The Kindness of Strangers

1 June 2020 – The kindness of strangers did not, in the end, protect Blanche DuBois from the rest of her Streetcar Named Desire realities, but it did give her many moments of joy. Nor does it protect me and others in my Vancouver neighbourhood from pandemic realities, or from reverberations of the fury currently sweeping the entire nation to our south.

Even so. Each walk reveals to me tangible acts of kindness by people I don’t know, by strangers, deliberately carried out for my pleasure and that of everyone else passing by on the street.

Kindness is also real. And more important right now than ever.

It may be a bench, placed in tended gravel under a tree at road’s edge, so that we may sit a moment and enjoy someone’s garden …

or a planter also at road’s edge, bright with ornaments, kept company by painted stones beside a utility pole …

or a fabric toy perched on a tree-trunk bole, the bole itself decorated.

It may be a block-long sweep of garden outside a property owner’s fence — this one on Quebec Street, for example — meant to delight passers-by on the sidewalk. In this case the fence itself is rich with ornamentation, something I celebrated in a May 2019 post and still celebrate every time I walk by.

Or, the act of kindness may be the explanatory sign on a fence that entirely fails to contain that yard’s explosion of monster leaves. The leaves are a good two feet in diameter on stalks some four feet high, so an explanation does seem called for.

Not that the explanation helps a lot. Unless you are adept at deciphering young-child printing, or are a taxonomy fiend yourself.

I am neither, but I have an impressively credentialed, taxonomy-fiend friend, who sent me to a link for Petasites hybridus (aka Butterbur, Devil’s Hat, Bog Rhubarb). It is a member of the Daisy family, can you believe it, and described as “aggressive.” That last part is easy to believe.

I am entirely charmed by the child, who wants us to learn all this, and by the kindness of the adult who encouraged the child and facilitated the signage.

Then there are the local traffic circles.

Not just concrete relics of a disappearing form of regulation but, under Vancouver’s Green Streets Program, a place where volunteers can indulge their green thumbs and make the rest of us happy at the same time.

Often these anonymous gardeners tuck in extras along with the plants. A birdbath, for example …

or two bright red chairs, socially distanced across a freshly bark-chipped path, and affording a splendid view on north into Dude Chilling Park.

On the subject of chairs! Anonymous donors are leaving gifts of chairs in parks and by sidewalks, providing additional places for isolation-weary pedestrians to sit a moment and enjoy being outside.

Here is just one example. True, here as elsewhere, these are clearly chairs the original owners no longer want, but this is a thoughtful way to dispose of them.

Two more chairs offered through the kindness of strangers — but nothing ready-for-a-thrift-shop about these.

They are splendid examples of what I know as Muskoka chairs, tucked beneath lantern-adorned tree boughs in this peaceful nook next to Sahali Community Garden, itself adjacent to Sahali Park.

The gentleman looks up from his book long enough to say this space is open to all, courtesy of the Community Garden, and adds that the chairs were made by a woodworker who lives right across the street.

I am delighted to hear this nook is an initiative of the Community Garden, and tell him my own story of one member’s kindness to a stranger.

Just last week, I say, I was walking through the park, and admired the arm-load of Bee balm (Monarda didyma) being carried by a woman going the other way. She thrust it into my arms, saying she was just trying to clear a path in the Community Garden, where the plant was running riot.

So I took it home, where it looked absolutely wonderful, next to my very own Muskoka chair.

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  1. Thanks for the wonderful walk, Penny. 🙂 Very enjoyable.

  2. I love your walks and join you on them too rarely, in my rationed blogosphere time. Generosity seems to be rampant (wrong word!!) in your community. Here too, some people still care about victims of fire in the world of corona which has caused many of them to be overlooked. Not by the local Presbyterian church. Three women and a truck and a ute were heading out into the boonies at the weekend, distributing very generous food boxes, including home made cake, soup, pasta sauce, and pasta itself. It made me weep.

  3. Love this walk and the kindness of your neighbourhood 😊

  4. Somehow the kindness has brought a certain positive attitude. People do not push past in a hurry but step aside and smile if you are doing the same. the local Community Centre has a band of helpers, at least one in every street, so no one struggles to do their shopping. Out of this situation I agree there is more thoughtfulness

  5. Tom

     /  2 June 2020

    Glad to see that you’re still providing us with attractive and entertaining views as we make it through the end of these late Spring days. Have a good day/week/spring/summer!!

  6. “Even so.” You write beautifully, Penny. You are always finding treasures of kindness…or just wonderful, small places to focus our attention. Butterbur, on the other hand, isn’t small, but I love it! It’s good that you appreciated not only the child but the adult who helped and encouraged. The chairs, wow, what a terrific thing to do…and your own oasis looks like a very tempting place to rest a while. We sure need it these days!

    • right, the background support of the adult for that child is terrific… and we all learned a new plant as a result!

  7. I always enjoy your walks, Penny, they are all so interesting! Love the big leaves in this one and those flowers, and those Bee balm flowers are really beautiful!

  8. Bob Bott

     /  4 June 2020

    Delighted to see you’re still doing this. I hadn’t checked the site for a while. Will browse past posts when I get a chance.

  9. Thanks for taking us along your walks once again. It’s refreshing. I have started taking walks in the evenings and at night in my neighborhood. The houses look very different and warmer at night.

  10. Love this one! One of you all-time best for me – I could hear you writing in hushed tones.  Just perfect.


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    "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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