Waylaid Walking*, North Railway St., Medicine Hat, Alberta
The other side of the tracks. Every tree was planted, every brick was formed with clay and fired with gas. Old hotel signs still in place to catch the eye of long-gone train travelers. Windows bricked up or boarded over, but the buildings still stand. The trees still stand. Polished railway tracks still cut through town. The road stays in place as its uses change and decline. Small odd businesses in between empty buildings: arts and crafts, bars, car parts, repair, cleaning, fueling. The flour mill just a historic monument beside the overpass, as the real business now seems to be moving people to the big stores up the hill. Steamer trunk / tree trunk: imagined journey from Europe by boat, by wagon, by train, unpacking in the surprising prairie wind and staying for a hundred years. The railway tracks link to a colonial past that still haunts this street. Moving natural and unnatural resources, settlers and curiosities, indentured labour, buffalo death, grain and fuel, bricks and dishes. The tracks are a direct, if limited, line through time and space.
* "Waylaid Walking (inspired by Walter Benjamin's practice)" proposed by Charlie Fox is Walk 49 from the book ways to wander edited by Clare Qualmann and Claire Hind (Axminster, England: Triarchy Press, 2015). This international walk was one of a series organized by Blake Morris of A Wander is Not a Slog; it was walked on the same day in Manchester, England by the Loiterer's Resistance Movement, among others.
Location: Medicine Hat, Alberta
Length: 3 km
Date: 2 December, 2018
Trail Walk, Redcliff, Alberta
After several days driving and several days sitting around, I was fairly desperate for a walk. Starting off through the neighbourhood, I picked up a trail that took me along the rim of the coulee, between chainlinked backyards and the steep hills sloping down to the river valley. It’s spacious, Alberta, so much bright sky and land, long views, flat horizons. The trail winds down the hill and loops through the coulee, coming up alongside the South Saskatchewan River. The ground was muddy and patched with snow, cottonwood trees hulked along the shore, the river was full of ice and light. Hills are scarce around here, and walking up out of the valley made my legs sing. A few dogs and their walkers. A field full of Canada geese. Beaver, magpie, rooster, horse.
Location: Redcliff, Alberta
Length: 9 km
Date: 20 November, 2018
City Woods, Hamilton, Ontario
An after-work walk on a stretch of the Rails-to-Trails pathway between Hamilton and Dundas. It’s a lovely place to walk, away from traffic, through the ravines and tall trees that are typical of this part of Ontario. We saw city wildlife - a deer flashed its tail and ran downhill into the brush, a rabbit never breaking its frozen crouch. Half the trees were bare skeletons against the dimming sky, and half still flaunted their fall colours. We walked and talked as darkness fell earlier than it should have.
Location: Hamilton to Dundas, Ontario
Length: 3 km
Date: 7 November, 2018
Old Quebec City, Quebec
I love this city, the age of it, the architecture, the French. Taking a break from a cross-country drive, needing to move my stiff legs and aching hip, I set out for a stroll. It's a magical place, and I was happy to be there. No matter how aimlessly you walk, all streets seem to lead to the Chateau Frontenac and the promenade overlooking the St. Lawrence River. I picked up speed along the Promenade des Gouverneurs boardwalk. In the distance a silver autumn light joined the river and the slate grey sky. Skirting the Plains of Abraham, alongside the Citadel, down to the 17th century wall that once surrounded the city, and back into the narrow streets full of cafes and restaurants. I grabbed a café au lait, but had no time left for lunch before I headed west again.
Location: Vieux Quebec, Quebec City, Quebec
Length: 4 km
Date: 4 November, 2018
Freshwater Bay, Newfoundland
It had rained all night and the woods smelled amazing. The trail was springy, with boardwalks over the wettest parts, and downhill all the way in. It opened onto a view over Freshwater pond, the bay, up the coast, and out to the ocean - the opposite view of our Southside Hills walk. A tea-coloured river tumbled out of the woods, which we crossed on a sturdy footbridge. We stepped from boulder to boulder across the barachois. Water everywhere, underfoot and in the air, out to sea and up in the woods. Maybe it feels good because we are also mostly water. The damp grey days are beautiful out here.
Location: Freshwater Bay, near St. John's, Newfoundland
Length: 5 km
Companions: Stephen & dogs
Date: 29 October, 2018
Brigus Lighthouse Trail, Brigus, Newfoundland
It was a glorious day, full of bright light and subtle colour, all backed by the blues of Conception Bay and sky. Time constraints kept us from hiking the length of the trail to the lighthouse, but we walked far enough for a good view from the headland to the north-east of Brigus. A stream ran across the trail and downhill into the sea. The light playing with moving water and the sound of it made us sit still in the sunshine for a little while at the intersection of trail and stream. A poet was walking the trail that same day, as we learned at a poetry reading in the rain the next day. The threads that weave us loosely together were evident that weekend, running long, colourful threads across space and through time. The ways we are woven into each others’ lives, even when we don’t really know it. The surprising red of blueberry bushes.
Location: Brigus Lighthouse Trail, Brigus, Newfoundland
Length: 4 km
Companions: Karen, Cathia, Evelina
Date: 27 October, 2018
Quidi Vidi to Westend, St. John's, Newfoundland
A sunny, lovely day with crows: Quidi Vidi Gut, Mallard Cottage, Quidi Vidi Lake, the Dominionstore; the Anglican Cemetery, Government House, Military Road, Rawlins Cross, the Rooms; Long's Hill, back paths, side streets, Brine Street, Deanery.
Location: Quidi Vidi to Westend, St. John's, Newfoundland
Length: 6 km
Date: 24 October, 2018
Southside Hills, St. John's, Newfoundland
A trailhead I've never noticed before. A steep and sweaty climb up the Southside Hill. Appreciating the new angles: looking down at the Battery; straight across to Cabot Tower; and the view of St. John's, all of it, spread out like a boomerang across the harbour. Partridgeberries and blueberries are still underfoot. There are ponds up here, good swimming holes. The hills are wide, and we follow a path across the top until we are stopped by a cliff and a view. Freshwater Bay barachois to the right, Cape Spear straight ahead, and the Grand Banks somewhere out to the left. The views, and the particular shades of green, and the rocks, and the water everywhere. The rhythm of walking and talking, wind and breath, punctuated by happy dogs. It was a good walk, this one.
Location: Southside Hills, St. Johns, Newfoundland
Length: 4 km
Companions: Stephen & dogs
Date: 23 October, 2018
Southside Road, St. John's, Newfoundland
It's an industrial route, passing by the shipyards, the powerlines, the Coast Guard, the wastewater treatment plant, Irving oil, the factory fishing ships, small local fishing boats, wharfs and warehouses, the road itself under construction. A narrow road, no sidewalks, with a scattering of houses tight between the hillside and the street, home still to a few families.
Across the Narrows from the Battery, and across the street from the Small Boat Basin at Fort Amherst, I dropped by to visit an artist at his studio. We had tea with honey in his half-renovated wooden house that leans into the rocky hill, and talked about art. Raymond accompanied me partway back. It matters who you walk with, as they influence the direction of your gaze, your thoughts, your conversation, and your footsteps. In a good way. Back to the footbridge across the Waterford River, and off on my own towards downtown again.
Location: Southside Road to Fort Amherst, St. John's, Newfoundland
Length: 7 km
Date: 17 October, 2018
St. John's, Downtown & Signal Hill
This is the tourist route in St. John's - downtown, along the Harbourfront, Water Street, Duckworth Street, the Battery, and on along the trail around Signal Hill. If you have one day in town, this is the recommended walk. It's a good one, and it was a lovely day for it.
Location: Downtown and Signal Hill, St. John's, Newfoundland
Length: 10 km
Date: 15 October, 2018