8:15 PM

5 September 2021 – That “long slide to dusk” I wrote about on 18 July has grown markedly shorter.

Sunset then: 9:10 pm. Sunset now: 7:45 pm.

But there is still the afterglow!

Another half-hour of magic, lingering in the sky.

Call and Response

28 August 2021 – But not musical, not this time.

Think… ceramic/botanical/neighbourhood garden.

Call …

Response …

Call and response!

And that’s all.

Beach, Beach, Beach (& a Bunny Rabbit)

25 August 2021 – Temperature down, air quality up, perfect day to walk my way from one Burrard Inlet beach to another.

So I do.

Spanish Banks Beach eastward to Kitsilano Beach is my target, and the transit company trip-planner says take #84 bus to Blanca, walk north on Blanca to the end … and … um … Spanish Banks will be right there in front of you.

Which is why I’m in this leafy cul-de-sac at the north end of Blanca Street, admiring the painted bear that signposts the gated home there on the right …

but aware that I am still high above beach level.

It’s down there somewhere. Here-to-There is the challenge.

Then I see a dirt path into the trees with guardrail on one side. It doesn’t say “This way to Spanish Banks” — but it doesn’t say “Trespassers keep out” either. I give it a shot (and trust nobody will shoot me.)

It works! Down & down I go, curve upon curve, and yes, here I am at NW Marine Drive, and yes, that’s the east end of Spanish Banks Beach right opposite.

Everybody’s having a good time — freighters lolling about at anchor out there in the Inlet, waiting their turn to enter Vancouver Harbour, and humans of all sizes and inclinations lolling about each in their own chosen way, armed with tents, umbrellas, kites, chairs and blankets.

I start walking. I’m not certain, but I’m pretty sure that between bike & pedestrian paths I can chain my way through a trio of beaches — Spanish Banks, Locarno & Jericho — and then have only a relatively brief hit of city streets before dropping onto beach once again, all the way to Kitsilano.

And yes, I’m right. That first trio works out just like the post title promises: beach, beach, beach.

The title also promises a bunny rabbit, and here he is in Locarno Park, completely at home as he nibbles grasses behind a path-side bench.

“They’re European rabbits,” explains the young man checking his smart phone from the bench, “let loose when their owners got bored with them. They live under the marina over there, and they breed like crazy.” We sigh about the damage done when people dump unwanted pets into the wild. “Like gold fish in park ponds,” I grumble. More head-shaking, but then he brightens up. “Yes, but! Coyotes eat these rabbits, and otter eat the gold fish in Lost Lagoon.” That’s mildly cheering, and after we share some final philosophic shrugs, I go on my way.

On through Jericho Beach Park (stopping for a salmon-burger at the waterfront café, oh bliss), a few city blocks as anticipated, and then down some steps onto the so-called “Wilderness Beach,” the stretch of Point Grey foreshore that connects on east to Kitsilano Beach, but is itself entirely undeveloped.

I’ve never been this far west on the Wilderness Beach, and I haven’t seen this sign before. I stop to read it.

The People’s Castle?? I have no idea; don’t ask. But after the human irresponsibility documented by those European rabbits, how agreeable to see this call to responsibility about our noise levels and trash.

Oh, I do like it down here!

Whole carpets of mussels in front of me, as I look across the water to the north shore and that glorious spill of Coast Range mountains beyond…

and, here at my back, glistening rocks, mosses and seaweed.

It’s an absolute delight, and I’m happy walking all the way to Kits.

(Where, truth be told, I find I am happy to stop walking and sit down for the bus-ride home.)

Hoboken & Right Here

18 August 2021 – Well, there’s a stretch. I’ve never visited Hoboken or even had cause to think about it, not until bluebrightly and I entered into some chatter about one of the images in my Murals & Time Travel post.

It showed vine and ripening berries rampaging all over a chainlink fence, and I had soared off into some fantasy about city-as-art-installation. Bluebrightly commented that, instead, she thought of it as an example of nature taking over.

She added, “I always loved stubborn manifestations like that. In the industrial city of Hoboken, New Jersey, across the river from NYC, there was an Ailanthus tree growing out of the old train station roof. And Tansies along the railroad tracks. Probably all gone now, since Hoboken became popular.”

I replied that it made me think of a particular take-over moment in an alley right here, back in June 2020.

This moment:

So here’s to stubborn, insistent nature, in Hoboken, Vancouver & everywhere else.

The Quiet Pleasures of the Perfectly Ordinary

13 August 2021 – This post title throws me into Alexander McCall Smith-land (many of whose titles follow this construction & tone, e.g. The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday; The Careful Use of Compliments; The Right Attitude to Rain). I considered other title possibilities, equally of the style (e.g. The Reassurance of Scorched Grass, or The Joy of Social Distancing), but finally settled on this one.

All this to say: I am walking past an ordinary local park, and I am touched and heartened by what I see.

Which is… perfectly ordinary.

Just people sitting about on the grass in a small (1.03 Ha) neighbourhood park.

But I see it with neighbourhood eyes. I am right-angling my way around two sides of Guelph Park (aka Dude Chilling Park), and I am thinking how important this small stretch of currently very scorched grass has been, ever since COVID hit our world and pinned us in place.

Right from the start, it has been a precious resource, a safe place to sit outside, breathe outside air, feel free. It still feels that way, even now, as we cautiously test greater freedom.

This is not extraordinary, it is surely the common story of parks all over the world. Peaceful space, for simple activities that result in quiet pleasure.

A place to check your phone for texts (right foreground, below) or to sit on a bench fingering your acoustic guitar (left, rear).

A place to drape your latest crochet-street-artist offerings.

A place to drop your bicycles beside you and just hang out for a while — with the eponymous Dude himself lounging in the background, host to your quartet and everyone else who has loved him since 1991.

Oh all right, small recap of the “Dude” story. I’ve pretty well backed myself into this corner, haven’t I?

In 1991 Guelph Park became home to a large cedar sculpture of an abstract reclining figure by Michael Dennis. Somewhere around 2012 (accounts vary & it doesn’t matter), someone installed a pseudo-Parks Board sign renaming the park, “Dude Chilling Park.” Sign removed; merry pranksters mount an online petition for the name change; on the kufuffle goes for a while. Meanwhile the cedar sculpture deteriorates, since that is what cedar does, and sculptor Michael Dennis offers to recast it in bronze. Citizens, the City & assorted businesses raise funds and in 2019 the new Dude (Reclining Figure, on the paperwork) is installed.

By then, the park-name business has long since been very nicely sorted out. It is still officially Guelph Park — but, as of spring 2014, it also sports an officially approved “art installation” of the name “Dude Chilling Park,” that exactly copies official signage.

You may want to suggest that, given all this, the park hardly deserves the description of “perfectly ordinary.” I’ll sort of agree — and then slide out from under. First: my post title refers to current park use, not its back-story.

And! Second! If we just pay attention, everywhere and everybody has a story. The ordinary always has something extraordinary going on…

Old Haunts

22 July 2021 – “Down to Strathcona,” I decide, my first return to this east-of-downtown neighbourhood since COVID reined in my travels. First visit since 9 February 2020, in fact, a walk celebrated with the now-ironic title of “And then the sun came out.” Who knew the metaphoric sun was about to go in?

Off I go.

North down a favourite alley, H-frame hydro poles overhead and a DATA-face levelling her eyes at me above the dumpsters.

Bounce east from False Creek, cut through False Creek Flats (the still-scruffy end, spelled with a final “s” not yet the snappy “z”), with a couple of murals on the wall and two sea gulls overhead. Who are almost certainly not levelling their eyes at me.

Another bounce, this time off the east corner of Chinatown and then east-east along E. Georgia to Princess, where a beautifully restored/maintained home demonstrates that, yes, Strathcona is the oldest residential neighbourhood in Vancouver.

More east along East Georgia, over to Hawkes and the brick-laid circle at a south corner of MacLean Park, with its benches and a mosaic that possibly links Strathcona to the nation-wide Communities in Bloom organization. (I try, but can’t quite track it down. Oh well.)

Another pedestrian & I exchange “Good morning’s”, then cock our heads as the first four notes of O Canada fill the air. Aha! The 12-noon ritual, courtesy of the Heritage Horns at Canada Place. We giggle and amend our greeting. “Good afternoon!”

On north along the east side of MacLean Park, already anticipating a latte at The Wilder Snail café up at Keefer. I pause at this alley corner en route, delighted that this workshop is still here, still vividly painted, still adorned with industrial art…

including this tribute to cycling embedded in the sidewalk: chain, gears & even an upright bike pedal.

On up to Keefer, about to cross the street to the café, and… whoa! This is new. The drop-dead sleekest community book box ever created.

No, not part of the Little Free Library chain that I admire so much; this (the discreet sidewalk plaque tells me) was brainchild of the Strathcona Community Centre Association, funded by some civic Neighbourhood Small Grants program.

I peer inside. On offer, Easy Songs for the Beginning Baritone/Bass. Also on offer — in case you’d rather read about a musician than be one — Life, by Keith Richards. (Isn’t this perfect? The autobiography of “Keef,” right here on Keefer Street.)

Enough of that, I want my latte. Except, once inside The Wilder Snail, I succumb to the day’s heat & my own curiosity and instead choose something cold called (as I recall) Turmeric Sunrise. Or something like that. Anyway, tart & citrus-gingery and perfect for the day.

I sit outside, and watch the woman in the red dress kitty-corner, inspecting offerings in that book box.

(D’you suppose she walked off with Keith Richards under her arm?)

Now it’s my turn to walk off, still heading vaguely northward, until I find myself in front of this wonderful mural of North Strathcona Pre-WWI.

I am at Campbell & East Hastings, and I know this because there’s the intersection, in its bright turquoise lozenge.

Once again I have cause to admire the perfect symmetry of location and language: the eponymous George Campbell was part owner of the Hastings Sawmill.

I start thinking about looping my way toward Commercial Drive and, eventually, a bus back home.

But meanwhile, still lots to look at. Mad animal cyclists in this mural near Woodland Park, for example.

And in this Venables/Victoria alley, a garage with a mural and some life-lesson instructions.

The life lesson? How to be an artist.

I’m particularly fond of “Make friends with freedom & uncertainty” near the top, and, closer to the bottom, “Listen to old people.” (Well, natch.) Also: “Play with everything.”

Fine, I think, that’s it. Camera back in my pocket.

But then I see this: garage-top garden, complete with sunflowers and an apiary.

Okay, I think. This time that’s it. But a few blocks over, I see this: wonder woman flexing her muscles.

And then?

That really is it.

The Long Slide to Dusk

18 July 2021 – The few brief times I lived near the equator, I never quite got used to the abrupt transition from day to night. As if it were on a toggle switch: day ON!! day OFF!!

Here in Vancouver, we’re on a dimmer switch, with a long, long slide.

So I set out in the relative cool of late afternoon, knowing I have a comfy few hours before night fall. A loop, I think, north downhill & east & see what happens.

I’m touched as always by the many small ways people add beauty outside their own front door, a gift to the rest of us. This little street corner arrangement, for example, the grass scorched but the flower-petal birdbath glossy-bright (though empty).

This isn’t one of the Park Dept’s sponsorship arrangements; it’s something set up by somebody in the condo building right behind me. Just… because.

Or here, a few blocks farther north-east: a dip in the ground, with greenery that does not appear to be currently tended, but look, someone has placed a gleaming red chair next to that weathered bench.

Neither of these spots is, from a landscape-architect perspective, particularly impressive. They’re modest, straggly even — but full of good omens: generosity of spirit, playfulness of spirit, comfort with being who they are doing what they want to do. And with reasonable expectation that the objects they place for public enjoyment will not be vandalized or stolen. It’s an encouraging reality, when so many other current realities are painful.

Another discovery, look:

I do not click, I want my own unguided walk thank you, but later I look up the St. George Rainway project. It falls within Vancouver’s much larger Rain City Strategy and while I uneasily suspect both lag in implementation I wish them success. “Heat Dome” ought to provide new impetus.

I take myself down to Great Northern Way (now roadway, originally tracks for the railway line, up from the USA), walk along and decide it’s finally time to try to solve the mystery.

The mystery being: what is the story of these grand steps back uphill, their style worthy of an Aztec temple? And what are those statues all about?

So, finally, instead of wondering about them from the far side of the road, I climb the steps.

The statues are not only incoherent in style & apparent inspiration, they are all badly damaged & vandalized.

No street art here worthy of admiration – but at least, in this one message, a mini-story that I’m glad worked out well for the grateful “D.”

As I climb, and later up at the East 6th & Prince Albert top end of the steps, I ask passers-by if they know the story. They don’t.

But at least I’ve finally climbed those steps!

Back down to Great Northern Way, on east, across Clark St. and on some more, and I dipsy-doodle toward McLean Drive. It lands me on this extraordinarily rustic few blocks, hard to believe there is city all around and a Sky Train line just down the hill. (Wheels screech at me as a train goes by — again I honour Montreal’s Métro system for the courtesy of its silent rubber wheels.)

And around, and I start upward/southward again.

I see a cat poster on a utility pole, and my heart sinks, because we all know what they always say, and it is always so desperately sad.

But not this time!

We do not need to worry about poster-girl Zazu or her floofy brother Geronimo.

This really has it all: good-news reassurance for neighbours, plus a way to contact the owner if any given neighbour thinks the cats’ presence is more nuisance than joy.

And right here on the ground, next to the cat poster, a fish.

Damn, I wish I could identify the artist for you. There are a lot of sidewalk mosaic projects in the City, many of them identified, but not this one. Still, along with the frustration of not being able to ID this one, I gain the knowledge of a place called Mosaic Creek Park, and you know it is now on my list.

Zazu & fish are right on the corner of W.C. Shelly Park. The sign tells me so.

It also reminds me we have a lot of serious work to do, here in Canada (ditto USA/Australia/NZ).

By the time I’m up on East 11th, again crossing Clark but this time westward, the long slide on the dimmer switch has finally reached dusk.

Time to go home, and I do.

After a moment’s companionable pause with the Dude in his park.

Again!!

5 July 2021 – False Creek again! Ah, but, not the same-old.

I jump an Aquabus ferry close to home, and ride west to Granville Market. For the first few stops, it’s just the young driver and me — he’s a Vancouverite home from his first year of university at Queen’s, in Kingston, Ontario. For assorted reasons I know both Queen’s and the city well, so we chatter about all that for a while. One other passenger joins us at the David Lam Park dock, and conversation shifts to dealing with the heat.

The driver and I are masked, this passenger is not; all within Stage 3 guidelines, and — given current COVID trends, and our open-air breezy location — I’m comfy with it.

We approach the Granville Market dock, with the Granville St. Bridge there to the west beyond us.

My plan now is perfectly simple. Walk west, hugging the Creek and its parks and trails. Until I don’t feel like doing it any longer.

Busy marinas all along this stretch, plus this soon-to-be-busy public fish market. I’m west of the Granville Bridge by now; the Burrard St. Bridge looms up ahead.

Still pretty early in the day, but already cyclists, joggers, dawdlers, people with kids and people with dogs and people off in their own ear-bud universe. Parks & parkettes are contiguous all along the way, put me in mind of the parks that chain their way along Lake Ontario on the Toronto waterfront.

A mini-bump of parkette immediately east of the Burrard Bridge …

its scorched grass mute testimony to our dry spring and hot summer.

Under the bridge, on and on, rounding into Vanier Park, home to assorted institutions (Academy of Music, Museum of Vancouver, MacMillan Science Centre and the Maritime Museum) as well as landscaping and lots of open space. Some of that open space sprawls across a raised central knoll, favoured home of kite-flyers.

I stand under the protective shade of a tree, watching the flight of the most beautiful kite I have ever seen.

Had I a better camera, I would show it to you properly. But I don’t, so I can’t. (From the plaintive subjunctive mood, to the resigned indicative.)

Away from the shady tree-on-the-knoll, back down to the waterside trail, drawn by those vivid kayaks. Beyond them, the floating maritime heritage museum, tucked into Heritage Harbour.

By now I’m sloping into the long curve of Kitsilano Beach and Kitsilano Beach Park. Pick-up basketball here, net upon net of volleyball there, and the usual range of ages and types and interests walking, cycling, dawdling, chattering, studying their phones, reading their books, walking their dogs. I watch all this from a shady bench. (You’ve figured it out by now: my own westward progress is shady-spot to shady-spot.) My favourite dog is the three-legged one — as nimble as his four-legged leash-mate, and considerably more so than their two-legged leash-holder.

Off my bench! On down the Kits Beach Park trail!

Into the trees just east of the Kits Yacht Club … and I pause again. My ears pick up the faintest tones of sitar music. I look around for someone with a radio, but no… it is live.

I go sit on that bench to their left and, entranced, listen in. The woman is playing so softly, so delicately, that the sound merges with all the other sounds that wrap around us — breeze and waves and sea birds. Then my ears sharpen again, because I suddenly recognize the melody. She has segued into O Canada. She plays it right to the end, just the simplest possible, entirely unadorned, melody line.

Then she segues again, flows on into some raga, and I walk on.

Yes! I had this in mind.

“Wilderness Beach,” as the sign proclaims, is one of the last natural — un-managed, un-developed, un-manicured — beaches in Vancouver. It stretches west from Kits Beach on out to Jericho, and we are implored to visit it of course, but to change nothing about it while there.

There is a narrow trail, with pricey homes high above looking out over the water. Trail users move gently, careful with the space and friendly with each other.

(Look centre-top of that tall dead tree. One crow. There had been a whole squabbling murder of them as I approached, but one by one the others flew off. This guy, triumphant, now owns the tree.)

I drop down more steps, down onto the beach itself, currently very low tide. This enormous stump! And how beautiful the colours and textures of its patterns.

All the usual beach vocabulary of sand, pebble, stone, rock, seaweed, and storm-tossed wood. Sometimes rock rears up on the landward side, a natural wall.

Some of the homes have their own gates to the trail; this one has intricate ladders to bring its residents and their toys right to the beach.

Farther along, human-built breakwaters replace nature’s own rock and proclaim the homeowner’s tastes (as well as bank account). Some sport commissioned murals, such as this run of wild salmon.

There are also stretches of distinctly unofficial decoration, as on the near end of wall below! This is relatively infrequent, and, as here, quickly yields to something planned, like these bright blue bands.

I’m interested in the blue bands. A kilometre or so back, I’d asked someone if there was an exit farther west? Or would I have to double back? A nod, a chuckle, a pointed finger: Just beyond that blue band down there, I was told.

Yes indeed. Steep steps back up to the residential world. I wait while a young man patiently coaches a very young Husky puppy in the intricate choreography of step-climbing.

It gives me time to admire one last mural, rising vertically to the left of the steps.

A mad flamingo? Dancing with dandelions? Well, who knows, and we’re free to dance our own dance of imagination with it.

Up the steps. Back to the world of street corners. (I take my bearings: Point Grey Rd & Balaclava.)

Back to the world, also, of Little Free Library kiosks. Just look at the range on offer!

On the Road, Kerouac; Call of the Wild, London; Manon des sources, Pagnol; even Alpert Ellis and his Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy.

And! And. Esther the Wonder Pig.

A bit more walking and a few more conversations before I grab a bus home — but, enough.

How can I top Esther the Wonder Pig?

A Lake, Another Lake, Lakes

26 June 2021 – “Siempre hay algo,” as a philosophical collectivo driver once told me, high on the Peruvian altiplano: “There’s always something.”

And indeed, just as COVID trends offer us cautious new freedoms, along comes the Heat Dome to imprison us once again. Only (!!) 33C today here in Vancouver, but headed for 39C by Monday, with 45C or more predicted for the Interior. (And that’s before we talk Humidex.) Not the weather for vigorous outdoor activity.

Yesterday’s visit to a cool, shady lakeside trail therefore had extra value: it felt like a final treat before 4-5 days of renewed lock-down.

Rice Lake lies within the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve in North Vancouver, with some 100 km of trails on offer through the forested slopes. We did a short, simple loop around the lake — proof that delight and beauty bear no necessary relationship to length or difficulty of the walk.

A gravel trail through the trees …

with bird song in the trees, ferns & moss all about, and numerous nurse logs on view, complete with their offspring.

We were particularly taken with this pair of adult siblings, their arms thrown companionably over each other’s shoulders.

I was definitely in a BC forest, by a BC lake, but I am imprinted by my decades with the Canadian Shield lakes of Quebec & Ontario.

As we stood at a viewpoint and looked down-lake, I felt all those other eastern lakes right there with me, dancing in and out of the one that was physically before my eyes.

I began talking about the other Rice Lake of my experience: the one that belongs to the Kawartha Lakes and lies south of Peterborough, Ontario, on the Trent-Severn Waterway. It is named for the wild rice that once grew there in abundance, but was drowned out by the rising water levels that followed Waterway construction.

Once home, still deep in lake mode, I browsed for images of that other, eastern Rice Lake.

And found this one:

Yes of course they are different: a mountain backdrop here in North Van, a granite outcropping there in Ontario. But … just look at them!

One specific lake, another specific lake, a cavalcade of memories. And, finally, just … lake.

My lake imprint.

Green Peace

17 June 2021 – I’m at the entrance to the VanDusen Botanical Garden, and I suddenly decide that, this visit, I shall focus on the colour green.

This is why.

All these themes & variations of green, and I’m not yet even into the grounds.

So, green it will be — no labels, no ID, no scrupulous effort at learned info. Just shades, shapes, textures & moods of green.

With, oh all right, a dash of cinnamon.

Colour!

There’s the rich British-racing-green of those ferns, but there’s also citrus-green …

and ghost-silver-green.

There’s growing-tip green…

and sun-dappled green.

Then there’s all the ways a green can dance with the light.

Matte vs high-gloss, for example.

Or, textures! From feathery-droopy…

to spikey-erect.

You only need two ferns for a whole world of contrasts …

but if you really want to see what’s possible, settle down in the Garden’s Fern Dell and look around.

Then there’s green-in-the-pond…

and green-across-the-pond.

And of course — but of course — there is also copy-cat green.

Because, why should nature have all the fun?

Green on a bench…

and later, viewed from the patio, latte to hand, just beyond nature’s own green hedge …

the green apex of a garden umbrella.

And a crow.

  • 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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