Two Dozen Things We Love About This Place: Friendly, old-fashioned Flats (8)

Come for the palm warblers. Stay for the friendly folk.

For 25 years, we’ve lived in a century-old home overlooking Panama Flats in Saanich. The flats are 62 acres of natural wetland. People have farmed the peaty soil since the early 1900s: dairy, potatoes, carrots, corn and onions. Not long ago, in the interests of preservation, the municipality of Saanich purchased the acreage.

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The palm warbler is a wee bird that’s been spotted at Panama Flats. Cute, with bits of yellow. Of course, there are all kinds of birds and other wildlife romping about: trumpeter swans, black-necked stilts, Wilson’s phalaropes. Ducks, geese, rabbits. And rabbit-hunting hawks — which sometimes hover above attentively as we walk our plump dog.

We like to stroll along the gravel-topped Colquitz Trail running along the edge of Panama Flats. On the north end of the flats is Panama Hill Park, a gentle rise with fir and Garry oak trees.

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This park reminds me of a 19th-century painting by Monet, The Poppy Field, Near Argenteuil. Not sure why, as the painting is dotted with poppies, unlike Panama Hill Park. The park has a similar hill, though, and like the painting, is framed with trees in the foreground. I keep expecting a Victorian lady with a parasol to stroll out of the tall grasses.

Here’s the thing about Panama Flats: People walking the trail tend to be unusually friendly. They’ll invariably say hi. Some will engage in a brief chat with a stranger.

“Where’d you get that hat? That’s awesome.” That’s what a cheerful dad said to me last weekend as he cycled by with his wife and two young children.

“Are you serious?” I said. My straw hat, although offering good sun protection, is pretty dorky-looking. Still, I appreciated the chit-chat.

A minute later, a tall man with a long, grey beard said: “Good morning. It’s looking like a beautiful day.”

“Yes, it is,” I replied.

Birds chattered. The sun shone. A yellow butterfly looped by. Wind sifted through tree leaves, creating the sound of lapping waves.

There’s a man-made pond in the flats. When first created, it looked rather artificial with its newly planted trees. Years later, the pond’s circumference has filled in with foliage that looks like it’s been there forever.

Past the pond is the rise of Panama Hill Park. In a small, shady grove, there’s a wooden bench with a metal plaque that reads: “In loving memory of Violet Ruby Youell. A friend of age and guider of youth. A Saanich pioneer.”

I’ve tried to find out who this friend of age and guider of youth was, but with no success. Still, it’s pleasant enough to sit on this bench, in the shade, and wonder who she was.

Such a nice, old-fashioned name. And Panama Flats is such a nice, old-fashioned walk.

achamberlain@timescolonist.com

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