Protocol

17 January 2022 – Here at the hair salon, everyone is vaxxed, masked, distanced, and hand-sanitized. Fully compliant.

Fully compliant with the current hygiene/medical protocol required by our provincial government.

Those of us who favour one particular hair cutter, however, must comply with an additional protocol.

It is linguistic.

We talk a blue streak. We discuss ships and shoes and sealing wax … and Vancouver’s recent snow … and Toronto’s current snow … even the derivation of the word “orangutan” (from the Malay/Indonesian orang + utan, i.e. person + forest).

But not a word about you-know-what. It is wonderfully restful.

River-Watch

11 January 2022 — The capital-W Weather just keeps piling up. The snow I blogged about late December was followed by more snow and more cold, and then a windstorm combined with king tides that tore up Stanley Park seawall and flooded the Ambleside Park I’d visited just a little earlier that month.

And now plus-zero temperatures and a new multi-day Atmospheric River, due to start … well, any time now.

“Now” being a few hours ago, as I set out to walk east toward home. Ah, but, I am wearing my Seriously Waterproof Coat and my duck boots, and I trust them to keep me safe and pretty well dry. So I am watchful — aware of the grey sky and impending River — but perfectly happy to let my eye snag on tiny details as I walk along, and not particularly care whether I beat the rain home or not.

Here at Yukon & West 8th, it isn’t the motorcycle I notice first …

it’s the butterfly decal someone has stuck to the back of the traffic sign. I don’t care that it’s wrinkled and beginning to peel, I like it a lot.

I pivot east into the alley just south of West 8th, away from the construction for the Broadway Subway Project (an extension of the existing Millennium Line) that keeps pounding along, whatever the weather.

I see this bold taco-shop mural right at the intersection …

but again it’s a detail that draws me in: a delicate line-up of red dots above one of the florets on one of the plants.

I wonder if this is a later, complementary (and complimentary) addition by some other hand, but then see another touch of red in the swirls of ground cover, and decide it is all by the original artist.

Only later, looking at this image, do I see the magic continuity of colour — black/white/red, flowing from the mural across those cars to the red building beyond.

Just east of Alberta there’s full-tilt alleyscape, so much going on I barely register the young woman who walks into frame on the right, checking her messages …

because I’m focused on that mirror up there on the balcony. Looking very pretty, in the midst of a lot of not-pretty.

Just past Columbia, I see the pumpkin-coloured car, who could miss it …

but, really, I’m fascinated by that convex traffic mirror, and the art-nouveau swirls it bestows on tall trees and power lines.

East side of Manitoba, I’ve seen this before but for a change it’s not the H-frame hydro pole that makes me pause …

it’s the haunting mural tucked into the garage on the left. So instead of walking by, I walk in …

and when I turn to the back wall, my curiosity is rewarded — finally! — with this artist’s name.

J. Whitehead, I later learn, is a Saskatchewan-born member of the Cree Nation, a Fine Arts graduate of the Nova Scotia College of Arts and Design, and now resident in Vancouver. I’ve seen his distinctive work elsewhere, am glad to give you a chance to discover him as well.

Same alley block but closer to Ontario, I once again halt at this battered old garage …

but, this time, it’s the sway-backed roof that pulls me close. I really look at it, at the textures, the colours, the thriving moss on crumbling shingles — the sheer topography of it all.

And then … and then, I’m east of Ontario, on to Quebec, and the end of the alley.

I swerve north to East 8th, away from all those alleyscape details …

into the ordered, aromatic, calm and considered details of a latte at my favourite café.

I make it home, just before the River starts to flow. (And flows still, as I type this. And is expected to continue to flow, right through Thursday.)

2022: the Travel Guide

31 December 2021

detail, 2018 VMF mural, by Phantoms in the Front Yard

“The real voyage of discovery consists, not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

La Prisonnière (5th volume, Remembrance of Things Past), Marcel Proust

Snow‼️

26 December 2021 – Snow in Canada in late December? Hardly worth comment. Let alone even one exclamation mark, not to mention two of them, and in punch-your-eyeball-red at that…

True, but. This is Vancouver’s first snowy Christmas since 2008, and only the fourth in the last 25 years. I know the stats thanks to a news report, but I only have to look out my window for confirmation.

No need to climb 300 metres up the Coast Range mountains today, to catch some snow! It’s right here at sea level. So I go play snow-tourist around False Creek.

Icicles. A given, in my Toronto winter days, but a rarity here, so I pay attention.

The Chai Wagon is open for business as usual, just off Science World, but the chai-wallah is more bundled up than usual …

and the nearby palm trees have their own winter adornment.

The little footbridge at Olympic Village was upgraded this summer, with — they promised — an improved anti-slip texture underfoot. Hmmm. The sign doesn’t know about that promise. Or doesn’t trust it.

Or perhaps is just a neurotic worrywart by nature.

These women are not worrywarts. They stride onto the bridge full-tilt, and cross without incident.

The welcoming chairs at Spyglass Dock are embracing snow at the moment, not Creek-side flâneurs …

but someone has cleared one of the blossoms in the artwork by Emily Gray that makes this dock so appealing.

I double back under the Cambie bridge ramps, here on the south side. This location — like Toronto’s innovative Underpass Park — is an encouraging example of what we can do with places that are more typically written off as wastelands.

Butterflies on the ramp supports, picnic and table-tennis tables on the ground below — a bright, inviting space where you feel it’s safe to linger.

At my back, the False Creek Energy Centre , hub for the Neighbourhood Energy Utility.

It uses waste thermal energy captured from sewage to provide space heating and hot water to a surprisingly large local area: Southeast False Creek, plus parts of Mount Pleasant, False Creek Flats and Northeast False Creek. “This recycled energy eliminates more than 60% of the greenhouse gas pollution associated with heating buildings,” says a City website. It adds: “The utility is self-funded.”

To the east, on my left, the John McBride Community Garden.

It is low on garden activity at the moment but still a magnet for this mother and child, heads bent in mutual fascination with something they see either before them or in the mind’s eye.

Straight ahead, directly beneath the Cambie Bridge, the Voxel Bridge — a Vancouver Biennale installation this past summer. Not just physical reality, but blockchain-based augmented reality.

Still dazzling on the side pillars and overhead, but surprisingly scuffed and worn underfoot.

This new sign may explain why.

I have to read up about bicycle drifting later, to appreciate the power that goes into the technique, and the problem it could therefore create for artwork.

Fortunately, human feet can safely drift all they want! Mine lead me eastward along West 5th Avenue.

Where, approaching Alberta Street, I pause at this mini-installation along the side wall of Beaumont Studios (“a supportive environment for a wide variety of creative professionals”). She’s your basic Noble Lady in Flowing Robes, isn’t she? But enlivened with colour up & down her body, and very bright turquoise sneakers by her sandalled feet.

Catty-corner at Alberta, a gleaming new facility devoted to butchering beans.

Oh. Got it. Vegan “meat.” I’m amused by the cheeky reassurance of the wall slogan (“Don’t worry, Mount Pleasant…”) …

and, while not about to order any product myself, impressed by the reach of this BC success story.

In just a few years, The Very Good Butchers has gone from Denman Island farmers’ markets, to a Victoria plant-based butchery, to this gleaming new facility and major online activity. Plus a presence in co-ops and markets north/south/east/west Canada and the USA.

Meanwhile, back here in Vancouver, physical me walks on. On east to Manitoba (street, not province — though that would also work). South on Manitoba with a pause at the alley entrance that houses one of my favourite murals.

But it’s not just the mural. Not just William Lam’s skill. It’s the context. Street art, in street context.

After that, I drift on home.

(No artwork is damaged in the drift.)

Sunshine & Seawalk

21 December 2021 – Second-shortest day of the year, but dazzling sunshine in compensation. Bad weather in the forecast. A good reason to stir my bones right now, and explore the Seawalk that skirts the north shore of Burrard Inlet between Dundarave Park and John Lawson Park, out in West Vancouver.

Girl-on-turtle in Dundarave, very beachfront, both of them sporting bright red caps, very seasonal.

Freighters wait at anchor out there for their scheduled time with Port Authority cranes; waves roll in to hiss at our feet here on the shoreline.

It’s a complex shoreline, tangled and rough. Someone has carefully placed five stones on this one log; frost glistens still in the morning light.

I am fascinated by the frost, lean closer, look more closely.

Then I walk out Dundarave Pier and look east down the Inlet, tracing my eyes along the Seawalk I am about to follow. I dance them a moment across Lion’s Gate Bridge there in the distance, over to Stanley Park.

Back in the park proper and about to leave the park, I’m snagged by this wonderful German Friendship Globe. It spins gently, as indeed the world should, cushioned on an underlying bed of water. I admire the beauty and the precision of the etching.

The equator, neatly bisecting the globe; Australia, buoyant beneath it.

And then… the world is turned on its ear.

An inquisitive little girl marches up, and gives the globe a mighty push. The equator plummets out of sight, and the Americas turn sideways.

I laugh out loud. This is terrific! We are reminded that map conventions are only that — conventions. Hurray for inquisitive little girls.

And with that happy thought, this inquisitive old girl sets off down the Seawalk.

I read signage as I go. All they’ve done is pave a well-established path.

A path with a long, and still continuing, history of jousting with the rail barons.

In places dramatic tree trunks ride the rocks …

elsewhere, there’s nothing but a delicate curl of vine.

I reach John Lawson Park, far end of the official Seawalk, and watch that little boy swinging hand-over-hand in the playground. He is also being watched by four seagulls — one of them real.

Another pier, and who can resist a pier? I walk out to the end, so much closer now to Lion’s Gate Bridge, but pay more attention to the ducks — Barrow’s Goldeneye, I think — than to the bridge. A whole flotilla of them, gliding along, perfectly happy in the chilly water, perfectly at home.

It’s still possible to hug the water, and I do for a while longer, on to Ambleside Park.

Where, finally, I cut back up to Marine Drive, to look for a bus.

Culture shock!

300 Metres

16 December 2021 – One of my discoveries since moving here is the inclusion of “freezing level” data in winter forecasts. Unlike some of my other fascinations (such as moss on trees, or crows), I’ve never blogged about it. Until now!

The “freezing level” is exactly what the phrase suggests it will be: the elevation at which the air temperature is 0 Celsius and water freezes, including moisture particles in the air. In other words, it is “the line that separates snow and rain.” I take this pithy quote from the adorably named windy.app website, which will tell you a whole lot more about the topic, but that’s the gist of the thing.

It’s important information, when you live in a mountainous terrain and want to know if driving a particular highway at a given elevation will be merely misty with a wet road surface, or snowy with ice beneath your tires.

I knew all that long before I realized that I could, with my own eyes, see the data. See the freezing level — just by looking across the city, on across Burrard Inlet, to the Coast Range mountains beyond.

On 13 December, Environment and Climate Change Canada warned us: “… For most areas, showers are expected, but freezing levels are hovering around 300 metres and the rain could turn into snow in the Fraser Valley and over higher terrain.”

At 1:02 pm, on 13 December, I took this picture:

See that neat horizontal line? Powdery white above, dark below?

There’s the freezing level.

I now look for it, every day.

Ostensible (1 & 2)

12 December 2021 – It is not what I anticipated, as I set out for a misty walk to False Creek, but here I am in an alley just west of Main & north of East 4th, pondering the meaning of the word “ostensible.”

Don’t you love an erudite alley dumpster? Grubby, battered & odiferous it may be, but by the Lord Harry, it is determined to improve our minds and build our vocabularies. All the way to polysyllabic adjectives.

Nothing “ostensible” about this dumpster, per definition no. 1: it is exactly what it appears to be. And if definition no. 2 seems (to my mind) to better fit “ostentatious” than “ostensible,” never mind! It defines the scene here on the alley’s east side.

It is indeed “open to view.” Indeed, “conspicuous.”

From barbed wire and ominous signage …

to the jumble of piled-up rubbish, punctuated by dumpsters.

Behind the rubbish, Nick Gregson‘s peacock mural still rides high.

It’s a 2016 veteran, one of the collection painted (largely in this neighbourhood) in that very first year of the Vancouver Mural Festival.

And here it is again, reflected in a doorway of the new construction on the west side of the alley — construction that undoubtedly explains the pile of rubbish.

Murals used to line both sides of this alley. Not now! Old structures disappear, new builds arrive.

Ahh, but. I have no right to sound that doleful; it is misleading. We have a net gain of murals every year, and I like a lot of the new construction, fresh & clean-lined & none of it high-rise.

And there are still murals in the alley, including Chairman Ting‘s 2017 bunny-rabbits, just north of East 3rd.

Partnered with — I hope you noticed — one of my beloved H-frame hydro poles, doing its party trick: a 45-degree pivot to accommodate alley intersections.

So that’s it, I decide: enough photos, enough to think about, should anybody be inclined to do so; I shall now just walk on on down to False Creek, and have myself an eyes-only walk.

That resolution lasts all the way to the Village Dock, the last ferry dock right at Science World. Where the pedestrian pathway leads me past this garbage bin. With this contribution neatly piled on top.

I dissolve in giggles and pull out my camera. Two passing 20-Somethings pause, and raise quizzical eyebrows.

“Look!” I say. And point, and giggle some more.

They flash bright nervous smiles, and scoot on past me as fast as their alarmed little legs can carry them.

Walking with Spirit

5 December 2021 — You bet. Spirit with a capital-S.

We’re in Pacific Spirit Regional Park, some 770 hectares of temperate rainforest in the city’s west end, neatly bordered along one edge by the foreshore of Georgia Strait. The network of trails, more than 50 km in all, lets you weave your way through mixed coniferous-deciduous stands of trees, taking in berry bushes, ferns, mosses, lichens and fungi as you go.

And that is exactly what we are doing.

Bark is a wonder, all on its own. Not just texture, but colour. And not just all the subtleties of black and brown, but, look, streaks of turquoise. Lichen is not always grey!

Last yellow leaves of a deciduous tree glow just overhead…

and, not to be outdone, other last-leaves flash bold patterns in the undergrowth.

Great webs of tree roots snake across the ground, tracing the hummocks of the long-buried nurse logs that gave them life.

Then there are the decidedly not-buried nurse logs!

Nurse-stumps like this one, crowned with its own full-grown progeny.

Tiny sprays of vivid fern, beside a fallen log ruffled with equally tiny fungi…

and a huge explosion of fern, so massive, so primordial in mood & presence that I look around for dinosaurs.

Jagged stand-alone stumps…

and the whole entangled dance of the forest: stumps & ferns & leaf mould and, overhead, moss woven around looping tree branches.

Whole entanglements within moss itself…

and the gleam of a boggy rivulet, deep and wide in this wet, wet season.

Enchanted, we follow our trail…

with its bends and twists and guiding stretches of snake fence.

On and on.

Watson in the Rain

30 November 2021 – Raining still, expected to intensify, sombre warnings about the coming 48 hours.

I go out for a walk.

Watson runs parallel to Main Street, feels and mostly behaves like a lane but is just slightly too wide for the anonymity of lane-hood. It is officially street width, and requires a name. I do not know which Watson they had in mind; I can only think of clever Holmes barking an exasperated “Watson!” at his befuddled colleague.

So. That voice in my ear, and all this in my eye: drizzle & chilly air & sodden leaves & garbage bins & garbage in and out of bins & hand-lettered notices about missing dogs, cats and oh yes human beings.

But also, here at East 14th: a share-bike rack; Andrea Wan‘s vintage VMF mural (2016) peeking through the foliage; and the literal and emotional warmth of the Main Street JJ Bean café, one of 22 outlets of a fourth-generation Vancouver dynasty that offers quality to customers and better than Fair Trade prices and other support to its suppliers.

And also, one block farther south at East 15th: Phil Phil Studio‘s 2021 VMF mural opposite Heritage Hall; and Heritage Hall itself, currently shrouded for its seismic upgrade and re-roofing project — only the latest stage in a history that began in 1915 and has taken the building from post office to federal agriculture facility to vacant and derelict to restored as a community and cultural centre. I don’t know if it has remained open for events throughout this latest refurbishment, but I do know it will be open December 15-16 (obeying all virus protocols) for Music on Main’s Music for the Winter Solstice.

So much, all around us, that is uncertain, worrisome, just plain sad and wrong.

And all this as well.

Still “in the midst”; Always in the midst

27 November 2021 – There was a break; now it is raining again.

We have begun what is predicted to become a “parade” of “atmospheric rivers.”

I cannot help observing that this is a mixed metaphor: a parade of rivers? Yet the reality it describes is so worrisome that I would find it unacceptable to get all snippy about the scrambled language. (And I am one who can turn snippy at the drop of a syllable, let alone a whole scramble.)

All this somehow circles me back to my previous post, and dictates today’s follow-through. Because we’re always in the midst of it all, aren’t we? Life’s just like that; it’s a both/and package, all the time. Denying myself the joy of Saturday’s Culture Crawl would not have made floodwaters recede out in the Valley.

Concurrent realities. Both/and.

One of the joys, on Saturday, was the discovery of Samantha Reynolds’ poem, My Version of Aging, while prowling the Eastside Atelier over on Clark. I’d never heard of her, but liked the poem enough to show it to all of you, and some of you liked it a lot as well. So I looked her up.

Well! Turns out she is a BC entrepreneur, head of the ECHO Storytelling Agency with some pretty big brand-name clients — but she only founded ECHO as a consequence of becoming Bentlily. And she became Bentlily because one day, bored witless at some corporate luncheon, she noticed a bent lily in the otherwise impeccable flower arrangement on the table. That so perked her up she decided to write a poem a day, as a way to force herself to be present, to notice, to observe, and share the results.

Visit her Bentlily website. Consider signing up, and receiving more of her poems.

She encourages sharing them, by the way, and I am about to do exactly that with this one, because it’s the one I need right now, in the midst of our particular BC right-now. Wherever you are, you have your own right-now to navigate, and maybe this poem will be an encouragement for you as well.

Especially the final stanza.

No Shame in Happiness

“There is no shame
in the serene drunkenness
you get when you stand
under a linden tree in summer,
wearing the smell of honey
and the rumble of contented bees
around you like a bonnet.

“There is no shame
in careening downhill on a bike
with your legs out wide
as the wind lifts the heat
right out of the air
and you are going so fast
no one can even hear you singing.

“There is no shame
in loving the movie you saw
without restraint,
in reading whatever
you want to read,
in admitting
wholeheartedly
to hope.

“Who told you
it was ignorant
to be happy?

“How dare they forbid
something so close
to peace?

“Happiness does not ignore suffering;
it is what makes the suffering
bearable enough
so there is energy
leftover
for change”

  • 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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