Gorgeous walk in Mill Creek Ravine this morning with Tom. Most of the leaves have fallen, especially in the last week, revealing the Andrew Wyeth landscape beneath. I love sunny Sundays.
When we started around 11:45 am, some dark clouds had rolled in, but buggered off once I had a pleaded with them. It stayed coolish (around 4C) but with the blue sky overhead, it was a perfect autumn day.
We went to north Mill Creek this time, which is a bit shorter, because it appears to have rained last night, and I didn’t like our chances on the monkey trail re-route which is straight down the ravine near the trestle bridge.
I introduced Tom to the steep set of ass-kicker stairs near Connor’s Hill, which he took two steps at a time. It’s been a long time since I was up that set of stairs. I used to run up them. I didn’t run, but I made them fairly easily. Fantastic view from up there. Lots of ups and downs on this walk, although we didn’t quite make 10,000 steps.
And then our usual lunch at Route 99. Nice way to spend a morning!
40 years ago today, September 13, 1979, I saw Abba perform in
Edmonton – the first stop in what would turn out to be their one and only concert
tour of North America.
I still remember lining up on the escalator at Woodwards in
downtown Edmonton, waiting for the ticket office on the 2nd floor to open. I
bought two tickets, one for me and the other for my friend Robbin, who was the
person who bought me my first ABBA album,
ABBA’s Greatest Hits, in 1976 when I was 12.
The tickets sold out in three hours.
Looking back, it seemed like a premature move on the band’s part to put out a greatest hits compilation when they had only been together for four years at that point, but the album was a success, breaking the Canadian music charts top 10 for the first time with Fernando. I wore that album out, which is something that doesn’t happen anymore. Digital downloads don’t show their wear, but pressed in every skip, hiss and pop of that vinyl album is my teenage self. The gate-fold image of the two couples, Benny and Anni-Frid (or Frida) on one side, Agnetha and Björn on the other, is still one of my favourite album covers of all time.
I’m also pretty sure (but not 100% sure) I saw Björn in the wild, in jogging gear, near what was then the Four Seasons Hotel (now Sutton Place). The band was in Edmonton for several days prior to the concert, so it’s possible. We made eye contact, but I did not say anything. He understood.
Graham Hicks, a music reporter for the Edmonton Journal, wrote several articles before and after the concert.
“The tour was supposed to start in Vancouver, but Dave Horodezky of Brimstone Productions, the Edmonton promoters, got on the blower to Sweden,” said Hicks in a column dated September 11, 1979, two days before the concert. “He had a good case to make. Collectively, Alberta is a big, big fan of ABBA. Its Greatest Hits album sold more than 100,000 copies in the province. Edmonton also had the Coliseum for ABBA to play in – considered to be one of the best arenas in North America [now decommissioned] for rock concert staging. And the hall was available two days ahead of time, for rehearsals.”
Ola Brunkert, the band’s drummer, said to Hicks: “We’re excited. It’s our first tour in two years. I’m not nervous now, too tired, but wait until Thursday!”
To be honest, I don’t recall much from the concert. My
memories are images rather than sound. The icy blues, the sparkles. The
anatomically correct satin pantsuits of Benny and Björn. I also distinctly
remember Frida donning a Gretzky hockey jersey, marking the first time his
name, and the Edmonton Oilers, came into my consciousness.
Graham Hicks joined 120 other international journalists at the post-concert media scrum. “Everything went smoothly,” said Björn Ulvaeus, no longer sporting his satin pantsuit. “We didn’t have too much self-confidence after not playing live for 2 1/2 years, so it was an incredible relief when it worked. If the rest of the audiences are as good as Edmonton, this tour will be great.”
Well, I did my part.
It was not always cool to love ABBA. Some may argue, it
still isn’t, but back in the 1970s long before the Mamma Mia revival, it was
not cool to love ABBA. Or maybe I’m conflating my own lack of coolness with the
musicians that I loved, and the clothes that I wore, and uh, the things that I
said. My love of Abba did not endear me to any clique. Not then, not now.
The first time I saw Erasure’s video for their cover of Take a Chance on Me, I thought they were parodying ABBA – until I saw the original video. It was not parody – it was full on (loving) replication, in drag. ABBA’s music videos are most memorable for their fabulous 70s era clothes, which to this day still have the power to startle. Almost all of their videos, and ABBA: The Movie, were directed by famed Swedish director Lasse Hallström, who would go on to direct My Life as Dog, the Academy Award nominated Chocolat, and one of my favourite films, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.
The glorious music of Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Frida imprinted on my developing brain at such an early age, it forever restructured it to be a receptacle for all things sweet, colourful and preferably, Swedish. I knew their lyrics were far from poetic, and sometimes silly, but I memorized them anyway and found solace and joy in the stories they told. Their melodies and in particular, their voices, were uplifting and for someone who couldn’t carry a tune, easy singalongs. I strongly identified with Frida, a fellow redhead, and learned to differentiate her edgier sound from Agnetha’s mournful voice – admittedly a soft skill, but a skill nonetheless.
People often associate ABBA with disco, but out of their seven original albums (along with the single Dancing Queen from their earlier album Arrival), they only put out one identifiable disco collection, Voulez Vous, in 1979 and half the songs on that album were not disco at all. I can’t envision John Travolta bumping and grinding to Chiquitita. In fact, many of ABBA’s pop songs are quite melancholic, especially on the last two albums, Super Trouper and The Visitors. As Benny and Björn’s command of the English language developed and the personal lives of the group got messier, songs like Honey, Honey gave way to The Winner Takes It All as real life loss began to creep inexorably into their lyrics (and voices). Nevertheless, ABBA remains melodic escapism at its absolute best.
In 2011, I travelled to Sweden to visit my sister and brother-in-law who were living in Gothenburg on a year-long sabbatical. It would be two years before ABBA: The Museum, would open in Stockholm, but I still found the country absolutely beautiful (and their kanelbulles tasty). Visiting Gamla Stan in Stockholm with its soaring architecture was particularly resonate. A poster of the group standing in front of the iconic Gamla Stan buildings was on my wall for many years. I hope I get to make a Holy Pilgrimage to the museum one day, and eat more kanelbulles with pärlsocker.
Love and work collided in 2016, when – in my role as a writer for the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Arts – I thoughtfully assigned myself the job of profiling a new course offered by the Department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies called Mamma Mia: Queer I Go Again! taught by Swedish scholar (and ABBA fan) John Eason.
Up to that point, I hadn’t realized how deeply embedded ABBA was in the LGBTQ community. It was a dream assignment, and although it ended up being a shorter article than I had hoped, the meeting with John was long, elaborate and delicious. It was the first conversation I’d ever had with a true ABBA fan, or at least one who knew a lot more than I did. I wanted to be his friend.
“A lot of it goes back to sentimental music and singers who display fewer stereotypically masculine qualities or inhibitions about accepting emotion,” he said at the time. “For sexual minorities, ABBA and pop culture in general is more important, because many other minorities are born into a support system, whereas we’re not. It’s a survival instinct to want to escape from your problems. Whether you’re getting bullied or pushed around, whether your parents are homophobic, pop music has a particularly important role for sexual minorities.”
Although I can’t claim to be part of a sexual minority, I
certainly felt like a club of one often enough to know how powerful it is to find
validation and escape in music.
Two years later, seeing Mamma Mia at the Citadel in 2018 with my bestie Barb was one of the most wonderful ABBA-adjacent experiences of my life. I had avoided the movie, not for any philosophical reason per se, other than I didn’t think of myself as a second-wave ABBA fan. I couldn’t claim nostalgia for the music of my youth because ABBA had never left my fictive turntable. Now, it was the music of my middle-age, and boy, did we middle-agers have fun that night! I finally watched the movie a few weeks after seeing the musical but it just didn’t capture the joy of the live production, or the music.
ABBA has always been in my life, and always will be. I say that now proudly and unapologetically. In fact, I suspect I will be singing Gimme, Gimme, Gimme (a urinary incontinence pad) at the old folk’s home.
And I still won’t be cool.
Notes on ABBA:
Favourite Album: Super Trouper. Honourable mention: The Visitors
Top ten favourite songs (in no particular order):
Lay All Your Love On Me
The Day Before You Came
Fernando (including Spanish and Swedish versions)
The Winner Takes It All
Favourite covers: Erasure’s Abba-esque, Madonna’s Hung Up
and Mike Oldfield’s Arrival
Favourite movie featuring Abba’s music: Miriam’s Wedding, with honorable mention to The Martian (and its heart-pounding Waterloo) and the Swedish film Together
I’ve been off since June 27, a little more than a week. Unlike last year at this time, which was sweltering, May and June have been cool and wet, and July has started off unseasonably cold as well. I don’t want to complain, because my place gets very hot, and rain is always good, buuuut…it’s been tough to plan a lot of outdoor activities. Also, it’s the tail end of worm season, so some of my usual paths are still off limits. Nevertheless, I’ve had a few good walks, and yesterday was one of the best walks in recent memory.
Sharon, Stella and I went to Goldbar Park. I’ve only been there once (with Sharon and Maggie), because it’s on the far east side of Edmonton, but wow, it’s fantastic! It straddles Rundle Park, and it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins, but both were spectacular, and the weather was perfect. Blue sky, no rain, and about 15C, which was fine for a morning walk.
We started off by crossing the Ainsworth Dyer footbridge, which is almost exactly like my old love, the Cloverdale pedestrian bridge at Louise McKinney Park (sacrificed for the incoming Valley Line LRT). The difference is that some park vehicles can cross it, but other than that it’s the same wooden and steel expanse, open to the sky, and creaky underfoot. Stella hates bridges where she can see a bit of the water through the slats. It scares her, so she walks very slow and low.
Right off the bat, I spotted a pelican, but I only brought my phone, so no good photos. Lots of swallows too.
Ainsworth Dyer bridge
The park(s) are full of water features. Mini-lakes, streams, sloughs, multiple bridges, and lots of birdlife. Stella helped herself to one duck-filled pond, and was super happy just trotting around the park, wet and sparkly in the sun.
We looped around Rundle and then followed an unpaved path along the river in Goldbar, which is off-leash. I was totally paranoid about Stella wandering off into the river, which is running very high and fast, but a combination of my yelps, Sharon’s calm assertiveness, and eventually, the return of the leash, kept this curious water dog out of the drink.
Fantastic walk, in good company, under beautiful skies.
The previous day (Wednesday) Tom and I walked through Glenora/Ravine Drive in the late afternoon. It too was a great walk, under mottled grey skies and some sun. Such a beautiful neighbourhood, with amazing views of the river valley. We used to walk together more, but it’s fallen off the radar of late. I blame hockey, binge-watching series like, most recently, Deadwood, and rain/cold.
River valley from Glenora
View from Glenora bridge (142 Street)
The night before, Tuesday, I really wanted to go for a walk in the afternoon, but Tom was still asleep (he’s largely nocturnal), and the early evening looked wet, so although we didn’t go together, I threw on my running shoes and headed out around 6:15 pm. Happily, there were no worms hanging from the trees along Victoria Park Road or even River Road, but the bad news was that I was chasing a big, black cloud and I lost. By the time I was mid-way through McKinnon Ravine, the rain started. I got pretty soaked. There was a big rainbow over Groat Road, but it was still raining at that point and I didn’t want to risk ruining my phone. Nearing 124th Street, the rain stopped. I’m glad I went for that walk. It felt like something the old Donna would do. Priorize a walk over just about everything.
Oh Facebook, robbing this blog of content. Must be the instant gratification of FB. I never know who is reading this blog, if anyone. No matter, it’s kind of a personal journal anyway, with pretty pictures. As always, I want to spread the word of how magnificent the green spaces of our city are, but the blog also serves as a record of my existence, of my adventures small and large, of the dogs in my life, and of the passage of time. That’s enough. But readers are good too.
So here is my walk from Sunday, June 2 with Stella, in a hot and sunny Whitemud Ravine.
It’s probably been six months since I’ve walked through Mill Creek Ravine. There was a time when that would have been unimaginable. That gorgeous green space running through the middle of Edmonton was just a few blocks from where I lived in Strathcona for almost two decades, and for most of that time, I was down in the ravine at least three or four times a week. I know it extremely well, in all seasons, but it’s ‘out of my way’ now in Oliver, so I have to make a special effort to get there, as I did on the Monday of the Victoria Day long weekend.
As per usual in spring, especially this spring, it was a very windy day, but once I was in the ravine, the winds became gentle, and my eyes were able to take in the amazing lime-green landscape before me. It’s about a week away from peak spring, so the leaves are still sticky juveniles and the blossoms have yet to go full petal. The creek itself is low, and in some places, the rock bed is exposed. It can go either way in spring. Sometimes Mill Creek floods, but this year, we’ve had little rain, and the creek is mostly a trickle, especially at the south end. Still, every single dog I passed was wet, so they were finding a way. Towards the north end, the creek was more robust, and spectacularly rejuvenating to my soul. I posted a video on Instagram, saying that I went to church on Monday morning, and I meant it. Nature is truly my church. No where do I feel more at peace than in the river valley and ravines of this city.
Trestle bridge in Mill Creek Ravine
I am tree root
In June, I will have to find alternative routes for walking, especially on my commutes, as the river valley will be well and truly wormified by the annual green caterpillar infestation. It will definitely be a challenge since the part of the river valley that is most infested lies between my work at the University of Alberta and my home in downtown Edmonton (Oliver). Stupid worms. I’ve been dealing with them since 2003. If it isn’t the constant construction in the river valley interrupting my commutes, it’s those gruesome greenies.
Lily of the Valley
But back to Mill Creek. On the upper trail, I walked by the frog bog, and while there was water (yay!) and the bubble and chirp of frogs (double yay!), I didn’t see any of them, nor were they performing that weird, love-sick frog song – just regular, I’m-not-in-the-mood frog songs (to my non-expert in amphibious song-making ear). Also, I could see that the lily-of-the-valley plants were spreading but not yet in bloom. It’s the only place in the city that I’ve ever seen wild lily-of-the-valley.
On the whole, this April has been very nice, with the exception of this weekend. It snowed Saturday and Sunday, worse in Calgary than here, but still, enough to whiten the ground and temporarily displace thoughts of spring. I was dog-sitting while Kate was in Calgary (driving in harrowing white-out road conditions) and Sharon and Vic were (and still are) in Scottsdale.
Stella of course loved the snow, but it was very cold and very windy, so in the afternoon we only walked for about 45 minutes, with two smaller walks Friday night and Saturday morning.
This post isn’t about the weekend, however, but Easter Monday, April 22 when my car was at the dealer getting its summer gear on and Stella and I had two hours to romp in Whitemud Ravine.
It was a beautiful walk! The ravine is snow/ice free and trails were open and wonderfully soft underfoot. Stella seemed very happy to have so much to smell, and she had her first dip of the year in the creek (along with two annoyed geese). The area where she had her swim, by the rickety boardwalk, has been cleared of trees and bushes. Apparently, both the boardwalk and the stairs will be replaced. I hope they do it in a timely fashion. Many trails in our river valley and ravines are in need of maintenance or repair, but so often, the areas are just blocked off.
The geese were NOT happy
During our walk, I was able to get a few chickadees to eat out of my hand, always so cheering. Unfortunately, it’s been so dry there were no frogs in the bog, parts of which was either frozen or dry. The rest of the walk was uneventful, although that final part through Westbrook I think was a bit hard on Stella. She seemed disappointed that none of the cars at the trail head were mine. The walk through the neighbourhood added an extra half hour, for a total of about two hours.
It was about 21C, I believe. We had one day in April that was 23C!