Call and Response

28 August 2021 – But not musical, not this time.

Think… ceramic/botanical/neighbourhood garden.

Call …

Response …

Call and response!

And that’s all.

Beach, Beach, Beach (& a Bunny Rabbit)

25 August 2021 – Temperature down, air quality up, perfect day to walk my way from one Burrard Inlet beach to another.

So I do.

Spanish Banks Beach eastward to Kitsilano Beach is my target, and the transit company trip-planner says take #84 bus to Blanca, walk north on Blanca to the end … and … um … Spanish Banks will be right there in front of you.

Which is why I’m in this leafy cul-de-sac at the north end of Blanca Street, admiring the painted bear that signposts the gated home there on the right …

but aware that I am still high above beach level.

It’s down there somewhere. Here-to-There is the challenge.

Then I see a dirt path into the trees with guardrail on one side. It doesn’t say “This way to Spanish Banks” — but it doesn’t say “Trespassers keep out” either. I give it a shot (and trust nobody will shoot me.)

It works! Down & down I go, curve upon curve, and yes, here I am at NW Marine Drive, and yes, that’s the east end of Spanish Banks Beach right opposite.

Everybody’s having a good time — freighters lolling about at anchor out there in the Inlet, waiting their turn to enter Vancouver Harbour, and humans of all sizes and inclinations lolling about each in their own chosen way, armed with tents, umbrellas, kites, chairs and blankets.

I start walking. I’m not certain, but I’m pretty sure that between bike & pedestrian paths I can chain my way through a trio of beaches — Spanish Banks, Locarno & Jericho — and then have only a relatively brief hit of city streets before dropping onto beach once again, all the way to Kitsilano.

And yes, I’m right. That first trio works out just like the post title promises: beach, beach, beach.

The title also promises a bunny rabbit, and here he is in Locarno Park, completely at home as he nibbles grasses behind a path-side bench.

“They’re European rabbits,” explains the young man checking his smart phone from the bench, “let loose when their owners got bored with them. They live under the marina over there, and they breed like crazy.” We sigh about the damage done when people dump unwanted pets into the wild. “Like gold fish in park ponds,” I grumble. More head-shaking, but then he brightens up. “Yes, but! Coyotes eat these rabbits, and otter eat the gold fish in Lost Lagoon.” That’s mildly cheering, and after we share some final philosophic shrugs, I go on my way.

On through Jericho Beach Park (stopping for a salmon-burger at the waterfront café, oh bliss), a few city blocks as anticipated, and then down some steps onto the so-called “Wilderness Beach,” the stretch of Point Grey foreshore that connects on east to Kitsilano Beach, but is itself entirely undeveloped.

I’ve never been this far west on the Wilderness Beach, and I haven’t seen this sign before. I stop to read it.

The People’s Castle?? I have no idea; don’t ask. But after the human irresponsibility documented by those European rabbits, how agreeable to see this call to responsibility about our noise levels and trash.

Oh, I do like it down here!

Whole carpets of mussels in front of me, as I look across the water to the north shore and that glorious spill of Coast Range mountains beyond…

and, here at my back, glistening rocks, mosses and seaweed.

It’s an absolute delight, and I’m happy walking all the way to Kits.

(Where, truth be told, I find I am happy to stop walking and sit down for the bus-ride home.)

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.

sʔi:ɬqəy̓ qeqən

31 July 2021 – I’m on the UBC campus for one tribute, and end up walking another one while there.

First tribute: the Chaconne concert at the Chan Centre, the second performance in this year’s EMV Bach Festival and dedicated to Jeanne Lamon — the renowned violinist, concert master, early music pioneer and mentor, shockingly dead barely one month ago. During my Toronto years I benefited from her role with Tafelmusik, and here in Vancouver benefitted again, when she retired to Vancouver Island and immersed herself in the musical community out here.

So I sink into this concert for more than its music alone, and then walk across campus in a contemplative mood.

My path takes me to the intersection of University Blvd with East Mall, at the foot of a cascading water feature. It is also home to this 34-foot Musqueam house post of the double-headed serpent.

I’ve seen it before, had forgotten where it was, am delighted to discover it again. It is the work of Brent Sparrow Jr. (son of another fine Coast Salish artist, Susan Point), his gift to UBC, and a tribute to his people and their culture.

Yes! The double-headed serpent, sʔi:ɬqəy̓, whose home was, is, the Camosun Bog.

After living here a few years, I have the beginnings of some personal cross-connections. I’ve visited the Bog a number of times, and I’ve taken you there with me more than once. In July 2020, my post included this larky on-site map …

and on Christmas Day I looked out over bog and pond sparkling with misty rain.

No rain today, alas (more than 40 dry days, and counting), and a lot more heat. But it’s walkable heat, and I decide to visit the serpent.

I walk up one side of the incline, passing these women striding down …

pivot at the viewing hut at the top …

enter the hut for the long view back downhill with the water course …

and then walk my way on down to the bottom.

Once home, feet up, I revisit another favourite tribute to the serpent. It’s an animation I first viewed at Museum of Vancouver, but can now enjoy any old time on vimeo.

And so can you.

Silly

10 July 2021 – I’m walking home along a shady street, minding my own business, and — just like that! right here on the sidewalk! — I enter another jurisdiction.

It is the jurisdiction of silly walks.

I do not obey. But I do giggle, as that Monty Python skit unrolls yet again in my mind.

I’m practically at the end of the block when I hear more giggling — not my own, somebody else’s, backed by the sound of stomping feet.

I turn, I look, and there’s a teenage girl, getting Silly.

It’s perfect.

… and Macro

13 June 2021 – So there I was, last post, making a big fuss about micro-focus. This time out, my eye snaps right back to macro.

And micro.

Both.

Maybe because I’m on less familiar ground. I’m on the edge of Morton Park — me, plus the 14 bronze gentlemen who make up the collective sculpture A-Maze-ing Laughter. The work of Chinese artist Yue Minjun, it was the hit of the 2009-2011 Vancouver Biennale, and is now a permanent installation owned by the City.

Like his 13 companions, he’s just laughing his ears off. I’m equally happy as we leave micro for macro — past the sculpture, on down to the water just where False Creek swells out into English Bay and the Sea Wall carries on up into Stanley Park.

Micro to macro. Beach plants up close; then down across the sand and rocks of low tide; on out over the water to freighters in the Port Authority “parking lot,” waiting their turn to acquire/deposit cargo; and finally, oh always, mountains and sky.

Mine is not the only eye on the scene.

More micro to macro: first plant life on driftwood stumps, and then beyond & beyond & beyond.

I’m in close for this one: all the colours & textures that dance in a single slab of rock.

Speaking of dance!

Ignore Second Beach Swimming Pool in the background; ignore the snappy bike helmet; narrow your gaze to that crow dancing with the saddlebag behind the seat.

The cyclist must have stashed some pretty delectable gorp back there — and, I guarantee, there’s now a lot less of it than there used to be. The crow has spent the last five minutes methodically dipping his beak. (Oh! Just hit me! Exactly like those dipping-beak bird toys you see advertised.)

On we go, on up to Ferguson Point, just short of Third Beach. More micro-to-macro. A trio of marine biologists, doing something detailed & specific at water’s edge — and out beyond them, a laden freighter.

I’ve been watching it ever since we joined the Sea Wall. It’s the only one out there stacked high with containers and, thanks to the photographic genius of Edward Burtynsky, shipping containers rivet my eye.

We leave the Sea Wall, climb up inland a bit, our target something delicious at the Teahouse.

We arrive. It’s closed. Oops. (I channel Phyllis, my partner in the Tuesday Walking Society back in Toronto: she’d greet a failed-destination moment with the shrugged reminder, “We’re out for a walk.”)

So! Shrug to the Teahouse.

Back down to sea level, back onto the Sea Wall, back toward Morton Park.

A final micro-image reward.

A very small detail, in a very tall tree.

To China & Back

5 June 2021 – In a manner of speaking. More precisely, to China Creek North Park & back — only a few kilometres from home, so a post-breakfast loop I can walk & still be back in time for a 10 a.m. Zoom with friends in the East.

Approach from East 7th Avenue, and it looks like Park-in-a-Bowl: steep slope with some 3 hectares of parkland below.

Not even all that interesting, right? A baseball diamond and a whole lotta grass. Yawn. Except that grass covers a lot of history, including the now-invisible China Creek.

In 1888 settler Charles Cleaver Maddams bought 5 acres of land on what was then still the south shore of False Creek, which was then still being fed by a lesser, but powerful creek that drained a whole watershed of tributaries through the ravine into the Flats and ultimately False Creek itself. Maddams called this waterway “China Creek,” because of a nearby Chinese hog farm. (There are other stories; this seems to be the one most widely accepted.)

In the 1920s, Maddams sold the land to the City, which didn’t develop it until the 1950s. Meanwhile, this final bit of False Creek was being filled in, China Creek was buried, and the ravine was being used as a garbage dump. Oh yes, it became one of those stories.

But then, it all got turned around. Today China Creek North Park sparkles in the immediate after-effects of its latest (2019) refurbishment. The slopes have been / are being naturalized, and the kiddy playground has bright colours and fun equipment atop the gentle surface of munched-up used tires.

So let’s look again. There are people in every direction, of all ages, doing all kinds of things, very happily. Five of those people appear in that first photo above, on this near edge of all that boring grass.

Guy on left chinning himself on the exercise equipment; another guy watching; guy on right coaching two young female boxers.

And if you turn your head to the right & look south, it’s even more interesting.

Down there bottom of the slope, turquoise stripes mark the playground; between up here and down there, the fast-naturalizing slope, shaggy with flowers & grasses & surely full of unseen little critters as well; and, visible here and there amidst all that exploding nature, a spiral pathway up/down the slope.

When they used to cut the grass, it was just a boring path; now that it plays peek-a-boo with nature, it is irresistible.

Of course I’m going to walk it, down & up again. I head that way at a clip, but stop long enough for a brief conversation with the gentleman on that bench at the right edge of the photo. It’s just one of those magic moments: we’re both delighted with the day, with the park, and want to share it with somebody. So we do. We also share some how-to-be-a-senior-citizen thoughts, largely about gratitude, qi gong and tai chi; then we nod pleasantly at each other and I’m off to walk the path.

Poppies, clover and cornflowers!

Grasses!

Beserk buttercups!

Perfect spheres of dandelion fluff!

And lupins! (“Your life or your lupins,” I growl, channeling Monty Python, and then soften into memories of wild lupins filling ditches and hedgerows in the Maritimes.)

As I spiral gently to the bottom of the slope, I see one of the female boxers doing it the hard way — full-tilt, straight line.

Meanwhile, her partner is sparring with their coach (while Onlooker Guy from my very first photo is here again, doing a few stretches).

As I head back up the path, I stop to watch a father tuck his son between his legs and set off from the top of the slide to the soft-landing playground below. Father & son laugh as they go, in baritone-soprano duet. I listen, and admire the red poppy here by my foot.

Then I check my watch, and see it is seriously time to make tracks for home!

Hoof-hoof-hoof.

(I make it in time.)

Pilgrimage

31 March 2021 – A pilgrimage starts with travel, does it not, and so here I am, on the Science World dock at the east end of False Creek, ready to board a ferry.

But not that one, which I have just missed.

Never mind, another will putter along any moment and meanwhile I can contemplate this mollusc-laden pole. It would tell me a lot more if I knew anything about molluscs, but I don’t, so I simply enjoy the texture, colour and inadvertent design.

Another ferry arrives; three Calgary tourists step off, and, after some suitably masked & distanced conversation with the driver and me about how-to-get-to-Chinatown, go on their way. I step aboard, and have the boat all to myself, all the way down-Creek to Granville Island, where I must transfer for the last leg of my journey.

My destination is the Maritime Museum dock, tucked between Vanier Park and Kits Beach Park, where False Creek empties into Burrard Inlet, there on the edge of Strait of Georgia. (And the Pacific Ocean, and the rest of the world.)

There is indeed a floating Maritime Museum all around this dock — the full-rigged North Star of Herschel Island being the example immediately to hand. The last of the sailing Arctic fur-trading ships, she was built in San Francisco in 1936 for two Inuit fox trappers and served until 1961.

But I’m not down here for her, even if I linger a moment in appreciation.

I’m also not here to join this family playing silly-buggers with their dog on the beach …

or to itemize the current collection of vessels in the Port of Vancouver “parking lot” out there in the belly of Burrard Inlet.

Or to improve my nautical show-off skills by learning to recognize the types of vessel …

or by cramming Port factoids into my brain. (Though, since you so politely ask, I will tell you that this is one of North America’s busiest ports, hosting some 300 vessels a year from more than 90 nations, creating over $40-billion in trade and some 10,000 local jobs.)

I am here, the friend I am meeting is here, so that we may walk through Kitsilano Beach Park and find Egan’s favourite cherry tree.

“Egan” is Egan Davis, an extraordinarily informed & personable gardener/horticulturalist/landscape designer/educator (e.g. lecturer in both the Horticulture and Urban Forestry programs at UBC). During his presentation this past weekend at an online master-gardener conference, he paid tribute to this particular cherry tree.

Not for its size and majesty, explains my friend (who helped organize the conference), but for its resilience. It is aged now, and shrunken with age — and yet, and still, it blooms.

We prowl the park, seeing magnificent trees on all sides and dismissing them.

There!” she cries, pointing. “That’s it. That must be it.”

We approach.

Such a thick trunk, but doubled over with the weight of its decades, and now supported by a well-placed rock.

Clusters of fungi mark the trunk, as surely as rings must mark it internally.

Only a couple of remaining branches, their fragility protected (we hope) by a warning sign.

Even so, look at all the blossoms.

So many years behind it, not so many in front.

But here it still is.

“If You Go Down…”

6 February 2021 – Here we are, edge of the woods, and that 1930s children’s song starts humming in my head.

“If you go down in the woods today

“You’re sure of a big surprise.

“If you go down in the woods today

“You’d better go in disguise!

“For every bear that ever there was

“will gather there for certain because

“Today’s the day the Teddy Bears have their picnic.

“Picnic time for Teddy Bears…”

And on it goes.

We are here in the woods — the 48-Ha forested ravine that comprises Robert Burnaby Park — precisely to look for the Teddy Bears. (Or Ewoks, if you must.) Along with all the other hidden tributes to the forest, to art, and to the human spirit rising above COVID to continue to play and create and make magic.

These well-hidden twigs & twine creatures, made from the forest’s own materials, are the work of somewhat reclusive local artist Nickie Lewis, who, when the pandemic closed down her usual art outlets, walked off into the woods to create her own.

She didn’t ask the City’s permission or place her installations in easy trail-side view. Burnaby has retroactively endorsed her work and we visitors tromp around in wonder, with only an enigmatic electronic map for guidance. We are grateful for whatever we find, tucked behind trees or upon a stump or deep in the cleft of a ravine.

This poignant reclining figure, for example.

We admire the texterity of the work, its delicacy despite the rough materials, and the skillful extra touches, such as that fall of ivy for her hair, tumbling to one side.

But in walking the trails looking for Lewis’ creations, we find we settle into enjoying the forest just for itself. It is as magical as anything the artist brought to it (which is, perhaps, what she wants us to discover).

The play of tree stump against tree roots…

the canopy soaring overhead…

the glowing fungi buttons almost underfoot…

the chuckling glee of the nearby creek, slaloming its way from ‘way up there, around-and-down-and-around to ‘way over there.

And look, even the magic of picture, frame and pedestal — all in one tree.

In the end, we only find two of Lewis’ installation. And we don’t care.

It has been entirely glorious, just as it is.

(But I’m still humming Teddy Bears’ Picnic!)

Burly Boles

29 January 2021Boles??? Until yesterday, I would have been unable to spring this title on you, because I didn’t know the word bole. I knew bowl, and I knew burl, and I had admired (in classy shops) beautiful bowls made from burls, and it’s only because of linguistic/dictionary ricochets I discovered the word bole.

In very broad terms, and I do stress “broad,” the bole is the trunk (stem + main wooden axis) of a tree.

So when I walk down East 7th, the stretch bordering the northern edge of Dude Chilling Park, I am not just fixated on a huge great burl protruding from that tree in front of me, I have the whole B-on-B phenomenon right there before my eyes.

You’ll notice a whole line-up of trees behind that one, Bs-on-Bs one after another, all along the sidewalk edge of the park. Look, here’s the very next tree.

Lumpy burls all over this sturdy bole. Though … check out the sudden indent about 2 metres up. A number of these trees have that same shape, I wonder if they were all chopped off at that height and defiantly grew on up anyway. (Take that, you think-you’re-so-smart human being!)

So maybe a bit of tree pruning history is being revealed. Along with lots of winter moss.

Back to the burls. Again in very broad terms, they occur when (perhaps through injury) the grain grows in a deformed manner, typically turning into a rounded outgrowth filled with small knots.

Small knots.

A few of the burls in this line-up of trees are purists, wearing no ornamentation beyond that offered by the tree itself …

but most of them, this being Vancouver in winter, reach for available accessories and luxuriate in moss.

Sometimes just a delicate spray or two …

sometimes a whole puffy cloak, a pile-on of shapes, textures & shades.

Not that the moss limits itself to burls. It flings itself everywhere. Bole, burl, branch, twig …

I walk from the park’s N/E edge to its S/E edge. In so doing, I pass abruptly from the eternal verities of nature to the street art of here & now. (Up high. Corner of the apartment building.)

This signature is appearing all around town these days …

Never mind.

Back to the eternal verities of nature.

I also see clusters of bright new snowdrops, rising up healthy & strong through last year’s dead, fallen leaves.

And you can read into that as much symbolism as you choose.

  • 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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