Take a hike

The other day, I was discussing with a dear friend how some of the best moments in my life have just been in walking—long walks alone with just a bit of music, or walks while engaged in great conversation, or walks where the surroundings are beautiful and inspiring. My memories of some of the best walks of my life were during my final summer as a resident of Halifax, before I left for university: I’d start in the morning and walk from my family’s home in the quiet suburbs, into the city’s south end. Clocking in at one hour on the dot, I’d feel energetic and happy to be alive. And during my lunch hour, I’d take a quick hike into Point Pleasant Park for more nature-inspired solitude. I wanted to re-gain that feeling in my life.

Where we live now, although it looks like a typical GTA subdivision, we’re lucky to have a beautiful creek and marsh area. The grasses and plants are left to grow naturally, and not mown down by enthusiastic municipal lawn-lovers, and on most days, you can catch a glimpse of rabbits, toads, frogs, snakes, raccoons, and maybe even small fish in the creek. So on Friday morning, I was up and out at 7:30 in the morning (yes, rare for me these days), deciding that what I needed was a good walk, enjoying the sights and sounds of nature. The sun was warm but not overbearing, and the air just had the perfect smell. And it all started out wonderfully, with the haziness from some long-forgotten dream. Then, real life kicked in.

Sure, you're friends now...

Real life came in the form of an orange tabby cat. He was crouched, peering into the tall grasses, with his rear end twitching excitedly, looking exactly like what you’d expect from any hunting cat about to make his kill. I approached him quickly, hoping to make a move that would scare him off, for I knew what the deal was. But it was too late. With a quick pounce into the greenery, he emerged a second later, and gave me a quick, satisfied glance. Then he ran quickly down the trail, with the body of a light brown rabbit dangling from his mouth.

This scene stayed in my mind and ruined the whole walk for me. For the rest of the hour, I was hyper-conscious of possibly stumbling upon that scenario again, and finding more dead or dying animals, or more predators stalking their prey. Sure, I’d seen on that trail flattened frogs, snakes, and snails. But this was a deliberate, and in my eyes, saddening, act of violence.

Why did it bother me so much? I know that cats are carnivorous hunters, and must do what comes naturally to them. I’ve seen cats before, chowing down on mice that they’ve caught. But this was different. With a collar prominent on his neck, he was no wild cat, and maybe that’s what made me especially sad: it would have seemed to me “more natural” for a wild cat to have done that, because of his need to sustain himself. But this was probably some fat cat raised on Friskies, just out for a non-essential snack. So all of a sudden, it became in my eyes, a violent, unnecessary collision of two worlds. Urban (or at least, suburban) vs. rural. Domestic vs. wild. Controlled, cunning, and calculating vs. carefree, unaware, and innocent. Of course, it’s possible that I’m just trying to put too much symbolism into it; sometimes a cat is just a cat, and a rabbit is just a rabbit.

Nevertheless, I can’t see myself enjoying quiet walks as much as I used to (and certainly not cats the way that I used to). Maybe I need to immerse myself in a completely urban setting for my walks, and distract myself with the sights and sounds of honking cars, speeding cyclists, and harried businesspeople in power suits. Or maybe I just need to stop walking along that path by myself for a little while.