Walk & Gawk

28 July 2017 – Tuesday we do indeed go walkies on the Arbutus Greenway, as promised in my previous post. Another bright sunny day, so I’m armed with hat/sunblock/water.

I’m first to arrive at the 6th and Fir Park, the north (False Creek) end of this 11 km pathway stretching south along a disused rail corridor to the Fraser River. (In fact, we’re still on temporary pathways, with the final work yet to be done, but the details are beyond me and … frankly … at the moment I don’t care. I’m happy as is.)

Being first to arrive, I kill time reading messages on the Park noticeboard. Here is my favourite:

Have you ever seen tattooing so winsomely advertised? I am thoroughly charmed — though not enough to respond to the ad.

Lots of notices, lots to read, and this lady ignores her pooches long enough to scrutinize them all. Maybe she’s local, checking for updates?

Busy park, 9-ish in the morning: a volunteer (I assume) watering & pruning, a visitor checking her messages, parents & toddlers (out of frame) in the mini-playground. And a discarded water bottle. This is real life, after all, not Fantasy Land.

The Park’s online write-up includes, in its list of amenities, a water fountain. It should, but doesn’t, point out there is a canine fountain as well,

Frances arrives, we slap on another layer of sunblock, swig some water, and set off.

And stop pretty darn soon, because who could resist this gate?

Not us. The gate is unlocked, even better, so we head in. I linger to admire all the fun someone has had, creating the objets d’art — all from objets trouvés — on the gate.

Turns out we are visiting the Vancouver Compost Demonstration Garden, which since 1990 has been a joint project with the non-profit City Farmer Society. The Society manages the Garden; the City taps multiple departmental resources (Solid Waste, Water Design, Parks, Health, Green Streets…); all this to show Vancouverites a whole range of ways to “go green” at home.

Raised produce beds and other features show us water conservation techniques, pest control, and composting options. Including — but of course! — a very classy composting toilet.

Back to the Greenway.

We’re still in the northern section, with community gardens and wild greenery all around. Including blackberry bushes, their fruit just beginning to ripen.

See those few fully ripe berries? They are no longer on the bush. They disappeared, lickety-split, down our throats.

Not a lot of art on display, and it would be ungrateful to demand that the Greenway also be an art installation. All the more reason to enjoy the artist’s palette on a signal box (or something) ’round about where we cross West 16th.

Farther south, we’re on a long staightaway of naked paved pathway. Not pretty. It’s a relief to arrive at a stretch that is, we suddenly realize, lined with painted rocks. Well … at least it’s something.

I warm to it when I see a Vancouver Biennale sign, explaining that this is a BIG IDEAS Education Program carried out by grade 2 students at York House School. After seeking community input, they decided to beautify their stretch of the Greenway with these long lines of rocks —  more than 800 in all, moving from one colour block to another.

But! Wait-there’s-more! Turn over a rock or two. Go ahead, says a sign; do it.

So, in a red-rock stretch, we do.

Love it.

Even farther south, we’re back in cascading greenery, here up and down a retaining wall with trees soaring overhead. Vancouver keeps stunning me, the way green stuff just tumbles over other green stuff…

And suddenly we’re crossing West 41st, where, I am very reliably informed, there are excellent cafés.

We admire yet another harlequin painted signal box (it seems to be the Greenway theme), plus the wooden bench behind it with old railway axles (or something?) for end pieces …

and head for a near-by bistro.

Which is as good as promised.

I pass up my usual almond croissant & try something new: a flaky sacristain —  twisted puff pastry with ground almonds and cinnamon.

All I can say is: go find yourself a French bistro, and try it for yourself! (Or follow this recipe.)

 

Bees & Bears

22 July 2017 – The title is not inspired by A.A. Milne, but Pooh’s lament does come to mind. Remember? He is at the foot of a tree, the bee hive (surely dripping honey) is high overhead. If he wants that honey, he will have to climb.

It’s a very funny thought [he observes] that if bears were bees,

They’d build their nests at the bottom of trees,

And that being so, if the bees were bears,

We shouldn’t have to climb up all these stairs!

I am not thinking about bees or bears or stairs, as I weave my way home last Monday evening, I am thinking about the fun we just had doing an outdoor Taoist Tai Chi demonstration next to False Creek. I turn at random on a nearby street, pause to admire a series of raised planters, and wonder — very vaguely — what the little raised wooden structures are all about.

 

See? One per planter.

Then I see the signs on the wall. Big Rock Urban Brewery is not maintaining these planters for human enjoyment; they are bee habitats.

I like this. I like that they care for bees, and educate humans as well. I learn things about prudent behaviour around bees. I resolve not to “act like a bear.”

And that’s that, for a couple of days. I do not think about bees.

Until I am again wandering home in the early evening, this time from an Iceland presentation out in Kitsilano (“Kits” to its friends). Again a random turn, on a random street, in that golden pre-dusk light.

And look what pops up.

“Pop up” being the right phrase: I have stumbled upon the City of Vancouver’s 5th and Pine Pop-Up Park. Created in late 2016, it offers community meeting space with a large wildflower garden designed to attract bees & other pollinators.

Just look at all those bees.

And not just on the walls!

Those black specks among the wildflowers are, oh yes, real live bees. I remember the rules on that Big Rock poster. I keep calm, step back, and strive not to act like a bear.

It works. I walk through the park and around the next corner, unstung, and very impressed.

Only to be even more impressed. Now I’ve landed in the Pine Street Community Gardens. I stand there and laugh. How can you just turn a downtown corner, and, boom, fall into this kind of magic?

It’s older than the pop-up park, I later learn: founded in 2006, running parallel to disused railway tracks, with an Orchard Side (apples, pears, plums, etc.), a Garden Side (more than 40 plots), modest yearly fees and, not surprisingly, a waiting list of would-be gardeners.

There are vegetable plots …

and flower plots …

and a brightly painted storage shed.

With bee hives.

I again act not-like-a-bear. It again keeps me safe.

There’s a sign, up on that storage shed. I always read signs.

Yet more serendipity.

See that reference to the Arbutus Greenway? It’s very much a work in progress, early days for a trail that will repurpose the old CPR tracks to provide a walking/cycling/rolling corridor from False Creek to the Fraser River.

Temporary pathways are already open. One starting point is right here, in yet another pop-up park at the eastern end of the Community Gardens, at West 6th & Fir.

Frances & I have already decided to explore the Greenway in next Tuesday’s walk. I plonk my bag on the bench, and send her this photo:

“Bag marks the spot,” I say. “See you there!”

Consider this your Sneak Preview…

 

 

 

 

“Everything talks…”

16 July 2017 – Apparently mum used to waltz toddler-me around the place, crying “Everything talks, in our house!” and inventing dialogue among assorted inanimate objects to prove her point. It surely amused me, seems to have imprinted me: I have a vaguely animist view of the world, and now amuse myself with multi-stream messages as I go about my day.

A row of Muskoka chairs at Spyglass Dock on False Creek, for example.

Happy messages, starting with the visual — bright & cheery on a bright, cheerful day. A slew of memory-messages as well: Muskoka chairs by lakes in Muskoka itself; more of them in Toronto parks bordering Lake Ontario; now here by tidal False Creek in Vancouver; all of them an invitation to relax & enjoy. And so an emotional message of gratitude: how lucky I am, to live where public space offers such enjoyment, and it may safely be enjoyed.

Walk-walk eastward along False Creek — my Tuesday walking ritual appears reborn, here on the Left Coast — and eventually we run out of water, continue along East 1st Av. into a once-grungy part of town being reborn with art galleries, studios, housing & (surely the magnet) relocated Emily Carr University of Art + Design.

Another message, a wall mural, talks to us. Or, perhaps, at us. We are befuddled.

It is large, in clear text, and in English. What’s our problem?

I am still befuddled about the word-message, but I like the Look-At-Me message. Something well-executed, provoking (best sense of the word) and in public space? All good.

Into a gallery, where there are some painting-paintings, and then there is … well… another example of a message delivered large, in clear text, and in English.

We are not befuddled. But we do break our museum-cool sufficiently long enough to giggle.

Don’t answer that.

Jump forward a day. This time I’m on my own. I’d planned to walk back up to the VanDusen Botanical Garden (worth many visits), but get diverted. As I often do.

I find myself in Shaughnessy Park, a small and simple lozenge of tree-hung space on a height of land near Granville Street. No amenities except benches, under the trees.

I lean back on a bench, relax into the bench, look overhead.

What talks here? Eye and ear messages, both. Sun shimmering through the trees, dancing green air, occasional background rattles of crow or squirrel. Occasional car-whooshes, too, but dialled ‘way down to insignificance by my calmed & peaceful brain.

A different sound claims my ear, when, eventually, I pick myself up to head home.

Do-mi-la.

Not a human whistle, definitely mechanical, but still sweet not harsh. (And so much more interesting than do-mi-so would have been!) Again. Do-mi-la. And again …

My eyes follow my ears to a young City Maintenance worker at an open sewer grating. The three tones die away yet again as she reads the instrument in her hand & calls out, “Got it.”

I follow her to her truck. “?????” I ask.

One worker sends the tone from one open grating, she explains; the other waits to receive it at the next. If, when and how the tone arrives tells them if there is any blockage in the water line, where, and how much. No need to drop cameras into the system any more. (Let alone small children with goggles & fins, as my Dickensian imagination would have it.)

Music is the message. It talks. I love it.

I am in a seriously up-market residential neighbourhood, I suddenly realize. All subdued anglo-elegance. Complete with a sense of civic responsibility.

I admire, as I am surely meant to do.

Next sign? Not so friendly. But delivering an equally clear message.

Right. Got it.

The rare gate (locked, of course) that doesn’t have a dog-warning sign to go with its intercom system has this kind of sign instead:

Right. Got that, too.

It is a relief, some blocks later, to find myself in less-elevated — all senses of the word — terrain. Where a sidewalk offers me quite a different message.

I hop my way through it. Of course I do. Thank you, chalk-on-sidewalk! Good humour is restored.

And then, ooooo, another dog-related message. Except this time it is to the dogs, not about them.

As I get up from my photo-taking crouch, I see an approaching woman sink to her own crouch at a companion sign at the other end of the garden. I wait for her to read it. She gets up. We grin at each other. Nice.

I turn left at the playhouse at the corner (itself a kid-happy message) …

and think: “That’s it.”

I put away the camera, lengthen my stride.

And stop short for one more message.

‘Cause any time someone wants to love the whole world, I’m happy to help them spread the message.

By Land, by Sea, by Foot, by Ferry…

4 July 2017 – It’s the Canada Day weekend, I’m off to Granville Island to enjoy the celebrations with family, and I consider modes of transport.

I could be part of the by-foot brigade, walking west along the False Creek seawall and curving myself onto the island: I’ve done it a few times already since moving here, and it’s mightily tempting.

But I’m even more tempted by the ferry!

So I bounce down to Spyglass Dock instead, admire yet again that piano with its “Jazz Cats + Mice” motif, and jump onto an Aquabus, just about to push off from the dock.

The ferries are not only frequent, inexpensive & efficient, they make you smile. They’re right up there with helium balloons, they just make you smile.

That’s the cartoon drawing on the captain’s T-shirt, but it’s true to life.

Fifteen minutes later (with one stop in between), I’m on Granville Island.

Me and many others; people are gathering. We — and a sky full of sunshine — are celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday. Official maple leaf flags and insignia all over the place, but my favourite is this very wonky chalk rendition on a sidewalk.

Granville Island isn’t really an island at all, it is a sandspit on the south shore of False Creek, home to factories & sawmills in the early 1900s but now entirely transformed, a magnet for Vancouverites & tourists as well: a huge indoor public market, home to theatres, artisan workshops & studios, retail outlets, a sake maker (Canada’s first), 2 breweries & a distillery, a community centre, and the Emily Carr University of Art + Design.

We weave among the crowds, buskers & music on all sides. Perhaps because my niece drove & I came by ferry, I start ticking off modes of transport.

Cars, of course, tucked up in mural-bright car parks …

bicycles, up-ended in their own lock-up along one wall …

a kayak!

Well, no, not the mode of transport, but on display, and what could be more fitting? There are scads of them in False Creek, along with dragon boats & canoes.

Down by the Emily Carr buildings, I see a transportation triple threat, bing-bang-bong, all in a row: a boat awaiting its launching, a school bus, and (left of the bright yellow school bus) a white chartered bus.

One more means of transport: magic carpet.

And “magic” is the word. It is quite magic to walk that carpet-strewn entrance: once inside the shop, you could be in a souk, the textures & colours delighting the eye, the complex aromas of all those carpets quivering the nose.

Part of the holiday fun is, adults get to be 4 years old again.

We take turns playing on the swings …

and we are as breathless as the children, all jammed together to watch a latter-day Houdini (the sunlit head under the awning word “organic”) step free from his shackles.

Time to go.

I move slowly past the various outdoor solo performers, here a dapper francophone improvising on “La Mer,” there a Cape Breton fiddler, and ‘way down there, the far end of this quay, a young woman crooning jazz to her keyboard.

I find the Aquabus dock; I hand in my return ticket; I watch a little girl — her eyes large & serious — carefully hand in the tickets for her entire family, and then relax happily once aboard, giggling, responsibility discharged.

A tip of my Tilley to “Jazz Cats + Mice” back at Spyglass Dock, and home I go.

 

More Quotes, Some Keys, a Ferry, & a Dragonfly

28 June 2017 – Isn’t it always the way? You’ve never heard of something, and then you do, and then it jumps on you from all sides.

I’d never heard of John Muir, Scottish-born poet & naturalist (1838-1914), until Sally sent me the quote that opened a recent (Art of Quote-Unquote) post. A couple of days later, I’m entering the VanDusen Botanical Garden with my friend Louise, and there, beautifully incised into the glass doorway, is another Muir quote: “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”

(Checking it later online, I discover another I like a lot: “Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.” The dirt-path strategy for happiness?)

We’re not in this stunning botanical garden for doorway quotes. We have come to walk the grounds, to enjoy all the collections, all the “rooms,” from the serenely austere Stone Garden to the Meditation Garden, the Sino-Himalayan collections, the Elizabethan Maze and more.

And we do. Oh, we certainly do. But we also admire the works of art in the grounds.

Including a piano.

It’s not much of a functioning piano by now, just look at those keys. But with seagulls like that swooping around (the work of Ilya Viryachev), you don’t mind.

Louise explains that the city has had several years of placing pianos in public — a CityStudio project called “Keys to the Streets” — and I realize I have seen a few about.

With more to come!

The next day I’m walking again — and again in brilliant sunshine, take that soggy Toronto, these two cities seem to have swapped weather patterns. This time in a loop around False Creek. Frances & I head west along the south side, then north across the Burrard St. bridge, its elegant Art Deco lines signalling its 1930s construction.

I stop to admire the view, and pound a few more geographic factoids into my brain.

False Creek flows into English Bay, into Burrard Inlet, into the Strait of Georgia … That’s Bowen Island, beyond that Vancouver Island, beyond that the Pacific Ocean …

We head back east on the north side. At David Lam Park, we hop around the stepping stones that encircle Don Vaughan’s temple-like sculpture, “Marking High Tide and Waiting for Low Tide,” reading the inscription as we go.

Hop, hop …

Hop, hop …

It’s just one of numerous pieces of public art around False Creek, and I like it a lot.

Now for something else I like a lot: a trip on one of the cheerful little ferry boats that shuttle back & forth! I jump aboard at the Yaletown Dock, for a quick crossing to Spyglass Place, back on my side of the Creek.

Spyglass Place Dock is a whole art installation all by itself: comfy bear-chairs for contemplating the view, artwork underfoot and all around … and, look, a piano.

This one is working just fine, thank you, its keys highly responsive, the pianist enthusiastic, and the rest of us charmed.

I contemplate a dragonfly.

I remember another piano in my recent past — this one plain blue, but startling for all that.

It was attached to a bicycle, though nicely stationary at the time in Woodward’s Atrium, part of the Hard Rubber Orchestra‘s open rehearsal for its first summer-time “Spacious Music at the Atrium” concert.

The music was good, the acoustics terrific, I made note of future concert dates.

So, pianos firmly in mind, it’s no wonder I see another as I make my way back south on Cambie. This one is in a much less appealing environment — a shopping mall food court — but it’s also part of the City’s public pianos initiative.

And it is also being played. Where the toddler in Spyglass Place ran to, shall we say, personal random expression, this guy is definitely into stride.

I hum my way home.

Where, via email, I collect one more quote!

Cake-Quotable

Thank you, Phyllis.  She was out Dundas St. West, in Toronto’s Junction area, and came across this bakery sidewalk signboard.

All right, everybody. Eat up.

 

 

Smoochers & Strange Dogs

7 June 2017 – You’ll have to imagine the smoochers, but I’ll give you Smoochers Corner.  My gift to you, courtesy of a cheerful young man named Aaron, whom I met at the foot of the steps down from Jean Beaty Park to Burrard Inlet a couple of days ago.

Turns out he occasionally leads tours around the neighbourhood, here in Point Grey, and when he learns how much I love to walk & explore, he tells me about Smoochers Corner. Just down the road, he says, at the top of the Dunbar Steps.

He jumps this-way, that-way, to demonstrate what I’ll see.

And I do.

See? This-way for Him; that-way for Her; and smooch-smooch.

I giggle. And I remember the Vancouver Biennale Open Air Museum art installation I saw enroute, and giggle again.

This particular installation, Vancouver Novel by Brazilian artist João Loureiro, consists of a rotating cycle of 23 LED-light sentences. The sentence I happen to catch seems tailor-made for smoochers.

I’m on a roll, wandering daily around town, beginning to sniff out some haunts. Still with the wide eyes of the new-comer.

So I tilt my head in wonder as I emerge from a VAG (Vancouver Art Gallery) lecture yesterday evening, beguiled by the soft air & golden light of mid-evening. It’s not so much the buildings, which neatly frame Hornby Street, it’s the great plummeting arrow of sky-space in-between.

I play my positive-space/negative-space game, blinking my attention back & forth.

Less esoteric today, out revisiting the pathways here on the south side of False Creek. This green space was a haunt of mine while visiting town last winter, how much more agreeable in warm spring sunshine!

I’m in Hinge Park, I go hip-hop across the big stones to the little island just off-shore, I follow the path, I peer between the trees.

Tree art! Woodpecker Dead Tree art! No woodpeckers in sight, mind you, just the evidence they leave behind.

And then, farther east, I’m prowling public waterfront space in Olympic Village … and this time the birds are visible. Bird on bird.

I know that’s a pigeon up top. The big guy underneath? Let’s call him a sparrow.

A latte stop by the water, and I start heading inland. Up to West 1st Av. and Manitoba, where once again I admire one of the City’s attractive sewer lids. Except this one has a tiny companion.

I look closely at the mini-version: “Tread Lightly,” it says; “Ship Yard.” I’d like to know more. I am mildly, but pleasurably, frustrated. These things can be learned…

Right there, too: an art installation. No plaque that I can find, no artist ID, no explanation. But it looks to me like mounds of salt.

And I’m right, I must be right. The building, now a restaurant & bar, also bears its historic name, “Vancouver Salt Co. Ltd.” The little street next to the building is — of course — Salt St.

On up Manitoba, up to West 3rd. I glance casually eastward as I wait for the light to change.

Look!

Oh, if only the doors had been closed. Oh, never mind. It is quite wonderful. I don’t know why Greenworks Building Supply wanted street-art murals, but thank you, I am all in favour.

I remember Rolf’s dictum: “When you see something interesting in front of you, there will be something equally interesting right behind you.” I spin on my heel.

Right behind me is Eddie’s Hang-Up Display Ltd. I’ve been doing my little jig of street-art delight under the cool gaze of Eddie’s Ladies.

That belly tag reads, “Wigs sold separately.” (Just FYI.)

And I zig, and I zag, and in the course of events (after a long, tempting riffle through Mountain Equipment Co-op on West Broadway) I find myself climbing on up Columbia St., just north of West 10th.

I am admiring the fine old wooden homes, one obligingly with a heritage plaque. It explains that, in 1895, it was the Bloomfield Studio, home to Henry Bloomfield and two sons, the city’s foremost stained glass artisans — responsible, among other accomplishments, for the windows of the provincial Parliament Buildings in Victoria.

Coming close enough to read the plaque brings me close enough to read another tidy little sign. This one very much of our own day.

Well??? What? Three ears? Two tails? Amazing skill with a mouth organ? Armed with a sling-shot? Alas, he is nowhere in sight, and we’ll never know.

So we can each imagine our own favourite Strange Dog, and be happy.

 

 

 

All the Colours of a Very Grey Day

2 June 2017 – And to top it all off, we are Vancouver’s Point Grey neighbourhood, Louise & I. (West Point Grey, to be precise.) Louise is sussing out the area for some art classes she plans to offer; I am just plain sussing out Vancouver, all the happier to do so with a friend.

We jump off the bus at Sasamat & West 10th, and start walking. After a string of sunny days, we’re back to fitful grey, threats of rain. See if we care — we are booted & jacketed accordingly.

In & out of a few pretty shops (upscale neighbourhoods have pretty shops), admiring as we go, then into a café for something we not only admire, but want.

Coffee! We buy it, we drink it, we laugh at the cluster of signs. Especially this one …

Good.

Now, having followed steps 1 through 3, we are fully awake.

And ready to properly admire the vivid lavender fields outside this West-10th Av. home.

Extravagant street-corner displays are typical of the area, so are cottage-y homes.

We walk north on Trimble St., circle through Trimble Park, head back south toward West 10th again, which takes us past the West Point Grey Lawn Bowling Club …

a study in soft greens, except for the brilliant red of one gentleman’s jacket.

A red promptly echoed in the poppies of an adjacent street-corner display.

Echoed again, when we reach West 10th & tumble into Urban Yarns, one of the city’s destination wool shops.

Red, and every other colour!

We haven’t come in to buy wool. We are drawn by colour & texture. We pad softly about the shop, stroking alpaca here, merino there, silk …

We climb the stairs.

But finally go back out into the misty grey day.

Where yet more colour awaits us.

Even Louise, who knows her city and its Asian food offerings, is startled. DoDo Sushi, we agree, here we come! Your newest dish will be our lunch.

Along with miso soup, beakers of green tea, and a shared bowl of steamed edamame, that is.

It is all wonderful. We enjoy our lunch. Just as I enjoy my later peek into the kitchen …

though I do take that curtain to be telling me to Keep Out, and I obey.

We play jump-on / jump-off with the bus on our way back to the centre of town, bailing at Alma St. for a quick visit to Folk Art Interiors. It has some faux-folk art, but not much; most of the stock, crammed floor to ceiling, wall to wall, is the real thing.

An old record-player, for example, with the Eagles’ One of These Nights ready to spin.

And a beautifully worn old step-stool, exactly the right look & scale to display a pair of child-sized bright red shoes.

Then Louise & I take our adult-sized shoes back out to the bus stop, and head for home.

 

The Sights at Silly O’Clock

25 May 2017 – I’m still waking up at “Silly O’Clock,” my body not entirely convinced it has left British Standard Time & must now respond to Pacific Daylight Time.

Daylight indeed! I bounce out of bed at 5:27 a.m., any time-zone frustrations immediately dissolved in the splendour of the dawning day.

From my balcony, I have an unimpeded view of the mountains that frame North Vancouver. Called the North Shore Mountains — and what could be more logical? — they are a subset of the Pacific Ranges, in turn the southern end of the Coast Mountains that run up the B.C. coast and right on through Alaska.

Both Grouse Mountain and Mount Seymour are in that line-up — Grouse, which I’ve visited by gondola ride, and Seymour, which I know only slightly better but at least with my feet on some of its trails. My friends Sally & Owen live on the last street of homes part-way up the mountain, their back yard right at the provincial park boundary.

Still mesmerized by the luminous early light, I drop my gaze to include Cambie Street below, here on my (south) side of the Burrard Inlet.

Vancouver City Hall clock glows in the dawn light, the most elegant use of neon I think I’ve ever seen.  But then, the whole building is elegant. Completed in late 1936, height of the Depression, it was both a make-work project and a hopeful symbol of an expanding city, with better times to come.

I think of it as Art Deco, yet architects Townley and Matheson made it more contemporary than that: the design blends the vertical, ornamental lines of Art Deco with the simpler, more horizontal lines of Art Moderne, just then beginning to emerge.

My thoughts shift from architecture to coffee.

I am just turning back into the house when I hear a great clatter, some thunks and grunts and … HONKKK.

Back outside! No far-flung gaze now, it’s close-up time as I peer north-westish onto a neighbour’s balcony.

Canada geese. Branta canadensis. Known, says Audubon, for their ability to adapt, “using different habitats in different regions…” Including, it would appear, Vancouver balconies.

I stare, stunned. They march around, with the bobbing heads and soft belly-grunts that mark curiosity and exploration. They check out the patio furniture, bump against the barbecue, peer through the glass into the kitchen.

Well, this is silly. Even for Silly O’Clock, it’s really silly. I rethink my plan to leave balcony doors wide open, to admit fresh morning air. Do I want a Canada goose in my kitchen, asking for toast?

I close the door. I, again, turn away. I, again, hear flutter-thunk-grunt. I, again, turn back & look.

Now one is exploring the ledge beyond my own railing. First southward, and then … back to the north.

He is quite splendid, silhouetted like that against the rising sun.

Even so, I am pleased when he abruptly loses interest, and flies away.

 

 

The Path to Wigan Pier

18 May 2017 – Another borrowed title, this time slightly amended. George Orwell called his 1936 book The Road to Wigan Pier, using the pier to symbolize the region’s industrial decline. My cousin Jane (right) & I, plus her husband Rick, are on the path alongside the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, walking our way to that famous pier.

Walking our way along a very short stretch indeed, from Top Lock to Bottom Lock in the Wigan Flight of locks, which accounts for 23 of the canal’s 91 locks. This Flight allows boats to rise (or drop) 200 vertical feet in a distance of just over 3 miles.

Work on the canal began in 1771 & was completed some 45 years later, a total of 127 miles, all of it dug by hand. The canal linked with other canals, a fast means of transport for its day, its barges carrying produce — e.g. coal, limestone, woollens — throughout the region.

Today the canal is for pleasure, maintained in part by volunteers, funded by both public & private sources.

We walk under graceful arched bridges …

pass fishermen by canal’s edge …

and read fingerboards.

I spy our destination, Wigan Pier, on the lower left finger and chirp to Rick, “Only 7 minutes away!” He replies, “By bicycle.” Ohhh. Oops.

And, of course, we see the narrow boats that have replaced the old industrial barges.

Sometimes they are right in a lock, here twinned and riding low …

and sometimes they are tied up.

Solar panels, I am told, are not unusual these days.

We stop to read a red metal detail map by the path.

We’ve come from Top Lock, well off the bottom left corner; we are are now near Bottom Lock (# 9, near the bottom left corner).

We will now walk on to Pottery Changeline Bridge (# 6), turn left along the canal and, — at #2 —  finally reach oyr goal: Wigan Pier.

Here it is! Wigan Pier.

Really. Those up-tipped metal stumps. That’s it.

In a manner of speaking.

Orwell wrote dolefully: “Even the place where it used to stand is now no longer certain.” A plaque explains why. In 1929, 7 years before his book was published, the pier had been sold for scrap. What we see now is a reproduction, created in 1986 by students of Wigan and Leeds College.

So: it’s a repro.

But still worth our respect, and our time. It represents one of the piers, or “tipplers,” that used to dot the canal.They were points where tubs of coal would be run down tracks from the collieries, to hit a jetty and “tipple” (topple over), emptying their load into a waiting barge in the canal itself.

The contents of each tub had been shaken & sorted by Pit Brow Lasses, working in teams of six. They did it all by hand, 12 hours a day. “Reet ‘ard work…” as one described it, back in 1880. “Our muscles are bigger than most men’s.”

At night they would soak their hands in cold tea, to soothe the cracks in the skin.

Jane, Rick and I head off to a tearoom. We too will seek out tea — hot tea, though, to soothe our throats.

 

The Right Attitude to Rain

16 May 2017 – A borrowed title, so thank you Alexander McCall Smith: not just for the book bearing this title in your Sunday Philosophy Club series, but for the others set in Edinburgh and of course for the Botswana series (beginning with The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency) that first enchanted us all.

The McCall Smith title comes to mind as we begin to explore Dartmoor and East Devon with dear friends who live in the area. Sally & I left Guernsey in blazing sunshine. Here in Devon … well, it has occasional sunny moments, but, mostly, it rains. Mist to drizzle to rain to steam to drizzle to rain to mist …

McCall Smith says: “The key to contentment in the Scottish climate is the right attitude to rain — just as the key to happiness lies in making the best of what you have.” We have rain, but we have so much more as well.

Consider our outing to Sidmouth and Budleigh Salterton, two towns on the English Channel coast in East Devon.

The weather is blustery and capricious. Our host friend bemoans the lack of sunshine. I insist the weather is “atmospheric.” She thinks I am being polite. I am not. I find this weather immensely more interesting, more stimulating, more … well … atmospheric, than sunshine could ever be.

Boats in this sign-posted Fishermen’s Area in Sidmouth gleam in the mist; towering red cliffs, formed in the Triassic era (icons of the region’s Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site), loom as dramatic backdrop to the east.

We walk along the ocean front, just as wind-tossed to the west as to the east …

and then turn toward town.

The beach front is lined with hotels, legacy of the Georgian & Victorian passion for coastal resorts in the 18th & 19th centuries …

imposing collectively as streetscape, and rewarding for their individual detailing as well.

This 1891 scrollwork, for example.

And on into town.

Sally & I want fish & chips. We do. We are unapologetic. Occasionally we acknowledge we are tourists & we just want to do a tourist-y thing. Like smothering chips in malt vinegar, and knocking back the breaded cod.

Fortunately, our friend happens to love a good face-full of fish & chips herself, from time to time, so she guides us to her own favourite spot. Yum.

After, we stroll the town, tempting ourselves in the shops.

It is very pretty, very tempting, but I spend my time looking, not buying. Enjoying everything I see, including the traditional red telephone box and red pillar letter-box.

The pillar box makes me laugh: I remember listening to one French tourist tell another, on a bus in Guernsey, how she eagerly wrote lots of postcards on her first visit to the island and posted them in the nearest pillar box — only to discover later she had posted them in a round refuse bin!

Back to the car. Our next stop is away from the coast in Otterton, and then back to the coast, to the mouth of the River Otter at Budleigh Salterton, where the estuary provides a significant reed bed and grazing marsh for wildlife.

Ocean-front signage is very 1930s sunshine-cheery.

Today’s reality requires a right attitude to rain.

Mist, wind, drizzle; everything gleams.

I am enchanted by the beach pebbles, and later learn they are as ancient as the cliffs. Sandstones, formed some 400 million years ago in what we now call Brittany, eroded over time and were transported first by Triassic-era rivers and later by the ocean itself to their present location.

Steps lead to the beach at various points along the oceanfront.

I walk among the pebbles. Crunch! Crunch!

I fill both jacket pockets with them, intent on shape & size & colour. (Later, I donate almost all to my friend’s garden; only one will come home to Vancouver with me for my own balcony garden.)

Time to turn back. I pause a moment, enjoy that line of beach huts, still boarded up, awaiting summer.

Meanwhile, they are bright with springtime rain.

 

  • 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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