An Arrow to the Islands

23 June 2018 – Just an arrow on the sidewalk, with a number, leading to a bus bay. My feet, among many others, obediantly follow the arrow. I am agreeably fizzing with delight, because this arrow, this bus, is the start of an adventure.

It’s the magic link – the hop from Vancouver’s city transit system to the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal and all those connections to the islands beyond. Tsawwassen was jump-off for my trip to Victoria in May; today I’m a day-tripper, curious about the islands that be-jewel the Strait of Georgia between the B.C. mainland and Vancouver Island.

My destination is Galiano — an easy 1-hour trip; population 1,000; 27 km X 6 (at its widest); named for Spanish explorer Dianiso Alcalá Galiano, who came through in 1792 (but who cares? the Coast Salish people arrived 3,000 years ago). These Southern Gulf Islands are tightly woven, and I still need simplified maps to help me sort out what’s where.

Galiano is orange, with the ferry’s dotted line hooking in to Sturdies Bay, where the boats come & go. I try to pin Mayne (turquoise), Saturna (purple), Pender (blue) & Salt Spring (“SSI” – green) in memory. I smile at SSI: I have a vacation date with that island in August, you’ll get to visit it with me.

But, today, I’m on Galiano. I’ve never been here before, but I feel warm with familiarity. I have lived on small islands and visited others; for all their differences, they also have some transcending commonalities – services, signs, ways of life.

Small islands have great bookstores. Always.

I loiter for more than an hour, buying a book but resisting — with difficulty — the matched set of Schrödinger’s Cat coffee mugs (one alive, one dead, but you’d already guessed that).

Then another any-island tradition: lunch at the local café/bakery.

I resist the cinnamon buns (yet another any-island staple) but devour a sweet potato-etc wrap, warmed on the grill. I shamelessly eavesdrop on conversation at the next table. Two young local women are planning to open some sort of food facility this summer; two local guys join them — with the dogs of both parties settling in just as amicably — and ask for an update. Q: “So when you gonna open?” A: “Soon. Or never.” Laughter.

It’s 4-5 km or so from the dock to the main cluster of shops. Given the lack of week-day bus service, I decide to stick closer to Sturdies Bay. My wander-about has already yielded the bookstore and the café; more emerges as I prowl.

All the signs (some literally so) of island life. A reminder of local water service …

the Community Development office …

the local laundromat …

the RCMP emergency telephone line …

numerous bulletin boards, all shaggy with notices …

local entrepreneurship, the Galiano Coffee Roasting Company

more local entrepreneurship, a freight service. So hum-drum, you might say, and in a hum-drum metal building, but with a wonderfully island-fey detail.

I doubt the plane is part of the service! Don’t care. Love it.

On down the road, bargaining with island gods as I go: “Well, here I am, open to whatever the island can offer to day-tripping, on-foot me. And it’s all fine as is, really it is, but still … if some near-ish destination were on offer, that would be nice.”

And, shazam, the island gods smile.

I ignore the little crafts-cum-museum shop on the right, and turn left for Bellhouse Provincial Park.

More island-being-island as I go. A startled deer, glimpsed from the steps of the little Anglican church …

attractive driveway markers …

a line of mailboxes, where residents can post mail as well as collect it …

and a line of snake fencing, absolutely my favourite fencing, flipping me back to memories of my Laurentian Mountains childhood.

I arrive at the park, the generous gift of the eponymous Mr. Bellhouse, and look across parched grasses to the channel beyond.

Down to the water, of course. Past the hammock on adjoining private property (she is asleep now, later laughing & lively on her mobile phone) …

to a waterfront view through dramatic tree stumps to island ridges beyond …

and to a B.C. Ferry probably (given its size) enroute Swartz Bay on Vancouver Island.

I crouch to read the small metal plug in one of the folds of rock, a reminder of the continuing but unnoticed work of Hydrographic Service Canada …

then stand up again, admiring the sculpted sweeps of rock that delineate this stretch of coastline.

I spend a lot of time just … being where I am. Letting the sounds and sights and breeze come to me.

But eventually I do have to check my watch. There is a Last Boat to catch, back in Sturdies Bay. Or I may have to bed down on this beautifully sculpted, but exceedingly hard, rock for the night.

I’m back at the dock in plenty of time, of course I am. So I follow the shrub-arched path to the public-access beach, right here at the terminal. The beach is rich with logs, rock, pebbles, gulls, the dark heads of seal or otters  — even a boat wreck.

Oh dear. I try to find it picturesque, but keep rebelling at its synthetic materials.

Doesn’t matter, the larger view is wonderful. Ferry terminal and public wharf on the left, a private wharf on the right, a Canada Goose and her gaggle of half-grown goslings in-between.

Finally I climb back up to the dock. I wait with other visitors, including cyclists, for the trip back to Tsawwassen.

Where I again follow that arrow, this time in reverse, and make my way back to Vancouver.

 

 

Grey Power

10 June 2018 – A month of near-constant sunshine has convinced me that the sun is a trickster. All that zap-powie brilliance, explosions of colour in all directions — and meanwhile it’s hiding, I have decided, more than it reveals.

Hiding it the way any illusionist hides a whole lot of what is really going on: by distraction. We are so zap-powie focused on the colour, we tend to miss everything else.

Whereas, with a grey sky — which we had the other day — with a grey sky, you notice everything else. Line, form, texture, luminosity. Also colour, oddly enough. Grey really sets off colour.

I am walking east on West 1st Avenue, heading for Hinge Park and False Creek, umbrella under my arm, leaden sky overhead.

But it isn’t really leaden — or, not uniformly so.

And it dramatically sets off the disused warehouse beneath and that brave poplar, twirling its leaves green/silver/green in the wind.

Strong line of the roof, all those tones of rust, the twirling shrub. In bright sunshine, I wouldn’t have noticed all that. I know it.

Into Hinge Park. Transfixed by one small bird a-top the rusty pillar, silhouetted against the dark-dancing sky.

And now that sky patters down rain.

Drops form endless tiny concentric circles in the pond, a Mallard duck creates one arc of larger circles there on the left, and silver light bounces back from the rufffled surface of the water. Grey sentinel stones too, at water’s edge.

More rain.

I graduate from putting up the hood on my jacket to putting up my umbrella. And then, knowing when a tactical retreat is in order, I dive into an Olympic Village café.

(Time passes.)

End of latte, end of rain shower, but a still-dancing sky as I walk back home.

How it makes that mural pop! And how it plays up the march of the hydro poles down the alley.

Then I stop looking for examples of how the sky enhances what lies beneath, and I just … look at the sky.

Which stands up very nicely on its own.

Next day the sunshine is back, and guess what. I am still noticing grey. Suddenly I see that old trickster sun as a backdrop for grey.

Though not just any old chunk of grey concrete, I have to admit.

This is one arc of landscape architect/artist Don Vaughan‘s work, Marking High Tide, which stands at the seawall in David Lam Park on  the north shore of False Creek.

Vaughan also wrote the poem: “As the moon circles the earth the oceans respond with the rhythm of the tides.”

Tug

23 May 2018 – I am again at the VanDusen Botanical Garden, one of my favourite places in the city. No, make that: one of my favourite places. Period.

I sit by the Cypress Pond in the Garden, I come back inside to take part in a class, I walk home.

I am entirely happy.

 

City-Busy

15 May 2018 – I’m busy returning library books and, all around me, this little wedge of city is busy being itself. It bubbles in every direction.

Poppies pop …

Colours pop …

A hydro pole struts the alley …

Motorcycles gleam …

A doorway dispenses wisdom …

Pedestrians time-out their walk along False Creek …

Junior dragon-boaters time-out their heats in a day of competitive racing …

A wedding couple poses …

And Tess turns 25.

I read the banner, grin, and carry on home with my new crop of library books.

 

Time Well Killed

11 May 2018 – Yes! You can kill time and still hold up your head in polite society.

(Credit, by the way, to Comedy Central, whose old tag line “Time Well Wasted” I have just appropriated.)

Select your location, open your eyes, and enjoy yourself.

Exhibit No. 1

I am in George Wainborn Park, smack by the walking/cycling paths along the north shore of False Creek. I’ve never noticed this park before, and it is not my destination: it is simply a meeting point. “By the fountain,” said my friend, as we planned our outing.

I am a few moments early. I kill time.

Admiring the fountain, of course.

Admiring all that “geometry at work & play,” as I like to think of it — vertical waterfall on the left; horizontal black fencing left to right; stone triangle on the right; great arch of the Granville St. Bridge overhead.

I watch a father carefully hold his toddler high enough to peer into the triangle. The child gurgles with delight, flexes his tiny starfish fingers in-out-in-out toward the spray.

I wait ’til they’re gone, then go and do the same. (Peer, that is, but perhaps even gurgle.)

Then my friend arrives, and we leave.

Exhibit No. 2

Next day, same need (same opportunity) to pace myself between appointments, and kill some time.

A quick visit to the Vancouver Art Gallery and then, because it’s a lovely day and I am in no hurry, I plonk down on the VAG steps terracing down into Robson Square.

Many others are on the steps as well, including one permanent resident.

Meet Bird of Spring, one of at least three authorized bronze replicas of a 14 cm. original by the Inuk artist Abraham Etungat, of Cape Dorset.

Bird and I watch the action below, in the Robson Square skating rink.

In season, well … it’s a skating rink, isn’t it? And off season, well … it’s whatever people want to make of it.

At the moment, it’s a studio for choreographed routines. Foreground, two young martial arts practitioners, with batons; background, a trio of dancin’ fools.

I stroll down around the rink, zero in on the dancin’ fools.

They are just a-shimmying their little hearts out.

Bird of Spring and I now bracket the rink, on the watch from opposite ends. The baton couple are still hard at it, in that sweet-spot combination of athletic precision and sheer flowing beauty.

Overhead, an audience of pigeons.

On I walk.

Still with some time to kill, but I have another destination in mind.

Exhibit No. 3

Another destination, with another overhead audience, if we may refer to inanimate objects in such terms.

It’s a tower of the Woodward’s Development on West Hastings —  the multi-use redeveloment of the old Woodward’s department store site.

The tower rises over, is visible through, the Atrium, which is a welcoming pass-through space open to all. Last summer I sat here & listened to a series of Hard Rubber Orchestra rehearsals; today I listen to the piano.

The  bright-blue piano chained to a bicycle, always there & available to anyone who wants to play it.

This intent young man is playing Chopin. He is very good, and we applaud when he ends a selection. He doesn’t look up, but, eyes still on keyboard, he does give one quick nod of the head.

He is playing again as I leave.

Nicely in time to meet my friend at our Purebread Bakery rendezvous.

 

 

 

Vancouver + Toronto = Victoria

7 May 2018 – So here I am, Vancouverite me, at the ferry terminal, about to make the Tsawwassen – Swartz Bay crossing that will eventually take me to Victoria. Where I’ll spend a few days with a Toronto friend, who is doing a spot of house- and cat-sitting while there on vacation.

Smooth, easy crossing. I contemplate islands, mountain ranges, all that magic B.C. coastline stuff. Also the ferry’s wake, endlessly spilling out in its endlessly same-but-always-slightly-different patterns. Chaos theory made visible.

That thought would never have occurred, but for yesterday evening’s  BBC documentary, host theoretical physicist Prof. Jim Al-Khalili, on quantum physics, chaos theory and the natural world.

So, at least temporarily, I “read” the wake with a more appreciative eye.

Nothing temporary about my appreciation for cats! The house cat is a charmer, and — when not asleep in his basket — amazingly lithe for an 18-year-old.

Much to appreciate outdoors as well. We are in Vic West, just across the Upper Harbour from the heart of downtown.

Downtown can wait; today we stay on our side, walking on up the Galloping Goose Trail along the Gorge Waterway. Total delight.

Joggers, runners, speedy cyclists (in their speedy-cyclist lane), mums & tots, oldies with canes — and, of course, a happy young guy snoozing under a tree. While racing boats power on by.

We’re down around the Railyards Development, the reinvention of old railway/industrial land with parks, condos, and shops. Simple materials & lines for the buildings, punched up with colour.

Next day, downtown & beyond: our target is a pair of public gardens. One, the grounds around Government House, unknown to me but highly recommended; the other, the Abkhazi Garden, a remembered enchantment.

But first, into downtown via the Johnson St. bridge — the new one, that is, open barely a month and the largest single-leaf bascule bridge in Canada. (One of the largest in the world, come to that, at just under 46 metres.)

I’m not thinking about that. I don’t even know that, not yet. I’m just enjoying its sleek, white curving lines, and their contrast with the blocky heft of the old bridge, now being dismantled.

We walk waterside along Wharf St. for a bit, dancing around sidewalk reconstruction. Reconstruction with a commemorative purpose, I see, when I focus for a moment on the bricks in the nearest wheelbarrow.

I don’t know the story. I don’t know who these people are, or why they are being honoured. But I do like the thought of Poppy Franc Rekrut, “Honourable Gentleman,” and of George & John Haggis, “Father Son Sailor.”

We grant ourselves a genteel pause in Murchie’s Tea & Coffee on Government St., where my attention is soon focused on the decidedly ungenteel back alley I glimpse through the window, with its splashy mural.

My friend grins. She knows exactly what will happen after our coffee break. Yes. I tear down the alley, to see that mural close up.

 

I walk to the end, and discover a less-elegant offering down at the  T-junction. No artistic images here, just the power of the alley-scape as a whole: tagging, wheelies, brick walls, bright orange door.

Right! Time for those public gardens.

It all turns into a 12-km hoof, and worth it, both for the gardens and for sights on quiet residential streets along the way.

This neatly clipped rose, for example, tucked carefully into someone’s front-yard fence.

Gates to Government House: suitably dignified, armorial and splendid for the home of the provincial Lieutenant Governor. Even the logistical announcements — hours, leash-your-dog — are dignified.

Another notice on the adjacent railing explains why it is a good idea to obey the rules, and keep Fido on leash.

See? Fido vs. Deer in Rut? We all know who’d win.

The grounds are wonderful, we linger, we enjoy, we blink for a while on a bench, and then we walk on (with occasional guidance from passing pedestrians), making our way to the Abkhazi Garden on Fairfield Rd.

“The Garden that Love Built,” says a brochure, and for once PR is an understatement.

Exiled Georgian prince crosses paths with young woman in 1920s Paris; they are both interned during World War II (he in Germany, she in Shanghai); post-war she makes her way to Canada and buys a wooded, rocky chunk of land in Victoria. Each thinks the other dead; they find each other again; Prince Nicholas Abkhazi marries Peggy Pemberton-Carter; they spend the rest of their lives developing this garden, its legacy now protected by The Land Conservancy (and many other supporters).

The couple planned their garden from this tiny Summer House at the back of the property, here peek-a-boo through trees toward right rear; only later did they build a modest bungalow home (now the tea room).

We leave only when staff is, literally, closing the gates.

Next day I’m in reverse gear, on a bus to Swartz Bay, starting the trip back home. One last unexpected visual treat, as we wind through the town of Sidney enroute the ferry terminal. Me staring out the window, at nothing in particular …

Crows! Images-of. Look! Dormer windows, this cottage-y little home.

My kinda people.

 

 

The Dance of Light & Life

1 May 2018 – Day-length leaps ahead now, and nature leaps with it. We’re in the UBC Botanical Garden, a perfect place to join the dance.

Yes, of course, great bursts of colour smack the eye in every direction …

but our eyes skitter away. We look instead for tiny details, such as minute red dots on emerging white buds, for example …

and also for the the fresh green play of light and shadow.

A towering Gingko biloba, clothed in emerging baby leaves, is radiant in the morning sunshine.

There is luminous green everywhere we look.

In skunk cabbage leaves, shadows etched against light …

and in a mossy tree crotch, bouncing its textures back & forth.

All the contrasts of early spring.

New fern growth just starting to uncoil above existing mature fronds — the one so tiny, so baby-tender-green; the other coarse, dark, brilliant.

Defiant new growth, here one sprig shooting upright from the top of a lopped tree trunk …

and defiant old growth as well. Four or five centuries old.

This tree also wears its defiance at the tip — except here it is scorched and bare, not green.

We had already read the sign at its base.

A bit farther down the path, we turn back and pick out Eagle Tree in the canopy.

We stand there a moment, silent. For Eagle Tree.

For the whole great dance of light & life.

 

 

“Shh!”

26 April 2018

Previous post, I briskly get myself from the bridge to the fish & chips stand: “Off the south end of the bridge, around & down & eastward along the seawall…”

Well, it wasn’t quite as brisk as all that.

The “around & down” part takes me past the Burrard Civic Marina, with its lock-ups for assorted local clubs. I see poster after poster along the chain-link fence, clearly the work of young people, and all on the same theme.

Eagles are nesting. Behave yourself.

I move poster to poster.

I’m struck by the passion of these young people — and by their conviction that there is such a thing as standards of civic behaviour, and that these high standards may be successfully evoked.

Struck, too, by the imagery.

I look around, spy what I assume must be an eagle nest.

And now, you and I, now we enjoy a little loop of time travel — because here I am again, a few days later, this time with a friend.

I’m showing her the posters, people are walking by with canoes …

and we fall into conversation with a woman about to enter the False Creek Racing Canoe Club lock-up.

Yes, she says, gesturing at the tree I noticed two days earlier, that is an eagle nest. In fact, it’s the nest that started this whole poster campaign by youth members of the FCRCC.

“There was a loud party one night right by that tree. The mother eagle abandoned the nest — they do that, if they’re disturbed. We think she’s made a new nest over there — [arm wave] — and it looks like the male eagle is now caring for this nest.”

We thank her, grateful for the back-story, impressed at the way someone in that Club turned the incident into something positive.

A lot of the signs urge us to do more than behave ourselves. It’s also our duty to make other people behave properly as well.

These kids are operating on more than passion & indignation. They’ve done their research. “Did you know?” Fourteen species of eagle; a wing span of 3.2 metres.

We keep reading. We are touched, impressed, uplifted by every sign we read.

And then there’s this one. This is the one that melts our hearts.

Shhhh, everybody. Shhhh.

Haiku to Japadog

16 April 2018 – Sunshine & relative warmth in a soggy week, perfect for our visit to Sakura (“flowering cherry tree”) Days at the VanDusen Botanical Garden. This two-day event is the annual contribution of an astounding all-volunteer committee to the larger Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival that takes place month-long throughout the city.

We’re on for all of it, high culture to low.

We start high, following a trail of posted haiku — all cherry-blossom pink, of course — to the haiku tent.

The poems are all part of an international, invitational project. That one from the USA; another, for example, from Russia.

And another, pointed political commentary, from right here in Canada.

We take part in a haiku workshop in the tent, learn something of their key characteristics as well as variations on the form, read and discuss examples culled from The Haiku Anthology (ed. Cor van den Heuvel, W.W. Norton, 1999).

A haiku walk follows the workshop but we peel off, decide to take in — literally — another mainstay of local Japanese culture.

The Japadog!

Stop snickering. The Japadog is as much a cultural phenomenon as haiku, invented right here in Vancouver by a young immigrant couple in 2005, now a truck/trailer/cart mainstay of our cityscape, and boasting two outposts in California (LA and Santa Monica).

We choose the Terimayo – a best-seller featuring kurobuta pork, fried onions, teriyaki sauce, mayo & seaweed. Yum. (Washed down later with lattes, because the matcha tea line-up is just too long.)

We take our happy tummies up the hill to join others enjoying a bird’s-eye view of succeeding acts on the Cherry Stage below.

We arrive in time for almost the entire presentation by Kohei Honda and Keita Kanazashi, brought in from Japan to perform on the 3-stringed Shamisen and the Japanese drum respectively.

Many in the audience are in traditional Japanese dress …

others, from other cultures, express their own sense of cultural identity.

Then there’s the rest of us!

Later we scamper downhill, crowd in close to the stage, want to take in every moment of the closing act, the Vancouver Okinawa Taiko ensemble. Formed in 2004 by Masami Hanashiro, they serve as local ambassadors of an Okinawa grassroots folk art — a distinctive marriage of drumming and dancing, performed to both traditional and contemporary Okinawa music.

We watch to the end, entranced.

Then we walk toward the exits, passing the Cherry Grove. It is the perfect backdrop for visitors in traditional garb, striking a traditional pose beneath the many trees and their great drifts of blossoms.

At home, I write my first haiku.

Of course I’m not going to show it to you. Don’t be silly.

 

 

 

 

 

Knobby Knees

19 March 2018 – And hairy naked ones too, but I haven’t come to the VanDusen Botanical Garden to admire human knees.

I want these guys.

Whole great marching platoons of cypress knees!

Proof I am indeed circumnavigating (with protracted time-outs on every pond-side bench) the R. Roy Forster Cypress Pond.

The Garden as a whole is very busy, on this warm, sunny weekend day —  bursting with new blossoms, excited children, and keen photographers staggering under their telephoto lenses.

The Pond, tucked away to one side, is a quiet haven. I slide off to join it.

The approach is part of the pleasure.

First, the serene warm presence of the Confidence couple, Michael Dennis’ 2012 creation in Western red cedar …

then silver sunlight glinting off Southern Magnolia leaves (their native habitat, the south-eastern USA, proving what a benign climate I now call home).

I sink onto a first bench, its wooden planks warmed and made redolent by the springtime sun. It gives me a good view of the floating bridge that zigzags its way across the Pond.

I sit there quite a while, happy to let the day come to me, feeling my muscles expand again after their two weeks’ contraction in the Toronto chill. (For all that we are a special animal, we are animal. Our bodies tell us so.)

Then I rise, turn away from the main paved path leading to the bridge, and instead walk a bark-chip path around a far pond edge.

Cypress knees delineate shoreline, neatly encircle the mini-island opposite.

I look away from the Pond, eyes right-not-left, and admire blossoms floating in a bowl of water on the other side of the path. There are several of these bowls, each placed on an upturned log, filled with blossoms currently on offer in nearby shrubs.

What could be simpler? Or prettier?

Eyes pond-side once again, but lazily so,  my mind slightly ahead of my eyes, already anticipating the next bench.

Then a double-take. I freeze. Did I see … ? Was that … ? No, couldn’t be … !

Look again.

Silly me. Of course it’s not real.

Slightly shame-faced, I walk around the far end of the floating bridge and sink onto another bench, giving me a fine view from the far side.

Another month or two, the surface will be thick with water lilies.

Two Days Earlier …

I know. Chronology shot to pieces. And no thematic link at all. (Except that, yes, I am back in Vancouver.)

But you don’t mind, do you.

Barely back in town, greeted with sunshine and double-digit temperatures, I head for favourite places. The VanDusen, above, is one — but so is the Main Street / False Creek area, and that’s where I take myself just a day or so after returning to town.

Where I meet:

Backpack Woman, scampering for safety in the Main & E. 7th parking lot …

and Bookworm Woman, soaking up sunshine and the printed word by False Creek …

and Exercise Man, digging in that paddle as he flashes under the Cambie Street bridge.

Truth is, I’d stopped to admire the flamingoes — or whatever they are — somebody has added to the acrylic stripes on this bridge piling, one element of this art installation showing the 5-metre rise in sea levels that climate change could cause.

And then racer-guy joined the scene.

Very Vancouver.

 

  • 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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