#YEG: Symphony of the Suburbs

A writer discusses the hidden beauty of suburbia.

Illustration Pop Winson

There’s no denying the uniformity of the suburbs. When I was younger, I vowed I’d never live in a house with a garage in front, but now we’ve been in the West End for 16 years, one house over from the Anthony Henday Drive Transportation and Utility Corridor (TUC). I’ve always craved quiet but, here we are, right beside a busy highway.

Each morning, I drape my camera around my neck and walk with our black Lab, Ace, through the ‘burbs and along the gravel path beside the TUC. We used to amble through the field, but the coyotes have become too prevalent.

So far, this sounds quite boring, quite dull. But what I want to say is that every single day is unique and glorious – even in the suburbs. The crop grows and is baled and grows again, and eventually is covered in frost, then snow, in the long narrow field of the utility corridor. Coyotes come and go, birds fly over and sometimes alight in the trees that were once windbreaks for farms. The light changes, the seasons change, the foliage thickens, recedes. Clouds roll in from the west – huge ships, dragons, whales.

My favourite time to walk is mid-morning, when most everyone else has gone to work. Birds own the neighbourhoods – it’s like backstage at a concert. The crows are cool in shiny black; the glitzy, glinting magpies riff; robins practice their vocals; blue jays get in tune. Meanwhile, sparrows hit the stage en masse, that old razzle dazzle, and careen through the big quiet houses lining the dry pond. 

Once I saw an albino magpie, something I’ve always wanted to see. I spotted it here and there for a couple of weeks but haven’t seen it since.

I photograph leaves in the tiny forests – those leftover places one finds in the suburbs, at the edges of neighbourhoods. The bright freshly unfurled ones in spring, the sturdy green in summer, the reds and yellows of fall, and the curled-up brown ones still clinging and cupping snow in winter. Light moves through them at different angles. I keep thinking I’ll get tired of taking photos while on my walks but the riches are inexhaustible. Snow adorns a rose, sunbeams pierce a leaf, light shines on hay bales like something out of a Monet painting. There’s such splendour amid the sameness – every day I find something to astonish me.

Shawna Lemay is an Edmonton-based author, blogger and photographer. She has written six books of poetry and a book of essays, and her latest novel, Rumi and the Red Handbag, was released in October 2015.

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