The Place We’re In, Up Close and Personal

By | May 14, 2015

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Initially published as a column in the AM News on Friday May 8, 2015. 

Have you ever seen a bee napping in a clump of flowers? We have, my youngest son and I, as we were walking to the bus stop on our way to school today. Just a very sleepy bee, its will to fly conquered by the brightest morning sun we’ve seen in the last few days.

‘Will you write about it, Mom?’ I promised I will.

You see, we now make our way to school every day from up on the hill to the downtown, and every day comes with its own novelties. We add to it all by reading on the bus. He snuggles close and we step into a world of wonder. Black Beauty, Robinson Crusoe, The Last of the Mohicans and King Arthur and Robin Hood, they join us to and from school every day and give us countless topics to discuss.

Honour, compassion, empathy, meanness, values and principles, the ‘why’ behind so many human actions, and all the questions we still have to find answers for regarding human nature. It’s a wild ride, no pun intended.

I am an outspoken advocate of reading quality books, which leave you richer and better for having read them. I do believe, as Iranian-born, Canadian philosopher Ramin Jahanbegloo said, that ‘A mediocre book has nothing to offer to its readers, no matter how close we read it.’

Children’s reading choices have diverged tremendously over the years and some does not qualify as quality reading, which is a shame, because children are eager to learn about the world, past and present, and they are have questions, many, which increases their appetite for free thinking. Much needed in today’s changing, trend-dominated world. But that is the topic for another column.

On my way back, I walk, instead of taking the bus. I choose quiet streets over busy ones, and spring makes every step worthwhile. The world is alive and blooming, and I am there to see it. I listen to books most times and then I walk listening to the sounds around. It’s a revealing trek every time with certain addictive features that make me look forward to the next day’s uphill walk, rain or shine or blustering winds, as it was the case two days ago.

But, as they say, the path reveals itself every day anew. Some streets are simply raucous: waves of heavy trucks roll so close and fast on the road, it feels like they’ll peel you right off the sidewalk, and then, the dust… it makes the air hard to breathe, which makes that perfectly blue sky and crisp morning sunshine a great tease. The city feels, at times, and looks like it’s drowning in fumes and noise. We breathe walk and live next to all of that.

It’s a shame that it has become this way, as walking should be a common thing (along with cycling, and commuting by transit when needed). I am partial to that sense of belonging to a place that sprouts from the nod and smile I get (and give) to my fellow town trekkers. Cyclists too, they nod too. Presence, I like that.

When on the bus, we greet, smile to people and say thank you for the ride. The driver always acknowledges that. We share the place for part of the way and that creates the ‘together’ we all need to be safe and have the said sense of belonging.

In my quest for avoiding busy streets, I have come to discover various trails that take me downtown but in a more, well … hobbit-ish way. Snaking among trees and overwhelming lilac bushes, the dirt paths I take add colour to my daily walks. They connect this street to that and create the feeling of a world apart from the one we’re used to by living in the city.

BlueThe other day I came across some larkspur shining blue among tall grasses, and just a few steps up the trail there was a woodpecker proudly wearing a fiery red tuft and pecking at an old birdhouse. I’ve never seen one so close; it makes for a quiet reappraisal of how we could, if we wanted to, have a place that would foster reminders of life and, most importantly, life beyond the city limits.

If more people see, through the eyes of those who venture out first and then through their own, we’d all join in finding ways to make the city a good place to be when you choose to travel on foot, bike or by bus.

A place where such activities are encouraged and shared becomes a safe place or be where the motivation to make it better, for everyone’s sake, not just on an individual basis, grows with each step we take off the beaten path.

I will soon walk downhill through the dry midday sunshine, King Arthur and his valiant knights tucked in my backpack, ready to pick up my son and have him snuggle close so we can read further.

Before we do that though, we will walk hand in hand to the bus stop and maybe, just like yesterday, someone will be there playing a harmonica and carrying an old violin and we will smile and say hello, and later on my son will wonder about the story that person carries along… I will too, and that will expand my horizon even more, to include understanding and the need to see the human to see what human is, yet another perk of walking and taking a bus rather than driving.

Every time we get off the bus and call it a day (transit-wise) I feel richer in the best possible way. Such are the consequences of acquiring more. Knowledge and experiences that is. Even when I’m in a rush, as long as I am on foot, the world appears closer and the colours are more intense. I assume that is part of making it personal.

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