Surprise!

15 October 2020 – So satisfying: happy surprises, even when I’m walking a not-wildly different variation on a pretty familiar route.

I’m not surprised by moss on this tree trunk, as I head south on St. Catherine around East 10th, but I stop to admire it, you know I will. And while I’m at it, I salute the bike-share racks across the street. At a time when so many bad possibilities threaten, let’s treasure everything that looks unreservedly good.

Then… surprise! I notice that somebody has tucked a little painted stone into a crevice of the tree bark.

A micro-surprise, if you like, but lovable all the same.

Macro-surprise comes later, as I pass an alley between East 18th & 19th, by Carolina. First surprise is that, by total chance, I’ve just rediscovered Bee Alley. I first shared it with you last 24 May, under the pretty obvious title, B Is For Bee.

It’s a whole alley-block of pavement art, celebrating bees.

It still has those wagglers to lead me in …

and there is still bee motif all along the way, but there are some additions, some new images.

Surprise!

A butterfly …

a salmon (I think) …

and a whale.

Still no artist signature I can find & no explanations, so I can only wonder, and guess. The butterfly looks generic to my uneducated eye, but both the salmon and whale surely come to us from the rich Coast Salish imagery of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-waututh people.

On I go, already very pleased with the day, as you imagine — but it just keeps handing me more discoveries.

I’m on East 18th, near St. George, okay-residential-not-amazing, and then I see this plaque set in the walkway to an infill house. The house is fine — modern in a clean-lined, minimal way, and in scale with & respectful of its setting.

But the plaque interests me more.

“Certified passive”? I build up a whole scenario of a bone-lazy house that won’t even pick up its underwear from the floor. Alas, I do realize (though regretfully) that is probably not the explanation.

And it’s not.

Still … surprise!

Well, for me. I didn’t know there was a world-wide Certified Passive movement, let alone metrics and civic support right here, for homes that meet specific standards for occupant comfort & energy performance.

On down the block, and stop to admire a slightly but lovably dishevelled older house, with a slightly but lovably overgrown garden inside its picket fence, and a Little Free Library box out front.

I check out the books, and only then notice — surprise! — this welcome to passers-by, hung in the protected archway of the gate.

I like that very last bit especially: “Be completely silent, and that will take you to the depths of your spirit.”

Black & Red on Grey

11 October 2020 – In the autumn rain …

with a skateboard…

with a crow …

with a mask.

Happy Thanksgiving. (Maybe more important this year than ever, to focus on causes for gratitude in our lives, as well as sources of stress.)

The Thing About Labels

5 October 2020 – This is the thing about labels: sometimes they mislead you.

Oh, not always. Most of the time they are valuable.

Suppose you’re walking down a neighbourhood street, and you see a monster. Like this one.

You’d want to know what kind of monster he is, wouldn’t you? So you’d circle him …

and read his label. See? Valuable.

Or you’re still in the neighbourhood and you see a corner garden — an over-the-top wonderful corner garden. Like this one.

You’d be grateful for the labels. You’d read the official City one, telling you a local resident sponsored this plot under the Green Streets Program, and you’d look around a bit and …

next you’d read the gardener’s own label. Valuable.

And then you’d luck into a whole other dimension of labels — verbal labelling. It is provided by this bearded gentleman, later explaining to this lady as he had just explained to me …

that the garden was all thanks to Sherry. It is Sherry’s hard work, and he wants everybody to give credit where credit is due.

Which I am happy to do — and that leads me neatly into the topic of misleading labels.

“Naked ladies!” I squeaked at you in my previous post, adding “Amarylis belladonna” because that’s what my googling had told me. Hah. Two readers knew better and in the kindest possible way set me straight. “Autumn crocus,” they said; not Amarylis.

So I look again — and discover that “Naked Ladies” is a nickname for two entirely different families of fall-blooming flowers: the Amarylis belladonna, but also the one I’d photographed and in fact really had in mind from life in eastern Canada, namely the Colchicum autumnale, or Autumn crocus.

Just to keep the whole “misleading” riff going, I also learn that the Autumn crocus, despite its name, is not a true crocus. True crocuses belong to the Iris family and are harmless, while the Colchicaceae family aren’t crocuses and are toxic.

On the other hand, whichever variety of Naked Lady you choose to embrace, they both bloom in the fall and do so without any modesty screen of leaves.

Back to valuable labels, again with thanks to my readers (specifically fellow WP blogger bluebrightly). That stunning yellow flower I showed you last post with the iridescent buds is a Dahlia, specifically the Mystic Illusion dahlia, and is that not the perfect name?

One final label, this one discovered just hours ago, right where Hinge Park borders on False Creek. First you see the rubber boot, then you see the wording:

I go to the website, just like they ask, and read a plea from the City of Vancouver. “Help us prepare for sea level rise,” they ask.

I’d call that valuable. Definitely not misleading.

Following Fall

2 October 2020 – Fall leads the way, and I follow.

Past a spray of gleaming leaves (magnolia is my guess) that guide me onto a path leading to the VanDusen Botanical Garden …

under the gleaming overhead ribs that guide me into the Visitor Centre …

and, tickets displayed to the masked attendant behind plexiglass, on through the Centre and out into the Garden with my friend.

We pause long enough to enjoy the mum dancing with her toddler by Livingstone Lake …

and then head into some woodland pathways, where we giggle at the white Doll’s Eyes (Baneberry, Actaea pachypoda) …

who are suitably shocked at the sight of all these Naked Ladies (Amaryllis belladona) stretched out in dishevelled languor.

“Red Maple” says the handy label on a tree next to Cypress Pond, and a tiny little red leaf obligingly displays itself on a mossy branch.

Decades of flaming fall colour in Ontario & Quebec leave me only mildly impressed by the foliage here — but I am wowed every time by the moss!

Also by the footbridge across Cypress Pond …

and, this time around, by the seasonal contrast of yellowing lily pads among the green.

A Bald Cypress at the far end of the bridge flaunts both its needles and its knees, the former due to fall off any day now but the latter there in delightful permanence.

I dance around for a bit over by Heron Lake, lining up a glimpse of fountain spray through the autumnal foliage …

but soon move on, to stand enchanted by the sight of yet more tree branches draped in moss.

We are both enchanted by what we see next: a profusion of this startling yellow flower (no identifying label, sorry), with numerous multi-hued, iridescent buds about to take their own turn centre-stage.

The Garden is also host to the annual Artists for Conservation Festival at the moment, so we pass some tents with relevant displays, like this one explaining a breeding program for the highly endangered Northern Spotted Owl. Squint hard enough & you’ll make out the owl on that female volunteer’s left wrist.

“Look like giant rose hips,” says my friend, eyeing this shrub as we head back along Livingstone Lake, and they do, don’t they?

Turns out to be Medlar (Mespilus germanica), not rose — a fall fruit that is ripe “when it turns to mush,” says the delightfully named Gardenista website. Also known, adds the website, as “cul-de-chien,” and if that doesn’t set you sniggering, it’s time to wish you spoke French.

Eastern Redbud leaves do their stained-glass-window impersonation when viewed against the sun …

and a helpful sign near the artists’ display tent teaches us yet another way to measure two metres of social distance.

Goodness, the things you learn. Two metres = 20 Ulysses butterflies = 1 Bald Eagle’s wingspan = 1 cougar, nose to tail tip. Also = six feet, but how boring is that?

One latte & much conversation later, I’m primed for a meandering walk home. It leads me through the neighbourhood where I saw all those swings a while back, but this time around, it yields a teddy bear.

Made of stone, but wearing his heart on his sleeve.

After the Equinox

26 September 2020 — Oh, it is fall.

Plants in the Dude Chilling Park allotment gardens show why I once called this “the ragged season” …

and a near-by sunflower droops his head in submission.

While humans pile on more clothing, plants start shedding.

Leaves & petals wither & fall away …

seed pods as well.

But some blossoms are still glorious …

and win expert approval.

The Double-Bee Cluster of Appreciation.

Yoga Now

18 September 2020 — A display rack of note cards in an upscale shop, the usual collection of art cards, pretty-pretties, and swelling coastline vistas of Scenic B.C.

Plus this one.

Perhaps a very new offering, certainly a very timely one, from a local outfit called Ben & Company.

I buy it. (Svelte Lululemon gear is so six months ago…)

 

Chillin’ with The Dude

15 September 2020 – The smoke haze has lessened somewhat, and I visit Dude Chilling Park, first time out of the house in two days.

Two days ago, I did go out on my balcony, but only long enough to take this photo.

Never mind no mountains visible, almost no city visible either: that blue-tinged building mid-photo, just one and a half blocks away, is the limit of clarity. All this because of winds swirling north from those terrible wild fires along the American west coast. The morning of that photo, Vancouver’s air quality was second-worst in the world, behind Portland. Not only Old Wrinklies like me, everybody was being urged to stay indoors, with closed windows.

Then, suddenly, this afternoon, visibility improves. It’s not great, and I know the level of particulates is still dangerous, but I go for a walk. Over to see The Dude.

Understand this: this neighbourhood green space is really, officially, Guelph Park. Not Dude Chilling Park. Got that? Guelph Park.

And this sign …

is not an official Parks sign. It is public art.

Which is fitting, because the whole Dude Chilling thing is the result of another piece of public art. This one.

Well, to be tediously precise, it is the result of this sculpture’s predecessor, by the same artist. Michael Dennis created the original work in cedar, which after many years had deteriorated badly. He replaced it with this new version in bronze. The official name for either version is Reclining Figure, but the popular name was immediately, and remains, The Dude.

Of course. Just look at it — a dude leanin’ back, and chillin’. As a prank, somebody started an online petition to dump the boring old Guelph Park name in favour of Dude Chilling Park. Good prank, good fun, and tons of people signed the petition. Which did not amuse the Board of Parks. Then somebody installed a home-made Dude Chilling Park sign in the  park. Which still-unamused officials removed.

Things went on like that for a while, Fun vs Unamused, with a new public petition gathering some 1,500 signatures pleading that the fun sign/name be restored. Until I looked it up just now, I believed officialdom had yielded, and the park now had two official names. But no! Even better than that. Somebody donated this perfect imitation of a Parks sign … and the Board allowed it to be installed, as a work of art.

Not as an official name for the park. As a second work of art.

Well, I love this. Somehow nobody loses face and everybody wins and the good times roll and The Dude chills on.

Thing is, now with COVID, I swear people are seeking comfort from the embrace of his body language. They sit right up there with him. Like this.

 

I move down toward the tennis court fence, to check out its current crop of public art. This is one of the display walls favoured by our local (I think local) Yarn Artist, and the display sometimes changes.

One creation never leaves: this now-weathered yarn version of the park’s unofficial name.

 

This creation is somewhat newer — it features our beloved Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, beside the first phrase of her simple mantra for dealing with the virus.

“Be kind,” says the yarn. My mind fills in the rest: Be calm, Be safe.

I’m leaving the park, read a Megaphone magazine notice tacked to a post — and there is the mantra once again.

Dr. Henry and The Dude. We can do this.

 

 

 

The Open-Air Gallery (Year 5)

5 September 2020 – We’re talking street art, but organized street art, with the street as part of the art. Which justifies the invitation on the Vancouver Mural Festival home page: “Discover the city’s open-air gallery of murals.”

Now in year 5, this non-profit event has to date added more than 200 murals to the cityscape and made them a welcome, a vaunted, part of our identity.  It’s a little different this year — no street parties, for obvious reasons — but even so, 60 new murals, and an expanded presence in nine neighbourhoods.

Armed with the app, friends & I descend on three of them: West End + Robson one day, and my very own ‘hood (and birthplace of the VMF), Mount Pleasant, a few days later.

In a regular gallery, the art dynamic is between you and the work of art. Out on the street, it becomes a three-way conversation: you, the work of art, and whatever’s happening in that bit of the city at the moment you three collide.

So, standing in Pantages Lane behind Davie Street, eager to see Pearl Low’s Precious Fruit, we wait patiently while the Steam Works Brewery driver climbs back into his cab and methodically — oh, so methodically — organizes himself to drive off.

We chat, comfy in the shade. Then the door slams, the engine catches, lights flash on, and he’s gone.

Start looking at the murals, and you look at everything else as well — all the other visual cues to where you are, and to the rhythm and values of the part of town where you happen to be standing.

Maybe it’s signage right here in Pantages Lane at a cross-alley …

or a memorial next to St. Paul’s Anglican Church, just off Davie St. on Jervis.

The whole city is an open-air gallery, not just the murals.

A few days later, we’re in Mount Pleasant, where the Festival began and still its epicentre. We prowl more streets and alleys, this time in an 8-km curve from north/west-ish to south/east-ish.

In the alley just off Columbia & West 8th, artist Carole Mathys talks to my friend about her mural, Reclaimed. Finishing touches still to come, but the work already proclaims that we humans are just one small part of the eco-system, and not, ultimately, in control.

Right opposite, a work still so much in creation I don’t even have a name for it, and artist Cara Guri hasn’t yet arrived to satisfy our curiosity.

By the time Year 5 rolls around, the legacy of previous years is all around you. At Columbia & West 7th, we bounce with the energy of Magic Music Ride, a 2018 work by American artist Bunnie Reiss.

The car this side of the street bounces with it as well. See how its windshield and gleaming hood throw reflections back at the mural?

Makes me goofy-willing to see art in everything.

Ohhh, that yellow van is so perfectly framed in these blind-spot mirrors, high on the wall where Manitoba meets the alley just north of West 7th … And look, the green of the wall complements the green of the trees… (Sigh… )

Down the alley, something more substantial than traffic mirrors!

A succession of murals, but we stop longest at Entangled Flow, by Abbey Pierson, a Cowlitz/Mexican/European artist based in Olympia, Washington.

It covers a long stretch of wall, the artist statement as powerful as the work itself. “Each new generation faces the effects of neglect that spreads through the world like poison in veins. It takes form in our hatred, our carelessness and in our environment …”

A sombre message, with an optimistic call to action. “Our issues are entangled, but so are our solutions.”

Another 2018 favourite of mine, at Ontario & West 7th — a wall-full of people (many modelled on local residents), cats, dogs, wine glasses and seething activity. It was created by all seven members of the Phantoms in the Front Yard collective, but seems not to have a name.

Every time I look, I see something more.

Like this cat (yet another cat), peeking ’round a window bolted shut.

Sorry cat — my head swivels.

Right across the street, a 2020 mural-in-the-making, Gabriel Martin’s Presence.

At first it seems the opposite of its neighbour — where the Phantoms’ mural pulls you close, to search for every detail, the one by Martin pulses from afar. You almost feel the need to stand back, as if it can only be read from a distance.

Which would be a mistake.

Because, A to Z, in deliberately ghost-pale lettering, Martin neatly prints a dictionary of emotions to either side of the figure. The mural pulses with more than radiant colour; it pulses with the ebb & flow of human emotions.

Later, in a Main Street café, we talk about the art, the city, and how lucky we are. Despite all the threats — medical, political, environmental — there is also laughter and art and generosity and possibility.

Abbey Pierson got it right, didn’t she? “Our issues are entangled, but so are our solutions.”

 

 

Swings & Roundabouts

25 August 2020 – Doing an extended zigzag through residential streets, making my leisurely way home from a visit to the VanDusen Botanical Garden, I find myself in swing territory.

This kind of swing: the kind attached to a sturdy branch of a sturdy tree, to please kids who are happy to mix traditional amusements with the electronic kind.

This swing is as trad as they come — rope threaded through a wooden plank — but I soon start seeing variations on the theme.

Synthetic ice-blue plank and black plastic rope, for example, plus snazzy red discs to stabilize the rope …

or trad wooden plank, but with a nearby bench for passing pedestrians as well .

Every now & then, I must admit, rampaging fall flowers distract me from my theme. There are masses of rudebekia …

and, speaking of yellow flowers with attitude …

towering sunflowers. Plus happy bees. Check the rim of the “clock face” of the central bloom: just about 1 o’clock, that’s a bee.

Back to the swings!

Another twofer — this time, inner tire suspended from a tree-branch rope, plus wooden climbing slats nailed to the tree trunk itself. (With an “I ❤️ climbing!” sticker up near the top.)

There’s the bright-blue minimalist swing …

and then there’s the bright-blue maximalist swing.

And then, just as I’m quipping happily to myself, “All these swings, so where are the roundabouts?”  …

and then, right at the corner of Tea Swamp Park …

I see one.

 

Crisis

19 August 2020 — Elements of crisis:

Danger …

plus …

Opportunity.

  • 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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