I live seven minutes from heaven. Five and a half minutes if I really put my feet to the pedals. But, at 7 a.m. with only half a glass of orange juice to sustain me, I need to conserve my energy to ride my bike against the prevailing wind of the day. I never know around which bend it will assail me.
My home is in a southwest area of Winnipeg — Whyte Ridge, to be exact. Twenty-odd years ago, it was considered urban sprawl at its worst; cookie-cutter houses carved out of still-fertile farm land where the new denizens scrunched up their faces and held their noses against the remnant wafts of barnyard. Now, the boulevard trees planted as anaemic-looking sticks with few leaves are approaching middle age with the waist-thickening that seems inevitable. They’re not the stately elms of other Winnipeg neighbourhoods, but they give shade, shelter and a greener canopy to the once barren landscape.
A newer, work-in-progress housing development just to the south has deflected the spotlight from us and so we, standing proud on shaky moral ground, tsk-tsk at the spurious wisdom of destructing yet more bread basket soil.
As I ride my bicycle out the back end of my subdivision, I turn south onto Brady Road. The surface is pock-marked with craters and bumps created by a steady stream of bulging pick-ups heading to the landfill. It feels like I’m riding a very long washboard and I’m thankful I’ve not yet eaten breakfast.
The road crosses the rail tracks and immediately the familiar is at my back and the unknown beckons ahead under a big sky. Squinting, I can see cars and semi-trailers sailing past on the Perimeter Highway. But I ignore them and concentrate on my immediate surroundings. The eastern rising sun is blinding.
The westerly view is easier on the eyes. A soybean crop has turned golden across its top leaves, the under parts holding on to the fresh greenness, staving off harvest for now. Sedge wrens dart to and fro into the thicket of soy
I turn right onto a more loosely gravelled road. The signpost reads Road 53NE. It leads me westward.
I assume it’s a section-dividing road but to the eyes of the Red-Tail Hawk circling above me, it probably looks like just another seam stitched into the Prairie patchwork. The sun now warms my back and I feel like I’ve cycled into a page of William Kurelek’s A Prairie Boy’s Summer.
I glance at the odometer on my bicycle. I’m about 1.5 kilometres as the hawk flies from my own back yard. Yet, looking around, I could be in an entirely different part of the province. There is nothing urban or suburban out here on Road 53NE.
Slowly I pedal back into my neighbourhood. It is starting to come alive with commuters queuing for busses or getting into their cars. Dog walkers and joggers ply the sidewalks and wish each other a good morning. Silently, I admonish them for their shuttered vision. I want to tell them to go back in the house, phone in sick for the day and then dust off their bicycles. Opportunity lies just beyond their comfort zones.
Pat Kelly is a Whyte Ridge-based writer.
Neighbourhood Forum is a readers’ column. If you live in The Sou’wester area and would like to contribute to this column, contact email@example.com.