Stares & Chairs

12 January 2018 – Out on a walk, you hope for some stare-worthy moments. But, chairs? Not unless your path takes you through furniture stores.

I am not walking through furniture stores, I am heading east from Cambie Bridge along False Creek. Chairs don’t come into it. Yet.

Staring, is what I’m doing.

At the ferries puttering back & forth; at the lone kayaker who has just glided past; at the “beehive” installation out there in the water; at the agreeably rough wooden structure nearer to land, which seems to fit so well into its nautical environment. And, yes, at the neon slogan picked out on its cross-beam.

Should I Be Worried? Truth is, despite all the issues the question teases into mind, I prefer — this bright, sunny day — not to worry. Not right now.

I prefer to cock an ear to the murder of crows in an adjacent tree, busy composing their latest Cawcophony Concerto.

Then I stop for another public-art slogan, just steps farther east than the first. This one has been around longer, so it’s familiar to me, but I always stop anyway. I like the message.

Let’s be thankful.

Something else to stare at, as I zig-zag through Hinge Park, this time courtesy of Nature: a winter palette of colour.

Intense green, tawny gold, wine-red. Boom boom boom.

I’m approaching Olympic Village Square now, with its tidy insets, pedestrian bridges, stone hard-scaping to enhance the natural setting.

And a blindingly white chair.

It’s a photo-shoot, the photographer as focused as her camera, her assistant at her shoulder. Other passers-by slow a moment, take it in, speed up again and move on.

Well, I think, it’s not the only white chair around here.

These chairs are always here, well used and a little the grubbier for it. Warmer weather, they support visitors — I’ve been one of them. Right now, their broad arms support only the photo-shoot notebooks.

Just before the Square, another inlet of water, with its tiered stones that always (inaccurately, I know) make me think of ancient Greek amphitheatres.

And what do I see? More white chairs!

Another photo-shoot. This time the photographer is male, he & his assistant svelte in black, both as carefully composed as the scene before their camera.

A latte-break in the Square, and I’m off again.

Do these qualify as chairs?

Somewhere to sit, but benches not chairs. Handsome, though, and cunningly staggered.

I turn away from the water, back toward town. No more chairs now, I think, but always something to stare at.

I’ve looked at this installation before, a cluster of “salt” mounds in tribute to the Vancouver Salt Co. Ltd. building (now restored as a pub) that they frame. But I haven’t looked at them from this angle, and I decide I like it better.

Then I’m really back in town, climbing the hill southward toward home. ‘Way up there, I walk past a favourite park — not just landscaping & benches & kiddie play stations, but also a whole set of bike repair tools. Carefully tethered, mind you, but right out there in public, for all to use.

And I see all that again, yes I do.

Plus one addition.

Of course. There had to be one last chair.

 

 

 

 

It’s Raining

9 January 2018 – And I am out walking. Not despite the rain, but because of it. I am inspired by Melissa Harrison’s book Rain (Four Walks in English Weather), the gift of very dear, and very perceptive, friends.

Don’t sulk at what rain subtracts from your walk, is the message: celebrate, instead, what it contributes.

I’m in the right city for that! Rain is at the heart of Vancouver’s self-image.

I am not en pointe; I am en rain boot. My umbrella is not flung gloriously back & up; it is snugged firmly down around my ears.

Droplets dance on the clear plastic …

and, out there beyond my protected head, shine every plant leaf to brilliance.

I’ve noticed before: rain makes colours pop.

A beacon of light spills across the VGH (Vancouver General Hospital) parking lot. It illuminates the eddies of water sluicing their way to sewer grates.

Chrome yellow & white in that image; here turquoise & white, punched out against all that shiny black.

Water beads dance on the metal curves of this bench …

and pick out the lines of these tree branches.

(Yes, well, all very magic — but let us also sober up long enough to notice the amount of moss on the roof. I’m glad it’s not my roof.)

Every shop with its umbrella stand at the door. So handy! Stash the brolly beneath, while you check out the bright red rain boots above.

“Rain City Dance,” I decide, applies to more than one local studio. We and our umbrellas, we are all part of the dance.

Usually as members of the corps de ballet …

but, sometimes, at just the right moment on just the right street corner …

as prima ballerina.

Last Walk, First Wish

31 December 2017 – My last walk for 2017, and it wasn’t even planned. At least, not the Granville Island bit and the discoveries that followed.

I’m just out there to celebrate the fact the early morning fog has yielded to a sparkling bright day. My path takes me toward Granville Street, remarking lingering hoar frost as I go …

and still marvelling at all the happy palm trees. With their holiday lights woven around their trunks.

One footstep leads to another, you know how that is, and here I am, under the Granville St. bridge.

I decide not to plunge into the shops and other temptations of the Granville Island Market. I turn right — eastward — to make my way to the Seawall along False Creek and then back home.

Indeed, I am away from the jolly shops. Look, a working crane.

Seven tons max, in case you care.

I love its strong lines, its beauty-through-utility, its sheer domination of the scene.

And I love the sturdy metalwork that supports it …

and the multi-coloured teardrop I discover at its base.

No, of course I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s another bit of beauty-through-utility, or maybe just beauty. Because it is beautiful, is it not?

More step-step-step, and I’m walking along the backside of Sea Village, a private houseboat enclave I have admired during ferry rides but have never seen up close.

Very swell houseboats, I must say, with clever mini-gardens …

and completely wonderful mailboxes! I want one of those mailboxes.

I’m still bush-whacking, wondering how/where/when I’ll find myself on the official Seawall path — but not worried. Too much to enjoy meanwhile.

Such as a wedding couple being posed for their photos at the crest of Ron Basford Park (eastern knob of Granville Island) …

and a very handsome but frustratingly anonymous sculpture down here at water level.

A pedestrian wire-mesh lock-up for lifejackets and boats near-by, made colourful by its contents.

Really, really colourful, when you get to the boats.

But they’re not colourful just for the sheer giddy fun of it. Those colours have purpose. As I discover.

One last glance back at the park, with Alder Bay to its right and False Creek beyond.

I think I’m about to join the Seawall … but no! A whole great chunk of it is closed for reconstruction. Big red detour signs arrow the alternate route. Bye-bye False Creek.

I follow the arrows eastward, then angle up through Charleson Park, admire more hoar frost (and, equally, the snake-fence construction) …

and head home.

A First Wish

Not quite 2018 where I am, but close enough to salute the year, and also all of you who, through your interest, add so much to my walks.

Here is my wish: may we all experience what poet John O’Donohue describes in the poem below. I first heard it when a dear friend brought one of his books to our Solstice Lunch on the 21st.

She opened the book …

 

and read us this poem.

 

Happy New Year. “Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning.”

 

 

 

Bright on Grey

27 December 2017 – Oh, it’s a grey day. All socked in. Grey sky, even the drizzly air is grey. Which makes every burst of colour all the more dramatic. Pow! Sock-o!!

I’m on Watson, an alley-width street immediately east of Main St. in Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant neighbourhood. Main is epicentre of the city’s yearly Mural Festival, and Watson, like other surrounding streets, accumulates more and more artwork every year.

Right here between East 10th & 11th, for example.

Talk about bright on grey!

I wheel around, move into the L-shaped space, check out that north wall…

More than a whiff of Déjeuner sur l’herbe, wouldn’t you say? Let’s call it Déjeuner sur mur.  Both works are chock-full of busy participants — albeit more consistently clothed in Mengya Zhao’s 2017 mural than in Édouard Manet’s 1862-63 painting.

We have Reclining Ladies …

and Lady With Shoulder-Bird …

and Flopped-Out Lady.

Even larger, the Ben Frey wacko world splashed across the east wall.

Everything from, yes-really, the kitchen sink …

to Coffee Dog …

and Ladder Dog.

Then, smack on the next street corner, there’s another punch of bright-on-grey.

I break up every time I read this building’s overline: “Keep Vancouver Wet”!

I’d been vaguely (very vaguely) thinking that the building must be a car wash. Makes sense, right?

But, no.

Tap-tap I go on the keyboard once back home, and I learn the line first appeared on an unadorned, dead boring wall on 6 June, 2013 — a riff, apparently, on the slogan, “Keep Portland Weird.” Artwork has sprouted since then, this latest version being the work of Johnnie Christmas.

But wait …

There’s more.

Another burst of colour, in front of an apartment building at E 11th and Kingsway.

It is small scale, single image, and, to my newcomer sensibilities, even more amazing.

Fresh-blooming roses! In late December.

I stand there, camera in hand, clearly impressed. Some guy, clearly not impressed, edges past me. “I’m admiring the roses,” I explain. You can practically see the “Whatever” thought bubble over his head, as he disappears into the apartment lobby.

Whatever!

Trees. And Gingersnap.

19 December 2017 – We’re walking along the north shore of False Creek, out around English Bay or so, heading for Stanley Park. Where there will be mega-gazillions of trees. (With 405 Ha of park space, there’s room for quite a few gazillion trees…)

But we are more immediately focused on the trees right here, standing out as they do against the beach and the waters beyond.

Palm trees! My eastern instincts are still totally amazed at the sight of palm trees, outside and unprotected — and perfectly happy, thank you.

That’s the Chusan (“Windmill”) palm, I later learn, one of a group planted around English Bay some 30 years ago.

And … Eucalyptus!

Just another of the (to me) exotic species that the Vancouver Parks people care for. (Along with the Tasmanian fern. And banana plants. And of course those palm trees.)

Finally we see something I can relate to, in a Canadian winter — bare branches.

But no, even here I am awe-struck. So many nests, and so large.

“The Stanley Park Great Blue Heron colony,” say my friends, tugging me to read the signage.

This is one of North America’s largest urban Great Blue Heron colonies, I later learn, and it has a suitably large following. Even its own web cam.

So I am still head-full of birds & trees after we reach Lost Lagoon and join our planned event: a Solstice-themed walk/talk through Stanley Park with a very informed, very cheerful, good-fun botanist.

But, nifty as she is,  we get distracted.

By elves. Hundreds of elves. With names like Gingersnap, and Twinkle-Legs.

While we stand around discussing the Solstice, they are pounding their hearts out in the annual Big Elf Run, to support the Canuck Place children’s hospice. It’s an all-inclusive event — running elves, walking elves, kiddy elves, even doggie-elves.

(Later we cross paths with a volunteer, of course with his elf-cap, picking up race bollards. We ask his race-name. He says he is Slave-Labour Elf. We tell him he is Unsung Hero Elf.)

Next day …

Next day, I meet yet another typical Vancouver tree.  One, I must add, I have met before and will meet again.

The Great Vancouver Rain Tree! Very pretty, with those sparkling, suspended rain drops.

And, over on Main Street, a sign to fit the day.

But the day after that …

Oops.

Snow-slush.

Enough to make those palm trees & eucalyptus start booking trips back to where they came from.

Eagles in Winter

15 December 2017 – We are on the Squamish River, between Vancouver & Whistler, in Brackendale Eagles Provincial Park. We’re here for wintering eagles, not for salmon.

The salmon deserve their sculpture, and our respect. Without the prolific chum (Onc orhynchuus keta) run each year, and the resulting salmon carcasses, Bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) would not congregate here each winter.

But the chum do run, and the carcasses do accumulate. This riparian area therefore offers the eagles one of North America’s best wintertime habitats — and offers humans one of North America’s most significant locations for viewing them, December-March.

Frances and Sally, Vancouverites both, know the area, know what it offers, and I am only too happy to benefit from their knowledge and enthusiasm.

Even the naked eye spots Bald eagles in all directions — in trees, swooping over the water, on sand & gravel bars in the river.

We read the information boards, including the four points of Eagle Viewing Ethics.

We stand there, amazed by the river tumbling to the Pacific Ocean between mountain ranges, by the mountains, by the habitat and, of course, by the eagles.

Sally has the better camera, one capable of seeing more than naked eyes — or phone cameras — can possible capture.

An eagle swoops in over the bar. Click!

He has lots of company. Click!

Later we follow the riverside path, mindful of Eagle Viewing Ethics, carefully staying on the path, trespassing neither on the sand bars to our left nor on Squamish Nation property to our right.

Eagles perch freely in these trees, apparently unfussed by the parade of human gawkers. Close enough, now, for any kind of camera.

Here a speckled juvenile (or so someone tells me) and an adult …

and there a majestic adult all on his own, glorying in his white head, visual counterpoint to Sally’s red toque.

After the park, on to some feeding of our own.

Frances, with insider knowledge, guides us to Fergie’s Café, a local gem tucked away on the neighbouring Cheakamus River. A “locally sourced, innovative menu,” I later read somewhere, and it’s true — everything from red meat to vegan, made right there, by a serious (but not solemn) chef.

Oh, yum.

Afterwards, we lollygag for a bit on the banks of the Cheakamus.

More eagles.

Yes, those two dots on that tree branch = eagles. My camera, so you have to take my word for it.

But that’s not really why I’m using this photo. I’m using it because it’s just so back-country Canadian: rushing river, rock, coniferous & deciduous trees, sturdy little workhorse bridge, mountains.

I’ve stood in the equivalent of this spot so many times, in so many places, across the country & across the decades.

It still takes my breath away, stings my eyes.

We finally drive out, ready to head back to the city — but make one last stop just outside Squamish itself, down bouncy rutted roads to another viewpoint, right on the river.

Mid-afternoon sun warms the rock, glints off Diamond Head’s snowcap in the background.

And then we go join Hwy 99, and drive home.

 

 

Little Cat Feet

10 December 2017 – We’ve been having a week of fog, of fog swirling in and out, of fog playing with altitude & longitude & latitude.

It makes me remember the fogs of my long-ago winter in Lima, Perú, also on the Pacific coast.

And it makes me remember Fog — the Carl Sandberg poem taught us in an even longer-ago grade school English class.

The fog comes

on little cat feet.

It sits looking

over harbour and city

on silent haunches

and then moves on.

 

Night Light

26 November 2017 – I pause for a moment, as I cross the Cambie Street bridge in the gathering dusk.

I enjoy all those lights blazing out over False Creek, powered by BC Hydro, but that’s not what really snags my attention.

I am captivated by the still-vivid maple tree, just as forceful a presence in the twilight, and powered solely by Mother Nature.

“It’s Only Rain…”

18 November 2017 – I was every so slightly whimpering, kinda/sorta suggesting that we might take transit to the art gallery, because … look at the weather.

To which my born-&-bred Vancouver friend replied: “It’s only rain.”

So we walked. Of course we did. I am leaning to be a Vancouver Weather Warrior.

And, to that end, I walked to & from another appointment a few days later. In mostly-rain, with shafts of sunlight in between. I am beginning to understand that, along with the right clothing, you need the right attitude.

As in: it’s only rain.

If you take the rain as a given and focus on everything else instead, there is lots to enjoy.

For example, the rusty fall tones of the Hakonechloa macra “Aureola” (Golden Variegated Hakone, to its friends).

I can toss off this astounding bit of scientific knowledge only because I bought one of these plants for my own balcony, and therefore have the label.

After that, as I prance along through the Fairview neighbourhood just south of False Creek, I am woefully vague about what I am seeing — though fully appreciative of all the tones & textures on offer.

Birch against cedar hedge (I can get at least that far!) …

and 3 types of hedge playing against each other, horizontal & vertical …

and that pretty bush whose leaves start pink & turn green (Japanese pieris? have I got that right?) …

and holly & vivid red stuff …

and a nose-poke into those holly berries, in one of the sunshine moments …

and some floppy contrast, once again in gentle rain …

and more floppy contrast, this time some of it variegated …

and rain drops perched high & round on glossy leaves …

and — FINALLY — something I recognize.

An Orca whale. In an alley. On a garage.

I knew that. I really did. He didn’t have to tell me.

Almost-Rain

13 November 2017 – Almost-rain puts a pearly grey sheen in the air, sets it shimmering & dancing with everything below.

But at first I am thinking defensively, not collaboratively. I am thinking, “How do I inject some colour into all this grey?”

So I nip into a corner store & buy this $1 pair of stretchy gloves …

which I waggle at my amused companions as we board the bus. “Whoaaa…” says one. “I want a pair.”

We’re headed for the VanDusen Botanical Gardens, the magnet being the weekend “Artists for the Environment” exhibition and fundraiser. The art exhibit, videos & other presentations are almost exclusively indoors, but in fact we spent most of our time wandering the grounds.

Discovering the shimmer, the bright dance, of almost-rain.

I risk wet knees to get close, admire the interplay.

But it is one of my sharp-eyed friends who spots — from his full height — a tiny silver soldier figure, tucked among pine needles at the tree base.

More knees-to-ground.

Later, circling the VanDusen’s Stone Garden, we cock our heads at the sheen on vertical slabs, the wet leaves plastered in random origami folds against the rock by wind & rain.

We creep up on the bright red maple leaf — real? painted?

Painted.

And perfect, I think; the perfect complement to Nature’s own work of art on the rest of the slab.

Later, another complement — and compliment — to Nature’s works of art: Earth Art 2012 “Transformation Plant.”  Two rings of upright stones, wedged closely in position with tightly packed cut wood & smaller stones.

The installation is the work of New Zealand sculptor Chris Booth, who has done kinetic environmental sculptures all over the world, this one in collaboration with Musqueam elders & advisers, the indigenous people of this place.

Prompted by the title, we look for the “transformation plant.”

And there it is, right in the centre, a juvenile western red cedar that, 5 years on, is still barely taller than the encircling rings of stone.

Ah. But.

Think kinetic. Think decades from now.

That sprig, wrote Booth in his project diary,

would flourish over the years into a beautiful tree as the stone slabs (‘petals’) slowly opened up like a flower because of the fungi breaking down the stacked wood, recycling it into humus.

I’m still thinking about the dance of Nature, the ways humans dance with (and against) Nature, as we take the boardwalk across the Cypress Pond, to head for home.

More shimmer.

I’m into it now.

  • 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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