If you read my first blog post for Enfants Terribles, you might remember that my children and I love to go on adventures in the city. For me, I love walking, wandering, people watching, art spotting and nature gazing, I always have. For them, anything called an 'adventure' sounds like fun. And so, a few years back I started taking my children on what I would call “urban adventures” or “city adventures.”
Aside from feeding my own interest in wandering, I wanted to find an activity that we all enjoyed but that was also active. Going to the parks with the children, they are doing more physical activity than a football player, however, I usually find myself sitting on a bench or picnic blanket for hours chatting with other parents. Definitely fun and social, but maybe not the best form of daily exercise. And since I have a desk job, I need exercise when I’m not at work.
As well, preferring human-powered modes of transit, I wanted to prove to myself, my children, and (yes) maybe friends and family, that you can have adventures and connect with nature simply by walking out your front door, keeping an open mind, and looking for the paths less traveled.
This might be a good place to explain what an 'adventure' is to me. For me, 'adventures' don't happen according to plans. They happen on the margins, or perhaps, as 'offshoots' of plans. You set a course, either defined or general, and you see what happens as things unfold. Flexibility is a necessary aspect, and so is openness to the risk of 'wasting time' for an opportunity that holds promise.
I want my children to come to know that there is an abundance of nature to be found in the city. But if we only ever walked down Main Street or drove to get to the places we visit they might come to think that we live in a concrete jungle. We don’t need to drive 20 miles to an apple orchard or a petting farm or to a “Nature Path” to spend time in nature, with plants, animals and waterways, these are all within walking distance, if you find the right path.
I also want my children to develop a broad and flexible understanding of what art is, that art isn’t only hung in galleries. There is an abundance of free art to be found and experienced in the city. There are commemorative statues of people and events that tell the city’s story, and there is illegal art in the form of graffiti that tells the city’s story in another way. And then there is the abundance of performance art, street dancers and performers, buskers, chalk artists, that can usually only be enjoyed by sheer luck of timing, being out in the city without a schedule of planned activities to keep us from pausing.
We live Ottawa, which experiences a very cold winter (minus 20 Celsius / minus 4 Fahrenheit is totally normal), with lots of snow, so we don’t do a lot of adventuring in the winter. So, when spring time arrives in April we are excited to get out and revisit the paths and favourite spots we haven’t been to since last fall. At this time of year, what the children notice most is the contrast of seasons; their memory of a spot in its fall incarnation and how it looks after a long cold winter. Plants have died or gone dormant, birds and squirrels are not actively working and playing about, and so on. I hope this brings to life a rhythm and broader understanding of the seasons beyond their own perspective of: winter means snow suit and summer means sandals.
As the spring progresses and flowers start to bloom, we will continue to explore and find new spots, that we can add to our repertoire of wanders. But also, understanding that each path and favourite spot is never the same twice we try to make the most of each experience, savouring the temporary nature of a field of wildflowers or a graffiti wall that will likely change within a week. I am hoping to awaken that sense of living in the moment and appreciating its fleeting nature. Whether it is conscious or not, I hope my children are developing a sense of appreciation for the impermanence of things and that this will prove useful in living a full life.