Nature And The City
nature collage

in my daughters garden, July 2017 - Photo: Clare Isaak
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La Barriere Park - May 2015
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White-tailed Deer - Birdshill Park, May 2014 
Photo: Clare Isaak
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Me. Outside. In Nature.

When I started HEALTH COACH I also started making changes to my long neglected health habits to follow my own advice. More than three years later, fresh air and sunshine are my weakest health habits, and I feel that my sleep suffers as a direct result. At my very core, I tend to feel my health compromised, and I am more anxious and fretful. Whenever I spend a day outside, you will hear me exclaim: "Oh! I forgot how good this makes me feel." It is a deep feeling of well-being and peace, impossible to recreate artificially. I welcome the opportunity that this challenge gives me to spend time every day in the fresh air and light of nature. 

Even though Spring is well advanced, temperatures have plummeted to minus zero and the high today is 2 degrees celsius with a sleeting snow. I am sick, and I wondered, after the weather had taken an abrupt change, arriving home in the dark and snowy chill in my thin rain coat; if I would fail to start the challenge. I adjusted my thinking, remembering that inclement weather has always had a special appeal for me.

It was a perfectly charming start. Just the exact kind of weather I adore. Fresh, moist, bracing air with magical, subdued light. It awakens a homesickness for the Atlantic coast where I was born and grew up, and stormy days by the sea. 

My daughter joined me for the walk. We had planned to visit Omand's Creek Park (now renamed Halter Park) but arrived to find the creek flooded and impassable. There were happy families of ducks surfing the forceful, swollen creek flow into the Red River and a handsome Canadian geese couple, languidly floating along in the gentler currents.

We altered our course and headed over foot and train bridge to the Greenway Trail.

I live in the heart of downtown Winnipeg, and I think it adds an extra element of challenge and interest to find refuges of nature and wildlife here. 

I have decided to continue visiting Winnipeg Trails (there are 36 in total). Photos: Clare Isaak

The portion of this trail along the Seine River Greenway is impassable still. You can see the beginning of the trail in the above photo. The path is slick with heavy Red River gumbo and drops and curves sharply toward the swollen, flooded river.

This route in the east quarter of old St Boniface is half on sidewalks and half on the Seine River Greenway. Much of it follows the Trans Canada Trail. It is named in honour of famed author Gabrielle Roy who was born and raised in the rambling frame house at 375 Rue Deschambault. From her prairie roots, Roy became one of Canada’s most prominent authors whose several books have been translated and read in all corners of the globe. Her writings span the country, but as often as not, Roy’s settings and characters are the people and places she knew while growing up in Manitoba.

Parc Lagimodiére et Gaboury

The colours of nature are a soft and muted palette of faded ochre, green, grey, and red. 

At the end of my walk I sat with eyes closed and just listened. I heard four distinct birdsongs. There is a diverse mix of flora and fauna in this little nature reserve, and the smell in the summer through to the fall is intoxicating.

(The date of these photos is incorrect)

the colour palette of nature today

This trail winds through St Boniface, the heart of French speaking Winnipeg and the largest francophone community in Western Canada. Established by the Roman Catholic Church in 1818, this area is home to many people who are themselves the descendants of the earliest French settlers.

Provencher Bridge 

The river walkway lies buried under the flooded Red River, so I turned and headed northward, to Fort Gibraltar. 

You can feel the history in this part of old St. Boniface. When I am here, I always find myself thinking about the first Europeans. I think about how we complain so easily at the first hint of any physical discomfort, even though we have easy comforts always close at hand: warm clothes, food, cars, and heated homes. I think about what it would have been like without the conveniences that we have grown accustomed to, all of it waits, ready-made; to have to make it, or do without. 

Fort Gibraltar

I think about the French voyageurs, traveling with packs as heavy as 600 pounds, running, because walking would not have been possible. Hernias were common and they were often the cause of death. 

I think about the people who were here long before the Voyageurs and the settlers. They lived in nature, a part of nature, with a grace that is extinct now. I think about the things we have lost.

This tree, several hundred years old, 
would have stood in the earliest times of the first Europeans.  

When you visit the homestead displays at the St. Boniface Museum, you will notice that the furniture, clothing and even Louis Riel's coffin are almost child-sized. These people were hardy in a way difficult to even imagine nowadays. As though they were a more concentrated version of a human, living a life largely en plein air.

Parc Whittier

If you visit this neighbourhood, on a warm summer evening, where there is a French shanty town in the shadow of the fort, hidden behind shiny new condominiums; you may hear music and friendly voices, gathered together around an open fire.

Day 4: Old St. Boniface Route (continued)

Toward the middle of the Provencher Bridge, Maman and I found ourselves surrounded by sea gulls; they flew low over the Red River. Maman took my hand and clasped it tight, as though to convey to me a movement of her soul.
Esplanade Riel

Leaning on the parapet we watched the gulls for a long while. And all of a sudden, on that bridge, Maman told me that she would like to be able to go whenever and wherever she might choose. City of Riches - Gabrielle Roy 

I used to walk or ride my old bicycle along this route, every day, for years to work in the Exchange District, when I lived in Old St. Boniface. When you walk around the city that you live in, it gives you a completely different relationship with your surroundings. The intimacy develops a unique story.

I would surprise my fellow workers with the condition that I would arrive in, my boots weighted down with black gumbo, hair a wild tumble, with stories of falcon, hawk and beaver sightings.

The Waterfront Drive Boardwalk 
on the West Side of the Red River

The Red River along the Normand Park Trail

My family joined me for a walk today

Area residents make heavy use of this carefully landscaped pathway that snakes along the banks of the Red River. The trail was designed in line with the city’s new policy of preserving river banks for recreation. The Normand Park Residents Association and Winnipeg Parks worked together to build a walking and cycling path through existing native river forest vegetation with native grasses and flowers planted in the open areas of this 6 hectare linear parkway.

The roots of our city and our province stretch back to the banks of the Red River of two centuries ago. The first Métis families settled here shortly after the Selkirk Settlers arrived in 1812. Since 1822, the nutrient-rich soil of what is now Henteleff Park was the ideal setting for the farms of several Métis families. The river provided the water for their crops, the fish to supplement their diets, and the transportation to move their harvest. 
The Frobisher, Lacoste and Normand families thrived along the riverbank. The market garden community was a diverse ethnic mix of nationalities, in addition to the Métis families and the Henteleffs. Métis farms were the foundation of the Market Gardeners’ Society, formed in 1903.

Henteleff Park

Photos: Clare Isaak

Day 6: 
It's good that my walks on Day 3 - 5 were hour long walks - because I forgot my walk today! That's exactly why I need this challenge. I'll add another day on at the end, actually, I plan to visit all 36 Winnipeg Trails. Doing a 30 day challenge is a great way to start a new habit; my 30 day yoga detox challenge lead to my signing up for a year. I look forward to some fresh air and sunshine tomorrow...

Day 7 & 8: Yard Work, Fire, and a Wild Beastie

This was my first adventure in solo house ownership. I lived here with my teen-aged daughter. Many of our early years here, in this house, were spent taming this backyard. It was like The Day of The Triffids. The burdock threatened to consume us. Now there are wild grasses, comfrey, and virginia creeper. Comfrey is a great herb to grow for a few years if you want to purify your soil, say, after having a dog living there. 

My fence, shed, and compost bins are almost entirely built with recycled white pine, oak and cedar from old shipping pallets - pressure-treated cedar was used for the the 6x6 posts.

Chairman Meow

Day 9: Truro Creek Trail To Bruce Park 

At Sunset

Truro Creek Greenway

I was mislead by the Winnipeg Trails Association website. The network of naturalized reserves throughout Winnipeg are brilliant, important, valuable. The website has maps and landmarks as well as historical details about each of the 36 sites. I have included live links as I visit each trail. The 3755 Portage Avenue address (The Red River Co-op) is identified as the refreshments / washroom pit stop. This address is close to the Perimeter Highway, on the edge of Winnipeg, whereas Bruce Park and Truro Creek Greenway are east of Assiniboine Park, accessed from 1966 Portage Avenue: Bruce Park (landmark: The Assiniboine Hotel on The Park).

Bruce Park

A riparian zone or riparian area is the interface between land and a river or stream. Riparian is also the proper nomenclature for one of the fifteen terrestrial biomes of the earth. Plant habitats and communities along the river margins and banks are called riparian vegetation, characterized by hydrophilic plants. Riparian zones are significant in ecology, environmental management, and civil engineering because of their role in soil conservation, stabilization of banks and shorelines, wildlife refuges and migration corridors, habitat biodiversity, and the influence they have on fauna and aquatic ecosystems, including grassland, woodland, wetland or even non-vegetative. 

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Truro Creek is a tributary of the Assiniboine River. At its northern end, on the north side of Portage Avenue, the creek seems to come from underground, under Ness Avenue and through an aquaduct on the other side, babbling southward through the greenway, again under Portage Avenue, through Bruce Park to the Assiniboine River.

The creek and creek beds look tired and abused after the torturous winter of 2013.

Bruce Park

This land was once owned by the Bruce family, local Métis farmers. This park is part of the North Assiniboine Parkway Route, one of my favorite bike rides.

A beaver lives in Truro Creek.


I love living where there are four, distinct and sometimes, extreme seasons. People here constantly complain about the weather, it is after all, possible to experience sunburn and frostbite in the same week, sometimes in the same day! Secretly, we count ourselves hardy and bouyant survivors. Oh! glorious, tempestuous nature.

Lyndale Drive Park

I am grateful for this most amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes.
E.E. Cummings

The Red River

Day 11: World Belly Dance Day at The Forks 
This was a world class event, even though the dancers  performed in 7 degree weather, barefoot. Unfortunately, my photos malfunctioned. 

This is exactly the kind of healthy, unusual, and exciting event that I like to support professionally. 

I ate lunch in the fresh air.

Day 12: Brooks Trail To Bunn's Creek via Kildonan Settler's Bridge 

Brooks Trail

A new and unexpected interest has developed from this nature challenge; a passion for the history of the nature reserves I am visiting here on the prairie. The people history is important, but the primary goal for me has become the need to see any original, natural prairie growth. I want to be able to see what the prairie originally looked like.

At one time tall grass prairie was a vast sea of waving grasses and wildflowers extending from southern Manitoba to Texas. Tall grass prairie is the most endangered of ecosystems in Canada. Less than 1% of original grasslands remain. 

Brook's Trail leads along the west banks of the Red River to prairie grassland restoration projects and the oldest and largest stand of Plains Cottonwood trees in Winnipeg. There are parallel stands of these trees down to the Red River that indicate to me there would have been a thick forest originally. Nature looks tired and worn, especially after the torturous winter of 2013. These trees have seen hundreds of winters...

This is a special nature reserve where it is possible to get a glimpse of wild prairie. I would like to visit again in the summer and fall.

Chief Peguis Trail runs from Henderson Highway to Lagimodiere Boulevard in the City of Winnipeg. Elements have been included in the design to minimize environmental impacts, improve safety and encourage alternative modes of transportation.

Bunn's Creek is on the east side of the Red River across from Brook's Trail.

The mouth of Bunn's Creek at the Red River

This meandering trail follows the course of Bunn’s Creek through a tight ravine. Framed with sloped embankments and shaded with a leafy canopy, the path is quiet and intimate. This is a natural parkway with wild or natural vegetation intact. It’s a popular spot with birders as song birds and waterfowl are plentiful. A variety of turtles call this home and northern pike, black bullheads, white sucker and many other fish use the creek for spawning in spring.

Day 13: Bois-des-Esprit (Spirit Wood) 

This 117 acre urban forest contains five different ecosystems: riverbottom, wetland, oak forest, aspen forest, and grassland. It is the largest remaining riverbank forest in Winnipeg and is precariously situated on the frontline of urban sprawl, with heavy people traffic. It is home to several families of whitetail deer.

 Self-taught Métis carver Murray Watson recently 
completed two new wood carvings in Bois-des-Esprit

Nature Boy

The Seine River


Day 14: Pick Up Litter Day
Teams of workers are cleaning the streets of the city after a long winter of sanding and salting. They estimate that it will take four weeks. I will devote my 30 minutes today to picking up garbage on my street. 

The Human Animal Is Environmentally 

These rental properties at 409, 411, and 413 Sherbrook Street have a serious landlord and tenant garbage problem. Even though the city has given each house several sets of new garbage and recycling bins, the garbage is thrown out the back door into a pile that has grown to 20-25 bags at each property. An award-winning case of carelessness. I made a 311 complaint siting health and fire risks. Your tax dollars are being spent on a special crew being sent out every two weeks to clean up these yards.

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Day 15: What To Do If You Miss A Day

Do not despair, panic, or lose control if you do not always meet your commitments, goals, or if you miss a day. A healthy lifestyle also involves being able to negotiate compromises, breaks, changes, adjustments, restarts, and continuations. Do not give up on yourself. 

With this 30 day challenge, when I miss a day, I make up for the missed time on another outing. I am still getting the benefits of a minimum of 3-5 hours of walking in nature a week. These walks fulfill three of the basic health habits: breathing/fresh air, sunlight, and physical activity. It is the cure for all of my sleep problems and a positive mental attitude is a bonus.

Day 16: The Seine River and The Environmentally Unfriendly Animal

Can you guess who the mystery animal is? Everywhere this animal goes, it leaves a trail of garbage, even here, in these nature reserves. Let's show our children how to take care of nature.

The Seine River

This challenge has changed me. It has changed me from loving and enjoying nature, to wanting to help and to protect nature, as well.

Day 17: The Harte Trail 

Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Everyday I walk myself into a state of well being and walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it. But by sitting still, and the more one sits still, the closer one comes to feeling ill... if one keeps on walking everything will be alright. Sören Kierkegaard

I did not expect to be charmed by this trail. It stretches for over 6 km east and west, straight along the prairie. What makes it charming is the natural growth that surrounds and shelters it. It would be the perfect spot to gather a bunch of pussy willows earlier in the spring. Breathe deeply here, the air is richly layered with earthy smells. A chorus of birds and frogs complement the sensory play. Unexpectedly, nature can open and soften your heart.

Day 18 & 19: Louis Riel Sr. Trail and What Is Red River Gumbo?

Heavy, black, Red River Valley clay gumbo, is the sediment layers of  the prehistoric Lake Agassiz, on top of the remains of glacial till from the Pleistocene geologic epoch lasting from 2, 588, 000 to 11,700 years ago. It is an agriculturally rich soil, however, it is a contrary companion on a wet path. 

The Seine River

Day 20 & 21: Transcona Trail: The Rotary Tall Grass Nature Park & The Transcona Community Bioreserve

Park City West Community Club

The ball once struck / Away flies the boy / From each abandoned post / To the next with joy. 
John Newberry, 1744

Transcona maintains a small town atmosphere. My walk kept pace with the activity of this lively community, and it was a timeless spring prairie evening, summoning the best of a childhood spent largely out-of-doors in nature, and the romance of W.O. Mitchell's Who Has Seen The Wind? 

The Rotary Tall Grass Nature Park 

There was a baseball game in progress at the community club, two boys had motorized their bicycles and were flying up and down the straight-of-way, middle-aged runners were dealing with the results of a winter of rich feastings, and two young girls outran an oncoming train. Above all, the loudest were the chorus of frogs, calling from the ditches, a sure sign of a healthy environment.  

* (Can you tell the difference between the sound of a cricket and the call of a frog? I heard plains spadsfoot toads and boreal chorus frogs - check out the above (jug o' rum...) live link to Manitoba Toad and Frog Sounds). 

Transcona Community Bioreserve

The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway purchased 800 acres of land east of Winnipeg in 1907 for the construction of railway repair shops and a future town site that would become Transcona. 

This asphalt trail, part of the citys' active transportation projects, follows along beside the railway tracks and forms a multi-use commuter route connecting this mixed residential, commercial, and industrial neighbourhood. 

Transcona Community Bioreserve

The 110 acre Bioreserve, formerly an industrial site, is managed by Fort Whyte Centre to preserve the natural biodiversity of its soil, water, flora and fauna.

Day 22 & 23: The Elm Trees Of Winnipeg and A Visitor From Nature In My Backyard

Wellington Crescent

170, 000 elm trees stand on guard on the streets of Winnipeg and form a lush canopy - a bower of foilage over our streets. 

A singular tree in its grandeur and longevity, and for its hardy ability to withstand harsh and extreme weather, and salt. The elm tree defines our neighbourhoods and our tenacious prairie spirit.

Harvard Avenue

A Visitor From Nature In My Backyard

Central Park

I wanted to see, first hand, what nature is available to the inner city child, and comparatively, the situation of the suburban child.

I visited Central Park on a Friday evening. There was a main cluster of children and many individuals hanging out, or passing through the park. This park has a full time security unit. They told me that the issues they deal with are mostly alcohol related.

Because of the growing African population, the area has been transforming in recent years, giving it a new sense of community and culture. Its Central Market for Global Families is a summer outdoor market that sells handmade and imported African clothing, beadwork, handicrafts, weavings, art, as well as organic produce [including some African/tropical greens raised by local residents on a community garden at University of Manitoba]

Live entertainment fills the air in Central Park on warm Friday nights throughout the summer and are a significant aspect to the markets on Saturday. Special events attract hundreds of people to the park on World Refugee Day in June, HIV/AIDS Awareness Day in July [led by a newcomer-aboriginal coalition] and Central Park Revival.

I approached the group of children aged 4 - 15 and asked if this is where they came if they wanted nature. They looked at me with puzzled expressions and then one of the older boys said that he didn't know about nature, but this is where they come to play. 

Central Park received a 5.6 million facelift that was completed in 2010. One of the main objectives was to create a world-class playground. Features include a water park, recreation field, hill slide, open-air market, environmental education area, public art area, safety program, mature trees, and a heritage element (Waddell Fountain).

I think those involved in the renewal of Central Park would have been very pleased to hear that the children do indeed go there to play.

Bridgewater Forest Trail

When I think of what I love about nature, it never includes the word asphalt. Bridgewater is a new suburban residential development. The trail leads to the central recreation area that has not been completed. 

Children here were friendly. Two young boys on bikes greeted me voluntarily as I entered the path. They affirmed enthusiastically when I asked if they thought this place was nice.

Bridgewater Estates Pond

I saw a family of three white tail deer in a twenty foot wide swath of Aspen Park between the asphalt and houses. They did not run away, but watched me carefully.

I talked to three young children playing by the bridge at the water. They told me that this is nature when I asked if they thought this manmade area was as good as nature. They told me that they saw some kids try to beat the geese and showed me the big sticks. I asked if they defend the geese and saw in their reaction that they had not but they were rethinking their personal policy now that it was in question.

There were warning signs all around the ponds about the danger of going in the water or allowing pets to drink it.

Memorial Park

Every night of the week there is a lively game of impromptu soccer in this park. There is an attractive fountain here that looks like a princess and her four handmaidens tossing their long hair about as they dance. At night there is also a coloured light show with the hair-tossing.

Day 26: Wood Ticks

I love nature - but please, please, please, nature - don't jump on me! Do not bite me, and do not burrow and suck my blood... Oh! The Horror, the horror! I will have to take a wood tick season nature break. I will find creative ways to complete this challenge...

Day 27 & 29: Market Gardens Of Manitoba


It is time to plant. I chose Lavande de Provence and variegated Oregano for my window box at work, and a selection of herbs and some shasta daisy plants for containers at home. 

Day 30: A Tree Is Very Nice: The Blossoms Of Winnipeg

In my daughter's backyard

Photo: Bonnie Cruse, 
The Tree Stewardess Of Winnipeg

Coming In July:
In Search Of Wild Asparagus & The Thundering Bison Trail To A Sunrise Birding Session At Fort Whyte Alive


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