Most of us are concerned with the BIG lights. We know traffic lights; skytracker lights; the halide and the sodium of street standards; the trail of highway lights offering a bit of comfort on a cold and unshakable night; the din of downtown. Small lights deserve some recognition as well. The lights of little wooden homes on a nondescript avenue deserve an epistle as much as the big burns.
It is an early November evening and the sun is heading for bed. The trees are bony and the moon is waxing into its full-on Peak Freans glory. This is an avenue that could be mistaken for any other in my fair city. Although it is too dark to see, I am on my way to walk in the ravine. Visiting that small respite of woods has grown from habit into treasured necessity. Its curative and restoring vibe is difficult to explain for a rationalist like me, but it’s there. I feel it every time I leave the city din behind and walk with the squeak of snow and branch under my feet.
But before the ravine is the approach. A walk that is easily taken for granted. It’s a walk through the guts of the south side. The housing is of 50’s vintage. Unlike contemporary neighbourhoods, this one is refreshing in its variety. Every house is unique. The barely-standing bungalow with the Sanford and Son back yard is flanked by a chalet-style two-storey with a red porchlight on one side and a wood-front split level with a yellow dog in the window on the other. Many houses are graced with front verandas – bygones of a seemingly simpler time. The windows are all glowing softly. Everyone is whistling Sunday. The short song of the weekend is slowly dovetailing into a tune resembling surrender; a tune equal parts mourning and acceptance of the workweek to come. There are stirrings inside these homes. Some are as subtle as the shifting blue of television programs, some as dramatic as a pan of muffins drawn from a stove and left to cool on blue melamine. There are red lamps and crooked pictures, blue stoves and lace curtains barely concealing kisses between old lovers, great black dogs barking and striped cats a-watching, yellow swag lamps and dripping wooden crucifixes, all resplendent behind wooden homes built long before I was born.
It is nearing the beginning of December, and the keeners have already decorated their houses and yards. A few even have Christmas trees up and blazing. In my opinion that is an absolute sin this early in the season. In fact, it may be insane. There is no snow on the ground yet, which is unusual. By now, we are typically graced with a smattering of heavenly white jazz. It seems that Mother Nature, in all her inscrutable and dodgy ways, is waiting for the right time. She’s waiting until we let our guard down just enough; when we start to foolishly think, “hey, maybe we won’t get snow this year.” Then she’ll let out a big belly laugh and pummel us with minus 30 and snowdrifts the size of Detroit. With snow on the ground, the lights of people become even more compelling and endearing. Bluered television streams out onto white screens of snow which reflect delicious imperfections to the viewer. Christmas lights look more alive and the evergreen trees live up to their name and I envy their stoic colouration. The snow is absent but remembered and anticipated as much for how it changes things as for it’s stark beauty.
But not yet. Snow is in the mail, but for now the air is sharp and genteel. The sidewalks are still grey and there are no dangling icicles. The house lights of anystreet Edmonton are there as they always are, beaming and unique under a citadel of trembling white stars.
The ravine is there. A roadway curves and divides the dwellings from the woods. The grass is brown; it’s dive from summer’s green done and over. The woods resemble a jagged fence with the stable moon standing guard. It is still cold. I walk into the trees and they are silent. I walk until I can’t see the lights of my neighbourhood through the thinning branches. The stars turn above my head.
StreetRag ::: An Urban Notebook
StreetRag is an urban weblog and podcast about the city of Edmonton, which is located in the province of Alberta, Canada. It is authored by Edmonton-based writer, web advocate, and poet Michael Gravel and is updated frequently with written urban vignettes, amateurish photographs, deuteronomous audio material, barely coherent musings and rambling ecumenical treatises. StreetRag is a love letter to a lonely prairie burg struggling with its big city ambitions and small-town feel.
The city is Edmonton. It's a subject, not a passion. E-Town is almost universally derided by outsiders as an unlivable tundra wasteland populated by oil-hungry redneck conservatives who despise the arts. All of that is true. But it's not the whole story. There is beauty here. Dusty snowfalls. Brilliant summers. A stunning river valley. A diverse arts community that flourishes. It's a place that inspires a gray relationship - not all good, not all shitty. For that reason alone it is lovable, for what is life but a grayscale?