Putting nature in the foreground

Finding natural spaces in an urban setting

Anoushka Oke, Photo Editor

The one constant for me throughout this turbulent pandemic has been seeking refuge in the outdoors. Between the headlines, elections, and political battles that constantly preoccupied everyone’s minds, nature became a source of comfort and solace.

It was in April 2020 when the virus initially surged in New England, right when the bitter cold started to thaw. Two weeks off from school started to look like it was going to be a lot longer than anticipated. After weeks without schoolwork and a waning social life, I eventually grew bored of online shopping and scrolling through TikTok. Instead, I began spending more time in my own backyard. Just being in the sun and surrounded by greenery was a refreshing break from the constant stream of information I absorbed from news and social media.

Addicted to the exhilarating feeling of being outside, I started taking walks around my neighbourhood, looking for nature both in our local parks and in less obvious crevices of the suburban landscape—like thriving gardens dominated by native plants or mini-ecosystems flourishing on mossy rocks. Later in the summer, after getting my bike fixed, I started taking long bike rides on the rail trail that bisects my town. No matter which turn the pandemic or any other current events took, I could always walk into the open arms of the outdoors for consolation.

Though I’m in Montreal now, I still try to seek this solace in nature. Admittedly, it can be much more challenging to do this in a big city, which is certainly more urban than my suburb outside Boston. The harsh winter that wipes away most of the greenery for almost half the year makes it even harder to interact with the natural world, especially when most of the city is blanketed by layers of snow.

But even in an urban setting, nature physically and culturally shapes our landscape more than we realize. Animals and plant life physically enter into and interact with what we deem “human spaces,” and their presence or absence affects how we as humans connect with our world. There are, of course, the public parks that all Montreal-dwellers enjoy—Parc La Fontaine, Mont Royal, and Parc Jeanne-Mance, to name a few—but even in seemingly bleak downtown areas, nature still manages to creep through. No matter how much humans make their mark on the planet, even our most urban spaces are occupied by plants and animals that seek to share space with us; squirrels make McGill’s campus home, plants constantly weather our man-made structures, and pigeons shadow humans anywhere there seems to be food. To see the omnipresence of the natural world sometimes requires a change of perspective: You need to put nature in the foreground of how you view the city. Whether it’s the weeds sprouting through the cracks of sidewalks or fences covered in thin vines of ivy, one is reminded that the natural environment and the city are not mutually exclusive.

During last week’s tumultuous weather, I took a walk through Montreal with my camera in hand. Though the fresh snow that had fallen that morning made the experience somewhat difficult, it was still gorgeous and enjoyable. As I strolled through the Milton-Parc and Plateau neighbourhoods, I snapped shots of the traces that the natural world had left behind while it hibernated for the winter.

As I walked, I decided to take on a new perspective of my surroundings. Rather than looking around and just seeing an imposing array of towering buildings and “concrete jungle”-esque roads and parking lots, I saw a space of constant interaction between the human and natural world. It’s a strategy that all lovers of the outdoors can benefit from, especially at times when human life seems too chaotic.

Design by Jinny Moon, Design Editor