Exploring Urban and Rural Places at Act Five: Students’ Perspectives

For Act Five students, this year is full of a lot of contrasts. One is the practice of balancing silent starts to our days with the busy-ness that comes with living with twenty other people. Another one is the contrast between urban and rural environments. It’s been highlighted by living on Blake street, right in downtown Hamilton, while also heading out of town for visits to places like Russet House Farms, Cedar Havens, Camp Norland, and, of course, Temagami. 

Ryan writes the following about transitioning to life in the city: 

I’ve enjoyed my time so far living in the city, as all my life I’ve lived in the country. On the outskirts of a small town called Bradford, surrounded by fields and forest, just up the hill from the Holland Marsh. I never used to like the city. I had only been to Toronto a few times on class trips and a couple with my family, but I just didn’t understand why you would want to live in the city, especially for a kid: there was no place to play outside, no forest to explore, seemingly nothing fun. 

From spending 2 months here in Hamilton, I’ve grown to love the place. Having stores and everything so close and accessible is really nice. Just a short walk, bike ride, or bus to literally anywhere in town. For example, I just took Joel’s longboard out for a bit, only went 9km, but it felt like I went all over town. But a half hour bike ride will get me to the end of the city, but I would’ve passed so many good places already. Places to eat, shop, and talk to people. Lots of thrift stores, and local coffee shops, with better coffee and donuts than anywhere else. 

Me being from the country, with a forest across the road that I would often go explore, I first found it hard being here where there was no massive forest to explore endlessly. However, where we live on Blake is right beside Gage Park, which is the largest park in Hamilton. Not the same as a forest, but lots of grass and trees, and a greenhouse full of plants and other things. I’ve found myself just wandering through the park sometimes when I need refreshment, and it helps. Also, Hamilton being an old city, all the trees in the neighbourhoods are massive! Which is amazing, because it makes it feel less like a city to me. And especially now in fall with the beautiful colours of the trees, and leaves covering the ground all over the place, it’s beautiful. I remember last year coming down here to go for a tour of the house and the trees were all in colour, hanging over the road, and the road was full of leaves, and I just fell in love with the place. 

Something not so nice about the city is the constant sound of sirens, and the neighbourhood just sometimes doesn’t smell good. What’s nice is the community you have with the neighbourhood and the people you meet, because there are so many people that live within a couple kilometres from you. At home there are only about 10 houses total on my street, and I don’t even know the names of my neighbours, just some of their last names. But here you see all sorts of people connecting and saying hi, and having chats with strangers on the bus is much nicer than your parents always make it seem. 

City living has surprised me. It’s better than what I expected, although sometimes it’s hard to find peace, quiet, and rest in the city. The phrase the “city never sleeps” is true: there is action all night long. I’ve gotten used to it now. 

Ella reflects on her time in nature, and how it connects to her evolving idea of “place”:

I’ve lived in the city my whole life, just about fifteen minutes away from downtown Ottawa. And though I have had quite a few opportunities to escape from that, going camping with my family, attending my yearly summer camp, or a few canoe trips here and there, I have predominantly been a ‘city kid’. Going into Act Five I knew there was going to be a focus on the importance of place, where we dwell in our day to day lives, and I was intrigued by this, but I don’t think I really knew what to expect. On the first day, we climbed up the Wentworth Stairs. John Terpstra read us a poem about Hamilton, followed by Jon Berends telling us that we were not going to change the world. He said this to encourage us in trying to change the places in which we dwell, whether that’s our city, or neighbourhood, or even just our backyard, because our brains can’t focus on the whole world, but could focus on a smaller chunk of ‘place’. This was pretty new to me. Coming from a bigger city made me prone to always thinking about the bigger ideas – all the world’s injustices, and what I can do to change them all. To hear that it was okay to keep my mind on just one issue or even just a garden in my backyard relieved me from a lot of anxiety I didn’t even realize I had. 

When we got to Camp Norland, the Coldwater base, we started talking about the ‘leave no trace’ concept. We learned about how when we went on our canoe trip we had to be mindful of things like how we left our campsites, where we walked on trails and portages, or how we did our dishes because we are stewards of God’s creation, and have to take care of it. I thought a lot about that on the trip, as well as what Jon talked about, just focusing on one pocket of place.

When we went to Russett Farms, and learned about how intentional Brian and Sylvia were with every single square inch of their place, I could feel this longing to belong to a space like that bubbling up inside of me.

But what did this all mean? I knew I needed to start thinking small, that I wanted to care for creation, spend more time in it, and I knew especially that I wanted to be more intentional with my time, how I belong to my community and the area in which I live. 

I’ve learned that this concept of place is important. And whether you’re someone who spends most of their time living 10 minutes or 2 hours away from the nearest Shoppers, you are part of a place, God has put you there for a reason, and you are responsible to be intentional in your relationship with the land, and the people on it. So from one city girl to anyone who’s reading this: go outside, start a garden, walk around your neighbourhood, volunteer at your local food bank, learn more about that one injustice in the world that always gets you fired up. Get out there, be the change, and know your Place.

The locations we’re going to for the rest of this year are only going to further drive home these new ideas that we’re learning about. 

Stay tuned to hear more!

– Rieneke, current student

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