The Charm of the Unexpected

4 January 2020 – Given the city I’m in, I expect rain: I don’t get any. Given the city streets I plan to walk, I do not expect a bunny trail: I get one.

You see? It’s a walk full of the unexpected. None of it spectacular, I hasten to add, but each moment showing someone’s personality and engagement with the street and the community. I discover one little oh-look-at-that after another. I am charmed.

Bunny trail comes late in the walk, but the discoveries do start with a “B” as I cross East 16th and continue south on Ontario Street.

B-for-Buddha. (Or so I, in ignorance, think. I’ll be grateful to be corrected.) Very peaceful, not very large and calling no particular attention to itself, tucked among the fallen leaves & tufted grasses in someone’s street-corner garden.

Another block, another sculpture. Also among fallen leaves in someone’s garden, but there the resemblance ends.

From peaceful Buddha, to pugnacious crow.

Then, in a little corner parkette, community notices and a book exchange. Splendid idea; not-so-splendid protection from the elements.

From across the street, I watch an elderly couple study the collection (much larger than the bit I’ve shown) and select two to carry away with them. Books can be dried, after all, and a few ripples in the pages are really neither here nor there.

Another block, another pleasure: my first 2021 sighting of a street-side child’s swing.

Half a block farther south again, and my first 2021 sighting of spring bulbs poking up from the ground.

(This is the kind of image that Vancouverites love to send to snow-bound eastern friends, January-March. I promise you that it is invariably done with a smirk, and, having received such photos while in Toronto, I vowed never to send any once I lived here. Oops. Maybe I just did…)

Moving right along!

And in this walk I do move right along, farther south and farther west for a while and then I curlicue my way eastward again and find myself on James Street somewhere south of East 28th. By now I am ready to start heading north for home, so I walk on down James.

And find myself in a cul-de-sac.

And discover … the Bunny Trail.

Capital letters, City Parks Dept. plaque, paved path through the grass, and all.

Could there be a more wonderful way to escape a cul-de-sac? I wait for a woman coming westward with toddler & Labradoodle to clear the path, spend a few moments scratching the ‘Doodle behind his ears (his leash at full extension) and then take the path eastward.

And discover, if not flesh & blood bunnies on the Trail, a few pebble bunnies, tucked in among the tree roots.

Out the other end of the Trail, and pop, just like that, I’m at East 27th & Quebec. Where I see this quietly beautiful row of 1912 early-Craftsman houses, the Shirley Houses.

I’m able to identify them for you because I’m able to read signs.

I turn around and, smack on the opposite corner, see this interesting-looking little apartment building. Some degree of vintage, surely?

Neither then nor later can I find out anything about it, but I don’t really care. I just zero in on the corner juxtaposition of Art Deco (probably?) tile work with a very contemporary poster.

A passing couple exclaim in delight. We agree, from safe distance, that Dr. Henry’s words have become our provincial mantra and deserve their place on this highly unofficial version of the B.C. coat of arms. Then on they go and on I go — and then Quebec Street seems to disappear on me, so I find myself walking east on East 24th.

Where I bump into another offering of the unexpected. You might call it, the last in a bumper crop of the unexpected.

Well, anyway, a bumper.

Canine wisdom, to guide us through the year.

And It Rains

1 January 2021 – Rain smacks onto Scotia St. and courses on down the slope, tracing the route followed for millennia by Brewery Creek, now sealed away beneath the pavement. I am out in seriously waterproof gear, ready to take on the day.

As always, I slow my steps by the totem pole that soars up this side of the Native Education Centre at East 5th.

The work of master carver Norman Tait of the Nishga First Nation, this totem is a tribute to all indigenous peoples, past, present and future, and bears the title “Wil Sayt Bakwhlgat,” or “place where people gather.”

I look into the oval alcove, as I always do … then step closer, cock my head, peer inside.

Yes, it’s just a rock, but I pause, for I have seen tributes tucked into this alcove before now. If there is intention to this placement, I wish it well. (If not, I like the rock anyway. — shape, colour, and shine.)

The rain and I carry on downhill to East 1st, where my brain — supposedly running the show — waits to see which way my feet decide to go. My feet turn left, my brain raises no objection, so I’m headed for False Creek.

Goodness, it is so wet! Temperate rainforest strutting its stuff. No takers for any of these rental bikes …

just occasional pedestrians, like that woman keeping pace with her aging German shepherd.

In contrast I pick up my own pace, and then start to giggle. Here I am pitching attitude at rain drops! (Yah, well, just keep heaving it down! I can — literally — take you in stride!)

Self-praise has me barrelling right along, a little more west & a little more north, and then here I am, curving ’round Science World at the end of False Creek. Down here at the sea wall, I’m not the only person pitching attitude at the rain: lots of people are out for a bit of January 1st exercise — adults, kids, cyclists & runners, with a pretty even division between the pro- and anti-umbrella camps.

I lurk under the Science World canopy on the west side for a bit, where I eye the sail boats and that clever heron who has neatly tucked away his neck, presumably to keep it dry.

There he sits, patiently waiting out the storm.

We all know how that feels!

Happy new year.

If Moss Could Talk…

27 December 2020 – Well, moss can talk.

It can say …

I 💚 you!

In emerald green, of course. (And twice over, just to show off.)

Oh, Calm Down

19 December 2020 — They have barely started distributing vaccine.

So just calm down.

Cool your jets.

Hold your horses.

(Mutter your own favourite cliché.)

In other words …

Be patient.

Maybe by Valentine’s Day?

Fazes, Flatz & Catz

9 December 2020 – I am zed-obsessed, you will have just noticed, and it’s all because my feet turn right instead of left and send me on a tour of Zedland. (As in, South Flatz-with-a-zed.)

But before the Flatz, a face. (I’m back to proper spelling. Aren’t you glad? A little cute goes a long way.)

This image is just where it should be, in an alley betwixt garbage bin & hydro pole, and I like it a lot. Partly for the message (“It’s okay / to let things / feel a little / bit easier”), mostly for the line strength and enigmatic stare. The power of this graphic brings to mind the face by Toronto street artist Anser that became a city icon.

See what I mean? Not the same, but reminiscent.

I see the face again as I enter an alley down between East 2nd & East 1st, right where my feet turn me right instead of left — unexpectedly toward Emily Carr University and away from my intended visit to False Creek. Eyes even more powerful this time, framed by that rusty railing. (The artist signs as DATA, and I can find nothing helpful online.)

On East 1st now… and yet more faces! Each one presumably giving you a reason to drink Red Truck Beer.

And now, closing in on Emily Carr University of Art + Design, I hit the Zed.

South Flatz will be an entirely legit and valuable campus of high-tech buildings close to Emily Carr. The branding, however, meant to establish creative, street-smart creds for the development, has drawn heavy sarcasm online: “spelled with a ‘z’ because it’s cool!” snipes one review; “so hip it hurts!” I have to confess, my own lip curls at the sight.

But my humour is restored when, in the midst of that glossy line-up of images, I spot Sir Wilfrid Laurier Cat.

What do you mean, you don’t see any resemblance to our country’s 7th prime minister? Look at the collar.

Another cat, but this one more Parking Lot than Parliament Hill. He’s on a service pole in the parking lots stretching on east from Emily Carr. Train tracks to the other side and, here, trucks and tents associated with location shooting for a new documentary film: Managing the Pandemic Risk. (Sigh.)

Also in the parking lot, more faces and — perhaps — another cat. Faces on the back of that colourful van, showing the eponymous Two Nice Guys ready to move your belongings; Perhaps Cat scrawled on that white van right-forefront.

And on I go, as far as Clark Drive, and then south (uphill, pant-pant) until I turn west again on East 10th.

Where I meet two more cats.

In a manner of speaking. Black cat high; gold cat low; neither deigning to acknowledge the other or passers-by. Well, they can’t, can they, because they’re not real. But the behaviour is real …

And just when I think I’m fresh out of cats, and into Starry Trees instead …

I get another cat. In among the branches. White polar bear on the left, more vivid, but red cat nicely visible as he prowls above that star.

Above them all, tucked in the crotch of the tree, a fairy door and a heart with the first phrase of Dr. Henry’s mantra.

“Be kind.”

Nothing to do with faces or cats or Flatz or the letter zed — but always appropriate.

The Street of Good Cheer

3 December 2020 – I’ll get to Vancouver, 2020. First we need to visit the New France colony of Port-Royale, 1606.

What with scurvy and one thing and another, the colonists have had a rough few years, so wily old Samuel de Champlain invents a morale-booster: l’Ordre de Bon Temps. The Order of Good Cheer.

Each member in turn takes responsibility for the evening meal and, as that day’s chief steward, leads the procession that starts the meal and the song, dance and what-have-you that complete it.

Jollity ensues.

Meanwhile, back here in 2020 downtown Vancouver, I am not jolly. I am grumpy. Petulant, even. I stomp my way south & east of my home base, just daring the day to try to cheer me up.

And then I hit East 15th & St. Catherines, more or less, and forget my sulks long enough to enjoy the sunshine glow on that house on the right, and the comfy, relaxed attitude of the streetscape in general.

I head east on East 15th, first time I’ve been here — already a recommendation — and begin to see evidence that this is a kid-friendly neighbourhood. Kid-busy as well.

They play, and they communicate.

Love for a tree, for example …

love for frontline workers …

even love for passing motorists.

They’re right: Windsor St. does a serious wobble as it crosses over.

I do my own little wobble, heading slightly south on Windsor to check out the cows and flowers …

before heading back to East 15th, where I crane my neck at another expression of love: a suet offering for local birds.

Kid stuff gives way to this truly beautiful banner fixed to the street lamp (and no, I found nothing to explain or identify it) …

and again, a bit farther east, to this equally beautiful work in stained glass.

I finally abandon East 15th at Glen Drive — but get to take with me one last perfect image. It is the most battered, chipped, kitschy and completely adorable Squirrel Sentinel in the universe.

By now, I am entirely cheerful. Thank you, Street of Good Cheer.

Time for Grit

25 November 2020 – This time, my feet walk me right past the waterscape of False Creek, on north into the cityscape of Yaletown.

Time for some city grit.

I am standing at the corner of Mainland and Davie, just behind the skytrain station. I’m about to wander this downtown enclave with its mixture of upscale boutiques (everything proudly “artisan”) for the influx of upscale residents, plus services for and reminders of the population they displace.

So I do smile at this image, as requested — including at the sassy “Take requests?” someone has added — but I know I’ll have cause during this walk to sigh as well as to smile.

Oh look — a skeleton! With a mic for its chest. And why not, entertainment is one of the neighbourhood offerings.

Still on Mainland, now at Helmcken, where I contemplate the guy quickly, and surely illegally, slapping a poster on that utility pole. A ribbon of street mural weaves around his bicycle, on its way up this block of Helmcken.

Steps right opposite Poster Guy bear a message now blurry with time, but still warm in intent.

Can you make it out? “We shape/each other/and fit/together.”

My zig-zags take me along Helmcken. At Seymour I’m drawn to this bright ceramic tile plaque on a building wall:

Only then do I notice the building itself. This is the City-run Gathering Place Community Centre, a social centre for the Downtown South community. “We primarily serve vulnerable populations…” says its website, and this is obviously true.

For one thing, individual tiles in the plaque often commemorate lives cut short.

For another, the website lists practical support for the homeless, such as showers and laundry service, along with meals and other programs less specifically focused.

And for yet another, one of the windows displays this poster:

In the midst of pandemic, more addicts are using alone, and more are dying.

Walk around with open eyes, and you are reminded how many worlds co-exist in the same geographic space.

Back among the boutique shops of Helmcken, I see another poster — this one on the sidewalk, adapting Dr. Bonnie Henry’s mantra to a best practices code for considerate shoppers.

While over in Emery Barnes Park, on the fence of the off-leash area, there is another best-practices code on display.

This one is for considerate dogs.

(I am enchanted at the thought of all those up-market, downtown dogs: both literate and considerate!)

I walk and I walk and eventually my feet have me back south of False Creek, home once again in Mount Pleasant.

An alley off Broadway reveals the devastation of a recent three-alarm fire among shops on Main Street …

while a front view, on Main itself, shows that our local Yarn Artist has joined others in expressing sympathy and support.

All these realities, all at the same time.

The Colours of OH!

20 November 2020 – Right from my first visit in July, I’ve known that the Camosun Bog deserves a big, fat, exclamatory OH! of delight. What I didn’t know — until two dear friends (you know who you are) set me straight — is that the exclamation resides in the name as well as the location.

I’d been saying, “Cam-oh-sun,” equal stress each syllable.

But it’s “Cam-OH!-sun. ” Jump on the middle syllable, and pass for local.

I’m still ridiculously pleased with my new knowledge as I walk up that first stretch of boardwalk this morning, say good-bye to the last hydro poles I’ll see for a while, and enter the Bog.

It’s a misty, drizzly day — a bog’s idea of bliss. You can practically feel everything expanding into all that delicious moisture, and you can see how everything gleams.

I start noticing colour, and shine.

The silver gloss of surface water …

red twigs…

white tree fungus …

purple seed pods …

even turquoise fencing looks good. (Oh, come on. Make room for it in your heart.)

And then there’s emerald.

The emerald of mad moss, flinging itself onto every surface that doesn’t actively fight back.

Spiralling up tree trunks …

and carpet-bombing the ground.

(There is also the emerald green of a little boy’s rain cape, which he twirls for me with great panache.)

One last glance, backward over my shoulder:

green needles/silver droplets/russet shrubbery.

OH!

Lines & Spaces

9 November 2020 – Another looping walk down to my end of False Creek, west to the Cambie St. bridge, up and across, back east via Olympic Village plaza, and home.

Hadn’t planned any theme, but this industrial corner off Scotia & East 2nd seems to focus my eye in a particular way.

Lines & spaces!

In this case, with rust.

But later, with water …

with traffic lights and a seagull …

with a floating log …

with on-ramps for the Cambie St. bridge …

with a whole mad frenzy of tubular geometry …

and, most wonderfully of all …

with dog leashes.

It’s an outdoor doggie obedience class in the Olympic Village plaza.

Detour

7 November 2020 – I’d planned to stick with West 4th, all the way to Cambie, but roadworks force a detour. I angle through a parking lot just past Manitoba St., to catch the nearest alley.

First glimpse of the alley, and I think: “This could be fun.”

Turns out that guy isn’t pointing at Grecian Goddess there on the wall: he’s concerned about a stack of boxes inside the doorway beside her, and wants his buddy’s opinion.

I hit the alley and stand stock-still, mesmerized by all that it offers.

Finger-Pointing Guy asks, with kind concern, “Are you okay?” I reassure him. “I’m just stunned by all this art.” He blinks at me. Art???

Yes, art. Look.

If the style of those writhing creatures seems familiar …

perhaps you’re remembering the wolf sculpture by Paige Bowman (‘birdfingersss”) I celebrated in my Animal Flow post. This is also her work..

Human being to the left is suitably horrified.

Soothing waves just a bit farther west …

and a musical pirate opposite. (A lute-loving pirate! Not to be confused with any loot-loving pirate you may happen to know.)

Beyond the pirate, a dead ringer (or so I think) for Sammy Davis Jr., flying from one adventure to the next, the length of this entire mural …

from his first brave leap, upper left …

through repeated moments of great concentration …

to a confrontation with some Force of Evil, upper right.

Swivel head back across the alley, and … change of pace.

Something Escher might do, were he alive now and more fascinated by tubing than by fish and birds.

A few more steps (a few more paces, ho ho), and … change of pace.

I hit Columbia St., the next intersection, and look back with appreciation. Lots of surprises, in amidst all that scruffiness.

I decide to stick with the alley for one more block, but expect nothing more from it. After all, how do you top technicolour LOVE?

You write an erudite pun in neat blue letters on a white wall, is how.

Clever, but — I am happy to report — without any evidence, either visible or olfactory, to back the claim.

  • 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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