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.”

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.

About Those Otters…

16 August 2020 — I am delighted to say: I was wrong.

And you are going to enjoy this correction as much as I enjoy posting it.

Last image of my Hallelujah! post, I showed you charming otters painted on a utility box — but expressed serious doubts that they hold hands in the water, as claimed in the accompanying text.

Well.

I have been very gently, but very promptly, set right by both a dear relation over in England and a dear friend right here, the one who was my companion on that walk. She included with her email a YouTube link, with proof.

While I’m making amends, let me give belated credit to the creators of that utility-box magic, both images and text.

For all that’s dark and threatening, these pandemic days, there is also this: otters hold hands as they rock gently in the waves.

 

 

 

5 + 7 + 5

7 June 2020 — A neighbourhood challenge is issued, in the friendliest possible way …

albeit with a few technical specifications.

Replies start being pinned to the line.

Including this one, my favourite.

My favourite, I think, because of that image of a starlight-filled heart — unexpected, unexplained, and perfect.

B Is For Bee (& Buttercup)

24 May 2020 – Walking south through quiet residential local streets, as usual, and, again as usual, head-swivelling to check out each back alley as I pass. Because there might be something to explore.

And, oh, this time, there is.

A brightly painted bee-trail the length of the block.

It starts with that one bee, then leads you hippity-hop forward …

 

to a node with two bees, to keep you motivated …

and a final twist of hippity-hop …

 

to the three-bee finale.

And then the magic spell is broken.

Or perhaps intensified, depending on your attitude to cityscape.

I turn my head to the right, and take in the boarded-up old house, the beater-car in the yard — and what explodes all over the rest of the yard.

B is for buttercup.

 

 

The Best/Worst of Times

21 April 2020 – Extreme times call forth extreme behaviour, the best and the worst, so I can’t be the only person with that famous opening line drumming in my head. When Charles Dickens wrote A Tale of Two Cities, he was contrasting Paris with London during the French Revolution, but, as we all live with this pandemic, I see those juxtapositions right here, in my own daily experience. Maybe you do too.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…

As I walk around, I see reminders of the worst that confronts us, and the best of our own human response.

A brand new crochet-art tree hug …

a face mask, dangling from this car’s rear-view mirror…

brightly painted houses and spring blossoms popping along this residential street …

a reminder of our safe-behaviour obligations, written (it says on the other side) by a front-line health care professional and tied to his fence …

a salute to our Health Heroes chalked on the sidewalk …

new, heart-tugging meaning for this sidewalk mosaic, with its focus on home and staying close to home …

a young man cradling a drum under his left arm, softly beating out comforting rhythms as he looks across Prince Edward Park …

skateboard dog – !!! – carefree & cruising through the parking lot next to China Creek North Park …

a driveway SAFE line, chalked by parents to remind their children to go no farther, but stay on their own property …

and a big, fat ❤️ for Dr. McRae.

I want to explain this one.  I stop to admire this exuberant particle-board display, with all those “Go …” messages, and I fall into 2-metre-distant conversation with the pony-tailed young woman busy tidying up her front yard behind the board.

“The kids did that while I was at work,” she says. “At work,” I repeat, “so you’re in some kind of essential service?” She smiles. “I’m a doctor.” I throw up my hands in respect.

“See?” she continues. “Right there, top-centre, right under the tree trunk? That’s my name. Then the kids added everybody else they could think of — even our postman.”

So expand the photo, and you’ll see it: GO: dr mcrae.

Thank you, Dr. McRae.

Thank you all the doctors McRae, everywhere — and the truck drivers and grocery store clerks and posties and everyone else who is out there making it possible for the rest of us to stay home.

Thank you.

High Knees (+ 18)

13 April 2020 – Turn off Netflix; leave Zoom; renounce YouTube. (Even, gasp, say good-bye to WordPress, but, there-there, only temporarily.)

Pull on your exercise clothes; lace up your shoes; meet me on Gore Street, half a block south of Union. Face north. Do a few preparatory stretches.

Ready?

JUMP.

RUN around the corner onto Union.

Now SHUFFLE until …

it’s time to HOP and then BALANCE.

WALK

up the ante with some ZIGZAG

and GALLOP!

SKIP for a bit …

Now SPIN WALK, taking your directional cue from the spirals, and next — but only once your head stops spinning — WIGGLE.

Gauge SOCIAL DISTANCE, measured in hearts …

take a running jump at HOP SCOTCH

DANCE your way to LEAP FROG

and then flash those HIGH KNEES of yours on every star.

Walk BACKWARDS (oops, trust me on this one) …

and soar into the SKI JUMP.

Finally! It’s finally time to SLITHER

sssskillfully ssslither …

your way to two-block, 19-station, sidewalk exercise …

ssssuccess.

Now cool down, pat yourself on the back, down a celebratory whatever-you-celebrate-with, and go buy some chalk.

There has to be a two-block stretch of sidewalk near you, eager to host your very own community exercise event.

 

We Speak ❤️

6 April 2020 – It seems Canada has added a third official language: ❤️

Young Miss Mila is the first one to speak it to me, carefully chalked on the ledge between the sidewalk and the front steps to her home.

And then… I realize that ❤️ is being spoken everywhere.

Pasted to a metal utility pole …

stapled to a wooden pole near Robson Park (with solitary sun-bathing woman and solitary dog-walker both in the blurry background) …

painted on a repurposed clear drum head, propped against a homeowner’s fence …

painted in a whole rainbow of colours, high on a second-storey window …

paper-chain-dancing across a doorway & front porch …

all that, plus flag …

even chalked onto the sidewalk sign for this (now offsales only) brew-pub.

But that slogan no longer fits, does it — the main thing is no longer the beer.

It’s the heart.

 

 

Off-Main

24 December 2019 – I’m weaving around that Main St. axis, mostly not on it but orienting with it even so…

“Palimpsest!” I think as I pause at this E. Pender alley corner, always happy to use the word (it’s such a wonderfully crunchy mouthful).

Look closer, and no, it’s not some one-time iconic brand. It is, well it says here, “Good Company Lager.” It also says, “What’s Up Fool,” but let’s ignore that.

just below it, a graffito correction for the old-fashioned washroom signs also painted on the wall. “Non binary” it scolds, the lettering faded but the 21st-c. message clear.

Right, shame on you, there are more gender options than male & female.

(My personal “WTF?” is all about the signage convention that men get to be men, while women have to be ladies, but each to their own obsession.)

Another message, this time full of beauty and spirituality, at E. Hastings and Gore — no. 21 of the 31 mosaics embedded in downtown sidewalks, especially here in the Downtown East Side.

I love this series, love discovering the squares at random. I’m always amazed that people can walk right over them unheeding, but stubbornly confident that many other people do notice, do enjoy, do feel energized by the civic display of beauty.

I especially like this particular mosaic, of course, for the raven…

 

… and for that message of survival, still defiantly there despite the beating inflicted on this explanatory sign by time and vandals.

From underfoot to overhead, as I veer back along E. Hastings to Main.

Vintage neon! There since this café opened its doors in 1942.  (Brings to mind “The Goof” in Toronto’s Beach neighbourhood…)

More neon in the doorway, a cup presumably brimming with Ovaltine.

I waver, I do, I confess to a long-standing fondness for chocolate Ovaltine … but… naaah.

I go home for coffee.

 

 

  • 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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