A lane is defined as a narrow country road or a narrow way or passage between walls, hedges or fences.
In Gimli where I grew up, a lane wasn’t either of these. It was a back lane. Gimli had been laid out on a grid with front streets and back lanes. Early on, I learned to love back lanes. Front streets were where people put up a front for their neighbours and the public. If a yard was going to be prettified, the grass cut, flowers planted, hedges trimmed, it was in the front yard. The owner’s public persona was on display.
Now, the back lane was different. It’s not just that the back lane was where people put out their garbage with all that revealed about what they ate, bought, cast aside. It was also the muddy, rutted track where fishing boxes were piled, corks hung to dry after being oiled, skiffs rested between fishing seasons, anchors and ropes lined up. It was where you saw who was precise and organized. Gardens revealed a great deal about someone. There were back yards with gardens with exact rows and there were gardens that were chaotic.
Back lanes often had fences, especially the back lanes that bordered cottages. Those fences, usually posts with wire stretched across them, provided us with good times. Gimli was a swamp in the 1940s and 50s. When the spring runoff came, it filled the ditches that fronted all the streets and flooded the low lying cottage yards. Squashers, our name for the egg shaped fruit that grew on the vines that overtook the fences every spring, grew prolifically. When squashers hit an object such as another kid, they splattered. The inside was wet and filled with sectioned soft membranes and brown or black seeds. The mess was gratifying.
Today, in Victoria, far in time and place from the Gimli of my childhood, I went for a fifty minute walk, up hill and down dale. Some of that walk was on local roads but Victoria is a city of narrow country roads and passageways between walls, hedges and fences.
I walked the road to Playfair Park, crossed the park with its lawns and flower beds, its rhododendron copse, and slipped into a narrow lane between fences. I came out on a dead end road and hiked uphill back to the park where I followed a lane between the park fence and an area of salal and scruffy Gary Oaks. I’d done a loop and ended up back on the road that I’d followed to the park. I slipped away to the left to follow a loop that would make my walk a figure eight. I was on a busy thoroughfare, but that only lasted a couple of blocks before I crossed over and, although I continued on a paved road, there were no sidewalks and a lot of vegetation dearly beloved by the local deer. The road winds through a neighbourhood of rock, blackberry thickets and fir trees.
I ended up on Cook St. one of Victoria’s busiest thoroughfares. I didn’t stay on it for long but turned onto a laneway, one of those odd little jogs that must have a history of sorts because it is so unexpected. It is at the bottom of a steep slope and the lane runs flat along the bottom of the slope. There are cherry trees grown rampant, an overgrown ditch, blackberry thickets on one side. At this time of year, the ditch is dotted with light purple daisies growing wild. On the other side there is a mishmash of fences and driveways. Enclosed by the lane, I’m hard pressed to remember I’m in the city.
The lane ended and I began the slow slog up the steep back of the Rise. This road can be called a lane, no sidewalks, twisting its way up, past carefully tended houses and yards,past rosemary bushes so large they form a hedge, past the yard of an urban gardener who I haven’t met but have watched as he tends his half-dozen bee hives or plants and harvests his leeks and raspberries.
There are in these lanes, small surprises. Bird houses tucked here and there. A potting shed resting high up on an outcrop. Ceramic trolls and elves. Uncountable Douglas squirrels running up and down the oak trees. A tree, deciduous, with forgotten Christmas ornaments sparkling in the sun. A box of apples set out for anyone passing by to share. A large metal bowl of water for the? Deer, raccoons, dogs, cats, cougars, squirrels, blue jays, robins, hawks. A begonia at the bottom of a hedge, flaming red.
At the top of the rise is a dead end. No vehicles can pass but I can cross over to the lane that leads down to my house. It is here one evening as dusk was falling that I met a four point stag. We both stopped and studied each other. I wished I had an apple to roll toward him. He was just about at the cross road where I was standing. Handsome, the way the stags in the old Encyclopedia Britannica looked, noble, head held high. The words from Scot jumped into my mind unbidden. “The stag at eve had drunk his fill/Where danced the moon on Monan’s rill.” Finally, I lifted my right hand in a salute and went on my way.