Janice and I sit together by a snow-laden stream at the Ecology Retreat Centre in Orangeville.
Around 4 or 5 months ago, I came to Canada to volunteer at the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation. After finishing my school in Germany, I wanted to go to another country and take a gap year before studying at university. But better than a normal gap year, like the most common German version of "Work-and-Travel" in Australia, I got the opportunity to do something good for the environment.
I've always wanted to go to Canada. One reason was because of all its beautiful nature, especially the forests and the animals that are living there. It is interesting to see how different the animals in Canada are compared to Europe. Coming to Toronto, where the Greenbelt main office is, I got to see my favourite animal – the raccoon – I'd never seen one before! But I found out that Toronto is a city with a very high population of raccoons! I know that many people don’t like them here, because they damage the rooftops and look for food in the garbage, but I like to think about why they do this and who was here before. After thinking about it more, I hope we can have a friendlier co-existence between animals, nature and our urban centres.
A black squirrel from High Park that I befriended.
Speaking of common urban animals, in Europe our squirrels are little and red with big tails. I never saw a black squirrel before my trip to High Park, where I got the chance to take a picture of a black squirrel that came really close to me. This was a great experience, because I’ve never been that close to a squirrel before, so I took lot of pictures of that black squirrel. At wintertime they are really chubby and fluffy (cuddly), because they need to keep warm. It’s very hard for them to find food while everything is covered in snow and ice. I think that’s why the squirrel came so close to me, because he might have thought I had food for him. The last time I visited the High Park was around one week ago, and it was covered in snow and a bit of fog. High Park is really interesting, because if you go inside it, and take time there, you may forget that you are in the middle of a city.
It's not only High Park and the forest that make Toronto a special city. In my eyes Toronto is a good compromise between city and village. On one hand you have downtown with a lot of stores, big buildings, a lot of vegan restaurants and sport centers with the high-class teams like the Maple Leafs, Raptors and the Blue Jays. On the other hand you have a lot of quiet parts and many neighborhoods around the downtown that make you feel like you are in a village – but you only need a few minutes to get to the downtown area where I work. Toronto might be a good place for many people, because if you are young and want to live in a big city with many people, you have the downtown right next to you. But if you get older and want to be in a quieter place, you can still live in Toronto or in the surrounding areas – for example the Greenbelt.
Me and Namgyal wear our "greenbelts".
While I was enjoying all Toronto had to offer, I went to a Toronto Raptors game with my co-worker Namgyal. It was really good to see a sport event in North America. We had a great time! Although the Raptors lost the game, (and not by very much) Namgyal celebrated every single goal until the game was over, while many people left in the last quarter. Actually this is a huge difference to Europe. If you really like a team, you would never leave the game before it is over and support until the end.
My work at the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation was really pleasant. Sometimes you hear that volunteers are made to do dull work and are mostly there to make coffee for other people! But here it was the total opposite. Before I came here, I didn’t know how to make proper coffee; I would only guess. And after these months, I still don’t know how to make coffee! But better than learning to make coffee, I learned many other things. In my time at the Foundation I was part of the "Web Team" and helped to transfer Greenbelt stories from the old website to the new one that you are seeing now. It was a big project and took us a lot of time and organization. I also learned other things, like how to do a voiceover, film movies with a camera and edit them on the computer, and how to do successful social media campaigns. I am glad that I was able to be part of such a great cause and team.
Namgyal and I gut a local pumpkin for Halloween!
During my time here, I learned a lot about Canada and saw different places. I went with the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation to a retreat near Orangeville, which was beautiful and natural. I spent time downtown eating at many vegan restaurants. And I saw the whole scandal about Rob Ford, which is kind of funny, and kind of sad. But now it is time to say goodbye to Canada and go back to Germany. But I hope that I will come back very soon.
Theodor Fontane, a famous German literalist/poet, once said that farewells should be short, like declarations of love. Maybe he likened the two because they sometimes are one and the same. Goodbye Canada.
-- Nils Kremer