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Walking Home: Roadside Stories

My first neighbourhood walk was when I was about 3 years old. My memory is made of a collaboration of stories I have molded over the years.

It was morning and no one was watching me. Peering over the window ledge, I could see it wasn’t raining and the fresh air looked welcoming. I wandered out the front door and down the gravel road.

It wasn’t long before someone noticed I was gone. I can just imagine how panicked my mom must have been. There were creeks, ponds, bears, cougars and wolves we share the land with. All the neighbours were called on, to look for me.

Gerry Adams rushed to old Mrs. Kiander’s driveway, concerned I’d drown in the pond up that way. The last, probably fictional memories I have, are of a large gate swinging shut and my mom in her housecoat and fluffy, toeless slippers, sobbing with her arms crossed. I question the legitimacy of this, because my mom says it was mid-day, and I am sure she would have come running to hug me.

Don’t worry, I was not coddled and overprotected after this casual wander. Most days, my mom told me to go outside to play, and I wasn’t expected home until around dinner time. When she called for us, I am sure every creature on our 2.5 km gravel road could hear her.

My brother was 5, and I was about 8 months old when we moved here with our parents from Port Alberni. Immediately, my brother marched up the road and knocked on every neighbour’s door and asked if they had kids. When Doug Marks asked him “What are your parent’s doing?”, without hesitation my brother reported they were probably at home “doing it”.

My brother taught me how to ride my bike with the simple bribe of $1. Once I was riding steady, most money was taken on my bike to the train tracks to get penny candies at the Whiskey Creek Store. Usually, we would ditch the bikes on the tracks. Riding 2km on washboard gravel was enough to turn our arms to Jello, so we would get on foot, balancing on the rails or skipping on the ties. When we’d hear a train, we’d dive into the bushes covering our ears, praying the pennies we put on the rails wouldn’t fling out and nail us.

My high school boyfriend was a couple years older than me and had his license. So convenient! One night, he showed up at our house with his friend, soaking wet. This was probably his 3rd car accident, and he had flipped the vehicle into a large ditch. They had to swim their way out. They must have hiked at least 5 kms in the dark to my house. A short time after that we went driving with a few friends in his parents’ Jeep Cherokee, and he decided to run down some “rednecks” who had flipped him the bird in downtown Qualicum. We flew over a hill and landed hard on the front tire with such force it popped. 5 rough, angry teenagers surrounded the crashed jeep and started pounding the windows. The taillight got smashed. I didn’t like cars much after that boyfriend. I was pregnant and 32 when I finally got my license.

When I moved away to Victoria to go to University, I rode my bike and walked everywhere. I would take the bus, or my boyfriend would drive us to visit my parents. It seemed like almost every return home came with some crushing discovery. Places I thought were mine, where I harvested blackberries, or played with my friends, were logged unceremoniously. The whole landscape changed. The wolves no longer pass through the fields, instead a 4-lane highway runs in their place. The forest across from our driveway was harvested and left cluttered so high with carnage, you can’t pass through it. New residents often clear some land to make room for livestock and let the light in. Usually this doesn’t bother me as much. Logging has done most of the damage already, taking out the big, beautiful trees and replacing them with poplar, then selling the lots off for profits. Even my parents decided to take out a large maple tree that shaded the back of the house. The roots were threatening to interfere with the foundation. I was so crushed by that. Each little manipulation of the land is a little jab to the heart.

When our first child, Francis Maple Love was about 8 months old, the stars aligned and Adam and I moved back to Song Farm, the land I grew up on. The following year I was pregnant with our second child and I kinda foolishly thought it would be a good time to get a dog. Totally maxed out and exhausted, you’d see me trudging up Gilbert Road with an energetic puppy, a toddler in a stroller and Henning Kenneth Love in a baby bjorn strapped to my chest. That’s where I met my neighbour and future walking partner, Ceri Peacey.

For the last couple of years, coincidently through covid times, I have been walking (nearly) daily with my friend, Ceri. She’s a fun-loving fiery redhead, extroverted environmentalist and celebrant who loves your dog more than you. She gets real angry about cigarette butts and ignorant, greedy people. I like that about her. She does endless work sticking up for nature in the community; she organizes the Brant Festival and advocates to save Hamilton Marsh and promotes other environmental causes. She also really loves our neighbourhood, and so do I. In a fit of inspiration, she had a bulletin board put up at the end of her driveway for us to post updates, business cards and events. It has a roof to protect it from the rain. We’ve stopped there once or twice to get out of a downpour, and even celebrated her 59th birthday at the bulletin board, social distancing of course, with cupcakes and wine. One friend driving by happened to have a full bottle stashed under his seat to replenish our glasses! Who has extra wine? Good thing we could lumber ourselves home without endangering anyone.

And Gina deserves a special mention. She has been here longer than I have, and she is an incredible artist, musician and person. One of those true artists who has a wildly creative mind and heart that wanders, listens to and tells stories. Animals are her true love, and she reminds me of Emily Carr with her menagerie of pets and appreciation of the land and the life that inhabits it. All the proceeds of her work go to charity, often to the SPCA or other causes that benefit creatures that deserve a better life.

I know some people, like my husband, think it’s a boring practice to walk the same road every day. He’d rather, bushwhack or tromp through new trails, dog off leash, finding dead deer and owl pellets. That’s cool. But there’s something about walking the edge of our road, where nature and the community meet. I see the season’s change, the birds and berries come back, the snow and the swans. I know when it’s harvest time at the grow op, and which fields have been manured. I once found a cow trapped in an old dry well and my mom once rescued a pig drowning in a 4ft deep well. I see subtle changes and beautiful details that would go unnoticed with a constant barrage of new scenery. I see the neighbours change too. We gab at the fence line, take care of each other and our mothers. We celebrate our successes and mourn our losses together. My mom walks daily too, but on her own. She builds little rock people. Those rock towers, rock. I love them. I imagine that if my mom passes on her spirit will keep building these. They are like magical little beings that appear as she passes by, and I have never actually caught her doing it.

Sure, it’s fitness. Some days it’s a stupid walk for my stupid mental health. It’s meditative, inspiring, community building and cathartic. And best of all, it’s human. It’s in our nature to move one foot in front of the other. In the hardest of times and the wickedest of weather, a walk each day is an offering of growth, little joys, and pieces of connection along your story line. If you made it to the end, I wonder if my observations cross paths with you?

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