A real Voice staple, Nature Notes has been the environmental conscience of AU students for more than four years. A reader-friendly column, it encourages readers to learn more about their natural environment and to spend more time in their local green spaces to gain an appreciation for all the natural world has to offer. Finding the Local Green, published on August 5, is a terrific introduction to the column that will inspire you to find a little of nature even in the most urban of environments.
Incredibly, summer’s end has already become a topic of conversation. But I know that for myself, the nature bug that bit so many of us earlier in the season continues to demand my attention. Spending time indoors feels like a crime, and those blue lakes and rocky shores seem to beckon to me like sirens from tales of yore. But as a generally car-spurning type, the question for me becomes: how to reconcile a yen for green with a distaste for arriving in the lovely wilds surrounded by a choking cloud of greenhouse gases?
I am no environmental angel, and the car does play a larger-than-I’d-like-to-admit role in my need-to-get-out-of-the-city summer yearnings. But, despite my urban abode, I have been able to find a surprising degree of green within a distance that does not require a car at all. Looking for and finding nature close to home, even when home is in Canada’s largest city, is less difficult than one might first imagine.
Hanging out in the mini-forests of the larger parks, bug-watching in little overgrown abandoned lots, even following garbage-strewn pathways along abused urban waterways are high on my list of green journeys worth pursuing. They offer bits of solitude and tranquility, as well as that contact with living, breathing ecological entities so refreshing to the concrete-weary senses.
So many green city nooks have become important to me that it is hard to rank them in order of personal preference. However, some of my favourite memories of urban green chasing are times spent hiking the railroad tracks in my old neighbourhood.
Every day a couple of summers ago, my partner, our dog and I walked the tracks in this neglected — albeit gradually gentrifying — corner of the city. What began as a way to give our canine companion some afternoon exercise soon became as much a passion of ours as it was of his. As the weeks passed, the dominant vegetation changed, the ever-evolving floral display shared with us lucky passers-by a new and varied sweetness, the grass grew up to hide whatever unsightliness may have lain beneath, and the newly-feathered fledgling birds hopped around, just getting the hang of the whole avian thing.
Throughout the season, the sun-warmed vegetation flourished, and in the later weeks of the summer gave off a scent you could only hope to find in a well-tended herb garden. When we moved to our current location at the end of the summer, the thing I was sorriest to leave behind from our Parkdale neighbourhood experience was our odd little natural paradise.
I know that what I crave most from out of town adventures is that feeling of freedom, of being able to walk around unconcerned, tousled and far from everyday cares. We certainly met some people on our walks who had achieved such a state along our lonely route, some of them shockingly so. But we too, with our bounding dog alongside, downtown skyline in full view and a surprising richness of green around us, found an unexpected peace, freedom and contentment along the Parkdale tracks.
I still crave those isolated islands, pristine lakes and wild rocky shores that feed the nature-hungry soul so fully. But I have been happily surprised by the joy and loveliness that has come from exploring my local green.