There was a creek beside our house, and a bit of forest, and a path. We called the whole place the creek path. It wasn’t big – razed and paved, it wouldn’t have fit more than a couple rows of townhouses – but it could feel endless.
The trick was to find spots where the wrong things (telephone wires, the aluminium siding of Mr. Harris’s garage) did not have to be cropped out of the view. There was already so much to edit out: the looming house that was my home, the angry grandparents inside, parents gone so long they could never come back, even after they came back.
In the right spots, I could believe I was in the wilderness of children’s books, that bountiful wildness in which streams run clear and cold, foxes pass by shelters, and children can fend for themselves.
One year in university, I lived in a thicket of high-rises overlooking a plain of strip malls. In between the high-rises and the campus was a wide leafy gully through which a creek and a path meandered. I roamed around down there, my head full of the Wordsworth and Coleridge. I envied them their vast Lake District, their glades and deep glens where the eye would not have to crop out municipal signposts or hydro poles.
Then I went to Bhutan, where it was easy to step off the road and see nothing but trees and mountaintops, hear only birds and the wind in the grasses. I walked up to peaks and looked down into valleys and there was nothing I wanted to delete from the view. But there were still things to be edited out: from the south came news of uprisings, stories of imprisonment, rumours of deportation. Ancestral voices prophesying war.
There is always something to be edited out.
Walking in Toronto’s green ravines now, I want to erase the city from the edges of my view, silence the whine of traffic and leaf-blowers. I always feel a small sadness when I emerge from a ravine onto a sidewalk: all creek paths end in pavement.
It’s deep-rooted, this desire to be in the woods, but maybe it’s more than nostalgia for the friendly forests of my childhood.
Maybe it’s a 10,000-year-old longing to return to our home in the wild.
More likely, it’s a most recent wish -- for the world not to be as crowded, hot, or small as it is, a wish to believe we have not ruined it, after all.