schirin oeding

under a peregrine star

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Urban Ecotones & Other Music

Yesterday I did my running along some old railway tracks in my neighbourhood. The tracks are old, older than most of the houses that line them, and are still in regular use. Trains, mostly freight trains, rumble their way over these tracks on a daily basis. Right next to the tracks are backyards, hugging each curve of the rail-line, like they’re trying to eek out some space for themselves. Between yards and tracks there is a narrow paved path—an urban success in our car-focused culture— a bike trail, or walking/running path. Some good souls (the city, perhaps?) have planted a foot-wide strip of earth with black-eyes susans and daylilies. The tracks are a place where two worlds meet. Studded among private homes are old industrial buildings that served the railroad at some point in the past. Most of them are still operating today, producing steel beams or street signs, but have been reduced to the status of mom-and-pop factories, the kind that have ten employees, and are housed in buildings from an era when industrial structures still has some beauty and human-scale to their design. I feel most at peace far from traffic and houses. In a meadow, or in the woods, or in the places where both meet, the ecotones, the in-between places that are hard to define and even harder to recreate, once lost to settlement. And still, as I try to make a study of this small city in which I find myself, the language of nature comes up again and again in my mental descriptions. Humans, I think, still have a deep-set tendency to imitate the patterns and rhythms of the natural world. That is, if they allow themselves freedom from preconceived notions of industrial efficiency and “modern” design. It’s special, too, to see the way people interact with their landscapes in an urban setting. Planting the tiniest gardens between tracks and fences, sunflowers that eventually tower over these fences start conversations between passers-by. Yesterday, my running route led me by several backyards where signs had been stuck into newly greening grass: Idle No More. Put there for who to see? Runners, bikers, walkers, train conductors. Thank you. When people take ownership of their homes and neighbourhoods, even in small ways, magic happens.


Last year’s pictures of the tracks. It’s not that green yet…