Sunday, November 25, 2012

Walking ForThe Moment

Walking serves a purpose. As humans the peripatetic mode of transportation is the natural set of events that starts us off in one place and sees us arrive at another. According to Rebecca Solnit in her book Wanderlust: A History of Walking, walking shows us 'the sense of  place that can only be gained on foot." So what of that space in between the destinations? That space when covered by air, train, car or bicycle becomes a blur. It becomes merely the scenery we pass in our rush through life. It rests as that space in our lives that we may never know.
That space however is alive. It begs to be explored and to be appreciated.
Walking is the most basic means of connecting with your surroundings. Walking allows you to be in the moment by awakening your senses and thus making you feel truly alive. Other, faster modes of transportation offer at best a glimpse of the beauty and wonder that the world has to offer. We see this too in those tours that shuffle you from one sight to another stopping only for five minutes at a time to snap pictures before being herded back onto your mode of massive movement.

A view of the Southwestern desert landscape from an airplane.
Tours and rapid transit tease us, offering a cursory experience that fools us into believing we have truly participated in the heritage, history or holiness of a sight.
Travel leaves me hungry. It is not enough to witness the world through window panes and with my nose pressed upon glass barriers on buses and in museums.
Travel stirs my curiosity. Why do desert landscapes call to me? How do I begin to follow the scents of markets, damp streets and exotic foods?
I get off the bus and walk.
Not only did I see all of this on Mulberry St. NYC, I also heard, felt, smelled and tasted all that this neighbourhood had to offer.
I have been fortunate over the years to have walked many places.When I was young I walked the beaches and cobbled streets of Europe. I walked up the Klein Matterhorn in Switzerland one summer day breathing in the sweet grass and flowers and stopping to taste breads, cheese and warm milk just like Heidi did. More recently I walked through New York City neighbourhoods, their flavours seeping like osmosis into my consciousness through the very act of being there. I fingered smooth marble edifices and pages upon pages of familiar books in the public library.
I walked the Strip in Las Vegas. Not only did I see the fountains at the Bellagio, I felt the cool mist under the midday summer sun. I could hear the music and smell the sweat of the world as it raced by.
I walked the desert floor for the first time, sinking to my knees in awe of the red desert sand which I promptly let sift slowly through my fingers. I was keenly aware of the give and take mother nature has to offer as little lizard eyes cautiously took in my presence, living their own life moments.
At one with my environment.
Even the briefest of walks can consume one's senses. A quick walk through Philadelphia introduced me to the sounds of its street musicians and to the taste of its famous cheese steak.I looked into the eyes of a homeless woman on the streets of Philadelphia and saw as she grew tall, confident, even eloquent after I shared my food with her. The human connections are just as important through life's journeys as the ones we make with the natural world.
Man meets nature in Washington Square park NYC.

I don't just imagine the feel of this grass against my ankles and the smell of the cool salty ocean air. I was there with my kids exploring the Eastern Canadian seaside together.
Being 'there' wherever that may be ignites the reality of my life and all its passions.
It is the holistic experiences that teach us the best. Do not be content to look at life through someone else's lenses. Go for a walk. Feel your way around the world you are making for yourself.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Walk Through the Urban Landscape

Today I walked under a sun shrouded in a grey winter cloak. Old man winter threatened no snow but instead let loose the occasional warm ray of sunshine which suspended in me the reality that the night before I had been witness to the annual Santa Claus parade. The path I followed today was neither flanked by gritty snowbanks nor puddles of frozen rain, but by rich green grasses and mournful marshland. I listened for the sounds of the birds, the hum of insects and the croaking of frogs that inhabit these lands but the only thing I could hear was the rush of traffic.

Fall and Winter are unseasonably late this year. It is an unnatural cycle that has Mother Nature grumpy and unforgiving as she denies us our snow days and toboggan runs. She doles out long hot days of drought and punishes us by shifting natural disasters to new, more civilized coordinates. She is working hard to communicate to us our role in her madness.

Looking past the marsh towards new neighbourhoods.

Climate change.
It was on my mind as I ventured out of my neighbourhood, once farmland and orchards, home to many species of wildlife, and onto Princess Street; that strip of asphalt that supports concrete and brick and where trees and flowers are for decoration not sustenance.

I followed the road west towards the wetlands that once spread out in a vast tract of open space but which now winds a narrow path past subdivisions and industry. I traversed a bridge that covered a line of railway tracks and wandered down along a stretch of road where I once watched deer and foxes run. Now my view is of row upon row of matching rooftops.

Railway lines. The original fast track to civilization.

Bilboards in the marshlands reminding us that civilization is ever present.

Housing developments and big box shopping centers continue to plow through perfectly profitable lands clearing out our memories of the trees we used to climb and the streams we used to ford.
New memories crop up everyday; watching my neighbours cut down trees because they ruin sight lines and closing my windows when the neighbours spray their lawns because I believe if I can smell the chemicals I must be breathing them in. I miss the old days.

In the distance you can see the row of stores that outline a big box center.

I walked on along a soft gravel shoulder. To one side of me were thick patches of grass littered with coffee cups, cardboard and even an oven dial. A train sped by with blank faces bored by the usual sights along the line between Ottawa and Toronto. The other side was a four lane road and a sidewalk. I passed a hole in the ground where once there stood a hotel. Mother Nature isn't the only one changing our view of the world.

Notice the path of the jet. These buildings are brand new.

I took a deep breath and was surprised to find it cool and sweet. It powered me as I clipped along determined to finish this walk despite my aching feet and weary legs. We worked together Mother Nature and I. The sun grew stronger and so did I. She encouraged me and I thanked her.

I walked 4.43 kilometers today. I am proud that the only fuel I used was my passion for this project. The only energy I expended came from me as the only resources I drew upon were initiative and determination.

The urban landscape is the land of opportunity, not only for those in search of a specific civilized lifestyle, but for others like me who search for those paths, original or otherwise, that lead to a richer understanding of our relationship to the earth we walk on.

Follow the link for a birds eye view of my walk today.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Walking The Perimeter

Dreams are big. So big that they seem intangible; impossible to reach and so expansive that they cross past our periphery and beyond the perimeters of our comfort zone. It is easy to let our dreams live on without us. It is easy to set goals so far into the future that our subconscious is satiated with the knowledge that there is a better chance of our dreams meeting us at the door than of us having to get out of our lazy-boys and work for them.
I have a big dream. It lies on the other side of the ocean. It will take a lot of research, planning and work to get there but the groundwork has been laid; part of which is to share my dream through this blog. My dream involves a long walk through unfamiliar territory in an effort to get to know myself better. This blog is my attempt to get off my couch and get moving in the direction of my dream. My first step? Literally out my front door.

My first steps take me out onto my street.

Walk out your front door and what do you see? Does your view encompass any of your dreams? Does what you see satisfy you or do you look around and think that maybe there is something more to life. Maybe your neighbour's grass is greener. Maybe you see a river or lake in the distance and it reminds you that you were going to one day buy a kayak or learn to scuba dive.
What we see can tell us a lot about ourselves. I dream big every day. So big that my neighbourhood is but a speck in my scope of the world and all that it has to offer. With that in mind I decided to walk the perimeter of my neighbourhood. I thought maybe I would come to understand something more about my life if I could map out my environment.
My neighbourhood is bound by four major throughway's that criss cross the city. I decided to start on Sir John A. Macdonald Blvd and walk north towards the 401 highway. This piece of land just beyond my cozy little suburb is industrial and exemplifies the nature of urban sprawl. The roads are being widened and there is construction everywhere.

Me and Dominoe just beyond the perimeter of the neighbourhood

 After half a kilometer I reach John Counter Blvd. which leads me west towards the marshes and the train station. Looking north the view is barren peppered with small industrial business and a gas station. Looking south I see a fence that guards the backyards against the unknown. And traffic.

I keep walking. The day is unseasonably warm. The trees are bare and the fallen leaves are turning from red and orange to a dull brown and grey. The sky is a brilliant colour that does not match the mood of this landscape.Walking this route is surreal and lonely on this quiet Sunday morning.

One of the fences along the perimeter.

The western view is lonely despite being in the heart of the city.
The road is bound by marshland and a freight train rumbles across in the distance.
I have now walked two kilometers and I turn south to walk through a park at the corner of  John Counter Blvd. and Portsmouth Rd. Finally I see some green space. A wide expanse of soccer fields and playgrounds ringed by solid little brick bungalows.

Park land.
I walk a kilometer of Portsmouth passing homes, a bicycle shop and a popular local restaurant until I reach Princess St. The foot of this street begins lakeside and stretches out past the west end of Kingston. It is the magnet which draws in crowds for parades and downtown shopping and it is the finger that reaches out to the sprawling suburbs and big box malls. The one kilometer stretch that runs parallell to my neighbourhood houses everything from a denture clinic to a convent, insurance offices, stationary stores, pet shops and hotels.

The sun's rays shine upon the Sisters of Providence Convent.

A bus stop in the foreground and businesses in the distance.
 My neighbourhood is small but there is a lot to take in. I stop every few minutes to snap pictures or to jot down notes and I wonder how will I possibly traverse the northern tip of Spain in the space of a month. It takes me one hour to walk four kilometers at this rate. I am moving slowly and the usual meditations that accompany a pedestrian are absent. These are logistics I will have to consider while training for my pilgrimage.
I turn back on to Avenue Rd. which runs parallel to Sir John. A. and takes me into my neighbourhood.

A quiet street.
 I realize with awe that my little neighbourhood leaves me wanting for nothing. Or does it?
I can buy my groceries and gas, serve the lord or be served a Japanese dinner. I can have my hair done, rent a movie, redecorate my bedroom and rent a car. All of these things and more within a one kilometer radius of my home. The thought also frightens me. It is apparent to me that most of us fall into a comfort zone within this little perimeter of our lives. Looking out past the boundaries it is clear that the city is big. The province is bigger. The country is huge and the world is a wonderous market of strange delights and epic adventures.
What have I learned about myself?
I need to take a longer walk. It is my dream. I stepped out past my porch and I am going to keep on going.
Who is with me?!