Still… But Also…

27 January 2023 – In the VanDusen Botanical Garden:

Still winter moss…

but also…

the first witch hazel.

High Tide + Wind + Rain

27 December 2022 – Back from Abbotsford (yes! I made it to the Valley for a magical few days with layers & layers of family), I wake to the consequences of nature’s switcheroo from snow to rain.

“Moderate to elevated” risk of flooding in low-lying areas near the ocean, warns the City of Vancouver, due to exceptionally high tides plus strong winds plus rain. Sections of seawall along Burrard Inlet have been closed as a precaution, and False Creek is named as an area of possible flooding.

I pull on my Seriously Waterproof Coat, and go take a look.

In behind the BC Dragon Boat dock, the channel is full to the brim…

and every woofer in sight sports a raincoat.

I cross that same little pedestrian bridge over a water channel west of Olympic Village, and close in on the stretch where gravel and stepping-stone blocks link Hinge Park to the offshore Habitat Island.

No gravel, no stones. Lots of water.


Normally (and thank you TripAdvisor for this handy comparison photo), the pathway looks like this…

but not today.

I gawp at the sight, stepping stones gleaming ghost-pale from the depths. I also wonder whether nature threw that log across the submerged pathway, or workers placed it there earlier, to prevent people from making what could become a dangerous crossing.

Doubling back toward Olympic Village, I peer at more submerged stones…

and rain drops imitating the rain-drop sewer grate…

and then, heading south, I enjoy the comic relief of a Peep-Show Moment On Ontario Street. I am outside an industrial laundry facility, looking in.

It’s a huge, rambling, and pretty old facility — dickensian-derelict on the outside, but still heaving great bright-white hammocks of laundry loads around on the inside. I can hear motors grinding away, and the window panes shimmy to the beat.

And then!

And then I stop off at Pâtisserie Melo for hot chocolate…

and finally walk back home.

“Sun slant low”

21 December 2022 – I’ve shown you this photograph before; don’t care, here it is again, because — back in Toronto’s Trinity Bellwoods Park in November 2016 — it was some sidewalk artist’s tribute to the winter season, the season of the low-slanting sun.

And here we are, 21 December: shortest day, lowest slant of all; the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere.

Yet in Vancouver, this particular solstice, the story is not the slant of the sun.

It is the snow, and the cold: 32 cm right in the city itself, and a high today of -10C. This, of course, is nuthin’ in true snow country. Just ask two of my favourite bloggers: Sarah McGurk, the British veterinary surgeon living in Arctic Norway, or Lynette d’Arty-Cross, who backs & forths between British Columbia and Canada’s own high Arctic. They can tell you about snow and cold.

But here in the Temperate Rainforest, this kind of weather is unusual. Enough to make today’s solstice less vivid than the days leading up to it. Enough to give even fortunate residents of this city a war story or two, to exchange with friends.

Here’s mine!

Two days ago, as temperatures and snow both fell across the region, my until-now splendid building handed us a hat trick of problems: no heat, no elevators, and no electricity. I stuffed my jammies in a backpack, took transit & SeaBus across Burrard Inlet to North Vancouver, and fell into the welcoming arms of dear and generous friends.

Their property, halfway up a mountain, backs onto a provincial park. Just to look out the patio doors is magical.

Magical for the trees, magical also for the birds that flock to their feeders — thrushes, towhees, chickadees, jays, even non-migratory hummingbirds. I spent a restorative evening, night and morning with them, and then, alerted by email that my building was once again behaving itself, I made my way back home.

SeaBus back south across Burrard Inlet…

SkyTrain from Waterfront Station, its “snow alert” good warning for what proved to be a long wait for a train…

followed by the speedy arrtival of a holiday-happy #19 bus.

.Snow heaped all over my balcony, of course. Offering, if not the grandeur of snow-draped fir trees, than at least the oddly magesterial grandeur of a snow-draped garden chair.

And now, today, the shortest day — but a dazzling day.

And so the seasons turn.

“Mount Pleasant Station”

12 December 2022 – Not yet Mount Pleasant Station, that’s still years from reality. Not the purpose of my walk either. But this block-long construction site neatly bookends my walk — a rectangular path that takes me purpose-driven south on Main to East 18th, then whim-happy west to Quebec and north again to Broadway.

The planned station so tidy on the map! It’s our local segment of the Broadway Subway Project — the 5.7 km extension of the Millennium Line west beneath Broadway to Arbutus Street.

And so appealing, so welcoming and soothing, in this early-stage conceptual illustration!

But in the reality of right-now, here at Broadway and Main, it looks like this.

Pedestrians scurry past. Only the mannequins in the vintage shop window opposite pay any attention…

and they are unimpressed.

I visit a few shops. I achieve my holiday-season purposes. Yay! So I am ready for amusement by the time I hit East 18th.

I think I am familiar with both visual treats at this corner, but I learn something new about each. (I only learn the somethings-new later, and that’s directly thanks to you, as it always is, because I look things up to share with you.)

This Vancouver Mural Festival project on the S/W corner, I later verify…

dates from 2020, the work of indigenous artist Steve Smith ~ Dla’kwagila.

And these great bendy arches in Sun Hop Park on the N/W corner, I later learn to my delight…

reference the drinking straws in the Palm Dairy & Milk Bar that stood here 1952-89. Nearby seats, I now realize, are bottle-top shaped, and everything is painted Palm Dairy’s signature bright red. (See what you cause me to learn? Bless your boots.)

Around the corner onto East 18th, and another treat: a surviving Vancouver Special. Arguably not a visual treat, but I think an icon worthy of respect — vernacular architecture from 1965-85 that helped address the housing crisis of the day and has continued to serve city residents with the flexibility that was always a core intention of the boxy design.

Another visual icon, at least of this Fairview/Mount Pleasant neighbourhood — street-side swings. So simple, so friendly, so… neighbourly. I am charmed, every time.

Right-turn north onto Quebec Street, and a great smack-up of colours: designer-red on that house opposite, nature’s own moss green up and down this magnificent tree and, beneath it, the careless gold of autumn leaves.

One block farther south, more of nature’s colour palette: black.

What you see when someone rakes up all those sodden leaves to reveal naked soil below.

Down at East 12th, yet more seasonality: St. Patrick’s Secondary School is in the Christmas tree business.

Then more trees, but street-side, and firmly rooted. I stand mesmerized by the play of colours and texture. (And that one stubborn leaf!)

Thump.

I am back at Broadway. West end of the Mount Pleasant Station site, and just as busy a jumble as the east end.

More fun, though.

All those leaping salmon in the mural (apparently climbing the wall, as real salmon climb a waterfall), and that silver bear, one paw raised in benediction. You’d think he’d be busy nabbing salmon for lunch, not blessing the street…

but perhaps his sun glasses obscure his view.

Sun. Flower

4 December 2022 – Well… there is sun. Today, yes there is.

But, flower?

I balance on the ice-slick Scotia St. sidewalk, and anthropomorphize like mad.

Two stalks. Remnants of the rampant bright leaves and companion seed head of a big old summer sunflower — not in anybody’s garden, but right here at sidewalk’s edge.

Oh good grief, look at it now.

“I am a sunflower,” I hear it growl. “It is now winter.”

“Barely any sun. What do you expect?”

I salute its defiant, bedraggled survivor-splendour, and walk on.

3 Things About P-D Rain

22 November 2022 – There are surely many more things to know about seriously pissing-down rain, but here is your starter’s kit of three.

1 – In Nature

The Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus) still deserves its nickname.

2 – In Shops

The doorway umbrella stand is chock-full.

3 – In Pedestrians

Here you have to take my word for it. As we cross paths on the sidewalk — splish-splosh in our wellie-boots, zipped up in our Seriously Waterproof Coats — we wrinkle our noses at each other in amusement.

“Isn’t this the silliest weather ever?” our noses ask each other, and we beam agreement as we walk on by.

Surprise!

8 November 2022 — So there we all were, we downtown Vancouverites, tucked up in our little beds and minding our own business… and this morning we wake up to snow.

Surprise!

We should not have been surprised. We were warned. Yesterday, we woke up to proof that winter had arrived — the freezing level was again drawing its sharp horizontal line right across the Coast Range Mountains. Bright above; dark below.

“Freezing level,” as in, the altitude at which the temperature is currently 0 C, causing precipitation to land as rain below the line, and as snow above.

But surprised we are anyway, because we always are.

This bicycle, for example, did not take cover in time.

And most of the city’s deciduous trees & shrubs are equally surprised, since they haven’t yet had time to shed their leaves.

It makes for magical combinations, as a friend & I discover in a mid-day visit to the VanDusen Botanical Garden. There wasn’t that much snow to start with, and by now some has melted, but despite blazing sunshine the air is still crisp, and snow still lingers.

Peer over the walkway edge into a gully and, look, dark pebbles gleam snow-free but the ground plants are entirely white and even the conifers play white-against-green.

West side of the Cypress Pond pedestrian bridge — star of my deosil walk — where a distant Red Maple blazes bright, but is outshone by the moss in the nearby Cypress. This is such a neon-green smack in the eye that I almost miss the traces of snow, still smudging some of the branches.

Neon green moss? I don’t know how neon neon can be, until we walk farther west, toward Heron Lake. A bush shines red, over there beyond the snowy grass by the lake, but I am transfixed by the neon green outline of the mossy tree branches right in front of me by the path.

(Sorry, I can’t account for that turquoise flash in the tree trunk.)

Finally, just as we’re about to head indoors to warm up, proof that gold can be just as punchy as red or moss green — especially when all wrapped up in white, for contrast.

We stroke the Larch’s silky needles, and go find ourselves some hot chocolate inside.

Deosil, Around the Pond

30 October 2022 – I have neither pond nor this extraordinary word “deosil” in mind as I pick my way through the Woodland Garden, one of the areas within Vancouver’s VanDusen Botanical Garden.

Instead, I am looking for a very specific image — the visual echo of one of my recent stacked-stone photos in Stanley Park.

This is the photo I have in mind.

There they are, a stone couple stop their rock, looking out across English Bay to the far freighters.

And here I now am in the VanDusen woods, where — yes!– I find what I am seeking….

a red cedar couple atop their knoll, looking out across Livingstone Lake to the Visitor Centre.

Different scale, different material, and a known sculptor, but there’s my visual echo, and I am happy.

I circle the installation before moving on.

It’s one of my favourites: Confidence, 2012, by Michael Dennis. (Among his other works, one I show you frequently: the eponymous Dude, aka Reclining Figure, in Dude Chilling Park.)

I decide to go walk around the Cypress Pond, partly because it’s near-by and mostly because I just plain like it a lot. Quickest way there is back through the Woodland Garden, where nature’s dramatic fall colour contrasts punch me in the eye…

before I emerge onto the path just south of the pond.

If we think of the pond as hat-shaped, its crown to the north…

I’m now at the lower right, eastern edge of the brim.

Purely on whim, I decide to walk clockwise, water to my right, rather than my usual counter-clockwise.

“Widdershins!” I think happily to myself. Such a ridiculously wonderful word and now I can actually use it. “I am walking widdershins….” Oh, um, oops. Which way ’round is that? So, later, I look it up and, thanks to the Waning Moon website for southern-hemisphere “lovers of Earth’s mysteries,” I discover the etymology and definition, not just of widdershins, but of deosil as well.

Deosil! In all my decades of life, I had never heard that word. Now I not only know the word, I am able to tell you that, in choosing to walk with the pond to my right, I am walking deosil, not widdershins. The persistence of language! From their Scottish Gaelic/Middle Irish/Lowland Scottish/Germanic origins, through their centuries of misspellings and re-spellings — they are still with us today, two ancient words to distinguish right-turning from left-turning.

All that book larnin’ comes later. Meanwhile, back here at pond’s edge, I soon forget fancy language, and just start my loop.

There’s the pedestrian bridge to the north, as I set off from the pond’s south-east corner.

I follow that southern edge, and then make a right turn onto a trail cutting north through the woods on the pond’s west side. It offers me more dramatic fall contrast of colours, this time in a Lebanese Cedar.

Talk about colour-blocking! I walk close…

and then really close…

and finally back off, back to my trail.

Nobody is sitting on the little bench just south of the bridge, not in today’s chill, and no turtles are sunning themselves on the rocks either.

About to step onto the bridge, I pause to enjoy the reverse view, west to east, and the way drooping tree branches frame the view (Sweet Gum on the left, Bald Cypress on the right).

Droplets from the morning showers still glisten in the Cypress needles, and a Red Maple beckons from the far side.

Off the bridge now, into the Eastern North America woods to the east of the pond, with more bright blaze from some Red Maples.

Completing my deosil loop, I’m back where I began. I give the pond one last glance…

and head indoors.

I’ll approach the cafĂ© either deosil or widdershins, and who cares? Either way, there will be a latte at the end of the loop.


And then…

25 October 2022 – And then… at last…

it begins to rain.

It beats a soft tattoo on the hood of my Seriously Waterproof Coat, and it makes gleaming magic of the every-day.

Fallen leaves…

garden rocks…

a stretch of sidewalk…

with puddle lakes & dancing raindrop circles…

a water fountain…

with its own dancing raindrops, real and painted…

chair circles in Dude Chilling Park, usually occupied & invisible, now empty & visible & admirable, a reminder of all the conversations, all the neighbourhood connections, that they (literally) support…

and the Dude himself…

who hosts us all.

Still Life

23 October 2022 – Near Third Beach, English Bay, Stanley Park.

  • 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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