I am sitting in the midst of a conundrum. Though not new to me, it seems to have taken on energy and prominence. This is likely related to the gradual cessation of the pandemic lockdown. And the monthly writing group that had me ponder and dispatch a piece on mastering the art of losing. It has sharpened the edges of my sadness over the loss of secret places. It has blurred the borders of public and private space. It has delivered me into the centre of a dilemma.
For me, one of the joys of parenting is sharing favourite pieces of my life with my children. As adults, they are less appreciative. In their younger years, their enthusiasm and wonder were contagious. It provided me with the gift of reliving a discovery. Of reliving the excitement of exploring a magical creek, staring in awe at the brilliant red flowers and water lilies (impossible to get to), and running across flat rocks to catch frogs.
We would pack snacks and juice boxes, and head to the garage behind the cottage. The bright red four-wheeled “Yamahoppie” – nicknamed to rhyme with my father’s title of Poppy, always started on the first try. I sat as far back from the handlebars as possible so that our youngest could straddle the seat in front of me, me reaching around him to steer and brake. Our two daughters stacked neatly behind me, one holding tight to the black railings on the side of the seat cushion. The other with arms wrapped around my middle. Squeezing the gas with my left thumb, and popping the clutch with my right foot, off we would go up the bumpy gravel hill. We were heading out for an adventure at Wolf Creek. Parking in the tall grass outcropping just before the wooden bridge, we would clamour down the embankment through wildflowers and smooth rock clusters. Arriving at the bottom, we whispered to each other in the quiet seclusion of the creek bed.
Until one day when the wooden bridge was gone. The rocks were gone. The flowers were gone. I imagined that the frogs were gone. Arriving for an early spring weekend at the cottage, the car came to a halt at the bottom of the rutted road where we usually slowed to cross the creaky boards and peer down into the water. There was thick sand and gravel, layered on top of a large grey ribbed metal tube. I could only picture the clear water running reluctantly through the tube, across the ridges, heading for the freedom of the lake. Rough gravel cascaded steeply down to the water’s edge. The silence, sadness and rage sat with us in the car. And returned after that each time we crossed what had been our watery playground.
I thought I was over my disdain for culverts until a similar installation robbed us of access to a beautiful stream near our farmhouse. Afternoons collecting fiddleheads, searching out deer, picnicking to the sound of the water burbling over the rocks, stolen in the name of road improvement due to heavier traffic.
So it begins. Road widening, new gas stations with convenience stores, shiny wide grocery aisles with formal warnings on the door against wearing ski boots inside. Parking meters at beaches. Stoplights and roundabouts. Trails and paths beaten down – violated by too many shoes and too little respect for nature.
On a recent walk, having passed a multi-generational family gaping at the views and ill-prepared for the terrain, I ran into a woman I hadn’t seen in several years. At a young age, she had suffered a devastating stroke. Though never the same, she had recovered her mobility and speech. As I was about to launch into a commiseration about the visitors to our valley, she remarked on how fortunate we were to live here. And that everyone should have the right to enjoy what has been freely given to us. I softened. My heart opened. A bit.
My quandary is because I am resisting sharing my special places. I am resisting changes undertaken to improve the safety and accessibility of our roads. The newcomers would say I am resisting growth and progress. All true. All uncomfortable. I know there might be a middle ground that feels less like an assault on nature. Less like an invasion of peace and solitude. Less like a deep loss. As I proudly display my “resident” sign on the dashboard of my car, I know I’m not there yet. As I continue to search for undiscovered trails and beaches I know I’m not there yet. As I mourn the disappearance of quiet gravel roads, now turned into paved lanes, I know I am not there yet.
At least, that is my experience.