Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Life's classroom

Whatever the season, or reason, this park can bring out the best in you

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Every time I enter St. Vital Park, I give a silent nod to those far sighted individuals who, back in 1929, purchased the land from farmers with the intention of establishing a city park. Somebody was thinking.

When I grew up in Norwood in the '60s and '70s, St. Vital Park represented the southern end of civilization as it was then known. It was a uniquely forested area, a long drive up a narrow road with few, if any, streetlights.

For the last 30 years or so, I've lived south of the park, as it gradually became surrounded by the urban landscape of today. Fortunately, the park has weathered the changes well and remains a special place for many of us.

The duck pond at St. Vital Park is, without any exaggeration, the greatest place in the world to go skating. The workers do a great job looking after it. It has slopes, bumps, curves, the odd rut -- in other words, it's a perfect pond ice.

Skating was meant to take place outdoors, with the sun and the crisp wind bouncing off of your face. The night sky is always a pleasure to behold as you glide along in the evenings. Bundle up and get out there; you'll always feel better for having gone out and gotten some exercise.

As part of my job, I have the pleasure of taking groups of kids to the park for skating, tobogganing and outdoor games in the forests every year. Even though most of them live nearby, for many of them it's the first time they've ever been there for winter activities. At the end of their day, the kids have that warm and happy glow that signifies time well spent.

Come spring, the duck pond becomes the focal point for nature lovers, who flock -- along with the ducks and geese -- to its shores. You're not really supposed to feed the birds, of course, but they are kind of hard to resist. They are awfully graceful and wonderfully calming and relaxing to watch as they scoot along the water. Moms and little ones, geese and human, help keep an eye out for one another on warm spring days.

Another spring park ritual is the dance of the teenagers of the species. Somehow, accidentally on purpose, that football or Frisbee launched by groups of young men just seems to end up landing near where the groups of young ladies are taking their first sun rays of the year. The object is slowly returned, just happens to fly back again, much banter is exchanged and the dance continues. It does bring back a deep inner smile and a thankfulness that those awkward days are long since gone.

An elderly couple used to stroll through the park early every morning. I'd see them when I'd cycle my laps around the quiet park roads before going off to work in the morning. On one of my laps, I'd noticed a bunch of empty beer bottles left on the grass by some late-night rowdies. On my next lap around the park, there was the couple quietly picking up the bottles and placing them in a nearby garbage bin. This simple, elegant act of stewardship spoke volumes to me of the reverence that some people hold for this special place.

Not far from the duck pond is one of the beautiful areas where new brides and grooms go to get their wedding pictures taken. Near that spot, on a warm day in April, many, many years ago, the most beautiful woman in the world said yes to me. Where else but in St. Vital Park?

If you're in search of a peaceful place, stroll the fitness trails through the forests. You'll see lots of birds and animals and you'll rarely be interrupted by anyone actually exercising. Take a walk in the park on a warm winter day after one of our long winter cold snaps has broken. People will smile and say hello, and you'll find yourself doing so in return.

The point of all this writing is simple. Just take the time to go to the park. It brings out the best in people. It will bring out the best in you.


Geoff Nuytten loves being active in the great outdoors. He has taught school for 33 years in Norwood, St. Boniface and St. Vital. If you happen to see him skating, walking or cycling in St. Vital Park, by all means, say "Hello."


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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 24, 2013 A8

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