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Taking a walk in the park and finding a gem along the way

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Monarch butterflies can be seen in all their splendor at the butterfly house at Assiniboine Park Zoo.

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Monarch butterflies can be seen in all their splendor at the butterfly house at Assiniboine Park Zoo. Photo Store

What do you do when you’re residing in an Assisted Living situation and summer is beckoning in all its sunny glory?

Twice lately, I’ve taken family and friends to Assiniboine Park on a tour similar to the Creative Retirement tour I took one August a decade ago.

First, the walkabout at the zoo. Like the rest of the park, it is undergoing massive restructuring. A host of signs, strategically placed, helped us get our bearings. We were looking specifically for the recently-opened butterfly house and the new polar bear site.  

The profusion of milkweed plants beside two large nylon quonset huts indicated Monarch butterflies to me — for milkweed is the diet of their larvae (caterpillars). Inside, we saw a variety of butterflies: on the translucent walls and on leaves and fruit and flowers they feed on.

Monarchs look delicate, yet they migrate over 3,000 kilometres, for example between Mexico and Manitoba or Point Pelee, Ont., across Lake Erie — an unbelievable feat.

Next, the 10-acre Journey to Churchill exhibit. Its one bear is the sole survivor of triplets born at the Toronto zoo and gifted to Winnipeg’s Conservation Centre. He dived playfully before us and resurfaced in the next area featuring more water, rock, and rough terrain reminiscent of the Arctic tundra. Hudson is his name, aptly chosen via a Name-the-Bear contest. Posters said plans include bringing in more orphan bears, some for breeding. Won’t Hudson be happy, to have a playmate or a partner in parenting! He’s certainly lightened our spirits after the 2008 death of 42-year-old Debby, our last beloved bear.    

A month later I revelled in chauffering a friend in my new Mazda3 hatchback to see the English Gardens at the Park. The Boy With the Boot still stood at the entrance as he had in 2003. The water still trickled from the boot, the flowers still radiated fragrance. We walked past the central pool bestriding the walkways, where on my right I spied the white bell-like Angel’s Trumpet blossoms in their tall symmetrical splendor. Of all the spectacular flowering shrubs and plants — begonias, lilies, purple-on-white lianthus — this was the most exotic.

We had come looking for a specific rose pictured in our local paper. But the day was unbearably hot, the pathways too numerous, the legs now aged 10 years, more weary by the minute. We enjoyed the handsome Morden-bred Winnipeg Parks roses instead.

And we did meander through part of the priceless Leo Mol Sculpture Gardens ahead — a respite, with water lilies in the tranquil pool, and Moses in his magnificent robes at one end. Scattered about were bears and cubs in bronze, as well as mother deer and wild boar suckling their young, pioneer families and community leaders. There were also many sculptures of young females depicting their winsome lines before they are affected by gravity and age.
A fellow visitor at the scene once recalled how her four-year-old granddaughter had referred to these figures as "nudes." But the six-year-old brother promptly corrected her with "Those aren’t nudes, silly. That’s art." At this tender age he could already discern the natural beauty of the human form.

What uncanny foresight the civic leaders showed in 1904 when they set aside this huge tract of land for posterity!

Be proud, Winnipeg — we have a gem.

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