How do I get to Parliament? The long way

OTTAWA, Ont. – A parent’s answer to just about any question that starts “How do I get to …” – whether it be Texas or the ladies’ room – is generally “the long way.”

Baby Jilly and I had the morning to ourselves and the plan was to hit several thrift shops. In three hours, I figured, we could hit four, maybe five. We took the Ottawa River Parkway, mostly empty of cars on a chilly Saturday morning, and my eyes kept darting to the changing trees, to the rushing river and to the thin black walking and biking trail that runs parallel to the road.

We snuck up behind the Parliament buildings and got a stunning view of the green towers and ancient stone – a view you don’t see on postcards and travel advertisements. “I should take her there,” I thought, “to see the Eternal Flame and the cats.”

And then the geese flew over the car, honking like mad. They weren’t flying in their trademark V formation, probably because they’re at home in the nation’s capital and they don’t have to put on a show for anyone – they’re comfortable flying all willy-nilly, like you walk when you’re wandering your own downtown with your head down to read a text or up to check out the city’s crazy hidden architecture.

Like us, geese travel in families. Goslings stay with their parents for at least a year and so now, in the middle of fall, goose mothers are gathering their children for the road trip south, just like we did in August. They’ll get to their destinations in the southern United States much more quickly than we did. They’ve been clocked doing 1,000 kilometres in a day and getting to their wintering homes in under a week (it took us a week and a half). Hinterland Who’s Who says that families travelling with goslings will probably take longer to get there than adult travelers.

Jilly and I turned around and parked at Remic Rapids, bundling up against the cold. We wandered down to the Ottawa River and walked among the inukshuks that make up Art of Balance, dozens of rock sculptures dreamed up by John Ceprano, who has been making these public sculptures here since 1986. We could have spent an hour strolling among these little rock men who are believed to direct travelers along the safest route, but I had it in my head that we could get to Parliament, come at it from behind as I’d seen from the road.

Then we were distracted by the giant willow tree surrounded by dragonsnaps. A cormorant watched us from a large rock in the centre of the river. Geese ignored us. We walked under a dark, iron bridge and around blind curves in which were hidden squirrels and all manner of other little creatures that were but a blur, skittering away from us. We smiled at the few people we encountered and kept out of the way of cyclists. It was quiet and windy and I could sing and tell stories to the baby. I could not see Parliament.

“Just one more bend,” I promised her, but took three more. The highway was to my right, too close, and to my left … “Ah, baby, there it is. See the tower? Isn’t it pretty?” She was looking at her shoes, trying to figure out how to get them into her mouth. “Shall we keep going? Would you like to go to Parliament?” She examined her hands as though she’d never seen them before.

We turned back. We’ll get to Parliament another time.

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