Seeing Double

6 November 2021 – It rained and it rained and it rained.

And then …

it gave us a double rainbow instead.

Light

2 November 2021 – Northern hemisphere, somewhat northern latitude in that hemisphere, and the late fall theme is darkness.

Shorter days. Darker days, too, with seasonal rain and low-hanging clouds.

And then… and then a couple of days of dazzling light. Sunshine and breeze and exploding colour and skies to infinity.

I’m up in the VanDusen Botanical Garden, on the edge of the Cypress Pond, and I am punch-drunk with it all.

Even the greens pulse with energy.

And, all around, those Bald Cypress doing what they do in fall — prove they are conifers, yes, but deciduous as well. Their needles blaze rust, and will soon be shed.

Up the zig-zag footbridge that floats pedestrians over one side of the Pond, and a view from the far end worthy of an impressionist painting. Perfectly anchored with that one dot of distant scarlet, a Sourwood Tree.

Now circling back down the other side of the Pond, promising myself a closer look at that Sourwood, but stopping half way. Stunned yet again at the buzz of colour and texture all around, the Pond and its little footbridge just visible, down below.

With an Alberta-blue sky overhead! (Ever since my Calgary days, I’ve called any intensely blue sky, “Alberta blue.”)

I’d never heard of the Sourwood Tree before. Not very big, and I bet most of the year entirely unremarkable. But, this short moment in fall… this is its moment. I sight through its leaves, a last look at the Pond in that tangle beyond.

And then it’s just a short woodland trail to Livingstone Lake.

Where everything glitters silver-white.

I circle the Lake, brush past shining plumes as I follow a path that will lead me back down to the Visitor Centre…

and, still be-dazzled, out to city streets.

See. Celebrate

30 October 2021 – See, really see, I keep instructing myself. And then celebrate what I see.

The farther we slide into fall, the more of a challenge that can be. For example, out on a “drizzle walk” mid-week, I see this.

Oh, ick. Immediate reaction: mushy/slimy/decayed/faded/tattered/torn.

So I mentally slap myself, instruct myself to just … just see what’s there. Not carry on about what it all means, either moaning at decay & death or cheering the botanical gift of nutrition for the soil. Just see what’s there.

Suddenly, it’s wonderful. Worth celebrating. Shape: those oval leaves now curling into ripples and parabolas; the rounded angles of the rocks below. Texture: the ribs in the leaves; the speckles dotting both leaves and rocks. Colour: lemon to ochre to silver & charcoal; random slivers of red; that lemon-lime duet top right corner.

Well, this is fun! Let’s do it again.

More ovals curling into new shapes, dancing with the season. More colour, green to gold to rust & silver.

And if I keep looking, keep seeing, there is even …

lacework.

But that’s not all there is to see, and to celebrate, even here at the tag end of October.

A few days later I’m out with friends on one of those bright breezy days that lift the heart.

We’ve just wandered around the Law Courts roof-top garden, designed by Cornelia Hahn Oberlander and Arthur Erickson, and are stepping our way back down to Robson Square. No challenge needed, to celebrate what we see here!

On we go, and we keep seeing more things to celebrate. The washroom in Mink Chocolates Café down on West Hastings, for example, which is as 21st-c. inclusive as your little heart could desire, but retains those old-fashioned virtues of good hygiene.

And later, in Bon Voyage Plaza just off the Vancouver Convention Centre on Burrard Inlet, an example of public art that, even on a sunshine day, celebrates the rain.

We swing around The Drop (all 65 feet of it, by the Berlin collective Inges Idee) and carry on westward, past float planes loading passengers for flights over to Vancouver Island …

and then angle our way south through town, right down to Morton Park on English Bay, home of A-Maze-ing Laughter.

You should always celebrate laughter! (And while we’re at it we again thank the Vancouver Biennale, this 14-statue installation being an enduring favourite from the 2009-2011 event.)

Across the street, and a clear view of a 2021 Mural Festival installation that we couldn’t properly see when we were here a while ago, when construction trucks still blocked the lane. Panel by panel, Rory Doyle’s Horae celebrates the four seasons …

with a suitably dressed crow in each panel.

Much as I love these crows, I see the three-legged dog …

and love him even more.

Alchemy

25 October 2021 – Alchemy.

Alchemy, overhead.

Gold by day…

and…

silver by night.

Mid-Fall

21 October – Mid-fall in Vancouver.

It’s the season when nature is the biggest litterbug of all…

scattering leaves all over windshields and grassy sidewalk verges…

and across outdoor café tables.

But mid-fall is also still warm enough for couples to sit at one of those outdoor café tables …

and sink into each other’s eyes.

Tucked snugly behind their very own sheet of anti-COVID plastic.

The Moment In Between

16 October 2021 – It has just rained and it will soon rain again, but, meanwhile, there is this moment in between.

I walk back east, in this moment.

A burst of nature’s own autumnal colour blocking on West 8th, climbing the Whole Foods wall near Cambie …

and a cryptic message, one block farther east.

It’s a study in contrasting response to the rain: the paper lies limp & sodden, literally washed out, while the leaves and pavement dazzle & dance in glowing colour.

Over at Alberta St. I angle myself off 8th Avenue, pivoting S/E around this blue-mural’ed building (artist Debra Sparrow, VMF 2020)…

into the alley.

I’d forgotten the march of murals down this alley, discover them again. Right here at the corner, Reclaimed, a 2020 VMF work by Carole Mathys.

There’s more than murals, marching down this alley! I salute the H-frames

and, out at the corner of Manitoba St., take in yet more colour blocking. Red/orange tree; grey building with golden window frames; bright blue utility bin; and a whole swatch of very angry black on the wall beside me.

You’re gone, graffiti! Though I suspect all that black makes a tempting canvas for a new round of aerosol cans.

Just east of Manitoba, a mural style I’ve seen elsewhere (notably around the Native Education College) but so far without an identifying artist name.

This is the alley that keeps on giving.

Approaching Ontario, here’s the back door to a doggie spa, with a so-cute cartoon on the wall and a real live client showing off his latest trim. Just groomed, his owner tells me, and very pleased with himself.

Opposite that, the antithesis of grooming.

Nearing Quebec St. by now, and I finally learn the ID of the artist for this powerful mural just past the Raven Song Community Health Centre parking lot. It’s the VMF 2017 work of “Morik,” as in Russia-born Marat Danilyan.

Out of the alley onto Quebec, pivot N/E past all this ivy, flaming with the impact of fall weather…

onto East 8th, where weather has no impact on the pace of construction. (Though it makes the ground a lot soggier.)

You often see their hard hats among clients at my own favourite café, just a few doors farther east on 8th.

I slide in for a latte.

Herewith an unabashed plug for Melo Patisserie: the refinement of Melo’s French culinary training, with the warmth of his Brazilian heritage. Plus a posy of fresh freesia on every table every day, and a trio of teddy bears in the window.

Thankful

11 October 2021 – This Thanksgiving Day, I walk down the street in breezy sunlight and, as I approach a corner, memory suddenly tugs. Am I right? Is this the corner with that poem about birds spray-painted on the S/E building wall?

And even if I’m right, spray-paint comes & goes. Will the poem still be there?

I peer eastward around the corner.

I am thankful that I remembered to look, that the poem is still here — and that I still enjoy it. (Revisiting old delights is sometimes a bad idea.)

Later, walking my “Cambie Loop,” I find myself looking for birds above power lines. Not obsessively, you understand, but as part of paying attention to the here-&-now of my walk.

And yes, just past my turning point, just down that spiral staircase from the Cambie Bridge to the south side of False Creek, I do indeed pause in the shade of a tree and look up to watch the dance of birds and power lines.

Only two birds. Not very dramatically criss-crossing anything much.

Ordinary.

But, perhaps because of that poem and the title of this holiday, I think about John O’Donohue’s “eucharist of the ordinary” and I am thankful for these birds and for everything else I have just experienced, these last five kilometres: lots of ordinary people doing a whole range of ordinary things on the paths and on the water, walking/dog-walking/child-walking/hand-holding/bench-sitting/jogging/dawdling/cycling/kayaking/ferry-riding.

All that activity! And all of it in peace and safety.

Oh yes, I am thankful.

The Art of Navigation

9 October 2021 – More precisely: the art of using public art for personal navigation.

I’m just off my bus at the main transit hub on UBC campus, and all pleased with myself because (a) I am wearing a bright water-resistant jacket suitable for the misty day, and (b) I know exactly where I am going.

My clever little brain instructs my feet: Go there-there-there, and then I’ll be on University Blvd. and after that it’s just turn right when I reach West Mall, and after that hop across the road to the Museum of Anthropology (MOA).

So feet go there-there-there as instructed, and … ooops. Neither clever little brain, nor obedient feet, nor any bit of me in between, is now on University Blvd. Or anywhere else I recognize.

Brain meekly asks feet to take over. Feet dance another there-there-there, following some algorithm of their own inaccessible to the brain, and …

And here we are, from feet to brain and every bit in between, here we all are on University Blvd. The University posts helpful sign-maps at all the major intersections, but the campus is also dotted with public art and I find it much more rewarding to navigate with the art.

Brent Sparrow Jr’s Double-Headed Serpent Post, for example, here at the intersection with East Mall.

I border the serpent as I climb on up University Blvd, enjoying the gleam and the prickles of raindrops in the watercourse as I go.

Martha Piper Plaza, honouring the former UBC president and vice-chancellor, marks the intersection with Main Mall. The dancing fountains are not dancing, now that it’s fall, but the rain drops are definitely dropping, for the same reason.

Just across the way, my next two navigation aids. Your eye has surely already snagged on the bright yellow one, back right corner of the above photo? Now pull your focus a little more central, yes, there, to that brown triangular structure.

That’s it. And don’t I wish I could name it for you, but I can’t find signage anywhere. I circle it two-three times, not just in the interest of artist credit, but also because I really like the design.

And then I move on.

West Mall lies straight ahead, and I already know it has some kind of bright yellow artwork to mark the spot.

Very bright, very yellow, and it even has signage: Cumbria, by Robert Murray. Again I circle around, no artist mystery to solve here, just the pleasure of viewing from all angles.

Just out of frame, a student with a pile of luggage grows steadily more anxious as he awaits some promised ride that must by now be long overdue. I feel slightly callous as I step around him to admire the geometric dance between Cumbria‘s strong angles and the equally strong (and colourful) verticals of the Audain Art Centre behind it.

Good-bye University Blvd! Right turn onto West Mall and then straight on — or so my clever little brain intends — to the MOA. Except that, there at the corner of Crescent Rd., I see a sign pointing to the Belkin Art Gallery. It says, “Open.”

Sod the MOA! says my clever little brain; on to the Belkin! My feet smartly right-turn onto Crescent Rd.

I don’t remember ever visiting this Gallery, but I do remember this piece of art at the entrance: Myfanwy MacLeod’s Wood for the People. The descriptions I read about it are full of the kind of artspeak that makes me cranky, so I’m going to ignore them. I’ll just say: whatever its larger objectives as socio/eco/political commentary, this piece also perfectly depicts the way people stack a woodpile. My mind flips back to an autumn visit to Fernie, BC, a few years ago, with stack after stack next to one home after another, ready for the coming winter.

Thoughts of Fernie still in my mind, I enter the Belkin.

Where I meet Dark Matter, and Sudbury’s SNOLAB, instead.

I drift with the art …

and I emerge again into the Gallery’s own firm angles of light and space.

Back outside. The rain is now bucketing down. My merely water-resistant jacket proves more protective than I have any right to expect.

Brain, feet and all the bits in between arrive back home perfectly happy with the day.

The Balancing Act

1 October 2021 – Balance. That’s our daily context, isn’t it? Leonard Cohen pointed this out back in 1966, when (in Beautiful Losers) he praised those who achieve “balance in the chaos of existence.” But never mind grand philosophical abstractions, just consider the balancing act involved in putting one foot in front of the other. Some 6-3 million years ago our ancestors decided to get up off all fours and walk upright. We’ve been dancing with gravity ever since. (And our backs, so beautifully shaped for horizontal life, have been complaining ever since.)

I must add that absolutely none of this is in my mind as we stand at Denman & Davie streets, just off English Bay. We are entirely focused on the building in front of us, with its display of Douglas Coupland’s latest contribution to his home town.

Berkley Tower is being comprehensively renovated, all 16 storeys of it, and author/artist Coupland was commissioned to create the murals now being applied to all four sides. They’re bright & sassy & up-energy and we decide we like them. They hold their own, we agree, in an area already rich with public art — new Mural Festival additions all around, and the A-maze-ing Laughter collection of Vancouver Biennale sculptures right across the street in Morton Park.

The Coupland work gave us a starting point for our walk; now we’ll wing it, as we head east along the False Creek north shore Seawall, from English Bay Beach on past Sunset Beach near the Burrard Bridge, and on down to Granville.

There’s been lots of rain lately; we’re both wearing Seriously Waterproof jackets. With hoods. Without umbrellas. (Vancouverites tend to divide on the subject of umbrellas, pro/con.) No rain at the moment, just mist dancing in the air, creating a depth of mystery and potential beyond anything blatant sunshine can offer.

On we walk, now just east of the giant Inukshuk monument whose setting curves into English Bay right at the end of Bidwell Street. “Here,” says my friend, sweeping an arm to pull my attention forward. “Look.”

I look, I blink. How have I never noticed all this before?

More inukshuks, all of them unofficial, uncommissioned, but look at them. One after another, more sizes & shapes (& quantity) than the eye can register.

Later, hunting around online, trying to find names to credit for all this beauty, I discover they are examples of a global phenomenon known variously as rock balancing or rock stacking. I’m happy to adopt this language: these creations certainly are feats of balance, and they are not truly inukshuks, which tend to have humanoid structure. (I never do find current names of local rock balancers, alas, so cannot give the credit so richly due.)

We keep hanging over the Seawall, admiring one subset of rock stacks after another.

Sometimes imposing towers …

sometimes just a few tiny pieces, in perfect relation to each other.

By the time we reach Sunset Beach, the great sweep of rock stacks has finally ended. But look… there is compensation.

One of my enduring favourites of all the Vancouver Biennale sculptures: 217.5 Arc X 13. Bernar Venet’s work is exactly what its title promises — 13 arcs of steel, each curved to 217.5°. (It’s not a balancing act in the sense of the stone stacks we have just been admiring, but it does still have to contend with the laws of gravity…)

Close to the Burrard St. Bridge, we cock our heads at the astoundingly large, perfectly vertical cones poised like chandeliers on the branches of this enormous evergreen.

And then later, under the Granville St. Bridge, we see an even more improbable chandelier.

“And… why???” you ask. I can tell you it’s 7.7 m X 4.2 m of stainless steel, bedecked with polyurethene “crystals” and weighing more than 3,000 kilos, and you’ll wave away all those factoids, won’t you. You’ll ask again: “Why???”

Here’s why. Vancouver bylaws require that the developers of any building over 100,000 sq. ft. must contribute some piece of public art to the City. The developers of Vancouver House were simply meeting a legal obligation.

But they did it with panache, didn’t they? So I’m willing to be grateful.

On the Other Hand (take 2)

(What you should have received)

28 September 2021 – On the other hand, we live in a both/and world.

Both the realities lamented by Yeats

and other realities as well.

Realities in the Camosun Bog, for example, where three perfect fungi climb the tree trunk immediately behind your boardwalk bench …

and the bog itself spreads wide before your eyes, a whole ecosystem, quietly breathing.

Or realities in Dude Chilling Park, where the natural ecosystem welcomes a continuing succession of social ecosystems, each one its own celebration of connection and community.

This drizzly evening, dozens of geocachers have gathered (fully compliant with BC virus regulations) to share stories, trinkets and know-how. I don’t know how and I’m not even trying to learn how, I’m just along for the ride, but all around me veterans and newbies are deep in conversation about their hobby, with its twin attractions of high tech and boots-on-ground.

Then the shout goes up: “Group photo, everybody!” People pile in under some sheltering tree branches, with one late arrival (over there on the right) doing a bum-plant in her haste.

Nobody has just one interest in life, and so this gathering is shot through with the textures of sub-gatherings, as people discover what else they have in common.

I am shown some painted rocks, newly tucked into the boundary of the adjacent community garden, and learn something of the back-story.

They have become a birthday symbol for the young boy who helped paint this latest crop, because one year ago, when COVID lock-down prevented any birthday party, his friends each painted a rock and placed it in front of his house, for him to admire from the required distance.

And I am introduced to Deirdre Pinnock, whose name means exactly nothing at all to me — but whose work I know and have on occasion shared with you. She’s our resident Yarn Artist! The person who adorns chain-link fences with crocheted hearts and other symbols of love, support and community.

I gaze at her in awe, and then tug her hand like an eager puppy dog. “Let me take your picture,” I beg. “Choose one of your works here in the park. Whichever.” She chooses the pole.

I walk back home significantly more cheerful than I was a couple of days ago. I am reminded that, Yeats to the contrary, society’s bad guys do not have a lock on passionate intensity. It exists among the good guys as well, in all kinds of wonderful, affirming ways and places.

Take heart. (Crocheted, or otherwise.)

  • 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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