An Arrow to the Islands

23 June 2018 – Just an arrow on the sidewalk, with a number, leading to a bus bay. My feet, among many others, obediantly follow the arrow. I am agreeably fizzing with delight, because this arrow, this bus, is the start of an adventure.

It’s the magic link – the hop from Vancouver’s city transit system to the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal and all those connections to the islands beyond. Tsawwassen was jump-off for my trip to Victoria in May; today I’m a day-tripper, curious about the islands that be-jewel the Strait of Georgia between the B.C. mainland and Vancouver Island.

My destination is Galiano — an easy 1-hour trip; population 1,000; 27 km X 6 (at its widest); named for Spanish explorer Dianiso Alcalá Galiano, who came through in 1792 (but who cares? the Coast Salish people arrived 3,000 years ago). These Southern Gulf Islands are tightly woven, and I still need simplified maps to help me sort out what’s where.

Galiano is orange, with the ferry’s dotted line hooking in to Sturdies Bay, where the boats come & go. I try to pin Mayne (turquoise), Saturna (purple), Pender (blue) & Salt Spring (“SSI” – green) in memory. I smile at SSI: I have a vacation date with that island in August, you’ll get to visit it with me.

But, today, I’m on Galiano. I’ve never been here before, but I feel warm with familiarity. I have lived on small islands and visited others; for all their differences, they also have some transcending commonalities – services, signs, ways of life.

Small islands have great bookstores. Always.

I loiter for more than an hour, buying a book but resisting — with difficulty — the matched set of Schrödinger’s Cat coffee mugs (one alive, one dead, but you’d already guessed that).

Then another any-island tradition: lunch at the local café/bakery.

I resist the cinnamon buns (yet another any-island staple) but devour a sweet potato-etc wrap, warmed on the grill. I shamelessly eavesdrop on conversation at the next table. Two young local women are planning to open some sort of food facility this summer; two local guys join them — with the dogs of both parties settling in just as amicably — and ask for an update. Q: “So when you gonna open?” A: “Soon. Or never.” Laughter.

It’s 4-5 km or so from the dock to the main cluster of shops. Given the lack of week-day bus service, I decide to stick closer to Sturdies Bay. My wander-about has already yielded the bookstore and the café; more emerges as I prowl.

All the signs (some literally so) of island life. A reminder of local water service …

the Community Development office …

the local laundromat …

the RCMP emergency telephone line …

numerous bulletin boards, all shaggy with notices …

local entrepreneurship, the Galiano Coffee Roasting Company

more local entrepreneurship, a freight service. So hum-drum, you might say, and in a hum-drum metal building, but with a wonderfully island-fey detail.

I doubt the plane is part of the service! Don’t care. Love it.

On down the road, bargaining with island gods as I go: “Well, here I am, open to whatever the island can offer to day-tripping, on-foot me. And it’s all fine as is, really it is, but still … if some near-ish destination were on offer, that would be nice.”

And, shazam, the island gods smile.

I ignore the little crafts-cum-museum shop on the right, and turn left for Bellhouse Provincial Park.

More island-being-island as I go. A startled deer, glimpsed from the steps of the little Anglican church …

attractive driveway markers …

a line of mailboxes, where residents can post mail as well as collect it …

and a line of snake fencing, absolutely my favourite fencing, flipping me back to memories of my Laurentian Mountains childhood.

I arrive at the park, the generous gift of the eponymous Mr. Bellhouse, and look across parched grasses to the channel beyond.

Down to the water, of course. Past the hammock on adjoining private property (she is asleep now, later laughing & lively on her mobile phone) …

to a waterfront view through dramatic tree stumps to island ridges beyond …

and to a B.C. Ferry probably (given its size) enroute Swartz Bay on Vancouver Island.

I crouch to read the small metal plug in one of the folds of rock, a reminder of the continuing but unnoticed work of Hydrographic Service Canada …

then stand up again, admiring the sculpted sweeps of rock that delineate this stretch of coastline.

I spend a lot of time just … being where I am. Letting the sounds and sights and breeze come to me.

But eventually I do have to check my watch. There is a Last Boat to catch, back in Sturdies Bay. Or I may have to bed down on this beautifully sculpted, but exceedingly hard, rock for the night.

I’m back at the dock in plenty of time, of course I am. So I follow the shrub-arched path to the public-access beach, right here at the terminal. The beach is rich with logs, rock, pebbles, gulls, the dark heads of seal or otters  — even a boat wreck.

Oh dear. I try to find it picturesque, but keep rebelling at its synthetic materials.

Doesn’t matter, the larger view is wonderful. Ferry terminal and public wharf on the left, a private wharf on the right, a Canada Goose and her gaggle of half-grown goslings in-between.

Finally I climb back up to the dock. I wait with other visitors, including cyclists, for the trip back to Tsawwassen.

Where I again follow that arrow, this time in reverse, and make my way back to Vancouver.

 

 

The Pick Up

18 June 2018 – Of course you follow responsible pet etiquette.

You don’t need signs …

to remind you to carry plastic baggies when you’re out walking with Fido.

But suppose Fido isn’t a dog?

Suppose Fido is your pet elephant?

Well then!

maybe you’d better bring a backhoe.

 

 

Grey Power

10 June 2018 – A month of near-constant sunshine has convinced me that the sun is a trickster. All that zap-powie brilliance, explosions of colour in all directions — and meanwhile it’s hiding, I have decided, more than it reveals.

Hiding it the way any illusionist hides a whole lot of what is really going on: by distraction. We are so zap-powie focused on the colour, we tend to miss everything else.

Whereas, with a grey sky — which we had the other day — with a grey sky, you notice everything else. Line, form, texture, luminosity. Also colour, oddly enough. Grey really sets off colour.

I am walking east on West 1st Avenue, heading for Hinge Park and False Creek, umbrella under my arm, leaden sky overhead.

But it isn’t really leaden — or, not uniformly so.

And it dramatically sets off the disused warehouse beneath and that brave poplar, twirling its leaves green/silver/green in the wind.

Strong line of the roof, all those tones of rust, the twirling shrub. In bright sunshine, I wouldn’t have noticed all that. I know it.

Into Hinge Park. Transfixed by one small bird a-top the rusty pillar, silhouetted against the dark-dancing sky.

And now that sky patters down rain.

Drops form endless tiny concentric circles in the pond, a Mallard duck creates one arc of larger circles there on the left, and silver light bounces back from the rufffled surface of the water. Grey sentinel stones too, at water’s edge.

More rain.

I graduate from putting up the hood on my jacket to putting up my umbrella. And then, knowing when a tactical retreat is in order, I dive into an Olympic Village café.

(Time passes.)

End of latte, end of rain shower, but a still-dancing sky as I walk back home.

How it makes that mural pop! And how it plays up the march of the hydro poles down the alley.

Then I stop looking for examples of how the sky enhances what lies beneath, and I just … look at the sky.

Which stands up very nicely on its own.

Next day the sunshine is back, and guess what. I am still noticing grey. Suddenly I see that old trickster sun as a backdrop for grey.

Though not just any old chunk of grey concrete, I have to admit.

This is one arc of landscape architect/artist Don Vaughan‘s work, Marking High Tide, which stands at the seawall in David Lam Park on  the north shore of False Creek.

Vaughan also wrote the poem: “As the moon circles the earth the oceans respond with the rhythm of the tides.”

Love in a Temperate Rainforest

5 June 2018 – I am climbing a steep path up through the woods in Queen Elizabeth Park, and then I stop climbing. I play the game of “No! no! I just paused to admire the view!”, but really, I am catching my breath.

And then I do admire the view. Well, you have to, don’t you, when you see umbrellas popping up above the trees?

I resume the climb, motivated now to find those umbrellas.

Which, I discover, are being held by four figures — frozen in the moment, but somehow conveying an elegant, interactive pirouette.

I come closer, and discover that each figure is two figures.

Two heads, four arms, swirled into one body.

And it all makes perfect sense, once I read the plaque.

This is Love in the Rain, a 2016 work by Bruce Voyce, and the Vancouver Park Board’s first love lock sculpture. Like other cities around the world, Vancouver is attempting to protect its bridges and railings by creating a purpose-build place for people to proclaim their love by locking a padlock in place and throwing away the key.

Vancouver being Rain City, it has chosen an art installation that “speaks of love in the temperate rainforest.”

I step in even closer, to admire the locks. Some are work-a-day, but many have clearly been chosen to honour the commitment being made, whether through the beauty of the lock, or the message it carries.

There’s the elephant lock ..

and the battered, but very handsome metal heart lock …

and the art-heart that transforms an otherwise pedestrian lock …

and the pretty red lock with its beautifully engraved names.

There are messages. Sometimes attached to the padlock …

and sometimes right on the lock itself.

But whatever the lock, whatever its message, each has been attached to the sculptures for the same reason, strong in the same belief:

Which is why the installation includes this beautiful receptacle for the keys.

I watch others explore the keys and messages, I take a photo for a young Québécois couple to commemorate their visit, and then I walk on up into the gardens.

I enjoy the stunning gardens, and I revisit, as I always do, Henry Moore’s Knife Edge sculpture that fits so handsomely, so perfectly, with the fountains to the south side of the Bloedel Conservatory.

But the best part of my visit is Love in the Rain.

 

It’s Chris-A-Riffic!

30 May 2018 – Well, I have some nerve. That is a totally misleading title for this post, Chris barely gets a walk-on, and not for ages yet.

I just like the name.

Even though I start with Caroline.

I’m prancing up Main Street, southward from False Creek, noticing tiny scraps of street art as I go. (Every now and then I am up to here with stunningly beautiful nature, and I have to go bang my head against street art instead.)

Though, mind, you, I seem to be noticing nature in the street art …

Witness that red flower above. And this blue bird below, bottom left corner in a parking lot mural at Main & E. Broadway (or so).

This is a detail of Community Tree, by the GHIA (= Growing Hope Into Action) Collective, a group of Emily Carr University students, one of the 2017 Mural Festival creations.

Yet more nature! Sunflowers!

This time an upper corner of Emily Gray‘s Cycle Mural at Main & E. 10th. I look her up later, pretty sure she is the engaging young artist who led a public-art tour I joined in downtown Vancouver last summer. And yes, not only that, she is also responsible for other murals & street art I’ve been enjoying around town, including all the gloriously loopy stuff all over Spyglass Dock. (“My” ferry dock. as I like to claim, on False Creek.)

This mural at E. 10th deserves its title, with cyclists & skate-boarder whooping around the scene, but it also pays whimsical tribute to False Creek, complete with dragon boat racers and the distinctive Golf Ball (oh all right, Telus World of Science) at the east end.

Not to mention all that asparagus and an eggplant or two …

At Main & E 13th, I back up for the whole shot rather than a detail.

Woman in all her languid glory, by Loretta Lizlo & Cam Scale, draped across the side wall of this Forty Ninth Parallel Coffee Roasters location.

We’re on to a bike theme now, have you noticed? First Emily Gray’s mural & now the real thing.

And a coffee theme as well.

I cleverly (but only in retrospect) combine the two by trucking west to Heather & W. 16th, where I order my latte in the Tandem Bike Café.

Coffee & treats this side; bike repair that side.

Along with the café menu and those bike tires looped overhead — genuinely for sale in the bike repair shop, not just for décor — along with the menu & the tires, as I was saying before I interrupted myself, yes, along with them, there is a poster for a Chris-A Riffic launch party.

We finally reach Chris.

Did you notice? Flick your eyes back up. Bottom left corner …

Alas, the party was two months ago. So much for a date with C-A-R.

I’m still into details, perky signs, and silly words.

Like this city-reg announcement barring cars on this stretch of Yukon …

with some citizen’s happy-face addition, and very polite words of appreciation. (Oh, he must be Canadian.)

One more bit of citizen action, this time on Cambie just south of Broadway.

Go for it.

Tug

23 May 2018 – I am again at the VanDusen Botanical Garden, one of my favourite places in the city. No, make that: one of my favourite places. Period.

I sit by the Cypress Pond in the Garden, I come back inside to take part in a class, I walk home.

I am entirely happy.

 

City-Busy

15 May 2018 – I’m busy returning library books and, all around me, this little wedge of city is busy being itself. It bubbles in every direction.

Poppies pop …

Colours pop …

A hydro pole struts the alley …

Motorcycles gleam …

A doorway dispenses wisdom …

Pedestrians time-out their walk along False Creek …

Junior dragon-boaters time-out their heats in a day of competitive racing …

A wedding couple poses …

And Tess turns 25.

I read the banner, grin, and carry on home with my new crop of library books.

 

Time Well Killed

11 May 2018 – Yes! You can kill time and still hold up your head in polite society.

(Credit, by the way, to Comedy Central, whose old tag line “Time Well Wasted” I have just appropriated.)

Select your location, open your eyes, and enjoy yourself.

Exhibit No. 1

I am in George Wainborn Park, smack by the walking/cycling paths along the north shore of False Creek. I’ve never noticed this park before, and it is not my destination: it is simply a meeting point. “By the fountain,” said my friend, as we planned our outing.

I am a few moments early. I kill time.

Admiring the fountain, of course.

Admiring all that “geometry at work & play,” as I like to think of it — vertical waterfall on the left; horizontal black fencing left to right; stone triangle on the right; great arch of the Granville St. Bridge overhead.

I watch a father carefully hold his toddler high enough to peer into the triangle. The child gurgles with delight, flexes his tiny starfish fingers in-out-in-out toward the spray.

I wait ’til they’re gone, then go and do the same. (Peer, that is, but perhaps even gurgle.)

Then my friend arrives, and we leave.

Exhibit No. 2

Next day, same need (same opportunity) to pace myself between appointments, and kill some time.

A quick visit to the Vancouver Art Gallery and then, because it’s a lovely day and I am in no hurry, I plonk down on the VAG steps terracing down into Robson Square.

Many others are on the steps as well, including one permanent resident.

Meet Bird of Spring, one of at least three authorized bronze replicas of a 14 cm. original by the Inuk artist Abraham Etungat, of Cape Dorset.

Bird and I watch the action below, in the Robson Square skating rink.

In season, well … it’s a skating rink, isn’t it? And off season, well … it’s whatever people want to make of it.

At the moment, it’s a studio for choreographed routines. Foreground, two young martial arts practitioners, with batons; background, a trio of dancin’ fools.

I stroll down around the rink, zero in on the dancin’ fools.

They are just a-shimmying their little hearts out.

Bird of Spring and I now bracket the rink, on the watch from opposite ends. The baton couple are still hard at it, in that sweet-spot combination of athletic precision and sheer flowing beauty.

Overhead, an audience of pigeons.

On I walk.

Still with some time to kill, but I have another destination in mind.

Exhibit No. 3

Another destination, with another overhead audience, if we may refer to inanimate objects in such terms.

It’s a tower of the Woodward’s Development on West Hastings —  the multi-use redeveloment of the old Woodward’s department store site.

The tower rises over, is visible through, the Atrium, which is a welcoming pass-through space open to all. Last summer I sat here & listened to a series of Hard Rubber Orchestra rehearsals; today I listen to the piano.

The  bright-blue piano chained to a bicycle, always there & available to anyone who wants to play it.

This intent young man is playing Chopin. He is very good, and we applaud when he ends a selection. He doesn’t look up, but, eyes still on keyboard, he does give one quick nod of the head.

He is playing again as I leave.

Nicely in time to meet my friend at our Purebread Bakery rendezvous.

 

 

 

Vancouver + Toronto = Victoria

7 May 2018 – So here I am, Vancouverite me, at the ferry terminal, about to make the Tsawwassen – Swartz Bay crossing that will eventually take me to Victoria. Where I’ll spend a few days with a Toronto friend, who is doing a spot of house- and cat-sitting while there on vacation.

Smooth, easy crossing. I contemplate islands, mountain ranges, all that magic B.C. coastline stuff. Also the ferry’s wake, endlessly spilling out in its endlessly same-but-always-slightly-different patterns. Chaos theory made visible.

That thought would never have occurred, but for yesterday evening’s  BBC documentary, host theoretical physicist Prof. Jim Al-Khalili, on quantum physics, chaos theory and the natural world.

So, at least temporarily, I “read” the wake with a more appreciative eye.

Nothing temporary about my appreciation for cats! The house cat is a charmer, and — when not asleep in his basket — amazingly lithe for an 18-year-old.

Much to appreciate outdoors as well. We are in Vic West, just across the Upper Harbour from the heart of downtown.

Downtown can wait; today we stay on our side, walking on up the Galloping Goose Trail along the Gorge Waterway. Total delight.

Joggers, runners, speedy cyclists (in their speedy-cyclist lane), mums & tots, oldies with canes — and, of course, a happy young guy snoozing under a tree. While racing boats power on by.

We’re down around the Railyards Development, the reinvention of old railway/industrial land with parks, condos, and shops. Simple materials & lines for the buildings, punched up with colour.

Next day, downtown & beyond: our target is a pair of public gardens. One, the grounds around Government House, unknown to me but highly recommended; the other, the Abkhazi Garden, a remembered enchantment.

But first, into downtown via the Johnson St. bridge — the new one, that is, open barely a month and the largest single-leaf bascule bridge in Canada. (One of the largest in the world, come to that, at just under 46 metres.)

I’m not thinking about that. I don’t even know that, not yet. I’m just enjoying its sleek, white curving lines, and their contrast with the blocky heft of the old bridge, now being dismantled.

We walk waterside along Wharf St. for a bit, dancing around sidewalk reconstruction. Reconstruction with a commemorative purpose, I see, when I focus for a moment on the bricks in the nearest wheelbarrow.

I don’t know the story. I don’t know who these people are, or why they are being honoured. But I do like the thought of Poppy Franc Rekrut, “Honourable Gentleman,” and of George & John Haggis, “Father Son Sailor.”

We grant ourselves a genteel pause in Murchie’s Tea & Coffee on Government St., where my attention is soon focused on the decidedly ungenteel back alley I glimpse through the window, with its splashy mural.

My friend grins. She knows exactly what will happen after our coffee break. Yes. I tear down the alley, to see that mural close up.

 

I walk to the end, and discover a less-elegant offering down at the  T-junction. No artistic images here, just the power of the alley-scape as a whole: tagging, wheelies, brick walls, bright orange door.

Right! Time for those public gardens.

It all turns into a 12-km hoof, and worth it, both for the gardens and for sights on quiet residential streets along the way.

This neatly clipped rose, for example, tucked carefully into someone’s front-yard fence.

Gates to Government House: suitably dignified, armorial and splendid for the home of the provincial Lieutenant Governor. Even the logistical announcements — hours, leash-your-dog — are dignified.

Another notice on the adjacent railing explains why it is a good idea to obey the rules, and keep Fido on leash.

See? Fido vs. Deer in Rut? We all know who’d win.

The grounds are wonderful, we linger, we enjoy, we blink for a while on a bench, and then we walk on (with occasional guidance from passing pedestrians), making our way to the Abkhazi Garden on Fairfield Rd.

“The Garden that Love Built,” says a brochure, and for once PR is an understatement.

Exiled Georgian prince crosses paths with young woman in 1920s Paris; they are both interned during World War II (he in Germany, she in Shanghai); post-war she makes her way to Canada and buys a wooded, rocky chunk of land in Victoria. Each thinks the other dead; they find each other again; Prince Nicholas Abkhazi marries Peggy Pemberton-Carter; they spend the rest of their lives developing this garden, its legacy now protected by The Land Conservancy (and many other supporters).

The couple planned their garden from this tiny Summer House at the back of the property, here peek-a-boo through trees toward right rear; only later did they build a modest bungalow home (now the tea room).

We leave only when staff is, literally, closing the gates.

Next day I’m in reverse gear, on a bus to Swartz Bay, starting the trip back home. One last unexpected visual treat, as we wind through the town of Sidney enroute the ferry terminal. Me staring out the window, at nothing in particular …

Crows! Images-of. Look! Dormer windows, this cottage-y little home.

My kinda people.

 

 

The Dance of Light & Life

1 May 2018 – Day-length leaps ahead now, and nature leaps with it. We’re in the UBC Botanical Garden, a perfect place to join the dance.

Yes, of course, great bursts of colour smack the eye in every direction …

but our eyes skitter away. We look instead for tiny details, such as minute red dots on emerging white buds, for example …

and also for the the fresh green play of light and shadow.

A towering Gingko biloba, clothed in emerging baby leaves, is radiant in the morning sunshine.

There is luminous green everywhere we look.

In skunk cabbage leaves, shadows etched against light …

and in a mossy tree crotch, bouncing its textures back & forth.

All the contrasts of early spring.

New fern growth just starting to uncoil above existing mature fronds — the one so tiny, so baby-tender-green; the other coarse, dark, brilliant.

Defiant new growth, here one sprig shooting upright from the top of a lopped tree trunk …

and defiant old growth as well. Four or five centuries old.

This tree also wears its defiance at the tip — except here it is scorched and bare, not green.

We had already read the sign at its base.

A bit farther down the path, we turn back and pick out Eagle Tree in the canopy.

We stand there a moment, silent. For Eagle Tree.

For the whole great dance of light & life.

 

 

  • WALKING… & SEEING

    "Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking" -- Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

    "The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes" -- Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

    "A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities" -- Rebecca Solnit, "Wanderlust: A History of Walking"

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