Along the Spine

11 September 2021 – “Yes,” we decide, studying the print-out of a Mural Festival neighbourhood map, “Strathcona’s a good choice. Nice cluster of murals along that Cordova/East Hastings spine between Heatley and Campbell.”

We each have some familiarity with this east-of-East-Van neighbourhood, my friend much more than I, but it’s the first time we’ve come here focused on murals. Not that we care that much — it’s good walking territory, no matter what.

But, oh yes, there are murals!

We stand on Campbell, laughing with delight as we stare westward down the alley between East Hastings and Cordova.

Flowers to the left of us …

dancing aerosole cans to the right …[

after that a three-storey building painted top to bottom, side to side …

and just a little farther along, this bold triptych, its cheerful style in stark contrast to the fencing and razor wire that protect it.

Strathcona is a decidedly mixed neighbourhood, with problems as well as gaiety. All the more reason to admire and salute everything they do so well, while dealing with their other realities.

Same alley block, yet more charm. This time an ocean-to-mountains-to-ocean mural, starting at this end with a leaping whale and (off the lower-right corner of the window, by the downpipes) a yellow pop-up seal …

and ending, on the far side of the mountain range, with the world’s most adorable little otter, waving his paw.

We’re out of the alley now, on Cordoba itself & heading for Heatley, thinking everything else will surely be an anti-climax.

Wrong!

That VW bug need offer no apologies. Even if the pigeon is unimpressed. (He’s there. You’ll find him.)

Barely onto a city street proper and we’re off it again, pulled into yet another alley to investigate flashes of colour obscured by the street-front buildings.

This is what we wanted to see close up, my friend telling me the history of this old family company while I go goofy-happy about the colours, the typography, the peeling paint, the paint-brush image on that open door.

Another voice, unexpected and unexpectedly close, urges me to take a picture of that as well.

I look up. The workman, carefully balancing his take-out coffee in one hand, points across the alley with his chin. “That,” he repeats. “Look!”

Yes, wow, look.

I ask if he’s a fan of street art. He waves aside the abstraction, sticks to the reality of this alley. “I work here,” he says. “Watched them paint that. I like it.”

I catch up with my friend, who is talking with some Harm Reduction workers down at the Hawks end of the block. I contemplate this … what? tea ceremony? … mural.

We emerge onto Hawks, look back down the alley, bright murals of assorted eras to both sides and there, on the left, the alley end of the East Van Community Centre garden that stretches up to and along East Hastings.

As we skirt the garden, we exchange nods with a middle-aged man at one of the picnic tables by the sidewalk, and then fall into conversation with him. He looks like he has known a tough life, but there is peace and dignity in his posture and he describes current produce in relaxed, clear, well-chosen language. He knows a lot about gardening, we later agree.

“Go look at the pumpkins,” he urges us, and crinkles his eyes in farewell as we nod agreement and head off down Hastings, to look for the pumpkins.

A while later we’re at Campbell and East Hastings, waiting for the light to change so we can claim the car and go have lunch at Finch’s up on East Georgia.

I stare kitty-corner across the intersection at the housing development on the other side. It’s Moshe Safdie’s Habitat 67 reborn right here in Strathcona, we agree — but a lot more colourful. (And more affordable.)

We fall into city-as-art-installation mode. Look: the colours of the building reflect the colours of the banner and the traffic signals.

Enough art appreciation. We’re off to Finch’s.

Out the West End

21 August 2021 – “Out”? “Up”? “Into”??? By any preposition, the West End is where I’m headed as I walk north across the Burrard St. Bridge, with False Creek beneath me.

It’s a wonderful bridge, its steel-truss functionality wrapped up in Art Deco flair — all the more wonderful that they bothered with flair, given the bridge opened in 1932, deep in the Depression. And flair abounds. Just look at that ochre-coloured horizontal “gallery” down there, for example …

yes, that’s it.

Stylish as all get out, and purely decorative. It exists solely to hide some of the superstructure.

I’m not here for the bridge; this is just my entry-point to the “West End,” loosely defined as the chunk of Vancouver north of False Creek between Burrard Street and Stanley Park. I’m partly attracted by the promise of a few new murals, as part of this year’s Mural Festival, but, mostly, I’m just enjoying the fact that it’s finally good walking weather. Temperature has dropped; air quality has risen; West End … why not?

First mural hit, practically right off the bridge, just west of Burrard & south of Davie St. in Pantages Lane.

Thank you, artist Christina Boots: LOVE & a flamingo head, out on the restaurant patio.

On down the lane, between Thurlow & Bute by now, and two more heads — strictly B&W, and not a flamingo to be seen, but equally exuberant.

I head north on Bute and, right there at Davie Street, meet yet more faces. A whole line-up of faces.

This time, the faces have names. I’m looking at Elizabeth Hollick’s tribute to jazz greats in a mural that clearly has been here for quite a while. The likenesses are not all that terrific, but you can’t argue with her choice of musicians.

L to R: John Scofield, guitar; Charlie Mingus, bass; Max Roach, drums; Dizzy Gillespie, trumpet; Charlie Parker, sax; Benny Goodman, clarinet; Ella Fitzgerald, vocals; and Dave Brubek, piano. I pause a moment in tribute, but also to remember a cat named Mingus I once knew, and then continue my rambling north-west progress toward English Bay.

North now on Jervis from Davie, and I stop for this aqua butterfly, tacked to a utility pole in the lane.

This is See-em-ia Lane, and I again thank the City for its decision to add a brief fine-print explanation to each laneway sign.

You see? This lane honours Mary See-em-ia, a Matriarch of the Squamish Nation. (Thanks to the fine print, I can also tell you that Pantages Lane back there is named for Peter Pantages, Greek immigrant & restaurateur, and founder of the Vancouver Polar Bear Club. The sign doesn’t add, but Wikipedia does, that he was also nephew of Andrew Pantages, the vaudeville-circuit theatre giant.)

It’s pretty well just a head-swivel from the butterfly on up to the corner of Jervis & Pendrell, and St. Paul’s Anglican Church.

The doors are open (unexpected, in these continuing days of pandemic), and I seize the chance to go inside. It’s a heritage building, the 1905 replacement for the little 1889 church moved onto this site in 1898. The church has evolved with its times, and now embraces the LGBTQ community along with the more bourgeois middle-class of earlier days — and everybody else, for that matter.

A week-day communion service is just ending as I enter. I am struck by this. Today’s walk seems to me a continuation of the “quiet pleasures of the perfectly ordinary” that I celebrated in a recent post, an attitude powerfully expressed by John O’Donohue in a couplet in The Inner History of a Day (from, To Bless the Space Between Us).

He wrote: “We seldom notice how each day is a holy place / Where the eucharist of the ordinary happens.”

The eucharist of the ordinary! It has been all around me, all day — and here is a religious eucharist, to join it.

The rector welcomes me, invites me to stay for the post-communion coffee gathering and is smilingly gracious when I explain that, thank you, I plan to keep on walking. But first, I want him to tell me about this glorious organ, and he is happy to oblige.

Yes! a Casavant. I am a groupie for Casavant Frères, the Quebec company that has been building organs since 1879, and I start squeaking with excitement. Known as Opus 264 and installed in 1906, this one is the oldest extant Casavant in BC. It is not in use today, but I don’t care. It is enough to know it exists and, like its sibling in St. James in the downtown east side, it has been meticulously restored & revoiced and will have a long life yet.

Back out to the street, back to working my way north-west, and here I am at Broughton & Henshaw Lane.

I love everything about this building: its architecture, its community-centre function, its artwork, its welcoming signage. And I love the laneway signage too, you bet, which explains that this lane honours Julia Henshaw — author, botanist, and alpinist.

Eventually I make it to Davie just off Denman, right at Morton Park (home to A-Maze-ing Laughter) and English Bay.

A new tower is rearing up just over there, across the street, with artwork top to toe.

And I can’t tell you anything about it! I don’t weave through enough traffic to snoop around its base for any possible info. I don’t think it’s Mural Festival, and the Festival map is maddeningly vague, so we’ll just have to let the visuals speak for themselves.

One more mural, just a block or so away. This one is indeed a 2021 Festival addition, the work of Coast Salish artist Sinàmkin (Jody Bloomfield). Since he belongs to the Squamish Nation, it is fitting that his mural is right at the Denman end of See-em-ia Lane, which we’ve already learned is named for a matriarch of that Nation.

I turn back. Time to head east once again.

I look up at the neighbourhood banner with appreciation.

To again quote John O’Donohue, the West End has offered me “the eucharist of the ordinary” all day long, and I am grateful.

Murals & Time Travel

10 August 2021 – I have murals on the mind and in my eyeballs; the 2021 Vancouver Mural Festival is underway. I am wandering around Mount Pleasant, epi-centre of the Festival that began as a small movement in 2016 and now — with a magic happy combination of civic, social/artistic and local business support — has 300+ murals to its credit in 11 neighbourhoods, with another 60+ due to be created this year.

But not created yet, so my time travel is spent with works already in place.

And it starts with one that, far as I can see, has no connection with the VMF, no signature of any kind. Well, that doesn’t matter, does it? Especially since I’ve never noticed it before.

I prowl around it happily for a while, and then notice, down in the lower-left corner, that its sight-lines shoot my eye on down West 7th toward a flash of colour near Ontario Street — colour that I know is another mural, and one that definitely is part of the VMF family.

See? ‘Way down there?

But there’s another mural treat along the way, two tucked into that same block between Manitoba & Ontario.

We’ll get to the one on the right; first please admire that garage door. Like the first mural I showed you, not signed, but isn’t it terrific? It belongs to Green Works Building Supply, and seems a logical fit with their environmentally responsible sensibilities. I’m especially fond of the slogan on the door:

Enough of that, on to Cosmic Breeze down at Ontario, the work of Olivia Di Liberto for VMF 2019.

This next image is not a mural, doesn’t in any way fit my apparent theme, unless you’re generous enough to slide with me into my larger “city-as-art-installation” theme. If you are that generous, we can make a case for “berries ripening on wild vines climbing all over chain-link fence beside barbed wire & scruffy wall.”

Back to murals. I’ve loved this one since I watched Atheana Picha painting it during VMF 2018, love it still, and love viewing it in its alley-corner framework, here on Ontario south of West 6th.

This next one is streetscape, not mural — wall plus front façade, framed sides/top/bottom by textures of grey and photographed through construction fencing. The only ID is that austere Tierney Milne lower right, so elegant I wonder if this is the branding of a design house.

No it’s not, I later discover: she is a Montreal-born, Vancouver-resident designer/artist. She also, I further discover in the VMF Mural Gallery, has participated in several of the festivals, though this building seems unrelated to all that.

That diversion had me back on West 6th between Ontario & Quebec, now I’m climbing south on Ontario toward West 7th, taking in the whole long frantic madness of an epic 2018 creation by a collective with the world’s best team name: Phantoms in the Front Yard. The work is the whole side-wall length of this long building, jammed with people, cats, dogs, wine glasses, action & attitude. I’ve shown you bits before, and I see new bits every time I walk past.

This bit, for example, bottom left corner, with the woman all thumb’s up in gesture but thumb’s down in face:

Always so satisfying to see something new!

I look across the street, and while the image isn’t new for me, I’d guess by body language that is both new and fascinating for that lanky pedestrian just entering frame on the left.

He is puzzling out Animalitoland, a VMF 2020 creation by Graciela Gonçalves Da Silva, which features — along with that puckish face — an A-Z list of neatly printed adjectives, running the gamut of our emotions as we lived that year of isolation and pandemic.

In describing her mural, Da Silva comments: “Street art is so much more than paint on walls. It has a unique way of connecting people…”

I don’t know this quote when I pull out my camera again, deep in the alleys S/W of East 7th & Main. I’m not thinking murals at all at this point; I am just captivated by that H-frame, rearing up into the sky. (I love them all, you know that — but this one especially, the way it pivots smartly at a 45° to accommodate the intersection.)

Then I’m back in mural-gear, because a mural wraps that corner as neatly as the H-frame beside it.

This is Why Can’t They See Us? by Doaa Jamal, VMF 2018, the rendering in Arabic square Kufic script of a verse from the Qur’an: “We have created you from male and female and made you into tribes and nations that you may know each other.”

Connection. Despite tribes and nations and pandemic: connection.

Back to Baffled Brains

Several people were kind enough to send me definitions of blockchain, including Lynette d’Artey-Cross. Here’s an excerpt from her contribution (which you can read in its entirety in post comments): “essentially a digital ledger of transactions that is duplicated across the entire network of computer systems on the blockchain.” Since that post, the Vancouver Biennale has been advertising for volunteers to train on the AR/blockchain aspects of Voxel Bridge, who will then serve as serve as hosts at the installation, and help the rest of us enter into it more fully.

Beauty & Baffled Brains

3 August 2021 – Important distinction about that post heading! I am merely observing the former, but I fully posses the latter.

I’m halfway-ish in a walk around my end of False Creek. Over on the north side of the Creek, I’ve seen all the usual shifting combinations of participants. On the water: ferries, boats, dragon boats, sculls, kayaks, paddleboards, ducks, geese & cormorants, plus one hugely fluffed heron on a pillar, his neck reeled in to negligible. On land: volleyball & basketball in the parkette and out in the pathways individual cyclists, joggers, runners, walkers, dawdlers, dogs, children & bum-on-benchers, plus one stringy old guy in a T-shirt proclaiming “Old Lives Matter.” (I laugh out loud, he thumbs-up’s me as he goes by.)

It’s truly a wonder nobody smacks into anybody else, on land or sea, but somehow good luck — and brains, and courtesy — prevail.

All that was over there. Now I’m over here, under the south end of the Cambie Bridge. Nothing particularly beautiful or remotely baffling about my immediate surroundings.

No, let’s be more generous than that. These please-chalk-on-the-walls pillars and sturdy, plain, entirely functional table-tennis and picnic tables are beautiful, in a civic beauty sort of way. They are kind. They provide space for public rest and enjoyment.

But the major beauty (and bafflement) lie just to the south. Straight on down this long underpass space beneath the bridge.

The Vancouver Biennale Voxel Bridge installation is coming to life. I love this art, and I think it beautiful. There is more signage, as well as more art, so I move in to learn what’s happening.

I am baffled. I get the concept of AR, I’ve even clicked on it a bit, but I have yet to make even the slightest sense of blockchain. A decades-younger woman is reading as well, Aussie by the sound of her as we exchange ???s, and despite youth she is also baffled. We circle the pillar, read more on the other side.

Still ???, in both Canadian & Aussie accents. This is neither complaint nor confession, just a statement of fact. I don’t get it.

So I give up on all that, and settle down to just enjoy what I see. Like this …

and this …

and this …

and finally, drop-to-my-knees ground-level this. (Which causes a passing young man, noting my white hair, to ask if I’m all right. I reassure him, and thank him for his concern. It’s another example of “civic beauty”!)

And that’s enough of all that, so I stand up, dust my smudged knees and carry on east along the south side of False Creek.

My route takes me along 1st Avenue. As I approach Hinge Park I again enjoy the juxtaposition of Sole Food‘s garden beds on the left (netted now against hungry birds) with that defiant old relic of the Creek’s industrial days, still proclaiming it’s the Ist Ave. Plant of something long departed.

And yes, in my eyes that heap of rusty metal is beauty.

On & on some more, into Olympic Village Plaza, and look at this!

I have to go literally look at this, because although I can read the name, I don’t know who she is. My guess is that it’s all to do with the Olympics.

And I’m right.

North Vancouver’s Alannah Yip, engineer & sport climber, is also Gold Medallist in the 2020 Pan Am Games, and about to compete (August 4) for Canada in two women’s sport climbing events: speed, and bouldering. I think all this is pretty darn beautiful.

And this sign’s level of technology does not baffle my brain!

Old Haunts

22 July 2021 – “Down to Strathcona,” I decide, my first return to this east-of-downtown neighbourhood since COVID reined in my travels. First visit since 9 February 2020, in fact, a walk celebrated with the now-ironic title of “And then the sun came out.” Who knew the metaphoric sun was about to go in?

Off I go.

North down a favourite alley, H-frame hydro poles overhead and a DATA-face levelling her eyes at me above the dumpsters.

Bounce east from False Creek, cut through False Creek Flats (the still-scruffy end, spelled with a final “s” not yet the snappy “z”), with a couple of murals on the wall and two sea gulls overhead. Who are almost certainly not levelling their eyes at me.

Another bounce, this time off the east corner of Chinatown and then east-east along E. Georgia to Princess, where a beautifully restored/maintained home demonstrates that, yes, Strathcona is the oldest residential neighbourhood in Vancouver.

More east along East Georgia, over to Hawkes and the brick-laid circle at a south corner of MacLean Park, with its benches and a mosaic that possibly links Strathcona to the nation-wide Communities in Bloom organization. (I try, but can’t quite track it down. Oh well.)

Another pedestrian & I exchange “Good morning’s”, then cock our heads as the first four notes of O Canada fill the air. Aha! The 12-noon ritual, courtesy of the Heritage Horns at Canada Place. We giggle and amend our greeting. “Good afternoon!”

On north along the east side of MacLean Park, already anticipating a latte at The Wilder Snail café up at Keefer. I pause at this alley corner en route, delighted that this workshop is still here, still vividly painted, still adorned with industrial art…

including this tribute to cycling embedded in the sidewalk: chain, gears & even an upright bike pedal.

On up to Keefer, about to cross the street to the café, and… whoa! This is new. The drop-dead sleekest community book box ever created.

No, not part of the Little Free Library chain that I admire so much; this (the discreet sidewalk plaque tells me) was brainchild of the Strathcona Community Centre Association, funded by some civic Neighbourhood Small Grants program.

I peer inside. On offer, Easy Songs for the Beginning Baritone/Bass. Also on offer — in case you’d rather read about a musician than be one — Life, by Keith Richards. (Isn’t this perfect? The autobiography of “Keef,” right here on Keefer Street.)

Enough of that, I want my latte. Except, once inside The Wilder Snail, I succumb to the day’s heat & my own curiosity and instead choose something cold called (as I recall) Turmeric Sunrise. Or something like that. Anyway, tart & citrus-gingery and perfect for the day.

I sit outside, and watch the woman in the red dress kitty-corner, inspecting offerings in that book box.

(D’you suppose she walked off with Keith Richards under her arm?)

Now it’s my turn to walk off, still heading vaguely northward, until I find myself in front of this wonderful mural of North Strathcona Pre-WWI.

I am at Campbell & East Hastings, and I know this because there’s the intersection, in its bright turquoise lozenge.

Once again I have cause to admire the perfect symmetry of location and language: the eponymous George Campbell was part owner of the Hastings Sawmill.

I start thinking about looping my way toward Commercial Drive and, eventually, a bus back home.

But meanwhile, still lots to look at. Mad animal cyclists in this mural near Woodland Park, for example.

And in this Venables/Victoria alley, a garage with a mural and some life-lesson instructions.

The life lesson? How to be an artist.

I’m particularly fond of “Make friends with freedom & uncertainty” near the top, and, closer to the bottom, “Listen to old people.” (Well, natch.) Also: “Play with everything.”

Fine, I think, that’s it. Camera back in my pocket.

But then I see this: garage-top garden, complete with sunflowers and an apiary.

Okay, I think. This time that’s it. But a few blocks over, I see this: wonder woman flexing her muscles.

And then?

That really is it.

The Long Slide to Dusk

18 July 2021 – The few brief times I lived near the equator, I never quite got used to the abrupt transition from day to night. As if it were on a toggle switch: day ON!! day OFF!!

Here in Vancouver, we’re on a dimmer switch, with a long, long slide.

So I set out in the relative cool of late afternoon, knowing I have a comfy few hours before night fall. A loop, I think, north downhill & east & see what happens.

I’m touched as always by the many small ways people add beauty outside their own front door, a gift to the rest of us. This little street corner arrangement, for example, the grass scorched but the flower-petal birdbath glossy-bright (though empty).

This isn’t one of the Park Dept’s sponsorship arrangements; it’s something set up by somebody in the condo building right behind me. Just… because.

Or here, a few blocks farther north-east: a dip in the ground, with greenery that does not appear to be currently tended, but look, someone has placed a gleaming red chair next to that weathered bench.

Neither of these spots is, from a landscape-architect perspective, particularly impressive. They’re modest, straggly even — but full of good omens: generosity of spirit, playfulness of spirit, comfort with being who they are doing what they want to do. And with reasonable expectation that the objects they place for public enjoyment will not be vandalized or stolen. It’s an encouraging reality, when so many other current realities are painful.

Another discovery, look:

I do not click, I want my own unguided walk thank you, but later I look up the St. George Rainway project. It falls within Vancouver’s much larger Rain City Strategy and while I uneasily suspect both lag in implementation I wish them success. “Heat Dome” ought to provide new impetus.

I take myself down to Great Northern Way (now roadway, originally tracks for the railway line, up from the USA), walk along and decide it’s finally time to try to solve the mystery.

The mystery being: what is the story of these grand steps back uphill, their style worthy of an Aztec temple? And what are those statues all about?

So, finally, instead of wondering about them from the far side of the road, I climb the steps.

The statues are not only incoherent in style & apparent inspiration, they are all badly damaged & vandalized.

No street art here worthy of admiration – but at least, in this one message, a mini-story that I’m glad worked out well for the grateful “D.”

As I climb, and later up at the East 6th & Prince Albert top end of the steps, I ask passers-by if they know the story. They don’t.

But at least I’ve finally climbed those steps!

Back down to Great Northern Way, on east, across Clark St. and on some more, and I dipsy-doodle toward McLean Drive. It lands me on this extraordinarily rustic few blocks, hard to believe there is city all around and a Sky Train line just down the hill. (Wheels screech at me as a train goes by — again I honour Montreal’s Métro system for the courtesy of its silent rubber wheels.)

And around, and I start upward/southward again.

I see a cat poster on a utility pole, and my heart sinks, because we all know what they always say, and it is always so desperately sad.

But not this time!

We do not need to worry about poster-girl Zazu or her floofy brother Geronimo.

This really has it all: good-news reassurance for neighbours, plus a way to contact the owner if any given neighbour thinks the cats’ presence is more nuisance than joy.

And right here on the ground, next to the cat poster, a fish.

Damn, I wish I could identify the artist for you. There are a lot of sidewalk mosaic projects in the City, many of them identified, but not this one. Still, along with the frustration of not being able to ID this one, I gain the knowledge of a place called Mosaic Creek Park, and you know it is now on my list.

Zazu & fish are right on the corner of W.C. Shelly Park. The sign tells me so.

It also reminds me we have a lot of serious work to do, here in Canada (ditto USA/Australia/NZ).

By the time I’m up on East 11th, again crossing Clark but this time westward, the long slide on the dimmer switch has finally reached dusk.

Time to go home, and I do.

After a moment’s companionable pause with the Dude in his park.

Again!!

5 July 2021 – False Creek again! Ah, but, not the same-old.

I jump an Aquabus ferry close to home, and ride west to Granville Market. For the first few stops, it’s just the young driver and me — he’s a Vancouverite home from his first year of university at Queen’s, in Kingston, Ontario. For assorted reasons I know both Queen’s and the city well, so we chatter about all that for a while. One other passenger joins us at the David Lam Park dock, and conversation shifts to dealing with the heat.

The driver and I are masked, this passenger is not; all within Stage 3 guidelines, and — given current COVID trends, and our open-air breezy location — I’m comfy with it.

We approach the Granville Market dock, with the Granville St. Bridge there to the west beyond us.

My plan now is perfectly simple. Walk west, hugging the Creek and its parks and trails. Until I don’t feel like doing it any longer.

Busy marinas all along this stretch, plus this soon-to-be-busy public fish market. I’m west of the Granville Bridge by now; the Burrard St. Bridge looms up ahead.

Still pretty early in the day, but already cyclists, joggers, dawdlers, people with kids and people with dogs and people off in their own ear-bud universe. Parks & parkettes are contiguous all along the way, put me in mind of the parks that chain their way along Lake Ontario on the Toronto waterfront.

A mini-bump of parkette immediately east of the Burrard Bridge …

its scorched grass mute testimony to our dry spring and hot summer.

Under the bridge, on and on, rounding into Vanier Park, home to assorted institutions (Academy of Music, Museum of Vancouver, MacMillan Science Centre and the Maritime Museum) as well as landscaping and lots of open space. Some of that open space sprawls across a raised central knoll, favoured home of kite-flyers.

I stand under the protective shade of a tree, watching the flight of the most beautiful kite I have ever seen.

Had I a better camera, I would show it to you properly. But I don’t, so I can’t. (From the plaintive subjunctive mood, to the resigned indicative.)

Away from the shady tree-on-the-knoll, back down to the waterside trail, drawn by those vivid kayaks. Beyond them, the floating maritime heritage museum, tucked into Heritage Harbour.

By now I’m sloping into the long curve of Kitsilano Beach and Kitsilano Beach Park. Pick-up basketball here, net upon net of volleyball there, and the usual range of ages and types and interests walking, cycling, dawdling, chattering, studying their phones, reading their books, walking their dogs. I watch all this from a shady bench. (You’ve figured it out by now: my own westward progress is shady-spot to shady-spot.) My favourite dog is the three-legged one — as nimble as his four-legged leash-mate, and considerably more so than their two-legged leash-holder.

Off my bench! On down the Kits Beach Park trail!

Into the trees just east of the Kits Yacht Club … and I pause again. My ears pick up the faintest tones of sitar music. I look around for someone with a radio, but no… it is live.

I go sit on that bench to their left and, entranced, listen in. The woman is playing so softly, so delicately, that the sound merges with all the other sounds that wrap around us — breeze and waves and sea birds. Then my ears sharpen again, because I suddenly recognize the melody. She has segued into O Canada. She plays it right to the end, just the simplest possible, entirely unadorned, melody line.

Then she segues again, flows on into some raga, and I walk on.

Yes! I had this in mind.

“Wilderness Beach,” as the sign proclaims, is one of the last natural — un-managed, un-developed, un-manicured — beaches in Vancouver. It stretches west from Kits Beach on out to Jericho, and we are implored to visit it of course, but to change nothing about it while there.

There is a narrow trail, with pricey homes high above looking out over the water. Trail users move gently, careful with the space and friendly with each other.

(Look centre-top of that tall dead tree. One crow. There had been a whole squabbling murder of them as I approached, but one by one the others flew off. This guy, triumphant, now owns the tree.)

I drop down more steps, down onto the beach itself, currently very low tide. This enormous stump! And how beautiful the colours and textures of its patterns.

All the usual beach vocabulary of sand, pebble, stone, rock, seaweed, and storm-tossed wood. Sometimes rock rears up on the landward side, a natural wall.

Some of the homes have their own gates to the trail; this one has intricate ladders to bring its residents and their toys right to the beach.

Farther along, human-built breakwaters replace nature’s own rock and proclaim the homeowner’s tastes (as well as bank account). Some sport commissioned murals, such as this run of wild salmon.

There are also stretches of distinctly unofficial decoration, as on the near end of wall below! This is relatively infrequent, and, as here, quickly yields to something planned, like these bright blue bands.

I’m interested in the blue bands. A kilometre or so back, I’d asked someone if there was an exit farther west? Or would I have to double back? A nod, a chuckle, a pointed finger: Just beyond that blue band down there, I was told.

Yes indeed. Steep steps back up to the residential world. I wait while a young man patiently coaches a very young Husky puppy in the intricate choreography of step-climbing.

It gives me time to admire one last mural, rising vertically to the left of the steps.

A mad flamingo? Dancing with dandelions? Well, who knows, and we’re free to dance our own dance of imagination with it.

Up the steps. Back to the world of street corners. (I take my bearings: Point Grey Rd & Balaclava.)

Back to the world, also, of Little Free Library kiosks. Just look at the range on offer!

On the Road, Kerouac; Call of the Wild, London; Manon des sources, Pagnol; even Alpert Ellis and his Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy.

And! And. Esther the Wonder Pig.

A bit more walking and a few more conversations before I grab a bus home — but, enough.

How can I top Esther the Wonder Pig?

Micro

9 June 2021 – Sometimes, when you’ve been trotting around a particular area often enough, your ungrateful eye begins to slide right off the macro view. Even when it’s as handsome as this one.

Here we are, south side / east end of False Creek, and just look at it — a macro worthy of the name, from boats to billowing clouds with mountains & condos & Science World tucked in between.

But all that, that macro sweep, is not what I notice.

All my eye wants to notice is this:

these mollusc-encrusted old wooden pilings.

And that’s how the walk goes.

My eye keeps snagging on micro snippets within the larger context.

One of Myfanwy MacLeod’s 18-foot sparrows, for example, in Olympic Village plaza.

Decidedly macro, as sparrows go, but not in terms of the plaza as a whole.

Same thing when I turn down an alley off Manitoba & West 3rd.

Lots going on, I promise you, but all I see is an alley cat …

and a bird’s nest.

Presumably not for the Olympic Village sparrow back there! Though the scale would work, wouldn’t it?

“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.

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?

  • 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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