Full Length

14 April 2021 – Not that there’s much length involved! Only 6 km or so, & mostly level. It’s just that, every previous visit to the Shoreline Trail that cups the end of Burrard Inlet here in Port Moody, I’ve always doubled back to my starting point from somewhere mid-trail.

This time, I’ll start yet again in Rocky Point Park, but end up over there in Old Orchard Park.

Like this.

The one-way system is a COVID requirement, one that people are observing very well. So even though quite a few are out walking, this bright & gusty day, I feel safe — almost everyone stays masked, and everybody gives everybody else lots of room.

First glimpses of the distinctive mudflats, as I set off from Rocky Point Park.

Well… If people insist on disobeying one of the signs, I’m glad it’s this one.

Lots to delight me, along the way. Tufts of moss, still bright green in a dimpled tree trunk …

tender new ferns, stretching toward the sun ..

skunk cabbage luminescent in the many bogs…

and nurse logs everywhere. This one must be a particularly proud mother, with two grown children soaring high.

Boardwalks …

old vines twisted into trail archways …

and benches, some of them close to the water …

and others tucked back into the woods.

There’s an unidentified metal remnant of the logging / sawmill past …

and a planter that pays tribute to that past. Artist Gillian McMillan shaped the container to echo the old bee-hive burners at the sawmills, and sculpted the names of eight lumber company families around the base.

Close to the Old Orchard end, I watch some paddlers bring their inflatable boat ashore and start to pack up. Smart move! Look at those white caps — the wind gusts are fierce.

No problem for me: my hat has a chin-strap, and the bus stop — up the hill, across the RR tracks, by the road — is a wind-proof shelter, complete with bench.

So I plonk down on the bench, watch some crows bully each other in the sky while forsythia & cherry blossoms duel for bragging rights in gardens below, and peacefully wait for the No. 181.

Which, in a bit, comes trundling along, right on schedule.

Both/And

8 April 2021 – Once you notice the both/anded-ness of life, all those concurrent realties swirling around, examples just keep smacking you in the face.

Both the beauty of this cherry tree, arching its blossoms over an entrance to the coFood Collaborative Garden at Scotia & East 5th …

… and the wording of their welcoming signage, which recognizes the possibility that people will use this space to shoot up. (But, and here is a both/and within the larger both/and: note that they gently accept all possibilities, and only ask for considerate behaviour.)

Both the blue sky and shining waters of False Creek, right here by Science World …

… and the discarded face mask on the foot path.

Both the fresh, trim spring beauty of this volunteer-tended Green Streets garden, tucked by an access ramp to the north-east side of the Cambie Street bridge over False Creek …

and the graffiti on the ramp. (Note that I make a distinction between street art, and graffiti.)

But … but … here again, a both/and within the larger both/and: did you notice that bright posy of blossoms, in a circle of dirt within all that well-tended gravel?

See? Both a “bright posy of blossoms” and a tombstone for a felled tree, since the flowers sit atop a tree stump. (I am reminded of the neatly hand-lettered sign I once saw pinned to a wooden utility pole on a Toronto street, which read: “I miss being a tree.”)

Ahh but, how do I know which way ’round to assign the “both” and the “and”? Maybe it was a diseased tree. Come to that, why am I, even implicitly, suggesting that “both” and “and” are necessarily in conflict?

Whoops. Sorry.

I climb the ramp up to the bridge, where I’ll cross and loop my way back east. Another both/and as I reach the first bend: all that bouncy interplay of lines and curves, but also the litter on the ground.

Then I pause, and laugh out loud. Lookit those cheeky gulls, perched like sentinels on the light standard.

Both a very ordinary sight, as urban-waterfront sights go, and totally amusing.

Well, I think so, and this is my set of concurrent realities!

Pilgrimage

31 March 2021 – A pilgrimage starts with travel, does it not, and so here I am, on the Science World dock at the east end of False Creek, ready to board a ferry.

But not that one, which I have just missed.

Never mind, another will putter along any moment and meanwhile I can contemplate this mollusc-laden pole. It would tell me a lot more if I knew anything about molluscs, but I don’t, so I simply enjoy the texture, colour and inadvertent design.

Another ferry arrives; three Calgary tourists step off, and, after some suitably masked & distanced conversation with the driver and me about how-to-get-to-Chinatown, go on their way. I step aboard, and have the boat all to myself, all the way down-Creek to Granville Island, where I must transfer for the last leg of my journey.

My destination is the Maritime Museum dock, tucked between Vanier Park and Kits Beach Park, where False Creek empties into Burrard Inlet, there on the edge of Strait of Georgia. (And the Pacific Ocean, and the rest of the world.)

There is indeed a floating Maritime Museum all around this dock — the full-rigged North Star of Herschel Island being the example immediately to hand. The last of the sailing Arctic fur-trading ships, she was built in San Francisco in 1936 for two Inuit fox trappers and served until 1961.

But I’m not down here for her, even if I linger a moment in appreciation.

I’m also not here to join this family playing silly-buggers with their dog on the beach …

or to itemize the current collection of vessels in the Port of Vancouver “parking lot” out there in the belly of Burrard Inlet.

Or to improve my nautical show-off skills by learning to recognize the types of vessel …

or by cramming Port factoids into my brain. (Though, since you so politely ask, I will tell you that this is one of North America’s busiest ports, hosting some 300 vessels a year from more than 90 nations, creating over $40-billion in trade and some 10,000 local jobs.)

I am here, the friend I am meeting is here, so that we may walk through Kitsilano Beach Park and find Egan’s favourite cherry tree.

“Egan” is Egan Davis, an extraordinarily informed & personable gardener/horticulturalist/landscape designer/educator (e.g. lecturer in both the Horticulture and Urban Forestry programs at UBC). During his presentation this past weekend at an online master-gardener conference, he paid tribute to this particular cherry tree.

Not for its size and majesty, explains my friend (who helped organize the conference), but for its resilience. It is aged now, and shrunken with age — and yet, and still, it blooms.

We prowl the park, seeing magnificent trees on all sides and dismissing them.

There!” she cries, pointing. “That’s it. That must be it.”

We approach.

Such a thick trunk, but doubled over with the weight of its decades, and now supported by a well-placed rock.

Clusters of fungi mark the trunk, as surely as rings must mark it internally.

Only a couple of remaining branches, their fragility protected (we hope) by a warning sign.

Even so, look at all the blossoms.

So many years behind it, not so many in front.

But here it still is.

Bright Red

21 March 2021 – But not this bright red.

We’re not out in the drizzle for the latest umbrella installation just behind the Yaletown Skytrain station.

And we pause very briefly indeed for a sticker-sized offering of Philosophy To Guide Your Life.

Nope. We zigzag on down to the north shore of False Creek, right there by the foot of Drake Street.

We’re looking for something else. We’re on the trail of The Proud Youth, one of Beijing artist Chen Wenling’s two contributions to this year’s Vancouver Biennale. We don’t have an exact address. We hope we can find it.

That turns out not to be a problem. It is eminently findable.

We move closer — puzzled, laughing, and fascinated. My friend grabs a full-frontal, as I start circling around.

Later, the online description gives us context:

The Proud Youth is a representative artwork in Chen Wenling’s Red Memories series. It is named after a popular Wuxia (Martial Heroes) novel called The Smiling, Proud Wanderer (Xiao Ao Jiang Hu 笑傲江湖), which in Chinese literally means “to live a carefree life in a mundane world of strife.” The novel is frequently read as a political allegory.”

The description moves on from literary reference to what is, literally, right in front of us. That pose! That red! The colour signifying not just auspiciousness, but the artist’s own “fiery” attitude to life: “The red figure, naked and free… The cheeky expression and arresting pose…”

Doubled over…

peering down between his feet …

and laughing his head off …

at the reaction of passers-by.

Eventually we move on. Double back to the north side of the Cambie St. bridge, where we’ll climb the on-ramp sidewalk…

and cross False Creek. With a latte destination firmly in mind.

But, barely onto the bridge, we stop for another hit of red.

Okay, more blush-pink than red, but auspicious even so.

Cherry blossoms! Already!

Other Realities

16 March 2021 – Ohhh, growl. I’ve dutifully listened to the Morning Misery (aka morning news) and I am out the door. I need a dose of other realities.

Happy, fun, friendly, plain-old-neighbourly realities.

And I want them right now. Stomp stomp.

Is one block sufficiently “right now”? Because look, up on that balcony, a little “boy” climbing his ladder to admire the “moon.”

And, immediately next door, on a boring old wire-mesh fence, a mural of moon/clouds/skyline.

Around a couple of corners, on up south (how can south also be up? it just is), past the corner garden tended by Sherry. I’ve never met Sherry, but almost every time I linger to admire her work, someone local tells me her name. They want me to know who is offering so much pleasure, and I’m happy to hear it, every time.

This time, I notice a wonky set of shelves, decorated with strawberry ornaments, offering a child’s book below (Five Little Gefiltes), and up here on the top shelf — also for the having — small plastic figurines. “One per child,” asks Sherry. I love that one is a hockey player. Canadian, eh?

Still climbing my way south, nod at the cowboy just off the corner of Robson Park …

and check out the books in the neatly painted, sturdy Little Free Library kiosk near Prince Edward Street & East 19th. And — one final detail in this whole generous offering — isn’t that a lovely knob on the kiosk door?

A few more blocks, and Prince Edward Street borders Prince Edward Park. I sit on a bench for a moment, watch a passle of pre-teens kicking a ball around & shrieking with joy. I decide not to worry about COVID; I will instead assume they are bubbled class-mates.

When I leave, I read the plaque on my bench.

It makes sense of the companion bench, with a female first name, same surname, and a later death date. That plaque reads: “Together again.”

And yes, East 21st, the park’s northern border, is a “perfect walking street.” Not just big, happy park to the south, but, look: trees with great big burls! And a whole block of painted pavement!

Plus, tucked into this particularly twisty-twirly burl, a whole fairy kingdom of mushrooms and doorway. (Fact is, I am not a fan of twee little fairy kingdoms decorating trees. Other fact is, I love that people are being happy, and sharing what they hope will make the rest of us happy as well.)

My next other fact is, pretty well any street can be a “perfect walking street” if you just damn-well decide to view it that way…

Here on Sophia, for example, as I turn back north.

Tiny new astilbe shoots, just beginning to unfurl inside that thicket of old stalks from last year.

And dog-paw solar lights in the next garden down.

One more park-bench moment, in the wonderfully named Tea Swamp Park at Sophia & East 16th. (The name, explains the Vancouver Park Board, is a reminder of the Labrador tea plants that once flourished in the area.) And then, just off the park, the Tea Swamp Community Garden.

With its turquoise & sunshine yellow garden shed, and its tidy plots, just about to rev up for the new season.

Colour Blocking

15 February 2021 – Snow, surprise-surprise; then rain, no-surprise; and always colour.

I think about Colour Blocking and then — the way it sometimes works out — the idea takes over.

So, eyes & mind, I go along for the ride, and make an afternoon of it.

Online

“This design technique is all about showcasing curated combinations of colour,” says Google, adding that it arose during the modernist art movement of the 20th century.

In Museums & Collections

… by Piet Mondrian, for example, with his 1935 Composition C (courtesy of http://www.piet-mondrian.org).

Or, back here in my own real world…

In Window Displays

… for a local art supply store.

On Neighbourhood 1920s homes

On Alley Walls

Underfoot, in Street-Café Decor (the puddle a temporary embellishment)

and finally…

On a Winter-Mossy Tree

I say “Finally” because, whatever human beings care to think, Mother Nature always has the last word.

“If You Go Down…”

6 February 2021 – Here we are, edge of the woods, and that 1930s children’s song starts humming in my head.

“If you go down in the woods today

“You’re sure of a big surprise.

“If you go down in the woods today

“You’d better go in disguise!

“For every bear that ever there was

“will gather there for certain because

“Today’s the day the Teddy Bears have their picnic.

“Picnic time for Teddy Bears…”

And on it goes.

We are here in the woods — the 48-Ha forested ravine that comprises Robert Burnaby Park — precisely to look for the Teddy Bears. (Or Ewoks, if you must.) Along with all the other hidden tributes to the forest, to art, and to the human spirit rising above COVID to continue to play and create and make magic.

These well-hidden twigs & twine creatures, made from the forest’s own materials, are the work of somewhat reclusive local artist Nickie Lewis, who, when the pandemic closed down her usual art outlets, walked off into the woods to create her own.

She didn’t ask the City’s permission or place her installations in easy trail-side view. Burnaby has retroactively endorsed her work and we visitors tromp around in wonder, with only an enigmatic electronic map for guidance. We are grateful for whatever we find, tucked behind trees or upon a stump or deep in the cleft of a ravine.

This poignant reclining figure, for example.

We admire the texterity of the work, its delicacy despite the rough materials, and the skillful extra touches, such as that fall of ivy for her hair, tumbling to one side.

But in walking the trails looking for Lewis’ creations, we find we settle into enjoying the forest just for itself. It is as magical as anything the artist brought to it (which is, perhaps, what she wants us to discover).

The play of tree stump against tree roots…

the canopy soaring overhead…

the glowing fungi buttons almost underfoot…

the chuckling glee of the nearby creek, slaloming its way from ‘way up there, around-and-down-and-around to ‘way over there.

And look, even the magic of picture, frame and pedestal — all in one tree.

In the end, we only find two of Lewis’ installation. And we don’t care.

It has been entirely glorious, just as it is.

(But I’m still humming Teddy Bears’ Picnic!)

Wet

2 February 2021 – All these versions of “wet,” shining up at me immediately post-showers in a 2-km radius of home!

For example, there’s Tree-Bark Wet , whose sub-categories include…

Naked Gleaming Bark

Adorned Gleaming Bark (in this case, with a sodden felt heart)…

and even,

Hidden Gleaming Bark (here buried beneath squishy moss and droplet-shiny baby ferns).

Then there’s Art-Installation Wet

with its own sub-categories, including…

Sidewalk Mosaics (here, the eponymous Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathern — briefly Governor-General of Canada — glints up at us from his place of honour in front of Mount Pleasant’s Connaught apartment building) …

and also, and of course, Park Statues.

For example, The Dude!

Mount Pleasant’s very own bronze Dude (Reclining Figure, if you insist), at ease in the S/E corner of his very own Dude Chilling Park (Guelph Park, if you insist).

By now he is relatively dry on top, but still shedding droplets beneath his extended forearm.

I am completely dry, thank you, inside my Vancouver–proof raincoat, and I walk on home, much amused.

Burly Boles

29 January 2021Boles??? Until yesterday, I would have been unable to spring this title on you, because I didn’t know the word bole. I knew bowl, and I knew burl, and I had admired (in classy shops) beautiful bowls made from burls, and it’s only because of linguistic/dictionary ricochets I discovered the word bole.

In very broad terms, and I do stress “broad,” the bole is the trunk (stem + main wooden axis) of a tree.

So when I walk down East 7th, the stretch bordering the northern edge of Dude Chilling Park, I am not just fixated on a huge great burl protruding from that tree in front of me, I have the whole B-on-B phenomenon right there before my eyes.

You’ll notice a whole line-up of trees behind that one, Bs-on-Bs one after another, all along the sidewalk edge of the park. Look, here’s the very next tree.

Lumpy burls all over this sturdy bole. Though … check out the sudden indent about 2 metres up. A number of these trees have that same shape, I wonder if they were all chopped off at that height and defiantly grew on up anyway. (Take that, you think-you’re-so-smart human being!)

So maybe a bit of tree pruning history is being revealed. Along with lots of winter moss.

Back to the burls. Again in very broad terms, they occur when (perhaps through injury) the grain grows in a deformed manner, typically turning into a rounded outgrowth filled with small knots.

Small knots.

A few of the burls in this line-up of trees are purists, wearing no ornamentation beyond that offered by the tree itself …

but most of them, this being Vancouver in winter, reach for available accessories and luxuriate in moss.

Sometimes just a delicate spray or two …

sometimes a whole puffy cloak, a pile-on of shapes, textures & shades.

Not that the moss limits itself to burls. It flings itself everywhere. Bole, burl, branch, twig …

I walk from the park’s N/E edge to its S/E edge. In so doing, I pass abruptly from the eternal verities of nature to the street art of here & now. (Up high. Corner of the apartment building.)

This signature is appearing all around town these days …

Never mind.

Back to the eternal verities of nature.

I also see clusters of bright new snowdrops, rising up healthy & strong through last year’s dead, fallen leaves.

And you can read into that as much symbolism as you choose.

At Play

24 January 2021 – I had planned a different title. With the previous post in mind, I was going to call this More Light, Some Hoarfrost, & Another Crow. But then all that verbiage just seemed excessive.

Plus, the more I thought about the walks, the more the whole experience seemed to be all about play. Being playful with the light and the hoarfrost and the crow. Homo ludens and all that. But — and with due respect to this 1938 philosophical analysis of the importance of play to culture and society — we don’t need theory to convince us that playfulness is really helpful in times of stress. (Like, umm, right now.) Playing is fun, and fun is good.

On top of all that, Vancouver has just had a string of spectacularly bright days, motivating all nature, human beings included, to get out there and play. (Today it’s again oozing rain, but we’ll stick with the present historical tense, and celebrate recent sunshine.)

Out there, at play! For example, the person who picked up a big stick and scrolled this design all along the water’s edge, just below the Stanley Park sea wall between Second and Third Beach.

Also at play, one day later, these Barrow’s goldeneye ducks.

And now you will squint & mutter there are no ducks in the photo.

Well, there are, but you’ll have to expand the photo with your fingers, just there to the left of the tree trunk above the grass, where a white dot might have caught your attention… Got them? Good. They and a lot of other ducks (not to mention a whole flotilla of Canada Geese) were having a wonderful time, out there in the sparkling waters of False Creek, just east of the Cambie Bridge.

I took the photo, not for the ducks (because I didn’t see them either, not until later) but for the rich red gleam of the tree trunk, and the shining water beyond. I certainly felt larky and playful, so why not the ducks?

If you’re willing to play along (ooooo, I couldn’t resist), join me in discovering that the water itself is at play. With the help of ferry-boat ripples.

See? Boring old straight-line towers, turned upside-down and Gaudí-worthy in the reflections.

And then there’s the hoarfrost. Play with it.

Give it a palm-print …

or weave between lines of silver-tipped grasses as you walk Himy Syed‘s labyrinth opposite Hinge Park …

or blink at a very small leaf you’d otherwise not even notice, but here it is, shining up at you, playing compare/contrast with you, all glitter this edge and matt ochre that

or just silently applaud the versatility of clever old hoarfrost, which not only micro-touches one side of tiny leaves, but macro-rolls the full length of great long benches in Olympic Village.

Ah but then, alas, you can’t play with the hoarfrost any more. Not because it’s gone away, but because your focus has just been shattered.

And pretty near your eardrum along with it.

A crow! ‘Way up there, but making his opinion known.

Loudly.

  • 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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