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One hot afternoon last summer I went for a long walk with my friend Annie who is from Shanghai. Being native to the city, it came natural to me to be a tour guide for her. We met around noon at Bathurst Station and I led her up thru the Annex, pausing to stare at this or that comfortable-looking home along the way. When we reached the Canadian Pacific tracks that run on a raised right-of-way north of Dupont Street, I showed Annie a way up to the tracks thru a rip in the chain-link fence. Don’t be afraid, I said.
But she wasn’t afraid. Annie said that when she was a youngster back home she used to trek for hours beside the railway tracks with her mom when they went to visit relatives in the next city.
We headed east alongside the tracks on an uneven dirt and gravel road used, I suppose, by maintenance vehicles and railroad cops. We were the only people in sight. The CP right-of-way is a ribbon of “railway prairie” running right thru the middle of the city. The tracks are flanked by trees and scrub brush, long grasses and wildflowers. Bees and monarchs nip around the wild mustard plants. Under the sun the air bears a tincture of scorched rusting metal, rotting wood, and lingering diesel fume. One reason I like railway lines is because it seems to me that where rust and weediness are tolerated, you can relax.