Edmonton·First Person

How a suburban path taught me to accommodate catnaps and appreciate change

Behind Rhonda Skinner's new home was a gravel path that led her to wondrous places in a suburban ravine. Over the years, the path changed. And so did she.

At first, I didn't want my special place to get busier. Now I know it made it better

Rhonda Skinner on the Fraser Ravine path behind her home in northeast Edmonton. (Submitted by Rhonda Skinner)

This First Person article is from Rhonda Skinner, who has lived in the Fraser neighbourhood in northeast Edmonton since 2005. Her story is part of The Henday Project, a CBC Edmonton initiative focused on the suburbs. For more information about CBC's First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

When our bungalow was built in 2005, we had no bus service. We had to change internet providers to get a high-speed connection. And because we weren't on GPS maps, our pizza was always cold by the time the delivery person found us.

But our lot backed onto Fraser Ravine, a northeast Edmonton green space winding toward the river, and just past the back gate was a gravel path — a place of natural beauty that became a special place for me.

It was special to others, too. But for different reasons.

Guys on motorcycles and ATVs would crash down the path, the noise pulling me away from my university studies and out to confront them. I challenged them about disrupting people walking on the path and those living next to it. They were outraged but eventually stopped riding on the path.

Other study breaks were thanks to my cat Mac, who would walk across my keyboard to let me know it was time to go outside. He had me leash-trained and I could lead him anywhere he wanted to go.

He often found a grassy spot next to the path and would stretch out for a nap, leaving me standing there.

Mac the cat had leash-trained his owner, who often found herself with nothing to do but enjoy her surroundings when he'd stop mid-walk for an impromptu nap. (Submitted by Rhonda Skinner)

That turned out to be a blessing. 

Being in nature changed my perspective. My shoulders relaxed as I watched birds and squirrels, and many times I solved an assignment problem that I'd been struggling with.

The path became a place to refresh my body and mind between reading textbooks and writing papers.

Cats, birds — and people, too

I didn't realize other changes were taking place on this path until a fellow stopped to speak to me while I was filling bird feeders.

He told me how he'd hated to see more houses being built on the ravine but then realized that the many new feeders installed along the path were attracting a wide variety of new birds.

He was amazed and so was I. I had never seen a pileated woodpecker or a northern flicker up close before. 

Mac and I continued to walk the path, which was getting busier as the neighbourhood grew. Mac and I knew the dog walkers' routines, but cyclists were another matter. They sent my terrified cat racing home, with me clutching his leash and sprinting after him.

Before it was paved in 2017, the Fraser Ravine path was a simple gravel trail winding through the trees. (Submitted by Rhonda Skinner)

The path also became a vantage point to watch other changes in the city. My husband and I would walk to a lookout point and watch construction of a bridge over the North Saskatchewan River. When the north leg of the Anthony Henday Drive finally opened in 2016, we were happy campers. It cut 20 minutes off our trip to our favourite campsite, and it made highway access quick and easy in every direction.

The following year, I learned that change was coming for my special place.

The city was going to cover my sanctuary in asphalt and paint a yellow line down the middle. I was outraged and had Mac still been alive, I'm sure he would have been, too. I thought the pavement would be the path's ruin. 

But I was wrong.

Instead, I saw a change in the people who used it. The new surface allowed young families to roll their strollers along the path. People in wheelchairs or with walkers could enjoy the natural beauty of the ravine. Little kids could ride their bikes easily on the firm surface. In the winter, the path is plowed to allow for year-round enjoyment.

On this path, I learned the key to embracing change is to focus on how it makes our life better while appreciating those things that stayed the same. The birds and squirrels still entertain us, and the colours in fall are still gorgeous. It continues to be a place to refresh body and mind.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rhonda Skinner is an Edmonton writer and editor who also enjoys golfing, playing ukulele and taking photos of wildlife.

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