13 January 2009

My Walk

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On most days I, or often we, enjoy a particular walk of perhaps 4 kilometers. From our borrowed condo I walk east toward Newcastle Channel and, adjacent to the clustered white masts of the Nanaimo Yacht Club, pick up the Queen Elizabeth II Promenade segment of the seawall pedestrian & bike trail. I follow the trail ‘down island’ along the north end of the Nanaimo Harbour waterfront, watching for wildlife, checking the views of Protection Island, Newcastle Island, and the Coastal Mountains on the mainland (when it’s clear), and puzzling over boating activity on the water. I now recognize many of those walking in the opposite direction as seawall trail regulars, probably people who live in the neighborhood. Many of the people with whom I exchange 'hellos' have British accents, particularly the older folks. After crossing a footbridge spanning the Millstone River (and next to a road overpass under which homeless folk are always gathered) where it empties into Nanaimo Harbour, creating a fresh/salt water estuary frequented by seals and aquatic birds, the trail turns left and traces the north and east perimeters of Maffeo Sutton Park. In Maffeo Sutton I pass a small, blue bandshell (a frequent site of teenaged Hacky Sack), the terminal for the ferry that seasonally carries people to and from Newcastle Island, and a kiddie park. Sometimes I see “the cat guy” in Maffeo Sutton. He walks briskly with a calico cat perched, seemingly content and stable, upright on all four legs on one of his shoulders. Cat-guy has trained his feline to accept a leash, so he lets it romp safely in the park. Maffeo Sutton blends into Georgia Park and the trail follows a white, arched bridge that spans the waterway connecting Swy-A-Lana Lagoon with Nanaimo Harbour. I pass a long, thin, L-shaped pier jutting into the Harbour from which a few crabbers nearly always are tending traps. Often I’ve seen a bald eagle by now. I think one or more pairs nest on Newcastle Island. As I approach the downtown Harbourfront, I pass the seaplane terminal and a high-rise of condominiums under construction, often noisily, with the aid of a huge crane strapped to the corner of the building for stability. I imagine the tremendous view the solitary crane operator must have. I pass the few, mostly empty (in winter) restaurants and shops along the harbourfront--The "Tea On the Quay" tea shoppe, a gift shop and gallery, and Javawocky coffee shop. About half the time, and no matter the time of day, I see the same gentleman sitting in the same Javawocky seat--front corner stool at the window--drinking coffee and reading a newspaper. We make eye contact, and perhaps he finds my repeated presence in this location as curious as I find his. I pass the offices of the Port of Nanaimo authority (the organization that runs the harbour), a giant compass point display embedded in the sidewalk, and two floating restaurants, closed for the season: Trollers Fish & Chips and Penny’s Palapa. Then I detour into the “boat basin,” treading on a floating wood-plank dock to which boats of all sorts are moored. There are commercial fishing and crabbing boats, pleasure boats, sea kayaks, and an armada of tiny, mostly ragtag boats, some (barely) motorized, some not, used mainly I think by residents of Protection Island to commute to downtown. The boat basin dock ends at Cameron Island, which is not now an island, but perhaps was before being developed to accommodate a large condominium complex comprising three buildings, one 20+ stories high. I walk the circumference of Cameron Island, pass another pier where huge yachts, often displaying American flags, sometimes are tied up. If I’m lucky, I’ll pause on the east side of Cameron to watch the Gabriola Island ferry put in or load up and depart, or to guess the function of other big commercial vessels nearby. Now I head for downtown. I cross Front Street and into the Port Place Mall, which offers three attractions (for me): a grocery store, a post office, and a public restroom. I exit the other side of the mall, (always) pass the front entrance of the Great Canadian Casino next door, and head north via downtown’s Commercial Street, which I pick up at the intersection with Terminal Avenue, near the south end of the very new and controversial Vancouver Island Conference Center. I walk through downtown along Commercial, passing first the 100% vacant street level retail space built into the Conference Center. The economy's condition and prospects do not encourage new retail business. Nanaimo’s downtown is charming, nonetheless. It’s not trendy or touristy, decrepit enough to make it real, but prosperous and diverse enough to inspire interest. Sometimes I stop at the library and, when the city's apparently highly literate and well-informed homeless population isn’t monopolizing them, read Victoria’s Times-Colonist, the Vancouver Sun, or the Globe & Mail newspaper. One day I stopped for a haircut at the His & Hers Hair Centre and was gratified to be offered what I’ve silently desired for years from barbers: a bald guy’s discount. Though the posted haircut price was $14, the barber would accept only $5, saying, “I didn’t do anything, really.” How could I argue? Another morning I stopped for the $4.99 breakfast special at Tina's Diner. Besides the great meal, I got my mood properly set for the day thanks to the cook's affinity for a greatest hits CD by (Canadian) Neil Young. At the north end of downtown I take Church Street back to Front and a view again of the harbour, the islands, and the Coastal Mountains (when it’s clear). I take the sidewalk along Front back to the Maffeo Sutton parking lot, where I pick up the seawall trail and retrace my path back to the condo. Sometimes I walk back on Newcastle Avenue, which parallels the seawall but is perhaps 10 meters higher and so gives a different, somehow grander, perspective on the vista.

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