“The Calligraphy of Crows”

2 February 2023 – I rarely do this, but today I want to encourage you to visit this post…

https://urbannature.blog

by this woman, June Hunter, — the photographer/artist/urban nature enthusiast/crow groupie who also has this web page for her work:

https://www.junehunter.com

Why am I urging this on you? Because her posts in general, and this one in particular, celebrate photography, creativity, lyricism, urban nature and our urban dance with the natural world — and, oh yes absolutely, her fascination with crows.

Consider this early sentence in today’s post, describing that “calligraphy,” which is further supported by her B&W photographs: “Their inky brush strokes are never more distinct than when scrawled across the blank parchment of a pale grey Vancouver winter sky.”

Go catch yourself a few inky brush strokes.

Bricks & Mortar

1 February 2023 – And a bit of lumber…

They’ve finally cleared the fire rubble. And now the site, a gaping hole in the Main Street line-up, just…. sits.

Shoreline Trail (Again)

30 January 2023 – Yes indeed, again.

Every now & then, I just need a fix of the Shoreline Trail — that 6-ish km (round trip) trail in Port Moody that cups the very end of Burrard Inlet between Rocky Point Park and Old Orchard Park. Water and tidal mud flats on one side, second-growth forest on the other; always discoveries, either side.

So I ride transit a peaceful hour out to Moody Central Station, and again enjoy the Red Canoe as I drop down to ground level and start my walk.

Originally made by First Nations students in Centennial Secondary School and given long use in water, the canoe was subsequently in storage until 2015 when another group of students, this time in Suwa’lkh Secondary School, restored it for its present role of tribute and welcome.

A flotilla of Canada Geese is riding the ice-skinned waters of Burrard Inlet as I step out of Rocky Point Park onto the Shoreline Trail.

The pedestrian path (separate from the cycle path) winds through the woods, rich with detail. Whole networks of roots, a visible demonstration of the great subterranean entanglement that is a forest…

uphill curves on the Trail, with views out over water and tidal flats…

bright splatters of lichen on wonderfully textured tree bark…

winter moss! oh good grief, the sheer density & variety of winter moss on trees…

and big, fat detour signs.

Well, it’s not all adorable lyricism, is it? Sometimes you have to repair wonky boardwalks. Because, if you don’t, people might go flying splattt into the very mud flats you keep telling them to avoid.

That happens to be my favourite stretch of boardwalk, but I accept the detour (out to a busy street) with as much good grace as I can muster. I am soon back on the Trail, and rewarded with another stretch of boardwalk across another stretch of mud flats.

It, too, is satisfyingly narrow and non-linear, requiring people to slide past each other with great care. (Made more fun, this time around, when the woman sliding south as I slide north realizes we are wearing identical hiking boots. We stop all traffic to compliment each other on our excellent taste in footwear.)

Soon after, a metal relic I’ve noticed before, a reminder of the one-time busy saw mill life down here at water’s edge.

Tall remaining posts from that era, out there in the water…

and, soon after, my amazed discovery that I can actually walk out onto the Old Mill Site. It’s the first time I’ve happened to be here when tide is low enough to permit the visit. Out I go.

Considering they call this Old Mill Site Park, it’s surprising there is no plaque to state definitively which mill stood here. I later see one unofficial online reference to the McNair Cedar Mill, which was destroyed by fire in 1949, and another stating that the only known mill on the north shore of Burrard Inlet (which is where I am) operated 1882-1892. So I don’t know exactly what this used to be, and I mildly wish I did. If you know, please tell me.

Before returning to the Trail, I look west down the Inlet, enjoying the 2014 blue butterfly along with everything else.

Then it’s back to the Trail, and back to Port Moody via Rocky Point Park.

I know I’m almost there when I reach the skateboard park.

Ooops! Sorry! Did i say, skateboard park?

I mean, SK8 Park. (Get it right.)

Still… But Also…

27 January 2023 – In the VanDusen Botanical Garden:

Still winter moss…

but also…

the first witch hazel.

The “W” (& Other Stories)

25 January 2023 – The W Story starts a few days ago, when my friend kicks her toe toward this battered old grate…

and cries happily, “Oh! The W! It’s still there!”

My reply is: “???”

She explains: this storefront, now the unisex 8th & Main retail shop at the S/W corner of (yes) 8th & Main…

used to be a Woolworth’s. Her father worked there; she had summer jobs there. Her voice trails off for a bit, rich with memory. As we move on again, she adds, “And now the old store safe is in Purebread, down on East 5th.”

And so, out for a walk today, I follow the “W” story to its other artefact, the safe in its new home. Once functional in a five-&-dime, it is now purely decorative in an artisan bakery, and looking very charming it is, too.

The young couple at the next table raise bright, curious eyes at me. I say this safe used to be in Woolworth’s, over on Main. They look blank. Not a brand they know. I say, “Now it’s 8th & Main.” They beam. That brand they know!

That’s the end of my W Story, and everything that follows, it turns out, is an O Story.

O-for-Ontario Street. Not that I plan it that way. Purebread is at the corner of Ontario, so I spend time on Ontario, and — as I discover — the street has a lot to say.

There’s the O’Neil House

built in 1908 as part of early settler history here on the edges of False Creek, later witness to neighbourhood decline and — cf. its restoration in 2013 — subsequent rehabilitation.

Right next door, the rehab & reinvention continues, as another heritage house is brought back to life.

And on their own gatepost, a story of good citizenship. Somebody has dropped a key…

and here it is, neatly and prominently displayed, in the hopes its owner might find it again.

Next, there’s the Ghost Ivy.

Oh, the ghost ivy! I am surprised, and ridiculously pleased. The gate at East 6th is open, and I get to see full length what I could only peer at, back in July.

My Ghost. Busted!! post of 12 July was the triumphant follow — the end of the story — for an earlier post showing the delicate tracery left after the brutal removal of wall-smothering vines. An erudite botanist friend then studied the evidence, and identified the ghost: English Ivy.

I am happy to see this splendid imprint full-length, especially as I suspect it will be scrubbed away next summer.

Finally and wonderfully, an epic Ontario dialogue of stories, a call-and-response of stories across the street, stretching north from 7th Avenue. All epitomized by The Gaze.

One looks out from the west side of the street…

and the other, from the east.

Two gigantic wall murals, each covering some 3,000 square feet, each painted during a Vancouver Mural Festival, and each brimming with further stories.

On the east, the 2018 creation of Michael Abraham and fellow members of the Phantoms of the Front Yard collective.

Though Abraham doesn’t say so on his own website, I was told during a VMF art walk that the characters shown on that busy wall reflect local characters and are a tribute to those characters and all the other neighbourhood legends.

You can stand endlessly in front of the wall, and endlessly imagine what’s going on, right there before your eyes.

Just as rich a set of stories over on the west side, though the mural is visually much quieter.

Animalitoland (aka Brazil-born Graziela Gonçalvez Da Silva) created Presence for VMF 2020 — early in our pandemic confusion and isolation. Through direct conversation and via social media, the artist asked people which words best identified how it all made them feel. Then, from A to Z, she wrote those words around her radiantly calming central figure.

From “Abundance”, ‘way up there…

to “Zeitgeist,” right down here.

I love all this…

but I have to tell you, I am somehow relieved to pat a small dog on the way home and say “Snappy collar!” to his owner.

Y’know? Get myself back to one single story, in the right-here-and-now.

Moments on Main

19 January 2023 – More objects, more stories. Each rich in multiple stories, depending on the receptors — interests, background, assumptions, curiosity, attitude — of the passerby.

I’m struck…

by where I pause…

and what I read…

and what I just see…

and what…

connects with what…

before I jump on a bus for home.

A Wall, a Fence, a Yard & a Bench — and their Stories

11 January 2023 – I suppose I am almost always in story mode, but at the moment in a more focused way than ever. I have just begun a six-week online course offered by SFU Continuing Studies called Object Biographies: Exploring the Secret Lives of Things. It posits that “the life stories of objects reveal who we are and how we live,” and I have this in mind during a walk that begins in the Punjabi Market neighbourhood (very roughly, around Main St. & East 49th).

It causes me to look… oh, not more intelligently, not more inclusively… but perhaps with more explicit questions (and more appreciation) as I hoof my way through this mild & sunny afternoon.

The Wall

An alley wall, just off that Punjabi Market intersection. With a mural.

Choose your story! The wall speaks to us of graphic design… or community identity… or local festivals… or perhaps of the vision, interests and travels of its creator, an artist named Jessie Sohpaul, formerly of San Francisco and now Vancouver-based.

Her title for this 2022 mural is “Kohinoor, Where Are You?” That question points us to a whole other story line, one whose three elements are so often intermingled: history, culture and politics. To answer the literal question in the mural’s title, the Kohinoor diamond is on display in the Tower of London. It is there as one of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom. The UK claims legitimate ownership through legal treaty; this stance is rejected by the governments of India, Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan, each of whom claims ownership.

Indeed. Choose your story.

The Fence

My feet and curiosity next lead me into Memorial South Park, a bit farther east and north, with its emphasis on providing amenities for the range of ages and interests to be found in that neighbourhood. I wander by tennis courts, kiddy playground, adult outdoor fitness circuit, the running/walking oval, even the pond surrounded by trees & benches and, in this rainy season, brimful of water with many happy ducks taking full advantage.

But it is the fence over by the Fieldhouse that has me wiggling with delight.

Story time!

Voices of South Vancouver, I later learn, was created by Langara College journalism students to share the photos and stories of South Vancouver residents. Scan those QR codes, and learn the stories of people like Rob…

Ram, Kim and Andre…

Sahil…

and Mitch.

What I love best of all — what I later share with my online SFU classmates — is the project’s decision to recognize non-humans as residents and to tell their stories as well.

Meet Bench…

and Ross Creek.

I love all this, and I am very pleased indeed, as I leave the park and make my random way back north and west.

The Yard

I meet this yard on East 41st, somewhere east of Main.

As an aesthetic story, it displeases me entirely.

But if I am willing to reframe, to consider other story lines, I am charmed.

The yard becomes the story of a different, but equally valid, sensibility… the story of personal enthusiasm and kicky good humour,… the story of sharing with neighbours and passersby… and also the story of motivating those neighbours and passersby to behave themselves. (A small card in the display politely informs us that we are under video surveillance.)

The Bench

Now I’m on East 35th, having just left Mountain View Cemetery and on my way to Main Street. I stop flat, to cock my head at a street-side bench. It is yet another street-side bench, something that residents in neighbourhoods like this often provide.

But I’d never seen one that looked like this.

It is a carefully constructed, highly lacquered bench, with selected objects dropped into custom niches and neatly sealed in place. It is a bench of stories — each item a story, all items collectively the uber-story. The air is thick with stories, and I don’t know what any of them are. The cues are everywhere, if only I could read them.

For example, insignia of the Vancouver Thunderbird Minor Hockey Association…

a coil of blue beads, and a deconstructed Rubik’s cube…

a soccer ball insignia (I think), a water pistol (I think), and a penknife (ditto)…

and even a very Grumpy Guy.

There is no plaque, no sign, anywhere, to explain any of it. I can see that these items are prized, and that for someone, or some group of someones, they speak and are cherished for what they evoke. But I not privy to any of it.

So, in the absence of their story, I must create my own. It could be a story of outrage, at being excluded… or a story of disdain, for the objects on display.

Nahhh. My chosen personal story is one of delight. Thank you, unknown story teller, for creating this! I have no idea what any of it means, and I don’t care. It matters to you, and you’re sharing it with us — and in the process you have snagged my eye, my brain and my heart with something visually stimulating and totally unexpected.

So, unlike Grumpy Guy, my mouth curves definitely upward as I walk on home.

Triangle-Plus

6 January 2023 – I’m on the walkway linking Waterfront Station with the SeaBus terminal on Burrard Inlet — essentially a metal grid with glass side panels that offer long views of the train tracks, Port of Vancouver activity and waterfront facilities.

The language of the grid — witness this public-domain night shot — is the triangle.

This means that everything we see, as we walk along, is triangle-plus.

For example!

Tall triangle + tracks + boxcars + Skytrain…

or tall triangle + tracks + small blue helicopter + a whole herd of giraffes (aka Port Authority cranes)…

or tiny triangle + bijou tracks…

or, looking west, expansive triangle + spikes (aka Canada Place).

There is even one unapologetic rectangle.

Complete with visible fish + visible giraffes + invisible maple leaves…

it sends us down the escalator to sea level, SeaBus and our trip across the water to North Vancouver.

Rage & Respect

1 January 2023 – All around me are reasons for the former; the latter — unexpected, vehement — lifts my heart. A life lesson in life’s juxtapositions, on an alley wall in the DTES, with the new year barely 11 hours old.

I had been elsewhere in the city’s Downtown Eastside, and I am now walking south on Gore Street before doubling back out to Main and a bus ride home. The area is… devastated. I have earned my living with words, and I have no adequate words for the DTES. COVID on top of the long opioid crisis, tent cities on sidewalks. No-one harasses or threatens me; I walk without fear but with an impotent mix of pity & frustration. What to do? What useful response? And, to which bit of which problem?

Then, between East Cordova & East Hastings, I walk down one half of one grubby alley, and I see something wonderful.

I see rage, and I see respect for one response to one bit of one of the problems.

Far end of the alley, down toward Main Street, is bleak and still. Crows scream insults; nothing else moves.

The near end, here at Gore, pulses with street art life. Really street — not juried, approved & curated into a festival. (I say this with no disrespect for the VMF, just in recognition that street-street is a different creature.)

This is the first of three images, all three raw with colour & line. The images are interspersed with text, and it is the text — the rage & respect of the text — that lifts my heart and fills me in turn with respect.

Text fills the wall, either side of that bald biker image. On the left, a nod of thanks to the East Van Art Crew…

and on the right, a message about the real problem. Which is not the drugz.

A big verbal smack upside the head, to treat each other right.

I move on, read on. Next, a whole doorway of text.

A big “265” at the top, okay, probably back door to something. And then a lecture, surely added later, about the people involved with “265” and how to treat them.

Later, I look it up. This is the back entrance to the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre, located at 265 East Hastings, founded in 1978, open 24/7, and “one of the few safe spaces within the Downtown Eastside for self-identified women and their children.”

There must have been some incidents. Kendra, author of this lecture, is on a tear.

Hat’s off to Kendra. All these workers & volunteers deserve respect, she says. “None of these women are obligated, forced or bribed 2 BE HERE! They are all here 4 all of us because they want to be…” She closes her tirade “with all my love & respect.”

(As I stand here reading the message, a slight, young hoodied figure slides past me, inserts a key, goes in.)

Next, on the wall, a woman’s face…

and next to her, more text. Another message about how to behave.

One more face…

and one last message of respect & gratitude.

Did you see the very bottom? Half-effaced, in ground-level dirt. Your work, it says, doesn’t go unnoticed.

I go home. I am shaken by all that is so desperately, pervasively, wrong in the DTES. But I am also moved and encouraged by the proof that good work is quietly, doggedly being done — and is appreciated.

Human nature, eh? The great both/and of good and evil.

Good-bye / Hello

31 December 2022 – And on we go.

May your 2023 be a year of health, exploration, discovery and joy.

  • 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"

  • Recent Posts

  • Walk, Talk, Rock… B.C.-style

  • Post Categories

  • Archives

  • Blog Stats

    • 114,883 hits
  • Since 14 August 2014

    Flag Counter
  • Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,991 other subscribers
%d bloggers like this: