Honk-Honk, Kiss-Kiss

10 December 2018 – There you are, deep downtown, whacked by noise & jostle. The usual cacophony, with a seasonal extra thrown in.

Horns, sirens, brakes, tires, walk-light tweets, a passing cement mixer, feet, bikes, sharp elbows, sharp tongues, cliché Christmas music on scratchy PA systems  …

Then, waiting for the light to change, you look up.

Up into the tangle of poles & wires & signals.

Right up to …

the mistletoe.

Kiss-kiss.

How To Avoid Conflict With Links

8 December 2018 – Thank you for noticing. If only I had noticed!

Wrong link, in yesterday’s post.

No, indeed. A Vancouver beer crawl — even through the artisan-iest and boutique-iest of artisan, boutique breweries — will do nothing to reduce human interaction with coyotes.

Being given the correct link might be a start.

Please try again. This time, it really does talk about how to avoid coyotes, not how to  encounter beer.

(But at least you now know one more thing to do on a wet day in Vancouver.)

Sorry.

 

Frozen Moments

7 December 2018 – It began one crisp sunny morning, the aftermath of a night that dipped below zero. I was back at VanDusen Botanical Garden, daytime, no sparkling Festival lights — just sparkling ice-skin on the lakes and ponds.

So slight a skin, it’s barely there.

As if the water itself were frowning in surprise, frozen with amazement.

Cypress Pond holds its breath.

Everything glitters …

but nothing moves.

And then, a few days later in Mount Pleasant’s Sahali Park,  I am the one holding my breath, frozen with amazement.

We both are, Frances & I; we whisper in awe and respect.

“It is,” we murmur. “It really is. It’s a coyote.”

(Frances takes the better photo, this is it.)

The animal moves slowly, easily, apparently unconcerned about the humans who happen to be passing by and, after an initial double-take, freeze in place. Nobody approaches him, or harasses him either. We all just … observe.

I worry about his lack of concern. A wild animal shouldn’t be so at ease, out in the open in an urban space with humans about. (Later, I read it is a growing problem, and that we humans can take steps to avoid conflict.)

A sharp-eyed old gent in a wheelchair chuckles as the coyote stalks some pigeons, who predictably fly off, and then lopes away to investigate a shrub deeper into the park. “He eyed a cat earlier,” he tells us, “over there,” tilting his chin to show where. “Big old cat. Cat just puffed himself up and hissed. Coyote backed down.”

(I’m back west, I think with glee. Easterners talk about coy-o-tees; but here in B.C. as in Alberta, these critters are coy-oats.)

A few crows are swooping around, scolding the animal though from a safe height. Otherwise, the sky is empty. All other birds have perched on the wires, and every head is turned to watch the coyote’s progress.

They, too, are frozen in place.

 

We Make Magic

2 December 2018 – In the very smallest of ways, I have helped make magic.

You take that clear plastic water bottle, and you snip the sides into fringes, and you angle-cut each fringe tip, and you run each fringe backward against the blade of your scissors to make it curl, and

And then you plop it into the waiting barrel, and move on to the next bottle. You are just one member of that shift of volunteers, one little part of an extremely congenial assembly line. Later on, others will insert the light bulbs that turn these water bottles into “flowers.”

This November, I was one of the 250-plus volunteers who helped test lights, shape light receptacles, and generally do the prep for the 34th Festival of Lights, an annual Vancouver event run by the Parks Department at the VanDusen  Botanical Garden. Parks employees then draped all those lights over trees, shrubs, walkways and light standards, across 15 acres of the Garden grounds.

The Festival opened yesterday. The day before that was the dress rehearsal — a preview open to everyone who had helped make it possible.

Preview night, Frances & I are there! (She did many more volunteer shifts than I, but we are equally excited to see the results.)

We see familiar sculptures (here, Michael Dennis’ Confidence) in a new context …

and Livingstone Lake sparkling with more than its own fountains …

and brilliant new end-points for long views down the lake …

and lanterns dancing overhead.

The Preview is like a gigantic family gathering. We all did something-or-other, and everybody looks for signs of their own contribution. “The star at the top of that tree?” cries one young Parks employee to her friends, as she points to an enormously tall conifer. “I was up in the bucket for that one. I placed that star.”

My turn to get all excited when we see the first “flower garden.”

I am almost immediately diverted to the Next Amazing Thing. Namely, two young women who visited a dollar store somewhere, and festooned themselves with light-bulb necklaces.

We take their picture for them; they offer to take ours. We are already wearing Make A Wish Foundation star necklaces, but our new friends offer us extra props, also courtesy of the dollar store.

I wave a holly-trimmed top hat over my head, Frances grabs an elf hat — plus a couple of arrows bearing editorial comments. (She is therefore fully responsible for the resulting character analysis.)

If you think all those competing lights do odd things to the colour of our faces, please observe this heron.

 

This is not a frosted glass etching of a heron. This is a real, live, fishing-for-dinner heron, focused on his own needs in that creek and oblivious to the hullabaloo.

We wander and wander, finally turn back, walking down one side of the R. Roy Forster Cypress Pond. In its Festival illumination, the pond’s walkway seems to hang suspended, equally untethered from sky and water.

Final magic: restorative hot drinks in the café. As usual, its mirror bears a slogan in praise of coffee. This, too, dances with the lights, inside and out.

I’ll almost certainly be back later this month, enjoying it all over again with family. Want to visit it yourself? Book online, to save money and time as well.

Lions? No. Sisters!

29 November 2018 – My original plan, some 20 minutes ago, was just to get all goofy wide-eyed about clouds on mountains. Two photos; hello/good-bye.

But then … I got drawn in.

Backstory is that I have just moved within the city and now have an even more stunning view north across downtown Vancouver to the magnificent Coast Range Mountains beyond — mountains that rise in southwestern Yukon and then trace their way south through the Alaska Panhandle and down the  B.C. coast right to the Fraser River.

The cloud formations here are a daily wonder, dancing with the mountains whatever the weather or time of day. They humble my camera; they humble my vocabulary.

A little earlier this afternoon, from my balcony …

Then I shifted my angle ever so slightly to the west, and captured those two iconic mountain peaks, the peaks that say: Vancouver.

Of course! The Lions!

If you know anything about Vancouver geography and skyline, you know that. As Wikipedia points out:

The Lions are a pair of pointed peaks (West Lion – 1,646 m (5,400 ft);[1] East Lion – 1,606 m (5,269 ft))[2] along the North Shore Mountains in Metro Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. They can be seen from much of the Greater Vancouver area, as far as Robert Burnaby Park in East Burnaby, south to parts of Surrey, and from the west on the Howe Sound Islands and the Sunshine Coast. Along with the Lions Gate Bridge named in their honour, these twin summits have become one of the most recognizable Vancouver landmarks. The city’s BC Lions CFL football team is also named in their honour. Lions Gate Entertainment which was founded in Vancouver in July, 1997 is also named for the peaks.

(An aside: Having just made my first-ever donation to the not-for-profit Wikimedia Foundation, I feel entitled to quote verbatim.)

But here’s the catch. “The Lions” is just our — the outsiders’ — name for these peaks. They are known to the indigenous peoples here, the Haida and the Squamish, as the “Twin Sisters.”

Wikipedia picks up the story:

The Indigenous Squamish people named these two prominent peaks “Ch’ich’iyúy Elxwíkn” (translates as ‘Twin Sisters’). These mountains remain sacred for their legal marker of a peace treaty, family lineage histories, and spiritual value. The two peaks were transformed by the Sky Brothers, or Transformers, after twin sisters that had married with Haida twins created the path for the war to end between the Squamish and Haida people. The families that made the Peace Treaty and married together still live in the Squamish and Haida Nations.

The peaks received their English name in the 1890s, Wikipedia goes on to explain, when Judge John Hamilton Gray proposed they be renamed something classier, something … heraldic. Result: lions couchant.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re right.

But the Twin Sisters legend reached our English ears anyway.

Canadian poet E. Pauline Johnson (1861-1913), of Mohawk and English descent, spent her last years in Vancouver and heard this legend, among others, from Chief Mathias Joe. She wrote it down as “The Two Sisters” and included it in her book, Legends of Vancouver, published in 1911 by McClelland and Stewart.

Please spend a moment with that cover art. It is the work of another Canadian icon, J.E.H. MacDonald, a founding member of the Group of Seven.

I am equally impressed by the images for the 2016 reissue of the legend.

This time it has been published as a children’s book by Strong Nations (“We bring indigenous books into your lives”), with drawings by B.C. artist Sandra Butt.

If you now want to hear this legend for yourself, here it is — of course — on You Tube.

I now see these peaks as the Two Sisters, and I honour them as a tribute to strong women, making peace.

 

 

No King. But a Springbok & Some Dragons. And Assorted Birds

26 November 2018 – I never need a reason to go walk False Creek, it’s reason enough all by itself, but today, I do have an objective. I want to see the King Tide in action.

King tides (local media explain) occur when the moon is closest to the earth, the gravitational pull of sun & moon reinforce each other, and tides rise to their highest levels. Vancouver has just begun a run of king tide: November 23-30.

So I go looking, but obviously I’ve arrived at the wrong point in the cycle. Things look darn normal.

No king.

I don’t care. I’ve already had a springbok!

Maybe a springbok? This guy’s horns don’t have that lovely springbok heart-curve, so perhaps he is something else. The text above his head says “Sea Power” and by his hooves says “the natural law”, so that’s no help. Oh well. He’s lovely, whatever he is.

I’m angling down to the water just west of Main Street, a route that zigs & zags me into “Main Alley” — something I had thought just a pretentious name for an alley, but which I now know marks the block where an entire new tech campus will arise.

It already sports the Main Alley Urban Park.

So says the pink sign beyond this shaggy greenery, all that’s left now that summer’s planters have been tidied away for winter. and the café tables &  benches neatly stored.

And “shaggy” is the word, isn’t it, for late fall? Even here in mild Vancouver, summer’s botanical opulence by now is on the weary side …

But.

Farewell summer, yeah-yeah, so what. Look! Hello winter, first snow on the mountains.

I saw the peaks glistening from my own windows early this morning, and felt quite exhilarated by it all. New season, new energy.

Winter up there; here on the water, ferries as usual. And a dragon boat team, also as usual. (OK, you’ve got me. No dragons. Just dragon boaters…)

I’m approaching Hinge Park, but I am distracted by a labyrinth. It glistens quite eerily, as if floating on its own skin of water.

Am amateur job, surely. Masking tape is my bet — and by now in no better shape than the leaves that have landed on it.

But I like it a lot. I like that it’s wonky, and disheveled. I even forgive the fact that you can’t navigate it without cheating a bit, here & there …  (Yes, I walk it. Of course I do.)

Out of the labyrinth, past Hinge Park, & here’s Habitat Island — the man-made island designed to follow nature’s own recipe and provide additional wildlife habitat within False Creek. Two great dead trees anchor the island, spear the sky, and are topped, as always, with live birds.

I go read the plaque, and discover those dead trees are a deliberate part of the plan.

“Raptor Perch” indeed. No raptors at the moment, just gulls & crows — but perched. Definitely perched.

Starting to loop back east takes me along the little creek through Hinge Park that feeds into False Creek. At the moment it’s full of Mallard ducks, bright against the soft grey light.

Heading back up Main Street, one last tribute to birds, at the corner of East 6th.

The leaves have fallen, no shade here until next spring. But I do pause. A moment of appreciation is always in season.

 

 

All Hail, Rain City

23 November 2018 – And there was, literally, a rattle-drum’s worth of hail along with the rain.

But rain is the constant, not hail. It is the pulse of Vancouver winter.

It makes headlights gleam, in the late afternoon of our ever-shorter days …

it bounces expanding circles into parking lot puddles …

and it plays polka-dot on a balcony glass wall.

Umbrellas again define us.

Waiting for use, they sit neatly furled by the front door …

in use, they bubble the sidewalk …

Inside shops, they are jammed into some kind of wet-umbrella stand …

and, once finally home, they are propped open, to dry.

Along with big, bright rain hats!

“We remember them”

 

10 November 2018 – I am in a hurry, pressed for time, just striding down the Cambie Street hill: “Out of my way! I have things to do!”

And I stop flat at City Hall, not for the architecture I love so much, but for this:

Almost Remembrance Day, and isn’t this cascade of poppies a touching & wonderful sight? How could I power on by, oblivious?

I step into the installation, begin to read its signs.

I keep reading. There is history.

I nod, like these children, to the Tower of London project — but, above all, I nod to Lieut.-Col. John McCrae, the Canadian surgeon, poet, author and artist who enlisted at the outset of the War, in August 1914, despite being 41 years of age. He served as Medical Officer with the 1st Brigade of the Canadian Field Artillery.

In April-May 1915, he tended the wounded at the Second Battle of Ypres, the first battle in which poison gas was used. During that prolonged battle, he wrote the poem that has made poppies a world symbol for remembrance.

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow…

All of it is powerful, but I am most touched by this very human stanza part-way through:

We are the dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders Fields.

The poem has been recorded by Leonard Cohen, another author/poet/global Canadian.

Here at one precise intersection in one city in one province in one country in a whole world of remembrance, I read the words of the children who created this installation, this year.

Stepping gingerly around poppies, careful not to step on a single one, I keep reading.

They should feel good, about their own craftsmanship, along with everything else.

And so history lives within us, and through us, generation to generation, and we interpret present meaning from past events.

John McCrae survived the Second Battle of Ypres, but not the war. His asthmatic lungs further weakened by the poison gas, he died of pneumonia in 1918, in Boulongne-sur-Mer, France.

He lies in the nearby Wimereux Communal Cemetery, one of 2,847 Commonwealth soldiers to share that final resting place. If you’re ever in Guelph, Ontario, visit his childhood home, now museum.

 

A Tug to the West

28 October 2018 – So there we were, admiring the Radium Yellowknife, a Vancouver-registered tug working the Toronto harbourfront …

And here we are, admiring the Ella McKenzie, the 1951 wooden tug who once worked the B.C. coast and now bobs at anchor in False Creek, enjoying her retirement in the outdoor section of the Vancouver Maritime Museum.

She may be retired, and she may bear a notice telling us not to step aboard, but this Great Blue Heron doesn’t care.

He has not retired, and he is aboard, and he ignores our admiring presence on the walkway.

The Ella McKenzie is now his fishing platform.

We work our way past the various exhibits — all a bonus, since this dock also serves the False Creek ferries, and we landed here en route the Museum of Vancouver, also located in Vanier Park.

Another stimulating, intriguing visit to the MOV — I am such a fan — and eventually we’re back on the dock. It’s time to pick up a ferry to downtown and launch our planned evening out in Chinatown.

The heron is still at his hunting station on the Ella McKenzie.

And he is picking off those teeny-tiny fishies one after another, so he is.

See that glitter at the tip of his beak? Gulp! and it’s gone.

Pretty soon a ferry arrives, and we too are gone.

Bye-bye Mr. Heron: we’re off to hunt our own dinner, down on E. Pender Street.

 

Lake. Klezmer. Ghost Lake. And a Bunny-Rabbit

24 October 2018 – Not calendar-Tuesday, but honorary-Tuesday. So says the founding Tuesday Walking Society, reunited and out in full twosome force.

We jump on the southbound Spadina LRT and bail at Queen’s Quay,  just where the train does its dog-leg to the left and starts its run eastward along Lake Ontario.

Once, decades ago, Toronto parks encouraged visitor use by pegging little “Please walk on the grass” signs into the turf. Now, in all the lakefront parks and many others, the welcome is even brighter and more functional.

We walk right past those Muskoka chairs, though. We pay only the briefest attention to the Spadina Quay Wetlands — once mini-carpark, now home to a whole ecosystem of frogs, fish, birds and butterflies — and to the Toronto Music Garden, its layout co-created by cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

We skirt a bike path intersection …

and follow the waterfront west & then south to just below the old Canada Malting silos. Our goal is the tiny, deeply moving park tucked between silos and lake.

Ireland Park.

These emaciated figures are the work of Irish sculptor Rowan Gillespie; this park is the new-world companion to the famine memorial in Dublin, for which he also sculpted the figures. Together, they commemorate the Great Famine of 1845-51. I never knew the impact of this famine on Toronto until I read the stats: in the summer of 1847 alone, more than 38,500 desperate migrants landed here. At the time, the city had a population of 20,000.

We stand behind one of the five figures (two less than in Dublin, to represent deaths en-route), and follow her gaze. The scene is not as migrants saw it, obviously, this is just our attempt to imagine their relief at being still alive, and on land.

Now we head east, to walk all these enchained lakefront parks toward the heart of the city. A first goal is to decipher the name on the red tugboat — it doesn’t look like a tourist vessel, yet despite all that bright red, doesn’t seem to be on government service either.

Tug-side, we learn she is the Radium Yellowknife. What a pan-Canadian world she represents! Named for the capital city of the Northwest Territories, registered in Vancouver, tied up right here in Toronto.

And working here, too, we learn, thanks to the guy who steps aboard to unlock a door and retrieve his bicycle. Once, in some vague past, she was in the NWT; now she helps shunt barges & whatnot from hither to yon, as needed in Toronto Harbour.

On past the yellow umbrellas of  HTO Park, enjoying the punning name as always. I wonder who first saw the possibilities in Toronto’s nickname and the symbol for water?

On and more on, enjoying water and waves and strollers and dogs and still-brave plant life and the whole happy mix. Past the first quay-side Wave Deck, then the second, then a pause to salute the third and loopiest of them all: the Simcoe Wave Deck.

For Phyllis & me, all this is a reunion with sights we already knew and wanted to see again — park after park, garden after garden. Then, boom, right in front of Queen’s Quay Terminal, a tiny park we knew nothing about: the Toronto Book Garden.

The zig-zag path is studded with the names of authors, and dates.

Ondaatje, plus Dionne Brand, Anne Michaels, Timothy Findley, Margaret Atwood, Morley Callaghan, Robertson Davies … you get the idea. Each has won the Toronto Book Award in a given year. The author needn’t live here, and the book may be of any genre, but it must contain some clear Toronto content.

Still heading east and now, we agree, we’re into a boring bit, with concrete towers to both sides. As always, construction. As almost-always, a CAUTION sign. Suitably red. And, as-sometimes, one of the jokes people like to play when the City hasn’t specified what to be cautious about.

Ho-ho, we agree, and soon after that, we part ways — Phyllis off to vote in the municipal elections, me to wander a few more parks before joining another friend mid-afternoon.

Next up, the refurbished Berczy Park at Front & Wellington, just behind the city’s flat-iron building. I knew about its two-tier dog fountain — multitudes of life-sized dog sculptures, each squirting water (from the mouth, I hasten to add) back into the ever-receptive fountain. The dogs all look upward, to the bone topping the fountain. There is one cat statue slyly tucked into the mix, but he is looking sideways, eyeing a bird.

There is now another sculpture in the park, a pair of giant arms & hands thrusting skyward from the earth.

There are no “do not climb” signs, so I relax & enjoy the kids’ enjoyment.

Up to King & Church now, into the Toronto Sculpture Garden just opposite St. James Cathedral. The current installation is a cheerful steel structure called Pigro, the work of Tony Romono, its loops further be-looped with lights.

“It’s even better at night when the lights are on,” says a voice behind me, a man at peace on a bench. Signage tells me it’s meant to evoke Italian festival lights, which are strung along streets and illuminate church façades as they go. How perfect here, against the Cathedral spire.

I’m now making tracks for my friend on Church Street, deep in territory where I first worked decades ago. All is familiar.

Except for this, on Church just south of Front.

Shoreline Commemorative, by Paul Roff, reminds us that Front Street — now well inland — once deserved its name. Infill, not natural processes, have moved the shoreline farther south, and it’s good to remember where lake once touched land.

I salute the ghost lake, and go meet my friend.

And now for that bunny-rabbit

Time-jump. It’s now calendar Tuesday, the Tuesday Walking Society is again on the prowl, and I have decided to put away my camera. Let nothing stand between me and this walk through Moore Park Ravine! Let me be fully present; eyes, ears, boots, nature and dear friend are more than enough.

But out comes that camera,  just once.

Hello, Poser-bunny.

And on we go into Evergreen Brickworks, for lunch and latte and elbows-on-table conversation.

 

  • 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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