Colonial Holiday: Of Pagans, Cons, Tightrope Walkers, and Deer Pooping in the Banana Kingdom
Victoria Day fell on the actual 24th, between KeyCon and my COVID shot. To celebrate, I went on a quest to find heaven, and instead found tightrope walkers and defecating deer.
Let's start with the convention.
My publisher noted that the small Winnipeg con would be running online, and their schedule had many empty spaces. Some of us signed on for a reading and a discussion of world-building in science fiction and fantasy. I also found a place on a panel discussing the creation of credible aliens, something I've contributed to a few times before at larger events.
We had fun, despite the time difference placing our reading after midnight. I e-met some people, caught one useful tip for working with larger publishers, and moved a few copies of my book.
I feel like I should visit the city sometime. I've driven out east and to parts of the United States, and I've been to Europe a few times. But when my wife and I went out to the west coast, we flew over the prairies, like you do, and visited only British Columbia and Alberta. I have a hypothetical road trip mapped out, that would take me from here to Los Angeles, and then up the coast back to Canada and then across to home. The flyover provinces feature a number of points of interest. Gimli, Manitoba, for example, named for the post-Ragnarok heavens. I doubt I'll do it in one go, but I'd like to do it after retiring, providence willing.
Not that I'm religious.
My wife, however, sings, often for local churches. She and an accompanist wanted a video for a recording of "Pie Jesu." She has a concept, something involving nature images that correspond with references in the hymn. The accompanist and arranger recommended a place on the local trails that crossed an historic footbridge, and so we drove across town and entered the woods at a dog park. Just southwest of the bridge I found a rough path into the floodplain where, in ten minutes, we spotted two birds I'd never seen locally, a rabbit, and a toad. We did not, however, find a representation of heaven. My wife wanted a lit meadow with wildflowers. I suggested the Banana Kingdom.
On Victoria Day, I headed for my destination, a relatively short distance from our house. My wife decided to work in the garden, so I went accompanied only by my camera. I decided to access through the closest entrance to Gibbons Park.
Gibbons? Bananas? And when do we get to the part where the deer poops?
Gibbons Park, named for Sir George Christie Gibbons (1948-1918), is one of several parks on the floodplain of Ontario's version of the Thames River. Mixed-use paths run through it, passing willows out of Tolkien, a splash pad for kids, and all manner of places to meander. The system of trails takes you along the river and across much of the city through wooded areas and parks and small neighbourhoods and alongside athletic fields and dog parks. The northern terminus of this particular trail emerges in a residential area right next to the university. That final section, between the end of Gibbons Park and the street, cuts through a meadow surrounded by trees.
Officially, it bears the name "Baldwin Flats," but increasingly, people just call it The Banana Kingdom.
...suddenly London has become more interesting.
Ok,now there's no need for that kind of crazy talk there, buddy
--Archived discussion, r/londonontario, concerning the Banana Kingdom
Perhaps twenty years ago, someone painted a welcome on either end of a stretch of that trail, "Welcome to the Banana Kingdom / You are now leaving the Banana Kingdom." Here and there, painted bananas might be found, minimalist graffiti as conceptual art. Like most people, I had no idea what it might mean. Given its proximity to the university, I wondered if it had something to do with student shenanigans, some indecipherable momentary thing that would soon be forgotten.
It wasn't. When the graffiti faded or officialdom painted over it, others would replace it-- though later images never quite captured the artistic purity of the original. Over time, word spread of the Kingdom and its probable origin.
Viewed from the sky on, say, a map or satellite image, the region looks like a banana. The contours have the appropriate curved shape and peduncle, while the paved portion resembles the seam. I do not know which local primates first observed the phenomena or marked the territory, but many people now want the name changed officially.
The bananas aren't even the only oddity to turn up there over the years. In 2020, someone uncovered a stone idol with runic carvings. Of recent vintage (the Vikings never made it this far inland), it apparently depicts the death of Balder.
In any case, I went to photograph floral meadows as a representation of heaven-- Gimlé or Gimli, as it were-- per my wife's conception for the video. Gibbons, I should say, was swinging, now that some of the COVID-related restrictions have lifted. I wandered through to the Kingdom, which tends to be a picturesque passage rather than a place people linger. While capturing idyllic scenery I encountered, appropriately, three deer. One played shy, but the other two grazed remarkably close to the growing crowd of passers-by. I managed some footage, mostly of deer eating-- one of a deer pooping, its butt turned with seeming intent towards its audience-- and moved on. Deer turn up on campus from time to time. There's enough wooded space nearby that a small population can thrive.
I next happened upon some tightrope walkers. The small group had gathered back in Gibbons proper for their first practice in months. They tied their lines between trees and began walking, a little ways up in the air. Keeping a reasonable distance, I asked for permission to film them. They gave their consent and their names, and said they'd be fine appearing on YouTube. Given the number of people who pulled out cellphones to shoot, I suppose they've just resigned themselves to turning up online. Floating above the ground, arms fluttering for balance, I suppose they recalled angels a little, but they're more suited to the video I've posted as a companion for this journal at my YouTube channel, rather than a hint of heaven in a video broadcast to church services.
Defecating deer are right out.
As I left the park a man offered me a conspiratorial paper, one promising to tell the Truth about the current pandemic. Despite working from home, it's the second time I've encountered him in the last two months.
I didn't accept a paper this time.
One should take reasonable precautions during a pandemic, after all.
The pandemic prevented the usual fireworks, but individuals tried to fill that gap. Some people a block over set off a small display, launching explosions of light from the middle of the street and moving, like shinny players, whenever cars came by.
This morning brought my first shot of the vaccine.
I brought a book, because I knew I'd have to wait: Stripping and Other Stories. Pagan Kennedy, 1994.
I first read the talented hipster (who looks not unlike Aubrey Plaza) in the 1990s, when I bought Platforms: A Microwaved Cultural Chronicle of the 1970s. I had been unaware at the time of her reputation, her writing in places like The Village Voice and her role in the 90s Zine movement. Her take on the mainstream 1970s culture, however, left me laughing and a little shocked to recall how lysergically deranged and disordered the decade had been that backgrounded much of my childhood and the beginning of my adolescence. Later in the 90s I picked up The Exes, one of her three short novels, at a yard sale. She continues to write, mostly non-fiction. Stripping collects her earliest fiction, stories she wrote in her twenties. The best of these ten tales are excellent and a little harrowing. She knows how to evoke uncomfortable reactions, moments sharp and lingering as an injection. The rest vary in quality, creating people and places and times, and then kind of... ending. Punks, mental illness, and Elvis, fear and sexuality: she wrote the sort of thing one expected from now-defunct High Risk Books. I didn't read the stories then, and only purchased my pristine second-hand copy recently. Perhaps I should node it, or the excellent The Exes, or at least update PK's entry at our obscure and ragged corner of the Net.
In any case, while awaiting the shot and during the obligatory fifteen minutes afterwards, I read some of those stories. Did I look like an aging hipster, reading as I was an edgily-packaged book instead of perusing my cellphone? I didn't think of that until after.
If so, I suppose I was in good company.