Walking Through Ritchie Street to Get to The River
For this assignment, I decided to go for a walk around Britannia Beach area. In my first mini ethnography, I wanted to capture the placement of signs and objects in public spaces through images. Taking a clue from Cristina Morreti chapter on “Walking” from A Different Kind of Ethnography, in my first image I wanted to explore how people make sense of public space through signs and objects. The first image is a post with a map of the community; the post is placed at the entrance of the street and it informs. The second image captures a creek leading to the river with a cone that is tipped over. I wanted to capture how the cone was placed there to prevent people from harming themselves as a form of public safety. The position of the cone from a social context raises questions of accessibility and responsibility. The last picture is of a “No dog” sign in an open field. The picture captures how there are restriction to who is allowed to use public spaces including animals. It was interesting to see in which context signs and objects are placed in public spaces and how people interact with the environments signs are placed in.
My second mini ethnography is a sensorial description of walking to Britannia Park. I wanted to pay attention to the sounds, smells, images, and physical experiences I had during fieldwork. With this ethnography, I hope to give my reader a sense of what it is to walk through a neighborhood while experiencing nature at the park. In writing this ethnography I reflected on Hugh Raffles work “Deepest of Reveries” from Insectopedia, which focuses on the relationships between humans and nature, particularly animals. Compared to the photo essay, this ethnographic account is not focused on a specific subject, but rather on the broader experience of walking and interacting with nature.
Making sense of the signs
Coming off Carlingwood Avenue on to Ritchie street, the first thing you see are the Ottawa community houses. The street is divided into two different neighborhoods, the first being the Britannia Woods community and the second, the Britannia Beach houses. Right there, there is a post made out of wood, with a white board featuring a map of the Britannia woods community. The map is there to show the layout of the houses and parking lots in the neighborhood. The sign also informs the public that these homes are government funded, and in so doing, also highlights the social-economic class difference of the Britannia Beach area.
Walking through Ritchie street on to the bike path, there is a small creek leading to the river. There is a cone there that indicates it is prohibited to go down to the creek. The cone is tipped over, and around it can be found human and dog footprints. If the cone is there to prevent people from going down to the creek, it does not seem to be doing a very good job. The visitors of the park seem to be interacting with the environment regardless of the objects that are put in place to prevent certain activity. Certain actions in this context may lead to injury in which case who would be responsible the visitor or the park?
Britannia park is a public space. In an open field, there is a post with a “No dogs” allowed sign; but once again, dog and human prints surround it. There are rules and restrictions to the utilization of the park, but they do not always seem to be respected by the visitors. There is no indication why dogs are not allowed in certain areas: perhaps it’s for hygienic purposes or to prevent destruction to the environment. Strangely, a public park is not open to all.
A walk to the river
I leave home at noon. The sun’s rays bounce off the snow on the ground. As I walk, the ice under the snow cracks with every step I take. The cold wind slightly hits my skin while snowflakes melt onto my skin. A few cars drive by before I am able to cross the street. I begin my walk. There is no one present on the street, occasionally a car drives by. The ice on the side walk has melted from the salt. The trees no longer have leaves, but they still make sounds.
There are rows of Ottawa Community Housing, a big sign made out of wood with a white board in the middle has a design of a map that says “Britannia Woods Community.” The wind blows my hood off my head, but I continue my walk. I arrive at a stop sign, across from me is a parking lot that I must cross to get to the river. There are no cars at the parking lot. From a distance, I see a man riding his bike, but he doesn’t acknowledge me. The bike path is covered with a light coat of snow, underneath it’s mostly ice. There are human, dog, and bike prints on the snow. I can hear the wind blowing louder and tree branches clashing together. The sound of the water from the river is soothing. Squirrels run around chasing each other moving the dead leaves on the ground. The temperature feels cooler beside the water, and there is a prominent smell of rotting fish flesh. I stand still beside the water observing everything that surrounds me. There is a lot of movement around me; nature is loud.
So far, I have not had any human interactions, except for the man on his bike. I walk through the bike path and notice signs everywhere prohibiting certain human and animal activity. For a public space, there seems to be a lot of rules. I come across an open field covered with untouched snow. From a distance, I spot a black squirrel; I am fascinated by its size and I approach it as quietly as possible. It hears me and runs to a tree, while I stand still and observe. It climbs up the tree leveling to my height, it knows I am still there. We both look at each other. The warmth of the sun is hitting my back, I can hear the splashing waves of the river from far, a geese flies over us quacking, the wind blows on the tree branches, I feel present with nature.
Throughout the semester I learned that ethnography does not have to always be written in a theoretical or academic context, part of doing ethnographic work is making the information accessible for everyone. Writing about people is an immense responsibility--anthropologist should not disrespect nor misrepresent their interlocutors. The position of the anthropologist is important in writing because what ends up on paper are “partial truths” of the reality experienced or seen during fieldwork. There is an ethical dimension to writing ethnography, as the anthropologist must always protect the identity and confidentiality of its interlocutors. For both of my ethnographies, I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and try something new. In the photo essay I wanted to put signs and objects into social context using public space. The second mini ethnography focuses on the experience and embodiment of walking and interacting with the environment, my goal is to allow my reader to imagine what it is to walk through Ritchie Street to get to Britannia Park on a cold sunny November day.