Monday, February 9, 2009

September 18: The shining path

I've decided that the best way to get to know a town is to walk it first. Otherwise the sights move too fast and there is no time to take it in, to get a feel for the place under the feet. The feet tell you how far apart everything is, the eyes and ears show what kind of people live here.

For the second night in three months I had a bed; I took out a hotel room, perhaps only because Murray in Brandon had mentioned staying there, and so it seemed like a good idea to try the strange life of sleeping in bed, showering in the morning, and, uh, washing clothes in the tub.

I still needed to get back to my bed, though. It had been a long day. As you might expect, the portage was difficult. The string of white buoys did little to indicate the severity of the dam. In Saskatchewan a drop of even a couple of feet was always accompanied by a warning sign at least as tall as me, and often orange barriers across the waterway as well. This innocent string of buoys, however, is all that floats between an innocent paddler and a fifty foot drop. The portage nearly finished off the frame that holds those wheels to the boat.

So then I had rented the room and walked into town, which was a couple miles away. Getting out would be tougher. I decided to go around the other side of Crescent Lake, the large oxbow lake in the south of town. I didn't start until 8 o'clock, and the sun was setting.

That was okay, though. The "Community Walkway", as they call it, skims around the outside of the lake and is well lit. I followed it around west. According to the visitor's guide, there are "several accesses", which are nothing more than asphalt strips with painted lines across the street, as if pedestrians will only walk on asphalt between painted lines.

Oh, look! A salamander! It was thick as my thumb and longer than my finger. It stood still and raised a spotted tail towards the sky. Somehow it made that tail look so appetizing even I was tempted to lean over and snap at it. It was not the only salamander. I counted four, all sitting in the middle of the pathway, perfectly still, although only the first raised its tail like that.

Oh, amphibians. There were three frogs too. Cold blooded creatures that jump far too late to escape any decent predator, or perhaps pedestrian. I felt something crunch under my foot, but convinced myself it was only a clod of dirt.

The Walkway fed into residential streets with no sidewalks and few lights. I followed the streets through turns: left, right, left, right, until I was walking into a minor footpath. It started in the middle of the street and was shaded by trees. I guess my way was already too well-lit, anyway.

The path was white, limestone, I assumed, and just bright enough I could see it although the trees sheltered all else in black. Black, black, oh, the path! I had little idea where this path would go, other than some hope it would lead me to bed.

I knew the moon was only a couple days waning so it would be coming up soon, but until then I could only follow the path blind to all else, just following that white road. A creek was at my left-hand side, and I heard some major animal, like a stegosaurus or possibly a beaver struggling in there as I passed. A number of goblins hopped off the path as I walked down it. Eventually I came to a fork: straight or left?

I needed a bearing, but the trees to apparent north were too tall for me to find Polaris. I found Betelgeuse easily enough, and took it as roughly south. There was still a bit of glow to the west, but that would fade soon, and besides, was difficult to distinguish from the city lights. There was a spotlight to the apparent north-west, but how could I know how close it was?

My hotel was to the southwest, across the Transcanada Highway, which was roaring... to the south. I didn't need a visual bearing, I could just walk towards the noise. I turned left, still following that white path, sure that stepping off of it was like stepping off the world.

The path crossed the creek, but the bridge was not white. It was a dark grate, and I could just see the water splashing below and to the sides. There was nothing to do but hope that the grate was true, and walk across to the shining path on the opposite side.

My path did not lead to the hotel. It stopped suddenly, dead-ending in the darkness. As I stepped off the end I saw the moon rise in the east, a small chunk eaten from its right side. There was a dirt road here.

The dirt road led through a grove of mysterious trees, all different sizes but the same shape, and not the Christmas one. Could fruit really be grown in Manitoba? Where am I? But the answer would not come, for soon I was out on the north outer road, and then running across the Transcanada Highway, and then sauntering down the south service road to the hotel, and there to bed.

Day 89 ended: 49*57.044N, 098*19.345W

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