Green Peace

17 June 2021 – I’m at the entrance to the VanDusen Botanical Garden, and I suddenly decide that, this visit, I shall focus on the colour green.

This is why.

All these themes & variations of green, and I’m not yet even into the grounds.

So, green it will be — no labels, no ID, no scrupulous effort at learned info. Just shades, shapes, textures & moods of green.

With, oh all right, a dash of cinnamon.

Colour!

There’s the rich British-racing-green of those ferns, but there’s also citrus-green …

and ghost-silver-green.

There’s growing-tip green…

and sun-dappled green.

Then there’s all the ways a green can dance with the light.

Matte vs high-gloss, for example.

Or, textures! From feathery-droopy…

to spikey-erect.

You only need two ferns for a whole world of contrasts …

but if you really want to see what’s possible, settle down in the Garden’s Fern Dell and look around.

Then there’s green-in-the-pond…

and green-across-the-pond.

And of course — but of course — there is also copy-cat green.

Because, why should nature have all the fun?

Green on a bench…

and later, viewed from the patio, latte to hand, just beyond nature’s own green hedge …

the green apex of a garden umbrella.

And a crow.

… and Macro

13 June 2021 – So there I was, last post, making a big fuss about micro-focus. This time out, my eye snaps right back to macro.

And micro.

Both.

Maybe because I’m on less familiar ground. I’m on the edge of Morton Park — me, plus the 14 bronze gentlemen who make up the collective sculpture A-Maze-ing Laughter. The work of Chinese artist Yue Minjun, it was the hit of the 2009-2011 Vancouver Biennale, and is now a permanent installation owned by the City.

Like his 13 companions, he’s just laughing his ears off. I’m equally happy as we leave micro for macro — past the sculpture, on down to the water just where False Creek swells out into English Bay and the Sea Wall carries on up into Stanley Park.

Micro to macro. Beach plants up close; then down across the sand and rocks of low tide; on out over the water to freighters in the Port Authority “parking lot,” waiting their turn to acquire/deposit cargo; and finally, oh always, mountains and sky.

Mine is not the only eye on the scene.

More micro to macro: first plant life on driftwood stumps, and then beyond & beyond & beyond.

I’m in close for this one: all the colours & textures that dance in a single slab of rock.

Speaking of dance!

Ignore Second Beach Swimming Pool in the background; ignore the snappy bike helmet; narrow your gaze to that crow dancing with the saddlebag behind the seat.

The cyclist must have stashed some pretty delectable gorp back there — and, I guarantee, there’s now a lot less of it than there used to be. The crow has spent the last five minutes methodically dipping his beak. (Oh! Just hit me! Exactly like those dipping-beak bird toys you see advertised.)

On we go, on up to Ferguson Point, just short of Third Beach. More micro-to-macro. A trio of marine biologists, doing something detailed & specific at water’s edge — and out beyond them, a laden freighter.

I’ve been watching it ever since we joined the Sea Wall. It’s the only one out there stacked high with containers and, thanks to the photographic genius of Edward Burtynsky, shipping containers rivet my eye.

We leave the Sea Wall, climb up inland a bit, our target something delicious at the Teahouse.

We arrive. It’s closed. Oops. (I channel Phyllis, my partner in the Tuesday Walking Society back in Toronto: she’d greet a failed-destination moment with the shrugged reminder, “We’re out for a walk.”)

So! Shrug to the Teahouse.

Back down to sea level, back onto the Sea Wall, back toward Morton Park.

A final micro-image reward.

A very small detail, in a very tall tree.

Micro

9 June 2021 – Sometimes, when you’ve been trotting around a particular area often enough, your ungrateful eye begins to slide right off the macro view. Even when it’s as handsome as this one.

Here we are, south side / east end of False Creek, and just look at it — a macro worthy of the name, from boats to billowing clouds with mountains & condos & Science World tucked in between.

But all that, that macro sweep, is not what I notice.

All my eye wants to notice is this:

these mollusc-encrusted old wooden pilings.

And that’s how the walk goes.

My eye keeps snagging on micro snippets within the larger context.

One of Myfanwy MacLeod’s 18-foot sparrows, for example, in Olympic Village plaza.

Decidedly macro, as sparrows go, but not in terms of the plaza as a whole.

Same thing when I turn down an alley off Manitoba & West 3rd.

Lots going on, I promise you, but all I see is an alley cat …

and a bird’s nest.

Presumably not for the Olympic Village sparrow back there! Though the scale would work, wouldn’t it?

To China & Back

5 June 2021 – In a manner of speaking. More precisely, to China Creek North Park & back — only a few kilometres from home, so a post-breakfast loop I can walk & still be back in time for a 10 a.m. Zoom with friends in the East.

Approach from East 7th Avenue, and it looks like Park-in-a-Bowl: steep slope with some 3 hectares of parkland below.

Not even all that interesting, right? A baseball diamond and a whole lotta grass. Yawn. Except that grass covers a lot of history, including the now-invisible China Creek.

In 1888 settler Charles Cleaver Maddams bought 5 acres of land on what was then still the south shore of False Creek, which was then still being fed by a lesser, but powerful creek that drained a whole watershed of tributaries through the ravine into the Flats and ultimately False Creek itself. Maddams called this waterway “China Creek,” because of a nearby Chinese hog farm. (There are other stories; this seems to be the one most widely accepted.)

In the 1920s, Maddams sold the land to the City, which didn’t develop it until the 1950s. Meanwhile, this final bit of False Creek was being filled in, China Creek was buried, and the ravine was being used as a garbage dump. Oh yes, it became one of those stories.

But then, it all got turned around. Today China Creek North Park sparkles in the immediate after-effects of its latest (2019) refurbishment. The slopes have been / are being naturalized, and the kiddy playground has bright colours and fun equipment atop the gentle surface of munched-up used tires.

So let’s look again. There are people in every direction, of all ages, doing all kinds of things, very happily. Five of those people appear in that first photo above, on this near edge of all that boring grass.

Guy on left chinning himself on the exercise equipment; another guy watching; guy on right coaching two young female boxers.

And if you turn your head to the right & look south, it’s even more interesting.

Down there bottom of the slope, turquoise stripes mark the playground; between up here and down there, the fast-naturalizing slope, shaggy with flowers & grasses & surely full of unseen little critters as well; and, visible here and there amidst all that exploding nature, a spiral pathway up/down the slope.

When they used to cut the grass, it was just a boring path; now that it plays peek-a-boo with nature, it is irresistible.

Of course I’m going to walk it, down & up again. I head that way at a clip, but stop long enough for a brief conversation with the gentleman on that bench at the right edge of the photo. It’s just one of those magic moments: we’re both delighted with the day, with the park, and want to share it with somebody. So we do. We also share some how-to-be-a-senior-citizen thoughts, largely about gratitude, qi gong and tai chi; then we nod pleasantly at each other and I’m off to walk the path.

Poppies, clover and cornflowers!

Grasses!

Beserk buttercups!

Perfect spheres of dandelion fluff!

And lupins! (“Your life or your lupins,” I growl, channeling Monty Python, and then soften into memories of wild lupins filling ditches and hedgerows in the Maritimes.)

As I spiral gently to the bottom of the slope, I see one of the female boxers doing it the hard way — full-tilt, straight line.

Meanwhile, her partner is sparring with their coach (while Onlooker Guy from my very first photo is here again, doing a few stretches).

As I head back up the path, I stop to watch a father tuck his son between his legs and set off from the top of the slide to the soft-landing playground below. Father & son laugh as they go, in baritone-soprano duet. I listen, and admire the red poppy here by my foot.

Then I check my watch, and see it is seriously time to make tracks for home!

Hoof-hoof-hoof.

(I make it in time.)

Good Signs

30 May 2021 – As in, “Good signs!!” — pronounced with the inflection and rationale of patting the head of a “Good Dog,” cheered by his energy & optimism. And believe me, I need the cheer. After a totally inert morning (let’s blame it on pandemic brain fog), I finally get myself out the door and hope for some stimulation.

Things immediately improve.

I stand at the very next street corner, and laugh at the irony: the rampaging good health of this garden now obscures the gardener’s advertisement.

See what I mean, about “energy and optimism”? Now that I’m looking for signs of good stuff happening, they’re all over the place — with physical signage attached, to make sure I notice.

On down East 7th, along the edge of Dude Chilling Park, and I blink in disbelief at what I think I see — but surely I am mistaken — in the pathway between the park and the adjacent school. Tents? A street fair? Really?

Well, yes. And was ever a “Do Not Enter” sign so welcome a sight?

The cheerful masked rep for Vancouver Farmers Markets explains that, yes, the market is legal, but, also yes, I cannot enter at this end. One-way traffic is part of the safety protocol: go loop through the park to the other end, enter there, and see ya later. So I do.

Where more signage tells us what’s in season at the moment, and encourages us to whistle through our masks, if we want entertainment.

A dozen-plus tents run down the two sides of the space, with everything from honey to veggies to fish to sauces to the truly important things in life …

like chocolate.

Taped to a tent pole between the Drunken Chocolatier and Bali Bites … a llama.

A snuggly llama.

With a social conscience.

So far I’ve had 2 m / 6 ft measured out for me in eagles, cougars, bears, and butterflies. A llama is an adorable addition to the list.

I don’t stop at the Good Fish tent, and I politely stand back (leaving enough room for at least two snuggly llamas) while the Good Fish guy checks out the offerings at Bali Bites.

He moves on, I move in, and when I walk off again it’s with a pouch of their gado-gado sauce in my backpack.

One last happy look back from the exit end, where yet more signage — “Stay Safe!” — reminds us how to behave, if we want our markets to be able to stay open.

And I’m out, and off, and wandering deeper south-east along these residential streets.

More Good Signs, as I go.

The St. George Library on East 10th, for example, named for the cross-street, is a year-round hub of local give-and-take. The chair is new — perhaps on offer, or perhaps an amenity for someone waiting until it is safe to move in and check current titles.

More wildly healthy foliage obscuring a sign at Carolina and East 11th, another cheering demonstration of neighbours who care about each other. You and I never knew Julia, but this decorated street corner celebrates her as a good friend and neighbour.

Farther south on Carolina, approaching East 18th, and another community free library: BOOKS, albeit in battered lettering on a peeling box. Don’t care. Love it; love what it stands for.

And — I realize, to my absolute glee — the derelict house and blazing buttercups in the background mean that, by sheer chance,I have rediscovered one of my favourite alleys in the entire city. I first took you there with me just over a year ago, with a 24 May 2020 post entitled B Is For Bee (& Buttercup).

Here we are again. With a crow thrown in for good measure.

Later, heading back toward home, somewhere near Mount St. Joseph Hospital on Prince Edward, one more Good Sign. It’s one we all know well, but I have to acknowledge that by now our response is wearier than it was at first.

It is still a Very Good Sign.

Open Border!

20 May 2021 – Well, visually open.

We’re down in Boundary Bay, walking first along the dyke and then on firm sand, through grasses and standing pools, toward the low-tide waters of Strait of Georgia.

Out there is one of the more dipsy-doodle stretches of the Canadian-USA border, jittering its way among the off-shore islands.

Those hazy islands straight ahead? In the USA.

That dark finger of mainland intruding from the right? In Canada.

Mostly.

The very tip is across the border, leaving its town of Point Roberts in splendid, all-American isolation.

Like I said — dipsy-doodle.

“Strange Adventures”

13 May 2021 – I’m not looking for adventure, I’m just walking Point A to Point B — and I get highjacked by this little sign. Who could have predicted it? Who’d expect anything even mildly interesting, on the little grass island smack beneath the traffic ramps at the south end of the Cambie Street bridge?

But here it is: well beyond interesting, all the way to Strange Adventures.

I step past the sign, through the gap in the scruffy hedge … and there’s the first Adventure.

An unexplained, and definitely unofficial, wooden chair, with a tree stump foot-rest.

So I sit down, of course I do. The overhead ramps don’t offer anything adventurous … but, wait, there’s that shocking-pink poster on the pillar …

Surely the promise of Strange Adventures to come?

Yes, it is.

Voxel Bridge, explains this Vancouver Biennale signage, will bring us an “immersive installation” here beneath the bridge, courtesy of this Colombian artist and her planned combination of adhesive vinyl and Augmented Reality.

Hop a few days, and I’m about to enter an immersive installation (perhaps a Strange Adventure) already on offer: the Imagine Van Gogh exhibit in the Convention Centre down on Burrard Inlet. Waiting my turn, I look back through the lobby windows to Douglas Coupland’s wonderful Digital Orca, a pixellated happy-dance for the city, the harbour, and the Coast Range mountains beyond.

After the barrage of high-tech inside, it’s a pleasure to go back outside and see what adventures are on offer just from walking around.

A shot of horizontal yellow: from buttercups and dandelions, to those float-plane logos, to the sulphur piles of North Van over there on the north shore.

A shot of vertical light: storey on storey, the mirrored panels of one building reflect the balconies of the building next door, given extra sparkle by the fountains in Harbour Green Park.

Another day, more adventures.

A real, live crow guards a bus stop …

and a stone lion guards a parking lot.

It’s just one adventure after another, isn’t it? He is in a parking lot. He has blue eyes. And he is hanging out with a gnome. (Oh please! Gnomes.)

Later, I look up the Recovery Gnome Project, and change my attitude. It’s a grass-roots project, started here in Canada by people who have loved ones in recovery. The idea? Get people to celebrate the positive impact of addiction recovery, by creating and placing a gnome in their own community — anywhere in the world. (It’s already spread to the USA and England.)

Now, that‘s an adventure.

Outgoing, Incoming, & Just Plain Here

7 May 2021 – Well, here’s a near-generic urban redevelopment photo for you: detail-specific, in this case False Creek South, east end, but a common tide of events.

Out (R) with remnants of the Industrial Old, and in (L) with the Condo New.

I happen particularly to love that clapped-out, rusty old warehouse, or whatever it once was. I anthropomorphize it like crazy — yahh! you hang in there! love yer attitude!! — and I feel no shame.

I mean… just look. Despite weeds & chain-link fence, it really is somehow still hanging in, not yet knocked down (though a big wind might do the trick).

Yet I can’t be completely grumpy.

Because right next to it sit row upon row of neatly planted gardening boxes, all lined up behind that same chain-link fence and with a sign on the fence to make you pause, read, and puff out a happy little sigh.

Sole Food Street Farms — founded 2009, still active, here they are.

And here we all are, a poster on the utility pole next to the fence reminds me, here we all are, all us human beings …

messy, imperfect, and sometimes quite glorious. It’s just who we are.

So I walk on down to the Creek …

and enjoy myself.

Both Sides Now

2 May 2021 – Joni Mitchell’s pithy phrase leaps to mind, and I borrow it. Her “both sides” explored the many concepts of her magical 1967 song; mine speaks only of a magical day on first one side, and then the other side, of Burrard Inlet. And my “now”? Ahhh, more magic: the magic of the present historical tense, and your willingness to enter it with me.

Here we are, about to amble our way through West Vancouver’s Ambleside Park.

The park flows along the north shore of Burrard Inlet, pretty well right out there where the fiord first starts knifing eastward from Strait of Georgia all the way to Port Moody at the other end. And “amble” is the right verb: there is something soothing and easy-going about this park, and we slow our pace.

I fall instantly in love with the spare, functional elegance of the Ambleside Fishing Pier.

It is the 1990 replacement for the original 1913 structure, which was a vital ferry terminal as well as fishing pier, until bridges (e.g. Lions Gate Bridge, 1938) began to offer another way to cross Burrard Inlet.

We walk toward the pier, peek at an off-shoot through the trees …

but choose to walk out the main pier, right to the end.

Out there in safely deep water, freighters sit anchored in the Port of Vancouver “parking lot,” awaiting their turn to head down-Inlet and offload or receive cargo.

Right here at Pier’s edge, something that excites us a lot more than yet another freighter: a seal!

He may or may not be a capital-H Harbour seal, but he is a seal in the harbour and his presence speaks to the cumulative impact of steps being taken to improve water quality.

Back from the Pier, we briefly cut away from the water, follow footpaths past stands of cherry trees. Yes, the blossoms are falling fast; yes, it’s the “litterbug” stage I smirked about in my previous post. But look: somebody has neatly raked the windfall into a tidy heart.

More charm: a tangle of wild something-or-other draped all over this concrete guidepost.

Yet more charm: the smallest community book-exchange box I have ever seen, with the most inventive signage …

and a stunning backdrop.

Lamp standards evoke the grace of an earlier time …

even when they abut car parks and serve to enthrone a guardian crow.

Having looked westward toward those freighters earlier, we now look south and east, to the dense greens of Stanley Park directly opposite (here white-speckled with a whole flurry of seagulls) and the long curve of Lions Gate Bridge.

That bridge links the “both sides” of this day. We cross it to leave north-side Burrard Inlet for south, and then on down through Stanley Park and a few more kilometres west along the south shore, past Jericho Beach, past Locarno Beach, out to Spanish Banks just short of UBC.

This is why.

We’re here to see some furniture. But not any old furniture. Public Furniture.

They are terrific. So minimally, empathetically sculpted you’d swear nobody but nature had touched them. They rest easily on the sands, absolutely at home with their surroundings and each other.

Like this …

and this …

and this.

Both sides of Burrard Inlet, and magic each side.

Then a surprise, the magic of the unexpected.

Something that catches the eye, confuses the eye, intrigues the eye, and has us skitter across NW Marine Drive for a closer look. At first, it does seem unlikely to enchant: all padlocks, razor wire, rusting metal and Video Surveillance warnings.

But look into the glossy foliage, just there to the left of the staircase. See?

Well of course it’s a dancing orca. How else could we end this day?

Blossoms With Attitude

27 April 2021 – It’s the height of cherry blossom season here, so the whole city is pretty in pink. But pretty-pretty is not the whole message.

First, there’s the sublime indifference to COVID. Our assorted cherry blossom festivals may once again be cancelled, but the trees bloom anyway. Take that, virus! Very comforting, very encouraging.

And then there are all the other messages. I tell you, these blossoms have attitude.

There’s over-the-top bravura: “I own the street.”

There’s elegant restraint: “I craft one perfect nosegay.”

There’s narcissism: “Ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille.”

There’s even the civic irresponsibility of the litterbug: “What? What’s your problem?”

And then, turn down an alley, and it’s a whole different pink.

With an attitude of street-punk defiance.

As in: “So I’m not a cherry tree and nobody planted me or looks after me and there’s no festival in my name and … yah… okay … I’m a weed.

“But here I am.”

I like it a lot.

  • 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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