My commute to work is almost ridiculously pleasant. Each morning I walk for 10 minutes along quiet, tree-lined residential streets to the McKernan/Belgravia LRT station. Then, a five-minute train ride later, I’m downtown.
It’s a tough routine to beat – even when the weirdly angled sidewalks freeze over for the entire month of March. What really makes my commute a thing of beauty, though, is that brief stretch of time when the LRT crosses the North Saskatchewan.
The natural attractiveness of our river valley has nearly become a clich. It’s our go-to rebuttal to any suggestion that Edmonton is too industrial, too rough around the edges and too clumsily laid out to be enjoyed on an aesthetic level. So is that why none of my fellow passengers seem to notice that it’s even out there anymore? How else could so many people take it for granted? I’m a compulsive reader on public transit but, about a year ago, I made a resolution: As soon as the train leaves the underground tunnel at University Station and pokes its nose out into Walterdale Park, I would put my book down and look out the window. I’ve done it every day since.
This twice-daily ritual instantly de-clutters my brain. For that minute or so, I feel as though I’m breathing fresh, frontier air, instead of whatever leftover hoagie fumes are emanating from the guy standing next to me.
I’ve never found a better place to appreciate the river valley and its surroundings, short of canoeing or something, than here on the Dudley B. Menzies Bridge. If you stand near one of the LRT’s doors, the tall windows provide a low, unobstructed view of the river as it winds up to the northwest, where skyscrapers fear to tread. To the southeast, meanwhile, the Rossdale power plant gets framed by the horizon more majestically than a decommissioned quagmire built partly on an Aboriginal burial ground has any right to.
In the fall, you’re met with a fiery sunburst of colour as you pass the trees on the south side. And in winter – are you kidding me? Watching the ice on the river form, thicken, waver, crack and then finally melt each year is among the most beautiful sights I have ever seen.
Most of my fellow LRT passengers seem content to float above it, oblivious, locked into their magazines, conversations and smartphones. Yet every time I turn my head to look out that window, I notice a few others following my lead. This might just be human instinct; most of them turn right back, uninterested. But there’s a chance that some of them are seeing the same things that I do.
Michael Hingston is the books columnist for the Edmonton Journal. His debut novel, the campus comedy, The Dilettantes (Freehand Books), is in stores this month.