Both/And (Again)

8 March 2022 – I’m walking along West 8th, not a single philosophic thought in mind — in fact my mind pretty well free of any thought, truth be told, perfectly willing to let my feet have all the fun.

And then the street takes me in hand. “Pay attention!” it scolds. “The old both/and of life, right here in front of you, yet again.”

Both the loving beauty of this ornament, tied to a shrub next to the sidewalk …

and the weary decrepitude of the building behind it.

Both a tinder-dry Christmas tree still littering someone’s side yard …

and first daffodils, bursting through the soil right beside it.

And then, one more block down the street, a whole both/and tableau entwined on a single tree branch:

both winter’s lichen & moss, and spring’s urgent new buds.

(Plus, bonus, the constant pleasure of that colour-wrapped building behind, a veteran of the very first Vancouver Mural Festival, in 2016.)

To Beat the Deadline

27 February 2022 – It turns out to be a false deadline — but who knew, at the time?

The morning weather mavens are all serious faces and urgent voices: Merely cloudy now, they tell us, but by 1 p.m., it’s atmospheric river time! Snow, rain, high winds, ugly-ugly — and set to last for 3-4 days.

Suitably motivated, I zip out the door. If I want to say hello to False Creek, right now is the time.

No lingering to admire Animalitoland’s winsome lady (VMF 2020) as I zigzag north-west.

On to the Creek! Where I find everybody full speed with their morning agendas.

Paddlers getting organized, down on their dock just east of Olympic Village Square …

jogger jogging over the inlet, far side of the Square …

ferry boat bustling eastward to the Village Dock …

and an improbable bird house out on Habitat Island, just off Hinge Park, glowing gold against the surrounding grey.

No real live bird would give that creation a moment’s thought, but it’s not there for the birds, is it? Some human being built and hung it there to amuse and charm the rest of us. And since it harms no-one, I am charmed.

As I am by my next discovery, looped into the chain link fence just west of Habitat Island.

“Draw someone you love,” says that glossy red sign — and look at the display.

Most of the drawings are of humans …

but not all.

On I go and on I go, and out there past Spyglass Place, closing in on Leg-in-Boot Square, I see another drawing of love. This one.

I know. It’s just another, yet another, yet another generic old boring old smiley face. Please.

Except… it’s wearing a mask. So this is a drawing of love in action: love for each other, for our community as a whole.

I’m still cheered by that thought as I turn back east — and further cheered by the fact that the dread 1 p.m. deadline draws close, but there is no sign yet of snow/rain/wind/general mayhem.

Anyway, what’s wrong with rain?

I will not argue with Thrive Art Studio and their alley wisdom (VMF 2018).

Optimism

21 February 2022 – I look at this front yard ensemble, everything still so bedraggled …

and I think: Ohhhhh, it’s not spring yet.

But spring is coming — less than a month away. (Less by only 1 day, but I’ll take it.)

And signs of vernal optimism are everywhere.

New plantings are being dug into this sidewalk wheelbarrow on West 10th …

crocuses & snowdrops have jumped up among the ferns, just opposite …

and Whole Foods has refreshed the panels of its living wall just off Cambie Street.

Even this faery-tree tableau lives up to the optimism theme …

though I have to lean in close & read the fine print, to notice it.

Now, that is optimism.

Sun + Double Digits

12 February 2022 – It hits 11C this sunny Saturday — double digits, and it’s only mid-February! I break out my summer Tilley (hat), leave my coat behind, and head for False Creek. I am giddy with the promise of spring.

I’m not the only one. “Giddy” pretty well defines the mood all around me for my entire walk.

There are preening Canada geese and munching human youth by this condo water feature just east of the Creek …

and humans of every age lolling, their bodies at ease with the temperature, as they watch balls carom off whirlygigs and springs go spronnnnggggg in this Rube Goldberg sculpture outside Science World. (I am particularly taken with the eclectic style of the little girl on the scooter: lavender princess-ballerina net skirt and a bumblebee helmet.)

The playground next to Science World, with its child-friendly crushed rubber surface, is alive with leaping, squealing youngsters.

An Aquabus sets out to zigzag its way, dock by dock, west to Granville Island …

and four guys keep four basketballs busy on the court under the north-side access ramps to the Cambie Bridge.

I walk on a bit farther, past the western end of Coopers Park where I again note how much “higher-rise” and marina-dense the north side of the Creek is, compared to the south …

then turn back east. Thanks to low tide, Jerry Pethick’s Time Top sculpture is fully visible.

Four shells and one gull: the humans paddle like crazy, but the gull is still in the lead.

Down in its final curve, where False Creek is revealed to be no creek after all, a little girl adds just one more stone to the top of the stack that she has been so carefully constructing — with daddy so patiently standing by as she tests her skills. In the distance, a more exuberant family tableau: everybody is throwing stones into the water, not balancing them.

Two riders are about to pass the electronic eye on the cycle path as it dips behind Science World. When I arrived earlier, a read-out told me that 2790 cyclists used the path yesterday (midnight to midnight), and the current count for today was 800 and change. Now, a few hours later, it has already topped 1700.

Assorted buskers vie for attention. My favourites are these ukulele players, who take turns playing and being part of the audience. A moment ago, the man (right) in the black vest and watch cap was strumming away; now he is tapping his foot and smiling encouragement.

And I head home, also smiling and feeling encouraged. Time to pull out more spring clothing! (Oh, all right, still too soon. But wow, it’s coming.)

Sun, Fog, Fog, Fog

25 January 2022 – Bouncing sunbeams Saturday morning, as we bounce off to Blackie Spit Park. It is at the tip of Crescent Beach, a sandspit that extends into Mud Bay, itself an extension of Boundary Bay in South Surrey.

Hardly a muddy bay today! Everything sparkles, from the water right before us to the snowy North Shore Mountains in the distance.

Sparkling water in the canal as well, with (I think) American Wigeon ducks paddling their way toward that red cabin beside the controls that regulate water levels.

That was Saturday.

Sunday morning, and, yes, the forecast was right. Dense fog hovers over the Lower Mainland and is expected to last for several days, with periods of “near zero” visibility.

Car headlights peer through the murk on Main Street; black crows, doing their westward morning commute, blend into the sky.

And one guy, presumably, says “Sod it!” and turns back east. Maybe home to his Burnaby roost, where he will tuck his head under his wing and sleep away the day?

I am made of sterner stuff. I’m off to Campbell Valley Regional Park in Langley — much larger than Saturday’s park, with 29 km of sprawling trails looped through the valley and around Little Campbell River.

It’s a study in up-close clarity, and misty fog beyond.

The moss pops colour — was ever green so green? — but all is steely-grey just beyond those trees.

Like Blackie Spit (which is on the Pacific Flyway), this Campbell Valley park is a haven for birdlife. I know about Wood Ducks …

but I am introduced to west-coast varieties of species I only know in their eastern versions. The Chestnut-Backed Chickadee, for example, and the Spotted Towhee. Perhaps the Fox Sparrow as well, but my companion is as scrupulous as he is knowledgeable, and cautions he is not quite sure about that one.

Don’t care. Don’t need to know all the names. It’s all splendid, just as it is.

Ultimately we’re on the Shaggy Mane Trail, shared by humans and horses. Neither of us knows anything about horses, but they are well-behaved and their riders courteous, and we are perfectly happy to step aside and admire them as they clip-clop past.

Monday: foggy.

Late Tuesday morning: still foggy.

Even deep downtown.

Barge Brain

21 January 2022 – I did not expect to contract Barge Brain. I was setting out from the Olympic Village dock in False Creek with an English Bay walk in mind — one that, yes, would include walking past the barge, but nothing more emphatic than that. Just a polite nod to an improbable celebrity as I carried on toward points farther north-west and whatever delights they might offer.

So I jump on the ferry with a clear plan in mind.

A family jumps on as well. The parents, engaged and empathetic, encourage their toddler to face forward, clutch an imaginary wheel with his little hands, and steer the boat. He of course will have none of it, and looks every which way but forward.

Ah well. They get off at Granville Island; I transfer to another ferry for the onward trip that takes us under the Burrard Street bridge, out of False Creek into English Bay, and across to the Aquatic Centre dock on the north side of the Bay. From there, I’ll walk the seawall — past Sunset Beach, on up to Morton Park just shy of Stanley Park, beyond the top frame of this map.

Sunset Beach is home to the barge. The cap-B Barge. The Celebrity Barge. The barge nobody knew or cared about until violent winds on November 15th sent it crashing onto the rocks of Sunset Beach. Where it hung its ponderous length at a tipsy angle, for all the world like a drunk clutching his lamp post, and has continued to hang ever since.

I step onto the Aquatic Centre dock, look north-west — and there it is. That rusty-red rectangle on a point of rocky land.

I start walking toward it, already feeling more fascination than I had anticipated. Two discoveries, even at this distance.

One, the barge is damn big. Lordy, it is big.

And two, the barge is just across that narrow tongue of water from my favourite Vancouver Biennale sculpture of them all: Bernar Venet’s 217.5 Arc x 13 installation of 13 arcs of steel, each arc shaped to that number of degrees. So before approaching the barge, I veer onto the sand, to pay my respects to the sculpture. (And to take this so-obvious shot of them both. Sorry! It is very obvious, isn’t it?)

Now on past that little tongue of water, closer to the barge — and to heaped piles of other debris, also thrown ashore by the storms.

Now I’m close, and I just stand there and gawk. Seeing one of these things far off in the water gives you no sense of scale. Up close, it’s different. You measure it against a parked car, or passers-by — these women with their strollers, for example.

My brain is whirling. How big is it? Media love factoids, why has nobody told me how long this thing is, how tall? And come to that, what is it? They say “barge” — but surely there are categories of barge? Why haven’t they told us these things? Pick-pick, grumble-grumble.

Later I look online. I can’t find any local reference to length, but a recent New York Times article about our celebrity barge says it is “nearly 200 feet long.” (Nearly 60 metres.) And one local story does in passing identify it as a “chip” (wood-chip) barge — corroborated by a photographer, who in November sent a drone aloft to investigate, which indeed saw scant wood chip residue in an otherwise empty shell.

I prowl its length, staring over and up. Up and up.

From the near end …

looking toward the far end …

taking in all those shades & shapes, all that texture …

sliding off the far end …

with a final backward glance at the entire hulk.

I think what fun Vancouverites have had, coming up with punning names for this impromptu event: “Barge on the Beach,” an easy slide from the Bard on the Beach open-air theatrical offerings across the water in Vanier Park; also “Barge Chilling Beach,” an amused play on our Dude Chilling Park.

But it’s not all fun, and I think about that, too. Several tiers of government are trying to solve the problem of guarding & removing the barge (which poses real environmental risks) and the owner, Sentry Marine Towing, is not proving particularly visible or forth-coming. Indeed, when I try to visit Sentry’s website I end up staring at a Not Found/404 message instead. As a recent CTV report suggests, removal is complicated and civic authorities, fronting the process & the costs, may not see either action or repayment any time soon.

And then I stop thinking about all that, and tell my Barge Brain to give it a rest.

I move on. I turn my attention to nature.

A whole flotilla of Barrow’s Goldeneye ducks …

two small stones resting atop two large rocks, in modest tribute (the storms tumbled all those grandiose stacked stones and I find I am pleased) …

and even the first spears of spring daffodils.

Just off Morton Park, where I’ve often visited the A-Maze-ing Laughter sculptures, I discover a sundial, a 1967 Centennial project that has until now escaped my notice.

So I linger with it a moment …

and then turn back east to start the walk & ferry travel that will take me home.

I walk several docks past the Aquatic Centre before boarding a ferry, all the way back to the Aquabus dock in David Lam Park, and I am well pleased with my day when I finally step into a floating rainbow.

Snow‼️

26 December 2021 – Snow in Canada in late December? Hardly worth comment. Let alone even one exclamation mark, not to mention two of them, and in punch-your-eyeball-red at that…

True, but. This is Vancouver’s first snowy Christmas since 2008, and only the fourth in the last 25 years. I know the stats thanks to a news report, but I only have to look out my window for confirmation.

No need to climb 300 metres up the Coast Range mountains today, to catch some snow! It’s right here at sea level. So I go play snow-tourist around False Creek.

Icicles. A given, in my Toronto winter days, but a rarity here, so I pay attention.

The Chai Wagon is open for business as usual, just off Science World, but the chai-wallah is more bundled up than usual …

and the nearby palm trees have their own winter adornment.

The little footbridge at Olympic Village was upgraded this summer, with — they promised — an improved anti-slip texture underfoot. Hmmm. The sign doesn’t know about that promise. Or doesn’t trust it.

Or perhaps is just a neurotic worrywart by nature.

These women are not worrywarts. They stride onto the bridge full-tilt, and cross without incident.

The welcoming chairs at Spyglass Dock are embracing snow at the moment, not Creek-side flâneurs …

but someone has cleared one of the blossoms in the artwork by Emily Gray that makes this dock so appealing.

I double back under the Cambie bridge ramps, here on the south side. This location — like Toronto’s innovative Underpass Park — is an encouraging example of what we can do with places that are more typically written off as wastelands.

Butterflies on the ramp supports, picnic and table-tennis tables on the ground below — a bright, inviting space where you feel it’s safe to linger.

At my back, the False Creek Energy Centre , hub for the Neighbourhood Energy Utility.

It uses waste thermal energy captured from sewage to provide space heating and hot water to a surprisingly large local area: Southeast False Creek, plus parts of Mount Pleasant, False Creek Flats and Northeast False Creek. “This recycled energy eliminates more than 60% of the greenhouse gas pollution associated with heating buildings,” says a City website. It adds: “The utility is self-funded.”

To the east, on my left, the John McBride Community Garden.

It is low on garden activity at the moment but still a magnet for this mother and child, heads bent in mutual fascination with something they see either before them or in the mind’s eye.

Straight ahead, directly beneath the Cambie Bridge, the Voxel Bridge — a Vancouver Biennale installation this past summer. Not just physical reality, but blockchain-based augmented reality.

Still dazzling on the side pillars and overhead, but surprisingly scuffed and worn underfoot.

This new sign may explain why.

I have to read up about bicycle drifting later, to appreciate the power that goes into the technique, and the problem it could therefore create for artwork.

Fortunately, human feet can safely drift all they want! Mine lead me eastward along West 5th Avenue.

Where, approaching Alberta Street, I pause at this mini-installation along the side wall of Beaumont Studios (“a supportive environment for a wide variety of creative professionals”). She’s your basic Noble Lady in Flowing Robes, isn’t she? But enlivened with colour up & down her body, and very bright turquoise sneakers by her sandalled feet.

Catty-corner at Alberta, a gleaming new facility devoted to butchering beans.

Oh. Got it. Vegan “meat.” I’m amused by the cheeky reassurance of the wall slogan (“Don’t worry, Mount Pleasant…”) …

and, while not about to order any product myself, impressed by the reach of this BC success story.

In just a few years, The Very Good Butchers has gone from Denman Island farmers’ markets, to a Victoria plant-based butchery, to this gleaming new facility and major online activity. Plus a presence in co-ops and markets north/south/east/west Canada and the USA.

Meanwhile, back here in Vancouver, physical me walks on. On east to Manitoba (street, not province — though that would also work). South on Manitoba with a pause at the alley entrance that houses one of my favourite murals.

But it’s not just the mural. Not just William Lam’s skill. It’s the context. Street art, in street context.

After that, I drift on home.

(No artwork is damaged in the drift.)

Sunshine & Seawalk

21 December 2021 – Second-shortest day of the year, but dazzling sunshine in compensation. Bad weather in the forecast. A good reason to stir my bones right now, and explore the Seawalk that skirts the north shore of Burrard Inlet between Dundarave Park and John Lawson Park, out in West Vancouver.

Girl-on-turtle in Dundarave, very beachfront, both of them sporting bright red caps, very seasonal.

Freighters wait at anchor out there for their scheduled time with Port Authority cranes; waves roll in to hiss at our feet here on the shoreline.

It’s a complex shoreline, tangled and rough. Someone has carefully placed five stones on this one log; frost glistens still in the morning light.

I am fascinated by the frost, lean closer, look more closely.

Then I walk out Dundarave Pier and look east down the Inlet, tracing my eyes along the Seawalk I am about to follow. I dance them a moment across Lion’s Gate Bridge there in the distance, over to Stanley Park.

Back in the park proper and about to leave the park, I’m snagged by this wonderful German Friendship Globe. It spins gently, as indeed the world should, cushioned on an underlying bed of water. I admire the beauty and the precision of the etching.

The equator, neatly bisecting the globe; Australia, buoyant beneath it.

And then… the world is turned on its ear.

An inquisitive little girl marches up, and gives the globe a mighty push. The equator plummets out of sight, and the Americas turn sideways.

I laugh out loud. This is terrific! We are reminded that map conventions are only that — conventions. Hurray for inquisitive little girls.

And with that happy thought, this inquisitive old girl sets off down the Seawalk.

I read signage as I go. All they’ve done is pave a well-established path.

A path with a long, and still continuing, history of jousting with the rail barons.

In places dramatic tree trunks ride the rocks …

elsewhere, there’s nothing but a delicate curl of vine.

I reach John Lawson Park, far end of the official Seawalk, and watch that little boy swinging hand-over-hand in the playground. He is also being watched by four seagulls — one of them real.

Another pier, and who can resist a pier? I walk out to the end, so much closer now to Lion’s Gate Bridge, but pay more attention to the ducks — Barrow’s Goldeneye, I think — than to the bridge. A whole flotilla of them, gliding along, perfectly happy in the chilly water, perfectly at home.

It’s still possible to hug the water, and I do for a while longer, on to Ambleside Park.

Where, finally, I cut back up to Marine Drive, to look for a bus.

Culture shock!

300 Metres

16 December 2021 – One of my discoveries since moving here is the inclusion of “freezing level” data in winter forecasts. Unlike some of my other fascinations (such as moss on trees, or crows), I’ve never blogged about it. Until now!

The “freezing level” is exactly what the phrase suggests it will be: the elevation at which the air temperature is 0 Celsius and water freezes, including moisture particles in the air. In other words, it is “the line that separates snow and rain.” I take this pithy quote from the adorably named windy.app website, which will tell you a whole lot more about the topic, but that’s the gist of the thing.

It’s important information, when you live in a mountainous terrain and want to know if driving a particular highway at a given elevation will be merely misty with a wet road surface, or snowy with ice beneath your tires.

I knew all that long before I realized that I could, with my own eyes, see the data. See the freezing level — just by looking across the city, on across Burrard Inlet, to the Coast Range mountains beyond.

On 13 December, Environment and Climate Change Canada warned us: “… For most areas, showers are expected, but freezing levels are hovering around 300 metres and the rain could turn into snow in the Fraser Valley and over higher terrain.”

At 1:02 pm, on 13 December, I took this picture:

See that neat horizontal line? Powdery white above, dark below?

There’s the freezing level.

I now look for it, every day.

Walking with Spirit

5 December 2021 — You bet. Spirit with a capital-S.

We’re in Pacific Spirit Regional Park, some 770 hectares of temperate rainforest in the city’s west end, neatly bordered along one edge by the foreshore of Georgia Strait. The network of trails, more than 50 km in all, lets you weave your way through mixed coniferous-deciduous stands of trees, taking in berry bushes, ferns, mosses, lichens and fungi as you go.

And that is exactly what we are doing.

Bark is a wonder, all on its own. Not just texture, but colour. And not just all the subtleties of black and brown, but, look, streaks of turquoise. Lichen is not always grey!

Last yellow leaves of a deciduous tree glow just overhead…

and, not to be outdone, other last-leaves flash bold patterns in the undergrowth.

Great webs of tree roots snake across the ground, tracing the hummocks of the long-buried nurse logs that gave them life.

Then there are the decidedly not-buried nurse logs!

Nurse-stumps like this one, crowned with its own full-grown progeny.

Tiny sprays of vivid fern, beside a fallen log ruffled with equally tiny fungi…

and a huge explosion of fern, so massive, so primordial in mood & presence that I look around for dinosaurs.

Jagged stand-alone stumps…

and the whole entangled dance of the forest: stumps & ferns & leaf mould and, overhead, moss woven around looping tree branches.

Whole entanglements within moss itself…

and the gleam of a boggy rivulet, deep and wide in this wet, wet season.

Enchanted, we follow our trail…

with its bends and twists and guiding stretches of snake fence.

On and on.

  • 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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