HOME and Democracy

15 October 2018 – I tilt backward, slide my eyes up those skyscrapers, know I won’t see any for the next few days.

I’m heading out of town, north to join friends who live by Lake Simcoe, in a community just outside Barrie.

They pick me up at the GO (= Government of Ontario) bus station, explain we have one important stop to make on the way home.

This is the first voting day in the municipal elections being held throughout the province. First voting day? Times have changed. It used to be, one official voting day plus several advance-poll days. Now, with the switch to electronic voting, people may vote across a range of days — or from home.

My friends will do it the (relatively) old-fashioned way: we’ll stop at the Innisfil town services building, where they will make their electronic mark in person.

The building is festive. Voting has become a family-friendly event. There’s a (I swear to you) Batmobile parked nearby, to amuse the kiddies, and balloons galore.

Balloons plus a list of relevant stats and fun factoids …

balloons plus pumpkins plus local band (plus Batman watching) along one side of the building …

and a Batman-meets-shy-fan moment when said hero finally walks away from the band.

We go in. Assorted smiling helpers on all sides, both town staff and volunteers, and welcoming signage right inside the door.

My friends head off to find voting kiosks. I spy all these rosettes clustered on a far wall …

and go investigate.

Turns out to be the results of a local ideaLAB & Library project, which invited people to paint a pair of donated shoes to symbolize what “HOME” means to them. Participants also stated what they were portraying, and their comments were neatly printed up and put on display as well.

I start checking out the many meanings of HOME.

Dogs!

Forest & lake — though with a nearby sign talking about a “very fat cat,” which I found confusing …

until I looked to the right instead of the left.

Certainly a very black cat and, I am happy to assume, the beloved Chubby-chubbs in question.

Someone loves his solo life …

someone else loves Toronto …

and someone else creates delicately intricate waves.

Someone reminds us that all Canada is HOME.

And what could be more appropriate than that, as, all around, citizens are gathering to care for their home with this fundamental act of good stewardship?

Much later that day, in failing light, I sit on a rock on the beach, and think about voting, think about HOME, think about that final shoe.

Yes. Lucky us. All Canada is home.

Meanwhile, back in Digbeth …

Click right here: This is what happens when a whole chunk of Birmingham decides to woo street artists.

Thanks, Rick!

Citrus Rising

28 September 2018 – And now the deciduous trees start to show their true colours — the colours hidden by summer’s green, only to shine out at us in fall when all that chlorophyll breaks down.

Though red does turn up out here (contrary to my snotty eastern-Canadian assumptions), lemony yellow is dominant.

It’s there year-round in arbutus bark but, this time of year, also sets the theme for a visit to the VanDusen Botanical Garden.

The turtles still bask, but now the greenery in and around Livingstone Lake is tinged with yellow. and the lily pads have lost their flowers.

It’s the same over on the R. Roy Forster Cypress Pond …

and — despite one shot of red  — in the colours on, around and reflected in the Pond’s surface.

Grasses glow by Heron Lake …

and the leaves of a shrub on a nearby trail are edged with gold.

Most of the yellow I see is a sign of fall decay, yet in places it instead brings us fresh growth. These Yellow Waxbells are just now bursting into bloom.

Yellowing lily pads are background to the fountain on Heron Lake, whose bright waters throw a heron, lower right, into dark silhouette.

His iconic pose is caught in the cut-out design on the back of every bench in the Visitor Centre forecourt.

Afternoon sunshine streams through. More gold.

The Return of Rain City

21 September 2018 – Cartoon explanation of Vancouver seasons, overly simplified but broadly accurate: rain starts = fall; rain stops = spring.

We’ve hit fall. The day is cool-cloudy-heading-for-rain. I’m equipped for rain & heading for Granville Island, to join friends on a self-guiding Textile Walking Tour around Island shops, arranged in conjunction with the Textile Society of America Conference currently underway.

So Vancouverite am I becoming — rain is irrelevant — that I’m not even seeking the protection of a bus. I’m going to walk to the Island along the False Creek seawall, which means that, first, I walk north on Cambie and under the Cambie Bridge ramps down to Spyglass Dock. This takes me past the public chalk board (@chalktalkYVR) screwed into one of the bridge supports. Headings vary, from time to time; currently it is encouraging people to “DRAW your favourite memory.”

Lots of comments, and one drawing …

with an explanation near-by.

Almost at the water, I pause again: the weather tells me it’s fall, and so does this impromptu art installation by Mother Nature.

I like it. I think of the fall colour display I’ll see, or anyway hope to see, while in Toronto, and smile in happy anticipation.

And smile again as I turn west along the Seawall.

I’m not a big lover of Smiley-face, but I just have to love this one, painted on a Seawall rock. And I always love the sight of an Aquabus — my favourite of the two False Creek ferry services — so yes-okay, I am smiling.

Then I look at my watch, and up my pace. Time to hoof right along! I have friends to meet, fibre art to admire …

Which I do, and we do, and the rain comes down as promised and We Don’t Care Because We Are Vancouverites. We up our umbrellas and carry on. So there. (With time out for bowls of chowder in the Market …)

Most of the fibre art installations are in shop windows, viewed from the Island laneways, but some pull us inside.

Where, right at each doorway, sits another sign of fall.

Did I mention that it’s raining?

 

 

 

 

Brown Trout & a Whole Bunch of Frogs

11 September 2018 – First, the frogs. We aren’t looking for brown trout at all.

Come to that, we aren’t even specifically looking for frogs, but we welcome them — the whole dancing tug-of-war of them — with a whoop of delight.

A whoop & a sigh or two of relief. Because we are searching out Burnaby’s eco-sculptures, and, despite an astoundingly confusing map, we’ve just made our first sighting. So who cares if it’s raining?

Burnaby, an adjacent municipality to Vancouver, launched this community eco-sculpture project in 2005, and has been developing it ever since. Each summer, to the delight of residents and tourists like us, the City’s parks, event floats and public spaces show off the current crop of birds/bees/eagles/whales/pollinators/frogs/cranes/owls/etc-&-so-forth.

Summer drought and heat took their toll, but recent rain and some judicious replanting have given the works a new — if necessarily brief — lease on life.

The details are just terrific.

On down the way a bit, and look! a trio called the Pollinator Series. Complete with a caterpillar …

a lady bug …

and a spider. (Not shown. Use your imagination.)

Some confused driving around while we try to sort out where to go next. My Vancouver-born friends consult maps, sat-nav and smart-phone apps up there in the front seats; I sit behind and keep my newbie mouth shut. No back-seat driving from this girl!

We whiz past a grouping of owls. They’re on a triangle of lawn surrounded by busy streets; no possible place to park and enjoy them; we circle around; there must be a way — and, yes, there is. If you don’t mind pretending you’re in that school parking lot because you’re about to visit the school.

Two adult owls, three baby owls, and absolutely worth that bit of vehicular trickery across the street.

Each baby owl has his own, very Canadian, underpinnings. This guy: snowshoes. His siblings: snow boots, and a toboggan respectively.

These sculptures are magnificently detailed on all sides. Check out mama’s back!

And while you’re there, check that red umbrella in the background, being held over someone in a yellow jacket. We can see they’re City maintenance workers, fiddling around with an open sewer grate. We’re curious.

Us, smiling: “Hi, what’re you doing?” Yellow Jacket, also smiling as he spools more wire into the sewer: “Fishing for brown trout.” Ho-ho-ho all around. Us: “Oh come on, what’re you really doing?” YJ: “Okay. We’re checking a repair we made.” Us: “Did it work?” YJ: “Yup.” Us: “Well, you’ve earned your trout.” More ho-ho-ho all around.

More sat-nav (etc) consultations and off we go, headed for Deer Lake Park. Miss Bossy-Boots on the sat-nav tells us to go here, and go there, and we do, and end up parked on a residential street, hoping Miss B-B got it right. Well, it’s right enough, and after a few human directions from passers-by we embark on the Deer Lake Trail.

But not before reading the Wildlife warning.

Isn’t that fun? Not enough you have to watch out for bears and coyotes and cougars — even the black squirrel is on the loose and dangerous. (What? He’ll chatter you to death?)

The Trail is lovely. And we don’t meet a single black squirrel. Or bear. Or cougar.

This brings us to Deer Lake and, over to one side, the Century Gardens and the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts. Where we again ask eco-sculpture directions. Fortunately, these Gardens are being given some early-fall TLC, and the crew help us out.

Good, thank you, got it: a couple of whales just down the road. But we are happily diverted en route. First by the three 14-ft ceramic poles in the Gardens, labelled Past, Present and Future.

They are the result of the Burnaby Community Clay Sculpture Project, which used Shadbolt Centre facilities and resources to engage professionals artists with students, seniors groups and other community members to create the three poles, each rich with imagery for its own theme.

The future, I discover …

will include Cloning.

Another diversion: we go into the Centre, expecting to indulge idle curiosity nothing more — and come out having pounced on the up-coming concert by Martha Wainwright. I’m more the era of her mum, Kate McGarrigle (as in Kate & Anna McGarrigle), but yes, my interest does extend to Martha and her brother Rufus. We buy tickets.

So that’s a big bonus to the day, and we don’t much mind that the eco-sculpture whales, when we finally get to them, are … underwhelming.

Back down Deer Lake Trail, enjoying the feather tucked into a post as we go …

and into the car, for the trip back to Vancouver.

“Look!” we cry, as we zip along the highway, and see Burnaby banners dancing on light standards …

“There’s the owl!” Now it means something to us. We feel good.

And the sun even comes out.

 

 

 

 

Click-Clack

5 September 2018 – August tumbles into September and, click-clack, fall is back.

“Back” is the word. Families back from holidays, children back in school, cultural seasons back in action.

“Gone” is also the word. Summer pleasures — click-clack — disappear.

“The piano is gone!” cries the little girl, obviously a regular visitor to Spyglass Place on False Creek. She stops dancing around the deck chairs long enough to peer over a chair back at the empty space …

where, all summer long, the brightly painted piano invited us to sit down and make music.

Summer colour begins to disappear as well, partly accelerated by drought, but also just the normal exhaustion of end-of-summer.

Yet even as grass, leaves and flowers wilt and fade, other colours explode into life.

The stream running through Hinge Park into False Creek, for example, is now a solid carpet of emerald green. All that pond weed, at its bravura best, after a full summer of unimpeded growth.

Good news for the ducks. They may have to paddle a little harder, to push their way through the greenery, but feeding now takes no effort at all. No diving needed: they lower their heads to water level, open their beaks, and let the nutrients flow in.

Meanwhile, we humans now find ourselves seeking, not rejecting, the sunny side of the street.

Click-clack

 

Poppp!

28 August 2018 – It’s a grey day, but grey with rain not wildfire smoke, so we are all relieved and grateful.

And, once again, on this latest visit to the VanDusen Botanical Garden, I am reminded how colours really pop against a luminous grey background.

The cypress knees so orange!

And the railing moss so green!

And the blue spruce so blue!

And the white birch so white!

And the Great Blue Heron so … well, all right, not exactly blue, but shimmering & regal as he poses in his very own lake (Heron Lake, VanDusen Botanical Garden), so I’m excited anyway.

And the Barred Owl so brightly barred! (Never mind excited, now I am awed. I drop my eyes & step back one submissive pace, as he stares at me.)

And the Sorry sign so Canadian!

I walk to the end anyway, as do a couple of bouncy young Millennials. We contemplate the entangled greenery and the pond bright with lily pads, down there at the end of the path.

Ms Millennial turns to her boyfriend. “Well,” she says, “it’s a very nice 100 metres.”

 

One, Two, Ruckle My Shoe

24 August 2018 – “R” not “B” — my shoes have laces not buckles, and they’re walking me through Ruckle Provincial Park. At 486 hectares, it’s the largest park in the Gulf Islands.

Getting here is part of the fun: first a bus from Ganges to the village of Fulford, then 15 minutes or so before another bus comes along for the trip across this south-easterly knob of Salt Spring Island, on over to the park.

The village is clustered close to Fulford Harbour, its shops geared not only to residents but also to transients waiting for one of the ferries than run from here to assorted other islands. I hang out on the dock, slowing down & settling into all this space and beauty. (Marred still by wild fire haze.)

Our bus arrives, and away we go.

I’m looking forward to Ruckle, even though I know nothing about it other than that it exists, and it can be reached by public transit. That’s enough for me! So, with lunch & water in my daypack, off I go. It becomes a figure-8 sort of exploration that keeps me close to water, first ranging well beyond Beaver Point going this way, and then looping back that way as far as Bear Point.

But really, I don’t care exactly how many klicks I walk or which landmarks I reach. As far as I’m concerned, everything is a delight.

The park offers dirt trails, here with the flourish of a tree-gate …

dirt trails with a footbridge …

rocky climbs …

and clearings with picnic tables.

The path in front of this table …

leads on to a secluded cove.

 

There are peek-a-boo views of the Swanson Channel …

and panorama views from high rocky ledges (with a sailboat and a ferry ghost-visible in the haze).

While well out beyond Beaver Point in my first loop, I realize I am coming to a camp ground. Tents only, no looming RVs, but I’m still working up to a pout. I want Nature, not campers.

Oh, all right, says Nature. Here!

If he’s not bothered, why should I be?

So I calm down, and promptly discover a second reason to appreciate the camp ground.

Isn’t this the best? I have to wait a moment to meet the host, though. At the moment — and you can almost make it out, in the shadows under the tent awning — he is pouring a bucket of rinsing water over his wife’s freshly washed hair. I wave at him to take his time, and a few minutes later he and his be-turbanned wife join me, smiling and happy to talk.

Turns out they are a retired couple, not islanders but quick to join other volunteers who take turns camping here each summer, living among the visitors, answering questions, generally being a helpful (and watchful) presence on-site.

They are typical of my day. Everyone I meet is affable, happy, having a good time and up for a moment’s chat. Just the right number of day-trippers, I decide: plentiful enough for the occasional exchange about where-are-we-now and what-a-great-day … but rare enough that there’s lots of time to enjoy the solitude.

Mid-afternoon I’m on the bus and back to Ganges. It’s a small  community, but after a day in the park’s tranquility how bustling and big-city it seems!

And then it offers its own enchantment.

I pass another of those painted pianos, watch two little girls fall under its spell, and promptly fall under their spell. Plink, plunk… giggle, giggle …

Then it’s up the hill toward my Airbnb, walking along the playing field by the school yard — and look, it’s a village soccer game. A couple of islanders have hunkered down to watch, I find a convenient spot on the edge of the skate park opposite, and join them.

It’s Yellow Vests vs. The Other Guys, all ages on both sides, and a female ref, her thick black braid bouncing on her back as she keeps up with the play.

I am a tourist, just another in the endless chain of tourists that come and go, doubling the island’s population each summer.

But, just for a moment, I feel like I belong.

Across the Salish Sea

21 August 2018 – I wouldn’t say this sign could only be found on an island, but it does have island DNA woven through its message — a cry of welcome, an invitation to adventure, and a reminder to behave yourself.

Read the fine print: I’m on Salt Spring Island, one of the Southern Gulf Islands scattered so generously across the waters of the Strait of Georgia between Vancouver Island and the B.C. mainland coast.

The waters may be a constant; their name is another matter. In 1791 Spanish explorers named the expanse for Nuestra Señora del Rosario la Marinera; in 1792 British explorer George Vancouver promptly renamed it in honour of King George III. And so it is still officially named.

On its own, that is.

But it is now also collectively identified with Puget Sound and Juan de Fuca Strait as a larger maritime entity, which is officially recognized — by both Canada and the United States — as the Salish Sea.

photo credit: straight.com

Long before those 18th-c. explorers came around, long before Spain or Britain even had empires, the Coast Salish peoples populated this area and sailed these waters.

When BC Ferries ordered three new ships (to replace two aging ones named Queen of This-and-That), all three had Salish embedded in their names. And so I arrive at SSI’s Long Harbour terminal aboard the Salish Raven.

She may have been built in Gdansk, Poland, but her imagery is the work of the young Coast Salish artist Thomas Cannell.

One more bit of name-game: Ganges, the main community and the one where I’m staying, is a nod to the Royal Naval battleship HMS Ganges, which conducted land surveys in the area on and off in the mid-19th century.

All good to know, but I’m thinking about nature, not linguistic politics, as I accept that “Everybody Welcome!” invitation. I start down the stairs, paying due attention to slippery/uneven surfaces as I go. Which they are. And who cares.

The view into Ganges Harbour, as I come ’round a staircase angle … well, it’s just what a Vancouver tourist hopes to see.

(Except for that milky sky. It’s the wildfire haze that still blankets the province, & will for a while yet.)

Back up the steps, on down Lower Ganges Rd.

Show me your village! I want shops & cafés, galleries & produce outlets, all the wonders of this amazing island of micro-business and nature. A total of some 11,000 residents and, boy, do they ever punch above their weight.

A quick reconnoitre into  artcraft, a showcase for Southern Gulf Islands artists & craftspeople, run by the Arts Council. I almost stop for an early latte at the outdoor café right beside it, but instead only slow down long enough to admire its painted piano and vow to return later on.

I ration crafts-shop visits once I hit town; one could overdose. I wander along the Harbour edge of Centennial Park, no such thing as overdosing on nature. More boats, more haze, and — thanks to the arbutus trees — lots of blaze as well.

I am always mesmerized by the arbutus…

‘Round the next bend, and look, another painted piano.

Bunnies, this time.

I come closer, the lid is up — showing its polite request to keep it closed, to protect the keyboard from rain.

I close it.

More bunnies. Cute as can be. (My old Toronto self thinks for a moment of street artist Poser-bunnies. Whole different genre…)

The grass in the park, like grass everywhere here, is parched to pale yellow. Doesn’t matter. I know how quickly it rebounds. So I don’t fuss about that for even a moment, I focus entirely on the fibre art hanging from the tree branches.

Later, next to Transitions thrift shop — run to support Island Women Against Violence — another decorated tree: the Gratitude Tree.

You’re invited to write your own message of gratitude on one of the leaves. Lots of messages, from a single word (e.g. “Hope”) to long descriptions of specific events.

And this one …

My sentiments exactly.

I visit Transitions, buy a couple of paperbacks, and set off for that café next to artcraft. Where, at a companion food truck, I buy a compose-your-own salad to go with my latte, and settle down to enjoy both …

with the painted piano and a leaping recycled-steel & cedar orca (Breachin Orca IV, Carl Sean McMahon) to keep me company.

 

 

 

Benched

10 August 2018 – How much civility is added to our lives by the strategic placement of public benches! They allow us to sit, to consider, to rest, to be at ease in public space, perhaps to share that space with others, or simply to enjoy the present moment — or a succession of present moments, if we are patient enough to allow them to unfold for us, in their own time and way.

I am particularly enamoured of benches at the VanDusen Botanical Garden. They exist in great variety, and in magic settings.

These Michael Dennis red cedar figures (Confidence, 2012) need no bench as they gaze upon Livingstone Lake, but we humans appreciate the one down there in the shade at water’s edge.

It is a classic bench shape ..

as simple and timeless as the lines of a canoe.

I sit there, mentally floating with the water lilies on the lake.

Then I sharpen focus, both mind and eyes, my attention snagged by movement in the lake. One lily pad, just one, is jigging back & forth.

I watch. I wait.

And I am rewarded by the sight of a tiny black triangular snout popping up on the lily pad’s far side. A turtle is busy doing turtle things, and I would have missed it but for my willingness to just … sit there.

Many benches have plaques, most of them just a commemorative name. I am so grateful to discover this one, for it perfectly captures what I am doing, what benches offer us if we come to them on their own quiet terms.

The plaque is attached to this bench beside the R. Roy Forster Cypress Pond — another classic bench shape

From here I often rest my eyes on knobby cypress knees all around the Pond and, one memorable day, listen to a young woman chant mantras at the far end of the floating boardwalk, just out of sight.

Very plain, these flat benches, but they often have ornamentation.

An impromptu walking stick, for example …

or a whole smother-load of plant life.

Another classic bench shape, with arms-and-back, this time also with guy-and-cellphone, up by the Scottish Shelter and Heather Garden.

Same bench shape elsewhere, but minus the guy — and minus a few back slats as well.

All the different ways, to make a bench part of your meandering exploration of this botanical garden.

Walk quietly into the Meditation Garden, rest on a stone bench.

 

Walk the narrow wood-chip Azalea Trail, sit a moment tip-tilted on the world’s most rustic bench …

and, farther down the Trail, sit a more stable moment on the world’s second-most-rustic bench.

Say good-bye to rustic.

Loop to the north-eastern side of Heron Lake, cross the open lawn between the Giant Redwoods and the South African Garden, do a double-take, suddenly realize that the elegant green ellipse down by the water is not a companion sculpture to the David Marshall work in the background …

it is a bench.

That is my discovery this very day, after a year-plus of visiting the VanDusen. So I sit there, and I laugh at myself and all the discoveries we can make as we go through a day. What fun this is!

I think a moment about what I have seen and heard, just by sitting quietly on one or another of their benches — ducks carving a slalom curve through thick lily pads in Livingstone Lake; hummingbirds darting back & forth among shrubs above the Cypress Pond; a heron suddenly landing on (where else?) Heron Lake; chickadees calling; squirrels scolding; ducklings plonking along after mum, past my bench & back to the security of the water.

I walk on, read another plaque.

“A place to sit in the garden.”

Yes. Exactly.

 

 

Eye-Smack

5 August 2018 – I have a plan. (1) Quote “better than a smack in the eye with a wet kipper”; (2) thank Monty Python’s Fish Dance for this immortal line; and (3) segue very niftily to being smacked in the eye with colour.

Then I discover that Fish Dance doesn’t include this line, and that there are a zillion variations on the line, with attributions as wide-ranging as Aussie slang, Uncle Anatole in the Tintin series, and even Dr. Cottard in the 1908 work Du côté de chez Swann by Marcel Proust.

Good grief. Let’s forget all that, and get back to my being smacked in the eye with colour.

Which is what happens during a week of blazing, pulsing sunshine.

Green!

Blue-purple!

Yellow! (bee-flecked with black)

And — just to show nature doesn’t have all the fun — look what happens when you leave the VanDusen Botanical Garden and take the Canada Line downtown to Yaletown-Roundhouse Station.

Underbrella!

Welcome to the new public art installation bobbing among the trees in Bill Curtis Square, courtesy of the Yaletown BIA.

Perfectly sensible adults dance around under it, squinting upwards, and giggling.

 

We are in love with it — at least partially because, as someone suggested, all those brollies currently shield us from sunshine rather than pelting 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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