Walking the Iron Horse

The Iron Horse Trail

Iron Horse

How many times I’ve looked at the street map and guessed that walking from Kitchener to Waterloo was just too far, I really don’t know. But I had eight hours to kill and $3.00 each way for the local bus was just too much when I was only earning $2.00 an hour. Besides, I reasoned, I needed to walk to put in my ten thousand steps per day.

What I had not accounted for was that the insoles of my shoes had worn out, but, aside from some awkward blisters, that soon became immaterial.

In Hamilton, I was quite used to walking for the sake of shopping, but the map between cities just seemed to cover much longer distances.

The heat of the day felt more like August, but the scent of the air was clearly September: that wonderful combination of fall flowers so reminiscent of my youthful  first days of school.  And some part of me clearly channeled my youth. I was still several minutes from the crossing at Victoria Street when I registered someone standing on the sidewalk facing me apparently increasingly frustrated by the constant stream of traffic that prevented him from crossing the street. When I was directly opposite, now also between the two yellow lines that mark a pedestrian crossing point. My arm swung up and out of its own accord and my finger pointed across the road.  On either side of us, the cars slowed and stopped, obedient to the decades’ by-gone ‘stop and point’ signal. I strode confidently forward and the younger man opposite raised his eyebrows in surprise before he followed suit. “So that’s how it’s done,” he grinned as we passed each other. “I don’t honestly know, “I smiled back. “But apparently it’s worth a try.”

My legs quietly ate up the blocks of sidewalk, while my eyes drank in the brilliant autumn flowers. There was no question but that my Canadian world had changed in the past six decades. The bright saris and snowy headscarves of two elderly women taking shelter from the sun under a crab-apple tree was enough to tell me that.  As I left the street to join the trail that marked the old railway line, the sight of two women jogging along the path confirmed my perception. Not only the face of our culture, but also its concerns have changed for the better. Fitness has become more important that floors, and learning different outlooks and ways from ‘the other’ more important than teaching them ours. I may miss the first days of school this year, but I have no nostalgia for Kinder, Kirche, Küche.

I have changed too in the intervening years. Schoolmates remember me as a girl who would blush if spoken to. The burden I carried as a teenager dragged my head earthward and kept my eyes fixed on the ground to avoid those of others. Although I will always be a shy introvert, I am no longer either the victim or the victim-in-waiting. I have sunk my roots deep into the earth like the wildflowers around me.

The wildflowers on the trail are indeed abundant this year and I am grateful for another change. No longer are they mowed down in favour of some imported grasses, they are allowed to run riot, their heads held proudly upward.  Shy asters, gentle brown-eyed Susans, and bold goldenrod scent the air around me.

Ah – but there is a scent that makes me chuckle for it is certainly not native or quite natural. Here in a cool shady patch alongside the dry creek-bed, there lingers the scent of recently burned marijuana. Someone sheltered here not so long ago for a little illicit relaxation. Once a totally foreign odour, I know it well, for it drifts nightly from the balconies around my apartment and, when the weather is colder, permeates the hallways.

The trail comes to an end and I dash into the Bauer Lofts to use the bathroom. My finances are stretched past their limits so I don’t even browse through the offerings at the deli. And by now my heels are very sore. To my delight I discover an assistance agency just a few doors further along and I am every so grateful for the bandages they give me.

The difficult part of this journey is not the journey itself; it is the need to ask for help when I was the one who freely offered help for over thirty years. Asking and receiving are harder than offering and giving. But the journey continues.

The trail