Between Me and the Trees
On the Circularity of Community
When I think back on my childhood, I don’t necessarily remember doing the Riverfront Walk a bunch. Instead, I remember wandering around in the woods behind my parent’s house, in our out-of-city-limits neighborhood, and simply exploring the forest season by season. We would hunt grouse (and never get any) in the summer months, throw rocks at wasps nests (I got stung on the face that one time) and walk in each others’ footprints when the snow got really deep. The point is, though I didn’t think about it this way then, I was deeply connected to the physical (and imaginative) world that I lived in.
As is the way of some things, over the years, those connections faded as I developed a resistant stance on my home town: I needed to escape everything it stood for in order to grow, flourish, and ‘experience the world.’ I left for a bit (though I didn’t go far) and eventually, about 6 years ago I returned.
That was when I started walking the Walk.
For those of you that are not locals, the Riverfront Walk, in it’s most basic configuration, is a 5 km paved path that encircles the downtown of Quesnel (though it has offshoots and other wider circles as well). In my opinion, it is hands-down one of the highlights of the downtown area. Since Quesnel sits where 2 rivers meet, the Quesnel and Fraser Rivers, the walk takes you along side of each and right past their confluence.
I have been writing lately about community and as I walked the Riverfront today, I couldn’t help but think about the writings of Gregory Cajete, and the aspect of Indigenous knowledge as a series of connected and/or concentric circles. As I looked up at the trees, whose leaves have turned golden, red and a host of other autumn colors, I was overwhelmed by this sense of the cyclic, the circularity of the seasons. I have literally circled the downtown core, either running or walking or biking hundreds of times. Over and over, as the rivers rose and fell, as ice began to form in little islands on the Fraser, and trees went through the process of budding, flowering and eventually dropping their leaves. The people are no different. When you walk it enough, you see other regulars, you see tourists in the summer months (lost on a circular path), and you see the clothing bundle and be shed again of other Walkers as the seasons undulate along.
I see the community as a series of connected circles. Not only the physical circles I walk in and around town, but also the mental circles of seasonal affect, politics and social changes. I see these elements as sometimes greatly overlapping, and other times simply nudging up against one another. But what strikes me most is that in order to really feel my community, I have to be a part of it. My walks connect me to the actual place I inhabit. At the risk of sounding old-fashion, I really do believe that my phone and car and internet and devices really keep my mental space not here. It takes a walk, and the smells of leaves, and the sunlight, and bear poop piles to reacquaint me with the connection that came natural as a kid.
Community is participatory after all. It is one thing to be in a community and an entirely different thing to be of a community. I am writing about this because I often forget it. Often I find it easier to retreat, read a never-ending twitter feed, and avoid other people and this place all together. I guess it took the smell of decay and a hint of cold to remind me.
We are about to enter into the darker months of winter and I am of the belief that there is no better time to shore up those links to your own community. When it is cold and dark and cars are reluctant to get warm, we need other people the most. I also think we need our places in those times too - the familiarity of landscapes and views that remind us where we are and how we exist there. A reminder that if we wait long enough, everything can be seen as a series of circles gravitating around and occasionally bumping into one another.
For now, while the weather holds, I will continue to simply walk the Walk.
Be well, friends