H-Frames

23 February 2021 – In my recent Alley Eyes post, I was all “H for hydro pole” — but I have learned so much more since then.

Not least that, in this part of the country, people talk about power poles, not hydro poles: “hydro” seems to be eastern-Canadian usage only.

I’ve also learned that some of you share my admiration for the look of these two-legged monster poles, the way they march down the alley and, block by block, frame everything it contains into a deep-downtown alleyscape.

Like this.

I didn’t just stumble on that, I went looking for it. I went looking for it because of what I had just learned during the “Discovering Heritage Places” virtual tour offered online by the Vancouver Heritage Foundation as part of its Heritage Week events. We virtually-visited a number of buildings in older neighbourhoods, each one with history and meaning for its area and the city as a whole.

And then, next image: one of these power poles. Identified by name: H-frame.

The city began installing them some 80 years ago, therefore in the older neighbourhoods, and is now gradually replacing them with underground lines instead. The speaker then invited us to broaden our definition of “heritage.” Why limit it to buildings? He mentioned the attachment some communities have to these old poles, and, yes, there is a preserve the H-frame campaign underway right now in Chinatown.

See? H-for hydro (my eastern usage); H-for-H-frame (local); and H-for-heritage. And that, all that, is what took me into the alleys of Mount Pleasant, looking for H-frames. The photo above is from Ontario Street, looking east toward Quebec, along the alley between East 2nd & 3rd avenues.

Those H-frames just keep framing the alley into segments as they (and you) march along, creating context and visual punch.

Mind, it helps to have interesting content for them to frame.

That sassy yellow & black Dog Taxi on the right, for example, one of a small fleet that picks up woofers for their day at the doggy hotel… And on the left, a bit farther down, that back-tilted face…

Walk closer.

Yes! The face, the hand. Summer 2019, I watched Argentinian street-artist duo Medianeras create that work as part of the year’s Vancouver Mural Festival.

A few days ago, I was a bit farther south in the neighbourhood, around 18th-22nd avenues. This part is newer than the more northern stretch, and its hydro … sorry! … power poles come from different parts of the alphabet.

There’s the T-frame …

and the L-frame …

and even, to my giddy delight, the occasional hybrid.

Meet H-L-L. (What the H-l-l??)

But… no. Com’on. Nothing matches a majestic H-frame, rearing into the sky.

Especially when you get a colour-block building thrown in for good measure.

Crow Bingo

I know. Total change of subject. You could get whip-lash. But since I am as obsessed with local crows as I am with H-frames, I have to do this.

June Hunter is a local artist who translates her deep love of urban nature into prints, photos, calendars, scarves, tote bags, jewellery and more. She obviously has a website, and she also has a newsletter & blog, to which I subscribe. The latest issue features her very own creation: Crow Bingo.

Play beginner level or intermediate, and while you’re on the site, I encourage you to click on her Crow Therapy as well.

We all need therapy these days, and we might as well get it from the crows.

Colour Blocking

15 February 2021 – Snow, surprise-surprise; then rain, no-surprise; and always colour.

I think about Colour Blocking and then — the way it sometimes works out — the idea takes over.

So, eyes & mind, I go along for the ride, and make an afternoon of it.

Online

“This design technique is all about showcasing curated combinations of colour,” says Google, adding that it arose during the modernist art movement of the 20th century.

In Museums & Collections

… by Piet Mondrian, for example, with his 1935 Composition C (courtesy of http://www.piet-mondrian.org).

Or, back here in my own real world…

In Window Displays

… for a local art supply store.

On Neighbourhood 1920s homes

On Alley Walls

Underfoot, in Street-Café Decor (the puddle a temporary embellishment)

and finally…

On a Winter-Mossy Tree

I say “Finally” because, whatever human beings care to think, Mother Nature always has the last word.

Alley Eyes

10 February 2021 – But then there are all the days that I don’t go down in the woods.

I go down an urban alley instead.

Where, for once, my eyes slide past the marching hydro poles that usually obsess me, even past the red dumpster positively shouting for attention…

to land on that convex mirror on the left, greedily pulling peripheral images onto its bulging surface.

I move in close, peer upwards…

and discover a whole dancing universe of lines, arcs, and circles.

“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!)

Wet

2 February 2021 – All these versions of “wet,” shining up at me immediately post-showers in a 2-km radius of home!

For example, there’s Tree-Bark Wet , whose sub-categories include…

Naked Gleaming Bark

Adorned Gleaming Bark (in this case, with a sodden felt heart)…

and even,

Hidden Gleaming Bark (here buried beneath squishy moss and droplet-shiny baby ferns).

Then there’s Art-Installation Wet

with its own sub-categories, including…

Sidewalk Mosaics (here, the eponymous Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathern — briefly Governor-General of Canada — glints up at us from his place of honour in front of Mount Pleasant’s Connaught apartment building) …

and also, and of course, Park Statues.

For example, The Dude!

Mount Pleasant’s very own bronze Dude (Reclining Figure, if you insist), at ease in the S/E corner of his very own Dude Chilling Park (Guelph Park, if you insist).

By now he is relatively dry on top, but still shedding droplets beneath his extended forearm.

I am completely dry, thank you, inside my Vancouver–proof raincoat, and I walk on home, much amused.

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.

At Play

24 January 2021 – I had planned a different title. With the previous post in mind, I was going to call this More Light, Some Hoarfrost, & Another Crow. But then all that verbiage just seemed excessive.

Plus, the more I thought about the walks, the more the whole experience seemed to be all about play. Being playful with the light and the hoarfrost and the crow. Homo ludens and all that. But — and with due respect to this 1938 philosophical analysis of the importance of play to culture and society — we don’t need theory to convince us that playfulness is really helpful in times of stress. (Like, umm, right now.) Playing is fun, and fun is good.

On top of all that, Vancouver has just had a string of spectacularly bright days, motivating all nature, human beings included, to get out there and play. (Today it’s again oozing rain, but we’ll stick with the present historical tense, and celebrate recent sunshine.)

Out there, at play! For example, the person who picked up a big stick and scrolled this design all along the water’s edge, just below the Stanley Park sea wall between Second and Third Beach.

Also at play, one day later, these Barrow’s goldeneye ducks.

And now you will squint & mutter there are no ducks in the photo.

Well, there are, but you’ll have to expand the photo with your fingers, just there to the left of the tree trunk above the grass, where a white dot might have caught your attention… Got them? Good. They and a lot of other ducks (not to mention a whole flotilla of Canada Geese) were having a wonderful time, out there in the sparkling waters of False Creek, just east of the Cambie Bridge.

I took the photo, not for the ducks (because I didn’t see them either, not until later) but for the rich red gleam of the tree trunk, and the shining water beyond. I certainly felt larky and playful, so why not the ducks?

If you’re willing to play along (ooooo, I couldn’t resist), join me in discovering that the water itself is at play. With the help of ferry-boat ripples.

See? Boring old straight-line towers, turned upside-down and Gaudí-worthy in the reflections.

And then there’s the hoarfrost. Play with it.

Give it a palm-print …

or weave between lines of silver-tipped grasses as you walk Himy Syed‘s labyrinth opposite Hinge Park …

or blink at a very small leaf you’d otherwise not even notice, but here it is, shining up at you, playing compare/contrast with you, all glitter this edge and matt ochre that

or just silently applaud the versatility of clever old hoarfrost, which not only micro-touches one side of tiny leaves, but macro-rolls the full length of great long benches in Olympic Village.

Ah but then, alas, you can’t play with the hoarfrost any more. Not because it’s gone away, but because your focus has just been shattered.

And pretty near your eardrum along with it.

A crow! ‘Way up there, but making his opinion known.

Loudly.

A Moment, & Another Moment

21 January 2021 – One was colour, the other was light.

Colour!!

Heading home yesterday, I opt for West 10th since it’s a quiet residential street, and then, right there between Columbia and Manitoba …

I laugh out loud. Not exactly San Francisco’s fabled Painted Ladies, or as elaborate as ones I can think of in Toronto’s Cabbagetown … but there are similarities. These, too, are Victorian/Edwardian style wooden houses, built in the first decade or so of the 20th century, now restored and painted in bold colours to enhance the architecture. What’s extra here, I discover when I dig a bit, is that the Davis family not only received a Heritage Canada award for this streetscape but created decent rental housing in the process.

I don’t know all this at the time. I’m just enjoying the colour and the street-friendly, community-friendly extras that add to the pleasure. For example, the red Muskoka chair and the wheelbarrow of greenery (L & R, above) positioned by the sidewalk, to expand the charm right out into public space.

I cross the street. More details, equally colourful. A metal container (was it once a garbage can? surely not…), full of winter-hardy red/greenery …

a deep-ochre feline container for more winter ornamentals …

and, not to be outdone, a stylish canine container for yet more bright foliage …

on a bicycle.

Cat, dog, who cares? Make way for the lumberjack-plaid buck.

Immediately east of this run of houses is one that is clearly not part of the group. So, yes, definitely less colourful, but it is equally of the era and equally committed to improving the streetscape.

Albeit with a different sensibility.

I particularly like the stand-off between train and ‘gator. Though that T-rex atop another train engine almost gets my vote.

Light!!

Again heading for home, but this time via the Cambie Bridge and north side of False Creek. Unlike yesterday, today is all glitter & brilliance. I lean on the bridge and start noticing how morning light plays off, plays with, everything it touches. I begin to appreciate the literal truth of the words “sunshine” and sunlit.”

The rail beneath my elbows, the churn behind that Aquabus ferry headed for the Olympic Village dock, the ripples fanning out to either side …

and then, the curve of the Seawall, and two shining benches.

It’s hopelessly anthropomorphic, and I know it and I don’t care, and maybe you won’t care either, if I confess that, to me, those benches are positively basking in the sunny warmth. It takes me a moment to spot that each is just the eastern end of a trio of benches, companionably curved toward each other.

I want sunshine drama? Razzle-dazzle flashing light? Fine. There’s this moment, as I start down the off-ramp from the bridge…

I sit for a moment on one of those benches I had noticed from the bridge. And yes, it’s just as sunny-warm as I had imagined. Happy sounds are all around me — first some mother/toddler conversation, then dog-owner/puppy conversation, with mother & dog-owner both expert at deciphering what comes back at them, and everybody having a good time.

I walk on, still fascinated by the light. It just lasers down the pathway, hard shadows here, glitter there, and, ‘way down there, just in front of that mirrored marina building, the Blue Cabin — rocking gently on the ripples and, like those benches, basking in the sunshine.

As are these rocks, this side of the grove of trees next to the Blue Cabin.

And now for basking chairs!

Fabulous, big, come-sit-in-me blue & red chairs. They, and more, are tucked into the community park right at the end of False Creek. They’re empty, but the park isn’t — just out of frame, two teenagers are playing a furious game of table tennis in one direction, while in the other, a whole squad of (supervised) small children is playing some complicated game that involves kicking coloured balls around and Squealing Very Loudly with each kick.

I sink into that blue chair, prop up my feet on the log.

Sitting there, I realize that I’m almost at the end of a False Creek walk and I haven’t yet brought crows into the story. Which I usually do.

So now I will.

See? Crows on my toes!

Framed in sunlight.

Wired for Walking

11 January 2021 – I’m out walking again, with the same motivation that drove And Also. Medical & political turbulence aren’t going away any time soon, so let’s balance those realities with other realities — moments of delight, charm, generosity, fun, engagement.

French author Marcel Proust knew about concurrent realities when he observed that the voyage of discovery lay in having new eyes, not in seeking new landscapes. (The quote is on my home page. I’ve loved it ever since I saw it on a wall at the Art Gallery of Ontario, and I no longer remember why it was there. Though, arguably, it’s one of those anchor thoughts that need no further justification.)

One hundred-plus years later, neuroscience has caught up with Proust. Psychologist & author Rick Hanson (e.g. Buddha’s Brain, Hardwired for Happiness) points out: “Neurons that fire together wire together. Mental states become neural traits. Day after day, your mind is building your brain. This is what scientists call experience-dependent neuroplasticity…” Also: “When you tilt toward the good, you’re not denying or resisting the bad. You’re simply acknowledging, enjoying and using the good. You’re acknowledging the whole truth, all the tiles of the mosaic of life…”

So, hey, claim your favourite authority — from Buddha to Marcel Proust to experience-dependent neuroplasticity — but feel no guilt about also noticing what is delightful.

I have myself a truly delightful, absolutely guilt-free, and (for me) quite lengthy walk. I take lots of photos. I select a bunch for this post.

And decide to use only two.

Go find your own delightful moments — the ones that speak to you, for your own reasons, in your own environment. We’re each on our own voyage of discovery, each selecting our own moments that will select the neurons to fire together & wire together.

Two photos, I promised you.

And they’re all about wires!

Last few blocks in the homeward stretch, I am more intent on plod-plod than see-see.

And then I see — just peripherally, but the sight ambushes my eye, snags me, halts my feet. There, on that ground-floor balcony ledge, next to that winter-mossy tree.

I trespass, move in close.

She is perfect. She is exuberant, strong, literally wired for joy & walking & discovery & everything wonderful, and, in the multiplicity of her colours, totally inclusive. I shamelessly stole Michael Snow’s Walking Woman sculpture series for my blog title, but I’m now adding her as another avatar, another inspiration.

(Guys, you can claim her too. Just do a mental photo-shop, and substitute your dangly bits for her dangly bits.)

And here we are. Our very own Wired for Walking avatar, just when we need one.

And Also

7 January 2020 – Step back, I tell myself; take a break. Step back from newscasts tracking the political unrest rocking one country, whose ripples will eventually and somehow affect every country. Mentally step back from all that and physically step out the door. Take a walk, nowhere special, but with a different focus.

Notice other realities. Not instead of that big-headline reality; just … also.

A tree stump, for example. Not left there to nurture new life, but it’s turned into a nurse-log anyway.

A Chai Wagon, trucked back home after a day of serving customers downtown.

Baby buds on a front-yard shrub, already swelling with spring blossoms.

A nook next to the Sahalli Community Garden, created by its members and available to anyone who’d like to sit and relax for a moment.

I sit and relax. I start to notice the ornaments. Pottery toadstools and a metal insect, wings half-open, behind the companion chair …

glass coasters, piled on the log table between the chairs …

and one of the red overhead lanterns, swinging with the breeze. (Only later do I realize I’ve also caught a dark bird, slicing through the sky just beneath the lantern.)

Down by South China Creek Park, there’s a free exercise station for anyone who’d like to use it …

and a newly created play area for kiddies, very much in use.

None of this is important. It’s just what I happen to see, on this particular walk, at this time, on this day. It does not replace or discount the political reality rightly commanding headlines.

But it does remind me of all the other realities that also make up our world — every moment, everywhere, all entangled and endlessly re-creating what Leonard Cohen so wonderfully described as the “chaos of existence.”

I like that sense of larger context.

  • 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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