Walking the River Valley

I live in a divided city—the North Saskatchewan River cuts Edmonton in half from the southwest to the northeast. It’s a physical divide, but even more it’s a psychological one. I grew up on the north side of town, but I’ve spent most of my adult life living on the south side.

It’s hard sometimes not to think of the river as a barrier. And the most dramatic view of the North Saskatchewan is from the top of the High Level Bridge. But if you get down inside the valley, then you begin to understand it as a living, moving body of water over and around which the city gathers.

From the Blog Archive, A Ghost Walk

Ghost tours are always fun. And now that it’s October, you can find a number of ghost tours happening around town.
In 2016, I was part of the Ghost Walk at the University of Alberta campus. The best thing about such tours is the stories you will hear from your guide. You can read more about that walk here.
And if you want ghost stories with a local flavour, check out Barbara Smith’s books, ghost Stories of Alberta and More ghosts Stories of Alberta. Happy October!

Riding the High Level Streetcar

Summer in Edmonton is a time of festivals, even with the downtown core under construction. You can always find something to do in town during July and August.
I’ve been to most of the festivals that happen during an Edmonton summer, but July and August is also a time to be a tourist at home. You will be surprised at all the things to explore.
Enjoy one of my favourites—riding the High Level Streetcar. This short video will give you a look into Edmonton’s river valley. So your perspective is clear, the streetcar is traveling north across the river, and you are looking west and a little north, more than 200 feet above the North Saskatchewan River.

Encounters with Nature

I’m fortunate to live in a neighbourhood where I can experience nature close up. Between the abundance of birdlife all around to the coyotes that live on the University farm, I encounter nature every day. Here are two such encounters—one with coyotes and one with geese—that were closer than I usually expect.

Years ago, when I still lived in University housing with my kids, my youngest daughter came running home one day to tell me she was almost attacked by a peregrine falcon. I explained, patiently, that peregrine falcons didn’t live in the neighbourhood, and they certainly didn’t attack people.
“But I saw it,” she said, “I saw its prey-bird beak and everything!”
She was adamant, and I had to let that one go. Much to my chagrin, I learned later my daughter did see a type of falcon that day—a Merlin, a small hawk that feeds on songbirds and lives all over the neighbourhood. This species has made a recovery in recent decades, especially in urban areas, thanks to the ban on the use of DDT.
These birds, like so many other species of bird and small mammals, make their homes in urban areas. I’m grateful every day to meet those birds and animals who still share my neighbourhood, and happy to know that an urban setting can’t keep out the natural world.

Cli-Fi, Have you Heard of it?

Climate change fiction for young adults, or cli-fi, also called eco-fiction, is a genre that has been gaining ground for a few years. Cli-Fi is one of those genres that crosses boundaries into other kinds of fiction. It can be science fiction or dystopian, but it doesn’t have to be. To be cli-fi, these books seem to need an environmental disaster as part of the central conflict.
According to Scientific American, cli-fi is establishing itself as a genre for adults, while it seems to have already become a thing in the world of young adult books. In a larger way, such books are part of what is also called Anthropocene fiction—the Anthropocene being a term describing the period within which humans have had the gratest impact on the planet’s ecosystems.
Weirdly enough, when I first encountered a reference to cli-fi, I was less surprised than I was baffled. How is this suddenly a genre, I wondered. I hadn’t encountered the term before, but this wasn’t exactly a new kind of book for me.
Long, long ago, when phones weren’t smart, and the Internet was just a thing for geeks, I took a badly typed and badly written manuscript to the public library, where Monica Hughes was serving as the writer in residence. I thought I could write at the time, and Monica was so kind and encouraging that I believed I still could upon leaving the library. Seldom have I encountered someone who could provide critical feedback with such grace and understanding. I like to think of her as one of my early writing mentors, even if briefly.
If you don’t know, Monica Hughes was born in Liverpool in 1925. She had a career that included dress maker and bank clerk, and she published her first novel for young adults at the age of fifty. Canada claims her as one of the country’s best science fiction writers for young adults. But she wasn’t just a Canadian; she was an Edmontonian.
Monica Hughes was writing climate change fiction in the 1980s and 90s, long before the genre had ever been thought of. Her Isis trilogy deals with the despoilment of a planet, whose sole inhabitant, Olwen Pendennis, has been surgically altered by her robot guardian so she can live safely in the harsh climate of Isis. Two other important cli-fi books are Ring-Rise, Ring-Set (1982) and The Crystal Drop (1992). Ring-Rise tells the story of the advancing glaciers in northern Canada, the Earth’s climate having been altered because of a ring of asteroidal dust encircling the equator. The Crystal Drop, on the other hand, is set in southern Alberta, where global warming has turned the prairie into a desert. After the death of her mother, Megan Dougal and her younger brother have to make a trek across the drought-stricken prairie to find a new home with their uncle in the mysterious community of Gaia.
There you have it—climate change fiction from the 80s and 90s. And it was happening in Edmonton, coming from Monica Hughes, a delightfully engaging and prolific writer, who was farther ahead of her time than I ever thought.

Signs of Spring

Spring in Edmonton comes quickly. Winter drags on and on, then suddenly, it’s spring. Here are three passages to get you thinking about spring—where ever you are.

Spring had come once more to Green Gables the beautiful capricious, reluctant Canadian spring, lingering along through April and May in a succession of sweet, fresh, chilly days, with pink sunsets and miracles of resurrection and growth. The maples in Lover’s Lane were red budded and little curly ferns pushed up around the Dryad’s Bubble. Away up in the barrens, behind Mr. Silas Sloane’s place, the Mayflowers blossomed out, pink and white stars of sweetness under their brown leaves. All the school girls and boys had one golden afternoon gathering them, coming home in the clear, echoing twilight with arms and baskets full of flowery spoil.
(L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables, Chapter 20)

But of course this didn’t prevent Edmund from seeing. Only five minutes later he noticed a dozen crocuses growing round the foot of an old tree—gold and purple and white. Then came a sound even more delicious than the sound of the water. Close beside the path they were following a bird suddenly chirped from the branch of a tree. It was answered by the chuckle of another bird a little further off. And then, as if that had been a signal, there was chattering and chirruping in every direction, and then a moment of full song, and within five minutes the whole wood was ringing with birds’ music, and wherever Edmund’s eyes turned he saw birds alighting on branches, or sailing overhead or having their little quarrels.
“Faster! Faster!” said the Witch.
There was no trace of the fog now. The sky became bluer and bluer and now there were white clouds hurrying across it from time to time. In the wide glades there were primroses. A light breeze sprang up which scattered drops of moisture from the swaying branches and carried cool, delicious scents against the faces of the travellers. The trees began to come fully alive. The larches and birches were covered with green, the laburnums with gold. Soon the beech trees had put forth their delicate, transparent leaves. As the travellers walked under them the light also became green. A bee buzzed across their path.
“This is no thaw,” said the Dwarf, suddenly stopping. “This is spring. What are we to do? Your winter has been destroyed, I tell you! This is Aslan’s doing.”
(C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, , Chapter 6)

“I heard the frogs today,” said the old sheep one evening.
“Listen! You can hear them now.”
Wilbur stood still and cocked his ears. From the pond, in shrill chorus, came the voices of hundreds of little frogs.
“Springtime,” said the old sheep, thoughtfully. “Another spring.” As she walked away, Wilbur saw a new lamb following her. It was only a few hours old.
The snows melted and ran away. The streams and ditches bubbled and chattered with rushing water. A sparrow with a streaky breast arrived and sang. The light strengthened, the mornings came sooner. Almost every morning there was another new lamb in the sheepfold. The goose was sitting on nine eggs. The sky seemed wider and a warm wind blew. The last remaining strands of Charlotte’s old web floated away and vanished.
One fine sunny morning, after breakfast, Wilbur stood watching his precious sac. He wasn’t thinking of anything much. As he stood there, he noticed something move. He stepped closer and stared. A tiny
spider crawled from the sac. It was no bigger than a grain of sand, no bigger than the head of a pin.
(E. B. White, Charlotte’s Web, Chapter 22)