“Strange Adventures”

13 May 2021 – I’m not looking for adventure, I’m just walking Point A to Point B — and I get highjacked by this little sign. Who could have predicted it? Who’d expect anything even mildly interesting, on the little grass island smack beneath the traffic ramps at the south end of the Cambie Street bridge?

But here it is: well beyond interesting, all the way to Strange Adventures.

I step past the sign, through the gap in the scruffy hedge … and there’s the first Adventure.

An unexplained, and definitely unofficial, wooden chair, with a tree stump foot-rest.

So I sit down, of course I do. The overhead ramps don’t offer anything adventurous … but, wait, there’s that shocking-pink poster on the pillar …

Surely the promise of Strange Adventures to come?

Yes, it is.

Voxel Bridge, explains this Vancouver Biennale signage, will bring us an “immersive installation” here beneath the bridge, courtesy of this Colombian artist and her planned combination of adhesive vinyl and Augmented Reality.

Hop a few days, and I’m about to enter an immersive installation (perhaps a Strange Adventure) already on offer: the Imagine Van Gogh exhibit in the Convention Centre down on Burrard Inlet. Waiting my turn, I look back through the lobby windows to Douglas Coupland’s wonderful Digital Orca, a pixellated happy-dance for the city, the harbour, and the Coast Range mountains beyond.

After the barrage of high-tech inside, it’s a pleasure to go back outside and see what adventures are on offer just from walking around.

A shot of horizontal yellow: from buttercups and dandelions, to those float-plane logos, to the sulphur piles of North Van over there on the north shore.

A shot of vertical light: storey on storey, the mirrored panels of one building reflect the balconies of the building next door, given extra sparkle by the fountains in Harbour Green Park.

Another day, more adventures.

A real, live crow guards a bus stop …

and a stone lion guards a parking lot.

It’s just one adventure after another, isn’t it? He is in a parking lot. He has blue eyes. And he is hanging out with a gnome. (Oh please! Gnomes.)

Later, I look up the Recovery Gnome Project, and change my attitude. It’s a grass-roots project, started here in Canada by people who have loved ones in recovery. The idea? Get people to celebrate the positive impact of addiction recovery, by creating and placing a gnome in their own community — anywhere in the world. (It’s already spread to the USA and England.)

Now, that‘s an adventure.

Outgoing, Incoming, & Just Plain Here

7 May 2021 – Well, here’s a near-generic urban redevelopment photo for you: detail-specific, in this case False Creek South, east end, but a common tide of events.

Out (R) with remnants of the Industrial Old, and in (L) with the Condo New.

I happen particularly to love that clapped-out, rusty old warehouse, or whatever it once was. I anthropomorphize it like crazy — yahh! you hang in there! love yer attitude!! — and I feel no shame.

I mean… just look. Despite weeds & chain-link fence, it really is somehow still hanging in, not yet knocked down (though a big wind might do the trick).

Yet I can’t be completely grumpy.

Because right next to it sit row upon row of neatly planted gardening boxes, all lined up behind that same chain-link fence and with a sign on the fence to make you pause, read, and puff out a happy little sigh.

Sole Food Street Farms — founded 2009, still active, here they are.

And here we all are, a poster on the utility pole next to the fence reminds me, here we all are, all us human beings …

messy, imperfect, and sometimes quite glorious. It’s just who we are.

So I walk on down to the Creek …

and enjoy myself.

Both Sides Now

2 May 2021 – Joni Mitchell’s pithy phrase leaps to mind, and I borrow it. Her “both sides” explored the many concepts of her magical 1967 song; mine speaks only of a magical day on first one side, and then the other side, of Burrard Inlet. And my “now”? Ahhh, more magic: the magic of the present historical tense, and your willingness to enter it with me.

Here we are, about to amble our way through West Vancouver’s Ambleside Park.

The park flows along the north shore of Burrard Inlet, pretty well right out there where the fiord first starts knifing eastward from Strait of Georgia all the way to Port Moody at the other end. And “amble” is the right verb: there is something soothing and easy-going about this park, and we slow our pace.

I fall instantly in love with the spare, functional elegance of the Ambleside Fishing Pier.

It is the 1990 replacement for the original 1913 structure, which was a vital ferry terminal as well as fishing pier, until bridges (e.g. Lions Gate Bridge, 1938) began to offer another way to cross Burrard Inlet.

We walk toward the pier, peek at an off-shoot through the trees …

but choose to walk out the main pier, right to the end.

Out there in safely deep water, freighters sit anchored in the Port of Vancouver “parking lot,” awaiting their turn to head down-Inlet and offload or receive cargo.

Right here at Pier’s edge, something that excites us a lot more than yet another freighter: a seal!

He may or may not be a capital-H Harbour seal, but he is a seal in the harbour and his presence speaks to the cumulative impact of steps being taken to improve water quality.

Back from the Pier, we briefly cut away from the water, follow footpaths past stands of cherry trees. Yes, the blossoms are falling fast; yes, it’s the “litterbug” stage I smirked about in my previous post. But look: somebody has neatly raked the windfall into a tidy heart.

More charm: a tangle of wild something-or-other draped all over this concrete guidepost.

Yet more charm: the smallest community book-exchange box I have ever seen, with the most inventive signage …

and a stunning backdrop.

Lamp standards evoke the grace of an earlier time …

even when they abut car parks and serve to enthrone a guardian crow.

Having looked westward toward those freighters earlier, we now look south and east, to the dense greens of Stanley Park directly opposite (here white-speckled with a whole flurry of seagulls) and the long curve of Lions Gate Bridge.

That bridge links the “both sides” of this day. We cross it to leave north-side Burrard Inlet for south, and then on down through Stanley Park and a few more kilometres west along the south shore, past Jericho Beach, past Locarno Beach, out to Spanish Banks just short of UBC.

This is why.

We’re here to see some furniture. But not any old furniture. Public Furniture.

They are terrific. So minimally, empathetically sculpted you’d swear nobody but nature had touched them. They rest easily on the sands, absolutely at home with their surroundings and each other.

Like this …

and this …

and this.

Both sides of Burrard Inlet, and magic each side.

Then a surprise, the magic of the unexpected.

Something that catches the eye, confuses the eye, intrigues the eye, and has us skitter across NW Marine Drive for a closer look. At first, it does seem unlikely to enchant: all padlocks, razor wire, rusting metal and Video Surveillance warnings.

But look into the glossy foliage, just there to the left of the staircase. See?

Well of course it’s a dancing orca. How else could we end this day?

Blossoms With Attitude

27 April 2021 – It’s the height of cherry blossom season here, so the whole city is pretty in pink. But pretty-pretty is not the whole message.

First, there’s the sublime indifference to COVID. Our assorted cherry blossom festivals may once again be cancelled, but the trees bloom anyway. Take that, virus! Very comforting, very encouraging.

And then there are all the other messages. I tell you, these blossoms have attitude.

There’s over-the-top bravura: “I own the street.”

There’s elegant restraint: “I craft one perfect nosegay.”

There’s narcissism: “Ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille.”

There’s even the civic irresponsibility of the litterbug: “What? What’s your problem?”

And then, turn down an alley, and it’s a whole different pink.

With an attitude of street-punk defiance.

As in: “So I’m not a cherry tree and nobody planted me or looks after me and there’s no festival in my name and … yah… okay … I’m a weed.

“But here I am.”

I like it a lot.

Details

19 April 2021 – First you widen your eyes, and stare at the big picture. Then you narrow your eyes, and start to wiggle in among the details.

For example, here at the entrance to this alley, just south-west of Broadway & Main. Wide eyes for a whole big chunk of space and structure, whirling with styles & textures & purpose.

Semi-narrowed eyes for the joke of this temporary art/context juxtaposition: look! a pink Coast Salish whale diving into a Mercedes-Benz!

Then properly narrowed eyes for the steps/ledge tableau to the right of the whale.

Steps & railing lead up to a bouquet of flowers …

with an artisanal No Parking sign beyond that …

and beyond that, another painted bouquet on the wall, with tiny sprigs of real plants in various containers on the ledge below …

and ‘way over in the corner, where the ledge triangulates with right-angled walls …

a modest little chunk of log, with a spiral shell balanced on top.

There’s lots more going on in that alley, macro-to-micro like crazy, and I whirl around with it for quite a while. But then I leave, and I walk on south & east for a further while, right up to Prince Edward Park, where I notice a shoulder-height wooden fence bordering one of the homes opposite.

There is a big, hand-lettered sign hanging on the fence. I step closer for the details.

You know the next detail for my narrowed eyes, don’t you? Trying very hard to avoid touching the fence (do steadying elbows count?), I peer over the top.

And there they are. The hens.

I don’t want to keep hens myself, but I love knowing that somebody else does want to, and can, right here in the city.

Same way I don’t find tree-trunk faerie villages at all appealing, but I really like the fact that other people enjoy them, construct them, and make them their contribution to civic good humour.

So I am benign about the grass-level example I see over by West 10th & Alberta, and I’m actively intrigued by whatever-it-is jutting out from the tree at shoulder height.

In closer for the details.

I’m still not sure what it is! Purple light-bulb, fine, got that — but the rest of it? Snowmen? Michelin-tire men? Don’t care. They’re unexpected and they’re fun.

And, big bonus, they cause me to stop, look around, and notice the purple sequinned cat over there in the flower bed.

Is that not terrific? (Yet another example of something I don’t want for myself, but am delighted to see cherished and put on display.)

And on I go, dropping down north toward False Creek, through Charleson Park and finally eastward on the seawall.

The path skirts the Heather Civic Marina — definitely a moment for wide eyes, and the big-scene stare.

So I do, I stare.

Then I narrow my eyes, and wish — for the umpteenth time — that I’d remembered to bring my binoculars with me. However — again for the umpteenth time — I have not remembered, so I must make do with narrowed eyes.

Which pick out a detail.

Look, up there, among all those masts …

It is! It really is a human being! A human being having a Cirque du Soleil moment, atop a mast on a boat in the Heather Civic Marina in False Creek.

I am so pleased that I noticed it — and equally pleased to have my own two feet on a solid path right here on the ground. Stomp-stomp-stomp, all the way home.

Full Length

14 April 2021 – Not that there’s much length involved! Only 6 km or so, & mostly level. It’s just that, every previous visit to the Shoreline Trail that cups the end of Burrard Inlet here in Port Moody, I’ve always doubled back to my starting point from somewhere mid-trail.

This time, I’ll start yet again in Rocky Point Park, but end up over there in Old Orchard Park.

Like this.

The one-way system is a COVID requirement, one that people are observing very well. So even though quite a few are out walking, this bright & gusty day, I feel safe — almost everyone stays masked, and everybody gives everybody else lots of room.

First glimpses of the distinctive mudflats, as I set off from Rocky Point Park.

Well… If people insist on disobeying one of the signs, I’m glad it’s this one.

Lots to delight me, along the way. Tufts of moss, still bright green in a dimpled tree trunk …

tender new ferns, stretching toward the sun ..

skunk cabbage luminescent in the many bogs…

and nurse logs everywhere. This one must be a particularly proud mother, with two grown children soaring high.

Boardwalks …

old vines twisted into trail archways …

and benches, some of them close to the water …

and others tucked back into the woods.

There’s an unidentified metal remnant of the logging / sawmill past …

and a planter that pays tribute to that past. Artist Gillian McMillan shaped the container to echo the old bee-hive burners at the sawmills, and sculpted the names of eight lumber company families around the base.

Close to the Old Orchard end, I watch some paddlers bring their inflatable boat ashore and start to pack up. Smart move! Look at those white caps — the wind gusts are fierce.

No problem for me: my hat has a chin-strap, and the bus stop — up the hill, across the RR tracks, by the road — is a wind-proof shelter, complete with bench.

So I plonk down on the bench, watch some crows bully each other in the sky while forsythia & cherry blossoms duel for bragging rights in gardens below, and peacefully wait for the No. 181.

Which, in a bit, comes trundling along, right on schedule.

Both/And

8 April 2021 – Once you notice the both/anded-ness of life, all those concurrent realties swirling around, examples just keep smacking you in the face.

Both the beauty of this cherry tree, arching its blossoms over an entrance to the coFood Collaborative Garden at Scotia & East 5th …

… and the wording of their welcoming signage, which recognizes the possibility that people will use this space to shoot up. (But, and here is a both/and within the larger both/and: note that they gently accept all possibilities, and only ask for considerate behaviour.)

Both the blue sky and shining waters of False Creek, right here by Science World …

… and the discarded face mask on the foot path.

Both the fresh, trim spring beauty of this volunteer-tended Green Streets garden, tucked by an access ramp to the north-east side of the Cambie Street bridge over False Creek …

and the graffiti on the ramp. (Note that I make a distinction between street art, and graffiti.)

But … but … here again, a both/and within the larger both/and: did you notice that bright posy of blossoms, in a circle of dirt within all that well-tended gravel?

See? Both a “bright posy of blossoms” and a tombstone for a felled tree, since the flowers sit atop a tree stump. (I am reminded of the neatly hand-lettered sign I once saw pinned to a wooden utility pole on a Toronto street, which read: “I miss being a tree.”)

Ahh but, how do I know which way ’round to assign the “both” and the “and”? Maybe it was a diseased tree. Come to that, why am I, even implicitly, suggesting that “both” and “and” are necessarily in conflict?

Whoops. Sorry.

I climb the ramp up to the bridge, where I’ll cross and loop my way back east. Another both/and as I reach the first bend: all that bouncy interplay of lines and curves, but also the litter on the ground.

Then I pause, and laugh out loud. Lookit those cheeky gulls, perched like sentinels on the light standard.

Both a very ordinary sight, as urban-waterfront sights go, and totally amusing.

Well, I think so, and this is my set of concurrent realities!

Pilgrimage

31 March 2021 – A pilgrimage starts with travel, does it not, and so here I am, on the Science World dock at the east end of False Creek, ready to board a ferry.

But not that one, which I have just missed.

Never mind, another will putter along any moment and meanwhile I can contemplate this mollusc-laden pole. It would tell me a lot more if I knew anything about molluscs, but I don’t, so I simply enjoy the texture, colour and inadvertent design.

Another ferry arrives; three Calgary tourists step off, and, after some suitably masked & distanced conversation with the driver and me about how-to-get-to-Chinatown, go on their way. I step aboard, and have the boat all to myself, all the way down-Creek to Granville Island, where I must transfer for the last leg of my journey.

My destination is the Maritime Museum dock, tucked between Vanier Park and Kits Beach Park, where False Creek empties into Burrard Inlet, there on the edge of Strait of Georgia. (And the Pacific Ocean, and the rest of the world.)

There is indeed a floating Maritime Museum all around this dock — the full-rigged North Star of Herschel Island being the example immediately to hand. The last of the sailing Arctic fur-trading ships, she was built in San Francisco in 1936 for two Inuit fox trappers and served until 1961.

But I’m not down here for her, even if I linger a moment in appreciation.

I’m also not here to join this family playing silly-buggers with their dog on the beach …

or to itemize the current collection of vessels in the Port of Vancouver “parking lot” out there in the belly of Burrard Inlet.

Or to improve my nautical show-off skills by learning to recognize the types of vessel …

or by cramming Port factoids into my brain. (Though, since you so politely ask, I will tell you that this is one of North America’s busiest ports, hosting some 300 vessels a year from more than 90 nations, creating over $40-billion in trade and some 10,000 local jobs.)

I am here, the friend I am meeting is here, so that we may walk through Kitsilano Beach Park and find Egan’s favourite cherry tree.

“Egan” is Egan Davis, an extraordinarily informed & personable gardener/horticulturalist/landscape designer/educator (e.g. lecturer in both the Horticulture and Urban Forestry programs at UBC). During his presentation this past weekend at an online master-gardener conference, he paid tribute to this particular cherry tree.

Not for its size and majesty, explains my friend (who helped organize the conference), but for its resilience. It is aged now, and shrunken with age — and yet, and still, it blooms.

We prowl the park, seeing magnificent trees on all sides and dismissing them.

There!” she cries, pointing. “That’s it. That must be it.”

We approach.

Such a thick trunk, but doubled over with the weight of its decades, and now supported by a well-placed rock.

Clusters of fungi mark the trunk, as surely as rings must mark it internally.

Only a couple of remaining branches, their fragility protected (we hope) by a warning sign.

Even so, look at all the blossoms.

So many years behind it, not so many in front.

But here it still is.

Sam Says

26 March 2021 – Down a nearby alley, just the other day:

Sam says.

Bright Red

21 March 2021 – But not this bright red.

We’re not out in the drizzle for the latest umbrella installation just behind the Yaletown Skytrain station.

And we pause very briefly indeed for a sticker-sized offering of Philosophy To Guide Your Life.

Nope. We zigzag on down to the north shore of False Creek, right there by the foot of Drake Street.

We’re looking for something else. We’re on the trail of The Proud Youth, one of Beijing artist Chen Wenling’s two contributions to this year’s Vancouver Biennale. We don’t have an exact address. We hope we can find it.

That turns out not to be a problem. It is eminently findable.

We move closer — puzzled, laughing, and fascinated. My friend grabs a full-frontal, as I start circling around.

Later, the online description gives us context:

The Proud Youth is a representative artwork in Chen Wenling’s Red Memories series. It is named after a popular Wuxia (Martial Heroes) novel called The Smiling, Proud Wanderer (Xiao Ao Jiang Hu 笑傲江湖), which in Chinese literally means “to live a carefree life in a mundane world of strife.” The novel is frequently read as a political allegory.”

The description moves on from literary reference to what is, literally, right in front of us. That pose! That red! The colour signifying not just auspiciousness, but the artist’s own “fiery” attitude to life: “The red figure, naked and free… The cheeky expression and arresting pose…”

Doubled over…

peering down between his feet …

and laughing his head off …

at the reaction of passers-by.

Eventually we move on. Double back to the north side of the Cambie St. bridge, where we’ll climb the on-ramp sidewalk…

and cross False Creek. With a latte destination firmly in mind.

But, barely onto the bridge, we stop for another hit of red.

Okay, more blush-pink than red, but auspicious even so.

Cherry blossoms! Already!

  • 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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