There are two little boys in our home. I never knew the pleasure I would feel in casually mentioning “my sons” in conversation until I suddenly have that privilege. Having children is a dream my wife and I shared long before we met. It is certainly a dream being realized, but there are parts of it that are not a dream, or at least not the type of dream that one is asleep during. There is far less sleep involved than I ever imagined.
Our youngest son is four months old and sleeps very well at night, which I think is only fair, since his two-and-a-half year old big brother didn’t manage that until about a year ago. Teething was a painful and ridiculously long process for our oldest, and it woke him (and us) up every hour, on the hour, every night, for the first eighteen months of his life. To add to that, he had a stage where he couldn’t fall asleep. We tried everything, and for a while, taking a drive in the evening helped quite a bit. Sometimes we drove for twenty minutes, and there were times when it took more than an hour. Often my wife would join us, but there were times when she would take a much-deserved break and let me and the little man make the trip alone.
At the time we rented the southwestern-most house in Wetaskiwin (not on purpose; it just turned out that way), and, being a map person and someone who prefers “east and west” to “left and right,” my natural tendency was to head for the northeastern-most point in the city. Our son’s phase occurred during a particularly snowy winter, so we travelled streets bumpy with packed and frozen snow, enjoying the cover of darkness and the warmly lit windows that populate a resting city, like characters and scenes in one of those deliciously slow-moving movies. Heading steadily north, it only takes about ten minutes to cross the city, and right before the hospital on the northern edge, I turned east on Northmount. Heading north again I found an established neighbourhood with mature trees, decent sized yards and valuable homes. As I stubbornly carried on my search for the northeastern-most house, the houses became nicer without being pretentious. Suddenly I was guided north by a dead-end sign, onto a short street called Applewood.
With a name like Applewood, could a street be anything but lovely? At the risk of forfeiting my “man card,” I will right now admit to a long-standing love of the Anne of Green Gables stories. Naming a street Applewood reminds of how Anne saw a “Lake of Shining Waters” where others saw only an unexceptional slough. Maybe most people wouldn’t see much of anything special on Applewood Street, but to me it is a cozy, quiet street so close to the edge of town that you can almost feel the countryside creeping softly in.
One last jog brought my son and me onto the home stretch. Aspen Ridge Crescent is a cul-de-sac, lined with more impressive-yet-cozy houses. We bumped along the road, and I instantly liked the place. We quickly reached the section of the street where you have to swing around and double back, and instead of the normal expanse of bare pavement that is usually featured in a cul-de-sac, a tiny grassy, treed area sprung from the centre of the street, small enough to stay out of the way, and just large enough to be decorative. I think that is what sealed the deal for me.
I grew up in a small town not far from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. There were less than two thousand people in the town, and we lived one house away from the north-west corner of town. When I was very young, the Carlton rail line ran northbound right along the western edge of town, less than one hundred yards from our home, but it quickly became obsolete and was pulled up when I was still quite young, leaving a perfect, tree-lined walking trail running for miles between the farmers’ fields. Walking along this trail we quickly discovered it was a wildlife corridor where we regularly encountered deer, rabbits, ducks and a vast assortment of birds.
This wooded highway became a childhood playground. In winter, the old railbed created perfect drifts for snow forts, and in spring, the ditches flooded, which was perfect for rubber boots full of slough water. We named certain spots along the trail (in the style of Anne Shirley), and dreamed up many more forts than we ever built. As we grew older, my sisters and I became more reluctant to go out for a tramp, and Mom had to drag us out on a Sunday afternoon. While I grumbled at the time, I am now quite thankful for her insistence.
That cul-de-sac mini-park on Aspen Ridge is the type of place I would have haunted daily in my childhood. While it is much smaller than the trails I was fortunate enough to wander, the size would have only slightly narrowed the scope for imagination. Even now, with those days far behind me, in that little tuft of trees and grass I see a pirate ship in the doldrums, an emergency wilderness camp site, or a towering oasis city, dwarfed by a vast desert.
This may seem like a stretch to be considered a reason to feel optimistic about Wetaskiwin, but for me it easily makes the cut. It is tiny pockets of life like this that make a city into a home instead of just a hotel; a place to live, and not just a place to eat and sleep.
Clearly we can’t all live on Applewood, and the folks on Aspen Ridge Crescent might not appreciate me and my boys setting up a fort in the middle of their street, but this corner of the city has awakened my desire to seek out similar corners throughout Wetaskiwin. If you live here, and you’re reading this, it’s quite likely you live in one; I believe I do. So, while this post is not about anything that is particularly unique about Wetaskiwin, celebrate that very fact with me: that there are average, homey places in this town where sleepy summer days, breathless winter adventures and ocean voyages across quiet streets are alive and well.