Peace and porches

Peace and porches

Or, stop cutting illegally through other people’s neighbourhoods.

I spend a lot of time working in my garden. Planting, weeding, pruning, dead-heading — there’s always a great deal to do. Recently, though, I’ve been trying to go into the garden and just be. I have made the garden in order to be a refuge and a place of peace, and I’m attempting to find that peace there. I look closely at each individual blossom and leaf to appreciate the complexity and beauty of even the smallest thing. I pay attention to the butterflies and bees and other winged insects that work so busily there.

Lately I’ve been especially enjoying all the birds in the front garden from the vantage point of our new porch. Over the last decade and a half, I’ve planted six trees in the front and side gardens in order to provide us and the sidewalk with shade, and to provide the birds with habitat. Until our porch was built, I hadn’t realized how successful that bird-focused project had been. Now, there is always “a melodious noise of birds among the spreading branches” (Wisdom of Solomon, 17:19): goldfinches, robins, cardinals, sparrows, cedar waxwings…we can just sit quietly and gaze as they fly about.

The front porch also gives us a lot more contact with neighbours. Most Overbrook front gardens are fairly shallow, and the sidewalk (or road, for those streets without sidewalks) is not far away. People frequently bike or walk past our house, and if we’re sitting on the porch we often exchange friendly greetings. Sometimes it’s no more than a “hello”, but often people stop to introduce themselves and their dogs, to chat about the new porch or the garden, and to talk about how they’re going to the lovely park by the river and how much they love the neighbourhood.

Both these vehicles are making illegal turns at around 4:30 pm

The porch is a place for us to enjoy the peace of the garden and has also become a place for us to enjoy the fellowship of the neighbourhood among the trees and flowers. It is difficult for us to enjoy these chats against the frequent noise of the traffic that comes down our street. We have to pause in our chat until the racket has gone away. Some of the cars drive sedately, but others roar past. I have even seen an enormous car-carrier truck on our street waiting at the light at the end of the road.

As far as I can tell, no part of Overbrook is protected from commuter and commercial traffic cutting through the neighbourhood. Some signs forbidding turns at certain time of day serve as acknowledgement of the disruption this causes, but have little to no effect in reducing the volume of traffic. I have noticed that other neighbourhoods, like Kingsview Park, are protected from through traffic. Overbrook is almost entirely a residential neighbourhood. I wish we had more front porches here, so that chats between neighbours could turn into conversations between friends. I wish that Overbrook were protected better from traffic, so that we could all find peace and quiet in our gardens


Escape from the school bus

Escape from the school bus

Three weeks ago: “Mum, there’s a lot of swearing on the school bus. You know, the f-word” (in hushed tones).

Two weeks ago: “Mum, someone swore at me in the school bus. He said to sit the f down” (in tears).

Last week: “Mum, people were hitting me on the school bus because I didn’t want to open my window and they were trying to make me” (in tears and trembling).

Right. I called the vice principal, who promised to reiterate to the children the rules of the bus. Now, the only adult on that bus is the driver and she actually has to drive.  I was skeptical how well these admonitions would work.

The child spent a very subdued weekend and told us frequently that he was afraid to ride the bus.

On Sunday night we decided to ditch the schoolbus. We’re carfree, and it’s spring, so the obvious choice was the bike.

And what had been holding us back from biking before this? Mainly the crappiness of the route to school. It starts well, on the path along the river. Then one gets to cross four lanes of traffic on a very short light and bike a meandering route through a neighbourhood, up a big hill and down another one, this last on a very busy road. Then the crossing of  another busy road with lots of cars turning left, and then, tada, at school.

The meandering route is caused by having to skirt around a cemetery with no access along its entire southern boundary, and by the horribleness of the direct route. The most direct way is along a busy road with lots of parked cars and those most useless of street markings, sharrows. Then there’s a bike lane marked by paint along the side of the road but no sidewalk next to it for Little to bike on. Not safe enough, not by a long chalk.

There are plans afoot to improve bike access along that route but they had not occurred magically over the weekend.

In previous years, distance had been a factor. The school is about 5k away, which was a little far when Little was in grade one. Now she can handle it easily.

For me, time is still a factor, since the children do the round trip once and I do it twice. It ends up being three to four hours of my day on getting the kids to school and back. The voluntary simplicity project we’ve got going in our house makes it possible, but it compresses the work of my day quite a bit. On the other hand, biking 20k may have some effect on the middle-aged-fatness reduction project which we’ve also going here.

So how was the ride on the first day? Fantastic, wonderful, awesome. The kids were so excited to get on their bikes and to get out by the river. After many years of biking with Middle I know I have to build birdwatching time into every journey. We stopped twice, once to gaze at gorgeous wood ducks, and one to look at a large hawk grooming herself. Little remarked on all the dangerous bits on the ride, tsked, and said, “There are too many cars on this road.” We arrived in the schoolyard in good time, all of us flushed and cheerful. They scampered off to class and I rode to Loblaws on the big orange bike to buy some mulch.

Middle put himself to bed that night at 7:45 after his 10k day. First question the next day: “Are we biking? Yay.”