’s dog smells me and barks an alarm. The Pilot Butte interchange is in the distance. I can see the new gas station there. A flock of grackles feeds in the ditch. Another meadowlark is singing.

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Walking East to the Bypass

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It was a warm spring day. The sun was bright and the sky was filled with cumulus clouds. I headed east. The city wasn’t revealing itself to me today. It seemed to be hiding. Perhaps some walks are that way. I passed three boarded-up houses, much the same as ours, Craftsman bungalows waiting to be demolished and replaced with something new. Another house was flying a Mexican flag from the pole out front.

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I turned south. An idling Harley-Davidson filled the air with its rumbling. Landscapers were building a front sidewalk. I could smell gasoline. I walked through streets of so-called “wartime” houses, prefabs built for returning veterans in the late 1940s. Dandelions were blooming on the edge of a lawn. New grow boxes, not yet filled with soil, were being installed in a front yard; someone is using the pandemic to take up gardening. A demolished porch was waiting to be hauled away.

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Grackles clacked in a hedge, and a robin sang for a mate in a tall tree. Ducks flew past, low, in formation; I could hear the whistling sound of their wings. I was thinking that it’s easier to find curiosities in alleys than in streets when I came upon a clawfoot tub, painted pink, lying on its side next to someone’s driveway: a pink beached whale, a queer miniature Ahab’s obsession, an odd object.

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I passed a young woman walking a beagle, and it reminded me of my father, who loved his beagle. Every night, after supper, he would walk with her to the corner store, where he would buy a cigar, and some gummy bears for the dog. The treats didn’t do either of them any good; the poor dog got fat and her teeth rotted. Still, I have a soft spot for beagles. Pilot Butte Cree is nearly dry, despite two days of rain. I wonder if it will have any water at all by August. Red-winged blackbirds were calling.

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I crossed Prince of Wales Drive. A crow was resting on a streetlight. The Angel Moroni was still blowing his horn. I could smell paint. A merlin screamed. The sounds of two lawmowers converged, a harmony of lawn care. I carried on into one of the city’s newest neighbourhoods, The Creeks. The houses were earth-toned boxes. Kids were skateboarding in the park. The young trees gave no shade. I saw the intersection of Chuka Drive and Chuka Drive, and the world began folding in on itself.

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I walked out to the highway and carried on southeast past the Bypass. I was just here, not a week ago, and I wouldn’t usually repeat part of a walk so soon, but I had a specific idea in mind: I wanted to sneak up on the point where the Bypass crosses Highway 1, and I wanted to see the intermodal terminal. There was a smell of cedar mulch from bushes planted behind a deer-resistant fence. Despite the rain we’ve had, the slough beside the highway was nearly dry. No frogs were singing and only one red-winged blackbird trilled from one of last summer’s cattails. The streetlights around the Bypass cloverleaf were on. A hawk roosted on a streetlight, and trucks thundered south on the overpass.

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Beyond the Bypass, frogs were singing in a wet ditch. I tried to record them; when I stopped walking, they went silent. After a minute, they started again, and my second attempt was more successful.

I made a wrong turn and retraced my steps. A strange illusion: I saw someone sitting in the passenger seat of a junked car rusting away behind a windbreak, along with farm equipment and a pickup truck. I heard the first meadowlarks of the day singing. A fire was burning in the far distance, sending a column of smoke into the air.

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A duck was swimming in a dugout. I saw a footprint on the gravel shoulder and was no less surprised than Robinson Crusoe: I was following in someone else’s recent footsteps. The traffic noise receded behind me. I walked up to the Intermobil terminal. Only one gantry was working; the other was silent and still. A man’s voice came over the PA system, making chicken sounds. Who was the target of his mockery? A rabbit bounced over the grass. A sign announced the Chuka Creek Business Park. That name is all over The Creeks. Who is, or was, this Chuka? Another sign touted “industrial condominiums.” Across the street were two inland terminals, side by side, separated by a field of rusting containers on which pigeons roosted. In the distance, I could see the complicated interchange of the Bypass and Highway #1. A row of baseball diamonds was on the other side of the Bypass, with houses beyond that. To the west, I could see the city’s downtown. A meadowlark was singing on a rusting earth mover. A goose waddled along the railway track.

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A slough hosted more frogs, ducks, and red-winged blackbirds. It was quiet; the traffic on the Bypass was surprisingly silent. A cyclist was heading north on the Bypass. Rusting equipment filled a junkyard across the road; another—perhaps the same one—sat across from an RV park. What a place to vacation. A sign protested the Bypass and its cost.

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I was tired, and my foot hurt—maybe I’m wearing the wrong footwear—so I did a most unpsychogeographical thing: I opened Google Maps. It was 7.5 kilometres to Emerald Park, where I had planned to call for a ride home: too far for a tired walker with a sore foot. Perhaps I need to be wearing different boots. I couldn’t get close enough to the point where the Bypass meets Highway #1 to get a decent photograph; I’ll have to figure out another way of getting there. Perhaps the service road north of the #1 goes that far. Soon I will find out.

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