Louise McKinney Park in better days. Donna McKinnon, 2009

“Autumn in Arkansas flaunts only its absence.”

This is a line from Knee Deep in Wonder by April Reynolds.

Locally, the line might go something like this: “Spring in Edmonton flaunts only its absence.’”

The quote from Knee Deep in Wonder promises hot, sticky diversions, necessitating a trip to the cash desk and a weekend wrapped in steamy southern prose. The second line, from Knee Deep in Snow Mold, promises nothing but gravel in my shoes and a runny nose.

It’s an unfortunate truth that spring in Edmonton, early spring, is a dreary, dripping mess. It will be another six weeks before tiny, tentative leaves unfurl, perhaps longer for the first lilac to be plucked from a neighbours yard. And yet, I have already observed goose-fleshed flesh in shorts, and actual goose flesh by the river, so it’s encouraging to know that Edmontonians, human and avian, are actively if not prematurely anticipating better things to come.

Impossibly lush

Sometime in May, the city will undergo a verdant transformation, and nowhere will this change be more lushly visible than in the river valley. Louise McKinney Park is my particular favourite grassy knoll, and it’s been a pleasure to walk its paths for more than a decade. Initially it was just a hill with two paths. Now, it’s a hill with many paths, an ampitheatre, obelisk, Chinese garden, riverfront promenade, a northern rose heritage walk, boat launch, lamp-post poetry, a big-ass public washroom, and some assorted, harmless hoboery. All within 12.9 hectares of land. I don’t know what a hectare is, other than a term invented to further alienate me from people who know things, but suffice to say, it’s a small park.

Located directly below one of the city’s main arteries, Louise McKinney Park used to be covered in wildflowers and weeds. Really nice weeds, the kind that look like flowers if you know nothing about horticulture and the word ‘noxious’ applies only to wet dogs and grassroots politics. There is nothing particularly wrong with the ‘improvements’ made to McKinney, but prior to the changes, there was something loveable about this humble little parkette in the middle of downtown Edmonton. The wild, bee-loud hillside was a beautiful, living corridor, the subject of many photographs, several paintings, and not a few tumbles in the tall grass.

The rocky shores of the North Saskatchewan

Recently, as Edmonton’s city council contemplates the destruction of the eastern corner of McKinney in the name of light rail transit expansion, I’ve been thinking about what will be lost if a train is allowed to slice through the park and rob this tranquil green-space of it’s innocence. Compounding the injury, it appears the oft-used wooden footbridge spanning the North Saskatchewan River from McKinney to Henrietta Muir Park will also be destroyed in favour of a newer, uglier transit bridge, although the Transportation Department has yet to confirm these plans. Even if they retain it, a new bridge will be built adjacent to the footbridge, obstructing the view and voiding any possibility of finding peace among the ducks.

Iced geese

However, today is the first day of spring, and I refuse to be defeated by a short-sighted council who cannot see the beauty of this little park. A few hours ago I walked along the lower path and spotted the geese that return every year to this area. The river is still frozen, but the geese are here, and the runners and walkers are here, and one day, the earth movers will be here too, but not today.

View from the footbridge, facing east

In March, Louise McKinney is not in show condition. But then, neither am I. Like every other area of this city, it’s still slumbering in a winter coma, cycling ever so slowly toward wakefulness. In a few weeks, green grass will poke through the old brown sweater  draped across the hill, the apple trees will blossom, the Russian olives that line the staircases and pathways will release their deep sweet scent, and I will purchase my first bottle of fake tanning lotion. Spring will flaunt itself properly. Until then, embrace what is in front of you, for what it was, for what it is, and for what it will be. And take a walk through Louise McKinney Park while it’s still a park, and not a transit station.

Happy first day of Spring!

For many, many other posts about Louise McKinney Park, and the river valley, please check out my other blog, Donna’s River Valley.