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Shade: Worth its weight in gold

… and we’re not just throwing shade, here
The best shade in Cranbrook is at the Westlawn cemetery. (Barry Coulter photo)

Over these past days and weeks of high heat and relentless sun, I mapped out my parking spot, and was careful to keep it a secret.

There is one parking spot, on the entire block of Xth Avenue between Y and Z Streets, that stays in treeshade an hour longer than all the other parking spots on that block. The block is a mix of residential and business, and there are 22 metered spots altogether (including one accessible spot) along the east side. That’s the side where all the shade is. There is no shade at all on the other side.

As mentioned, this has been a bad summer for extreme heat, and also UV rays, which is hard on the cars that sit out in the sun for long hours.

But on the east side of the xth block of Xth Avenue, the mornings are cool and pleasant. There are several big trees along the block, and a long stretch of tall hedge, throwing wonderful shade down upon all the cars parked below throughout the morning.

There is one tree in particular, an elm, about halfway down the xth block of Xth Avenue, that is taller than the rest and that bushes out over the sidewalk. Because of its position, this elm tree serves to keep one particular parking spot in cool shade a whole hour beyond when every other parking spot on Xth Avenue is in full sun. When all the other cars parked on the block are baking away, the car parked in this spot will stay cool well into the afternoon.

I figured out the benefits of this particular parking spot after long hours of observation, like an ancient astronomer watching the stars. I saw how a car parked in that spot would stay cool and shady long after my car, parked nearby, would be roasting in the sun, crankcase oil boiling away. A quick ticket to vapour lock.

And so, every morning, I set out to work a little earlier, carefully counting the parking spots as I cruise down the xth block of Xth Avenue, until I slide into the xth spot down from the lamppost, under the shade of the big elm tree.

Wonderful thing, shade is. Worth its weight in gold. It would be a small price to pay, adding that extra charge to the parking meter — a sort of shade tax. No doubt, with climate change, and shade on the decline, that kind of thing — a shade tax — is in our future. But I digress.

I have discovered that I am not the only one aware of this special parking spot. There are a couple more of us, arriving at work a little earlier than usual, taking the slow spin down Xth Avenue, watching for the spot near the lamppost. If someone is in the spot already, we park nearby, and poke our heads out at coffee time to check if the first parker has moved.

Mark my words, in the full, sun-baked heat of summer, the xth parking spot on the east side of the xth block of Xth Avenue is the best parking spot in downtown Cranbrook.

* * *

Wonderful thing, shade. Is there anyone who would not seek it out. Funny, that the word shade has also come to mean to insult, as in “throwing shade.” “Shade is a subtle, sneering expression of contempt for or disgust with someone—sometimes verbal, and sometimes not (Merriam Webster).”

* * *

“Let us cross the river, and rest under the shade of the trees.” Those are the last words of the Confederate General Stonewall Jackson, after he was shot at the battle of Chancellorsville. After taking his fatal wound, he raved and ranted in delirium for several hours, but his final words, which seems to equate shade with paradise, are among the most famous ever uttered.

* * *

Speaking of last words, the best shade in Cranbrook is at Westlawn cemetery. Cast by giant spruce trees, the air is cooled and made blissful in its deep umbra. The temperature difference between the air in the shade and beyond in full sun is, arguably, greater than anywhere else in town.

* * *

But there is less shade in Cranbrook than there was, even a short while ago. Trees have been coming down all over town. A lot of homeowners new and old are taking down trees on their properties, for all sorts of reasons — cosmetic, safety, etc. I’m not protesting this at all. I’m not throwing shade on it. I’m sure all the reasons are valid. But even the removal of one of Cranbrook’s big trees can affect the wind and air currents in a neighbourhood, the sound levels, and the amount of shade.

* * *

The City of Cranbrook has some famous and remarkable trees, and many of them were planted by Soren Johnson. Johnson (1868-1948) was City Gardener for many years, and was responsible for the planting of some of the city’s most well-known trees.

Soren Johnson was born in Vilerslen, Denmark in 1868. He married Selma Ecland in 1901, and moved to South Dakota. The Johnsons immigrated to Alberta in 1904, and eventually arrived in Cranbrook in 1913, with six children (a daughter, Florence, would be born to them in Cranbrook).

Johnson initially bought land southwest of Cranbrook, known as Bald Hill ranch, but moved into Cranbrook in 1926. The Johnsons built a home on Watt Avenue South (now known as 3rd Avenue South) which would eventually be lived in by three generations of Johnsons.

Johnson was employed as the City Gardener, and much of the city’s urban forest is due to his efforts. He was renowned for a special talent for growing and developing plants and trees specific to the Cranbrook area; the trees in Baker Park, Rotary Park, the cemetery, and in other locations around Cranbrook are a legacy of his career.

In these late days of a very hot, bright summer, let us celebrate andacknowledge the great trees of Cranbrook, and the fabulous shade they cast.

Barry Coulter

About the Author: Barry Coulter

Barry Coulter had been Editor of the Cranbrook Townsman since 1998.
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