| Falling in Love with Nature in the City
Visit NatureCity Festival May 24–29, 2016
by Fiji Robinson
It was thirteen years ago when a friend took me on my first hike along the river’s edge, and I witnessed the wondrous bird migration we experience in Saskatoon in the fall. Newly transplanted from Ontario, I had never seen a sandhill crane let alone hundreds of them on their journey, flock after flock, their loud, rattling calls reverberating down the river valley. That day there were also great blue herons, and varieties of geese I had no idea even existed. It was astounding.
That experience woke me up to the sounds of the robin first thing in the morning and the eh-eh-eh of the nuthatch, to sightings of coyotes in Gabriel Dumont Park, to mule deer feeding along Spadina Crescent West, and to lone bald eagles hanging out along the frozen river close to the Sid Buckwold Bridge.
Awakening and reawakening us to tune into the incredible natural world found within Saskatoon’s city limits is the very reason why the informal collective known as Wild About Saskatoon came together four years ago. Its signature project is the NatureCity Festival, a weeklong schedule of mostly free workshops, events, talks, and speakers that takes place during the last week of May.
Being in nature can be many things, from strolling along Saskatoon’s incredible river valley to gardening to picnicking in one of our many parks. We are blessed with a downtown core featuring gorgeous elms full of songbirds and outlying neighbourhoods where we have access to pockets of wetlands and wildlife. During the cold winters, we can count on the chickadees, woodpeckers, magpies, and ravens to keep us in their glorious company.
The NatureCity Festival echoes the ideas of the Healthy by Nature movement that is based on three principles: Spending time in nature improves human health; human health depends on healthy ecosystems; and parks and protected areas contribute to vibrant, healthy communities. Holding an annual festival was the organizers’ way of inviting residents to start thinking about the conservation and enrichment of wild lives and wild places in and around Saskatoon.
Since its inception, the Festival has continued to grow in stature and support. Last year’s festival keynote address on Healthy by Nature by Dr. Shimi Kang filled the Broadway Theatre.
As the Medical Director of Child and Youth Mental Health in Vancouver, Dr. Kang believes that “the need to be in nature is no different than the need for sleep. Both are essential for our health and well-being.” She actually prescribes spending time in nature for some of her patients because it gives them a feel-good boost of serotonin and increases activity in those parts of the brain responsible for empathy, emotional stability, and love. It lowers blood pressure and has been linked to improved short- and long-term attention spans.
Knowing that healthy ecosystems and protected natural areas sustain us as human beings, NatureCity Festival 2016 will put some focus on our relationship with the land and our connection to it. How can we come together as stewards of the land in and around Saskatoon to promote and protect natural areas to ensure diversity? How can we provide opportunities for the collective human interaction with or observance of those areas?
This year’s keynote address is by Maria Campbell, author, playwright, cultural teacher, and Métis elder. On May 24 at the Broadway Theatre, she will speak to the theme of Reconciliation with the Land: what will it mean, now and in the future, to live sustainably and respectfully in the city while honouring all our relations—animals, plants, land, air, and water—that sustain life on Earth?
For the fourth year, the Festival will continue to shine a spotlight on Saskatoon’s Northeast Swale, an ancient river channel that remains as one of the largest pieces of unbroken prairie and natural wetlands in the Saskatoon region. With its patches of rare fescue grassland, the Swale is home to several rare and endangered plant and animal species and remains an integral part of the natural heritage of the City that deserves protection.
Every year, the Festival includes a diverse and imaginative range of activities, providing opportunities for people of all ages to go a little wild in the city. From wild flower excursions with expert guides to meeting a real, live burrowing owl or from taking an urban agricultural tour to attending a lecture, concert, or spoken word event, the NatureCity Festival has something of interest to all who love or want to feel connected to the natural world.
The Festival has not gone unnoticed. Inspired by our example, Earth Day Canada and the Canadian Wildlife Federation have applied for Canada 150 funding to support the creation of similar events in Halifax, Fredericton, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary, and Edmonton. Vancouver is in on it, too: Wild About Vancouver’s Outdoor Education Festival was set for April 16–22, 2016.
Organizers of this year’s Festival look forward to working with the many organizations and businesses dedicated to helping us fall in love with the wild side of our city. It gives us all hope that a Healthy by Nature city—a city that supports the health of people and other species—is within reach.
NatureCity Festival, Tuesday, May 24-29, 2016. To learn more, check out www.wildaboutsaskatoon.org or visit Wild About Saskatoon: Connecting Nature and Culture in the City on Facebook.
Fiji Robinson is a writer, researcher, editor, photographer, filmmaker, performer, and communications specialist. She learned to live the whole life when she was seventeen and loves the Mediterranean diet, along with a good dose of la joie de vivre. After living in Saskatoon for thirteen years, she continues to be moved by the natural beauty of the city and its environs.