I Hate That I Turned Back
When 2021 still feels like 1921
In an unnamed town in Southern Ontario, I live a quiet life with my three cats, a tiny apartment and—as my sign-off always includes—too many words in my head. I'm sure many authors can relate; most days, it feels like if I don't write them down, the words will rattle around endlessly until I go mad. Unless—considering I do have bipolar disorder—maybe I am already. No matter. Spiralling thought-levels or no, I wouldn't wish to be any different.
Like all aspiring authors, I wish I could write for a living without a day job, but it's not yet a reality for me. So, when the words get too overwhelming, and I need a mental break from it all, I walk in the woods along the river behind my home. I'm not a morning person, and as mentioned, I have responsibilities during working hours so, except on weekends, I'm most likely to be found walking during that last, perfect, golden slice of daylight we call dusk.
Fortunately, I live in a populated area, and there are often families hanging out in the park or soccer teams playing nearby. I also frequently encounter other travellers along the paved bike path that cuts through my city and follows the meandering route of our river. An old soul, its muddy, clay-brown waters are home to numerous fish and animals, and occasionally an inconspicuous angler or two.
As featured in my to-be-published novel, Carrie and the Curious Caticorn Caper, the area through which I enjoy walking is best described as follows:
"The air chorused with sounds: the clapping of poplar tree leaves in the breeze; the chirping of birds flying from maple to birch and back again; the sound of squirrels chiding her for interrupting their foraging; the piercing buzz of a cicada; and the soft trickling sounds of the river."
The Carolinian forest of Southern Ontario is truly surreal. If you've never been, the highlights of the flora and fauna to be encountered include:
Trees such as beech, tulip, ash, sugar maple, sycamore, black walnut and sassafras; wildflowers such as lupins, violets, Queen Anne's lace and dogwood; monarch butterflies drinking from milkweed; black-capped chickadees tweeting their name between gulps of Hawthorne berries; barn swallows and bats swooping for mosquitoes, white-tailed deer and their fawns munching on witchgrass, mother raccoons teaching their babies to fish, and harmless garter snakes warming themselves on rocks dotted with fossilized seashells.
It's also home to one of the world's loudest and most pushy waterfowl: the Canada Goose!
And as remarked by a fellow Canadian who lives North of 60 and is unused to seeing the most southern and rarest of Canadian ecosystems, by late spring, everything is so GREEN.
Next to the bike path, you can take a quick jog to the left and walk along a footpath sandwiched between the paved area and the river. For most of the way, you can see the bike path through the trees, and in places, it opens up entirely. However, some areas stray a little further away from your fellow pedestrians, and although my city is relatively safe compared to other parts of the world, a woman alone without a dog or companion is not an ideal scenario.
I hate that it's 2021, and that's as true a statement now as it was a hundred years ago.
If you check out my story about my great-grandmother, you'll note that fearless women run in my family. Unfortunately, the days of toting peashooters in your apron with which to scare off drifters are long gone. So, I keep one earbud in and one out, turn off my music entirely in the more densely vegetated areas, and walk with a safety whistle. My half-cocked escape plan usually involves dashing into the river since I figure most would-be-attackers aren't likely to follow a madwoman whistling and wading into waist-high water.
The other day I was walking a little later than usual. Although there were still people around, they were few and far between, and there were none at all along the dirt trail. I trudged into the brush anyway, distracted by the hope of catching a repeat glimpse of a raccoon-family-of-five I'd spotted the other day. I should mention that the barely trampled dirt path to get to said raccoons is very narrow; two people could not easily pass side by side if they approached from opposite directions.
Such was the scenario I encountered: approaching from the opposite direction was a man I had never seen before. (I walk around the same time each day, and faces have become familiar). My sister's warning hung heavy in my mind. According to local news, there had recently been attacks on women by some of the less than savoury characters who had migrated out of the downtown core thanks to COVID-19 business closures and lockdowns. Despite my precautions and courage, when face to face with the idea of having to dash into the river to escape, the plan no longer sounded safe enough.
So I turned back.
I walked briskly in the opposite direction without turning around for some distance. Then I reached down to "tie my shoelace" so I could inconspicuously glance behind me.
There were TWO men!
And I was suddenly very glad I hadn't put my courage to the test. I took the bike path the rest of the way home.
Now, for all I know, they may have simply been fellow nature lovers; maybe they'd passed that way to see the sights before and were returning like I was, or perhaps they were following along the trail to its end for the sake of exploration. I didn't stick around to ask. All I know is that despite the fact it was most likely the safest choice given the recent headlines,
I HATE THAT I TURNED BACK!
To all my fellow female nature lovers out there, if you can empathize with my story, find me on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. (Links below.) Let's swap photos and stories, form groups and keep on walking. Because nature, including narrow dirt paths—especially ones that lead to adorable raccoon families— is for everyone, not just those who have privilege on their side.
Below is Laura Wright singing: Down by the Sally Gardens. It's a favourite on my playlist while walking.
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...Add the word woman in front of the bipolar diagnosis and you may as well tattoo HYPOCHONDRIAC on your forehead. Essentially, as a bipolar woman, I have more in common with sharks than simply my SHARK WEEK: thanks to popular media and rumours, I'm every bit as judged and misunderstood as Great Whites.
Selkies are believed to abandon their mortal children when they find their magic sealskin which their 'husband' has hidden from them to stop their stolen 'bride' from returning to the ocean. But no loving mother, mortal or otherwise, would willingly abandon her child. What follows is a tale from the other perspective: that of a woman who has escaped her abusive 'spouse' to make a new life, and only leaves her child upon risk of recapture.
Meet the author: Lesley Leatherdale
Cheers, folks! And remember, it's always "better to be happy than dignified."—Jane Eyre (Charlotte Brontë)