I like to run before work, especially in the summer when it’s light before 5:00 a.m., never too hot and rarely too cool.
Sometimes I start at the office, head east, battle a steep incline and reach Summit Park. There’s rarely anyone there. Most Victorians don’t even know it exists. Which is too bad, and great. Acres of meadows, beautiful views and guaranteed peace nestled in the midst of a picturesque old neighbourhood. A neighbourhood surrounded by busy arterial roads. Which is probably why Summit Park is little known and never busy.
There’s always something to see. Sometimes it’s a red sunrise, bright and iridescent. Occasionally I see deer, rabbits or other runners. Their presence adds to the magic of an early morning run.
Not everything adds to the magic. Like the junkie, sitting in a battered sedan. He slouched backwards in the driver’s seat, one foot out the door, slurping a Big Gulp while I sprinted past doing intervals. When he drove away – finally – I threw out the garbage he left strewn behind.
Lately I’ve ended my runs at Summit Park by foraging for food. Blackberries, ripened by searing heat and easily accessible despite the thorns that protect them. The first time I saw the blackberries I put a handful into the pocket of my shorts, and hoped they didn’t squish into jam on the way back. They didn’t, although the stains may never disappear. So now I bring a small container, fill it in minutes, and savour the berries, one by one, throughout the day. Something feels natural and right about that.
The run home is a breeze. Mostly downhill. Right past Topaz Park. A bigger park, closer to the office. Closer to downtown. The other day, two syringes, still packaged, lay in the street. Unused. Dropped by an addict. Waiting to be picked up by another addict.
When I moved to Victoria, I was shocked by the prevalence, and openness of hard-core drug use. Addicts clustered around the needle exchange on Cormorant Street. Dozens of them. Openly injecting all night long. Or waiting for their next fix. It was eerie. Like nothing I’d ever seen in suburban Ontario. Not even close. And it was sad too. Broken people, most of them beyond help.
That was ten years ago. Before the fentanyl crisis. I wonder how many of them are dead now.
Addicts are part of the landscape here. Acceptable. Expected. The ‘Sharps’ containers in public places tell the tale – at the airport, in coffee shops, in the vans staffed by medical professionals and volunteers who roam our streets. Helping the afflicted. But enabling them too.
Here are just some of the headlines when I Googled, “needle pricks Victoria”
Child Pricked by Discarded Needle at McDonald’s Restaurant
Dog Walker … Pricked by Discarded Needle Left in Paper Bag
Woman Pricked by Needle Placed in Downtown Victoria Planter
Google didn’t have to scour the archives for those results. All three are from 2018.
Several weeks ago, I spent time in a park in the downtown core. It’s actually a cemetery beside Christ Church Cathedral. The church is magnificent, both in size and beauty.
I found three needles amidst the gardens and shrubs that border the cemetery. Three more potential headlines, in one portion of one park, in a city full of them.
In his most recent ‘Reacher’ book, author Lee Child wrote that, “People are complicated.” The phrase has stuck with me for months, for its simplicity and accuracy.
Not just people. Life is complicated. Cities are complicated.
Morning runs are complicated. Morning runs which bring me so much pleasure and yet remind me that our world is full of pain.
Needles and Blackberries.