Wednesday, April 19, 2006


This evening, I went for an long walk through Inglewood, along the river. I walked from the Inglewood bridge, down to the weir and back.

This is one of my favorite urban walks in Calgary; it's a little-used portion of the river trail system, so one often has the whole trail to oneself. The only disturbance is the odd dog walker or cyclist returning home from work.

The Inglewood Bird Sanctuary is less than a kilometer down the river, so there's a fine variety of birds. Leaves rustle and birdsong fills the air.

As I walked, my mind wandered, and considered the lay of the land: it's so low to the river in this area, barely a few feet above the water. The City has planted benches along the way and I always complain to David that they were installed by 6 ft tall men since my feet don't touch the ground from any of them (and I'm 5'5"). The benches are ugly, modern and uncomfortable. You long for one of those uptight-looking but curvy wrought-iron-armed Victorian ones.

Along the way, there are small meadows and off-leash areas for dogs, and you see the backs and fronts of all sorts of new and old houses. There's an eclectic disheveledness to Inglewood, a part of town only recently gentrified, and barely so. The trails here have a wild feel. There are crazy old Victorian houses with driftwood-decor gardens, and brand new, tall, modern taupe in-fills. One guy has a hubcap collection on the backside of his garage, while his yuppie neighbor has the word "Soleil" posted on the walls of his.

As I walked, I thought about gardens and nature. I marvelled at how Calgary seems like such a barren, desert town, but has these superb, eclectic green spaces, and a gorgeous river running through it. I wish the City would devote more resources to creating these idyllic places, where you can escape the traffic and the racket of living. There's something soothing about a park, a garden, an escape-space within quick reach.

David and I have also discovered a wonderful park, which we often get to occupy with little or no (living) company: The Union Cemetery. This cemetery, in the center of town, is a vast space of rolling hills, large deciduous trees, flowering shrubs, and ancient-looking monuments. It seems to be the only place in town with any history, and it appeals because it's classical and weathered and grey and calm and has beautiful stonework. Something about it resonates with us. It seems to hearken to a bygone-era when people took their time doing things, and cared about creating beauty. Even the gravestones bear poignant inscriptions which suggest a certain integrity no one seems to care about any more. There is something noble going on here. Or maybe it's just the solemnity of death done beautifully.

So I walked and thought about nature, about parks, about what we do to carve the land into shapes that please us. Coming into the house, CBC radio was on, and I heard the name "Olmstead".

It was an interview on "Ideas" about the landscape architecture of Frederick Law Olmstead (the father of American landscape architecture, if I recall correctly). I saw an exhibit of stunning photographs of his work in Montreal many years ago, and never forgot his name. He mastered both the formal garden and the rambling, wandering wild kind. He americanized the formal European garden, creating a more liveable, accessible one. He designed Mount Royal Park in Montreal, which I visited often living there, as well as Central Park, which I've visited twice. He also devoted years to Prospect Park in Brooklyn, which I've heard about, but never seen. His work is wonderful, if you get a chance to look it up.

I still have a postcard from the exhibit. It sits, framed, on my desk at work. It's a softly-lit photo of a path, a mossy green path in autumn, shrouded in a pale diffuse white fog. The path just disappears off into the fog. It's a path your eye and soul want to follow. I often look at the photo and wonder what is beyond its dreamy borders.

That's my blog. Just some thoughts on paths I'd like to take, some paths that thought takes.

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