I can’t imagine a better way to get to work than powered by my own two feet. You couldn’t pay me to drive or take the bus downtown every day. Commuting under my own steam is incredibly rewarding: it’s free, it’s great exercise, it has zero environmental impact and it’s an ideal way to transition from home to work and back again. That half an hour, twice a day, is when I get some of my best thinking done.
Of course, walking and biking in downtown Winnipeg come with perils. As a matter of survival, I’ve become hyper-aware of my surroundings. That alertness helps me tune in, and feel connected, to my community. I notice details that I certainly wouldn’t if I were stuck behind a steering wheel listening to morning DJs, or even on the bus, where I’d surely have my nose deep in a book. I can gauge my city’s mood in the graffiti I read and the size of coffee cups in people’s hands.
My morning walk is peopled with a cast of remarkable characters, none of whom I’ve ever spoken to. There’s a man who only wears a jacket on the most bitterly cold days (and then only a blazer) and stops to pick up every bit of litter in his path. I salute his hands-on approach to improving our community! And there’s a woman I’ve known through the turn of many seasons (and several dramatic haircuts); lately I realized it’s been ages since I’ve seen her smoking. Sure, it could just be my timing, but I think she has quit and I’m proud of her.
During the summer months, I ride my bike and my route is different. This brings a whole new crew: the fellow cyclist who directs his road rage at anyone in his path (look out!), the guys who fish down behind the Legislature, and, sometimes, my co-worker Nancy.
But most of my ride is on paths away from people and traffic, which lets me focus my attention on the natural community. I watch the Assiniboine inch up and down and notice when new flowers burst open in bloom. For the past month, I’ve been a keen observer of the ducks who make their home along the Riverwalk. The tiny ducklings who are so adorable and fuzzy I want to grab one and rub it on my face. The older ducklings who are already so large they’re almost indistinguishable from their nervous Momma, except in their oblivion to the potential danger of oncoming tires. (One of them is dragging a leg behind him this week. I hope he’s ok.) And then there are the absentee fathers and bachelor drakes, sleeping in late, at the crook of our two rivers.
I feel lucky to be able to observe this season in their lives. I’ll miss them when the weather turns and I lace up my walking shoes again, but I look forward to catching up on all I’ve missed from my pedestrian perspective on the sidewalks of Portage Avenue.