Lions? No. Sisters!

29 November 2018 – My original plan, some 20 minutes ago, was just to get all goofy wide-eyed about clouds on mountains. Two photos; hello/good-bye.

But then … I got drawn in.

Backstory is that I have just moved within the city and now have an even more stunning view north across downtown Vancouver to the magnificent Coast Range Mountains beyond — mountains that rise in southwestern Yukon and then trace their way south through the Alaska Panhandle and down the  B.C. coast right to the Fraser River.

The cloud formations here are a daily wonder, dancing with the mountains whatever the weather or time of day. They humble my camera; they humble my vocabulary.

A little earlier this afternoon, from my balcony …

Then I shifted my angle ever so slightly to the west, and captured those two iconic mountain peaks, the peaks that say: Vancouver.

Of course! The Lions!

If you know anything about Vancouver geography and skyline, you know that. As Wikipedia points out:

The Lions are a pair of pointed peaks (West Lion – 1,646 m (5,400 ft);[1] East Lion – 1,606 m (5,269 ft))[2] along the North Shore Mountains in Metro Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. They can be seen from much of the Greater Vancouver area, as far as Robert Burnaby Park in East Burnaby, south to parts of Surrey, and from the west on the Howe Sound Islands and the Sunshine Coast. Along with the Lions Gate Bridge named in their honour, these twin summits have become one of the most recognizable Vancouver landmarks. The city’s BC Lions CFL football team is also named in their honour. Lions Gate Entertainment which was founded in Vancouver in July, 1997 is also named for the peaks.

(An aside: Having just made my first-ever donation to the not-for-profit Wikimedia Foundation, I feel entitled to quote verbatim.)

But here’s the catch. “The Lions” is just our — the outsiders’ — name for these peaks. They are known to the indigenous peoples here, the Haida and the Squamish, as the “Twin Sisters.”

Wikipedia picks up the story:

The Indigenous Squamish people named these two prominent peaks “Ch’ich’iyúy Elxwíkn” (translates as ‘Twin Sisters’). These mountains remain sacred for their legal marker of a peace treaty, family lineage histories, and spiritual value. The two peaks were transformed by the Sky Brothers, or Transformers, after twin sisters that had married with Haida twins created the path for the war to end between the Squamish and Haida people. The families that made the Peace Treaty and married together still live in the Squamish and Haida Nations.

The peaks received their English name in the 1890s, Wikipedia goes on to explain, when Judge John Hamilton Gray proposed they be renamed something classier, something … heraldic. Result: lions couchant.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re right.

But the Twin Sisters legend reached our English ears anyway.

Canadian poet E. Pauline Johnson (1861-1913), of Mohawk and English descent, spent her last years in Vancouver and heard this legend, among others, from Chief Mathias Joe. She wrote it down as “The Two Sisters” and included it in her book, Legends of Vancouver, published in 1911 by McClelland and Stewart.

Please spend a moment with that cover art. It is the work of another Canadian icon, J.E.H. MacDonald, a founding member of the Group of Seven.

I am equally impressed by the images for the 2016 reissue of the legend.

This time it has been published as a children’s book by Strong Nations (“We bring indigenous books into your lives”), with drawings by B.C. artist Sandra Butt.

If you now want to hear this legend for yourself, here it is — of course — on You Tube.

I now see these peaks as the Two Sisters, and I honour them as a tribute to strong women, making peace.

 

 

No King. But a Springbok & Some Dragons. And Assorted Birds

26 November 2018 – I never need a reason to go walk False Creek, it’s reason enough all by itself, but today, I do have an objective. I want to see the King Tide in action.

King tides (local media explain) occur when the moon is closest to the earth, the gravitational pull of sun & moon reinforce each other, and tides rise to their highest levels. Vancouver has just begun a run of king tide: November 23-30.

So I go looking, but obviously I’ve arrived at the wrong point in the cycle. Things look darn normal.

No king.

I don’t care. I’ve already had a springbok!

Maybe a springbok? This guy’s horns don’t have that lovely springbok heart-curve, so perhaps he is something else. The text above his head says “Sea Power” and by his hooves says “the natural law”, so that’s no help. Oh well. He’s lovely, whatever he is.

I’m angling down to the water just west of Main Street, a route that zigs & zags me into “Main Alley” — something I had thought just a pretentious name for an alley, but which I now know marks the block where an entire new tech campus will arise.

It already sports the Main Alley Urban Park.

So says the pink sign beyond this shaggy greenery, all that’s left now that summer’s planters have been tidied away for winter. and the café tables &  benches neatly stored.

And “shaggy” is the word, isn’t it, for late fall? Even here in mild Vancouver, summer’s botanical opulence by now is on the weary side …

But.

Farewell summer, yeah-yeah, so what. Look! Hello winter, first snow on the mountains.

I saw the peaks glistening from my own windows early this morning, and felt quite exhilarated by it all. New season, new energy.

Winter up there; here on the water, ferries as usual. And a dragon boat team, also as usual. (OK, you’ve got me. No dragons. Just dragon boaters…)

I’m approaching Hinge Park, but I am distracted by a labyrinth. It glistens quite eerily, as if floating on its own skin of water.

Am amateur job, surely. Masking tape is my bet — and by now in no better shape than the leaves that have landed on it.

But I like it a lot. I like that it’s wonky, and disheveled. I even forgive the fact that you can’t navigate it without cheating a bit, here & there …  (Yes, I walk it. Of course I do.)

Out of the labyrinth, past Hinge Park, & here’s Habitat Island — the man-made island designed to follow nature’s own recipe and provide additional wildlife habitat within False Creek. Two great dead trees anchor the island, spear the sky, and are topped, as always, with live birds.

I go read the plaque, and discover those dead trees are a deliberate part of the plan.

“Raptor Perch” indeed. No raptors at the moment, just gulls & crows — but perched. Definitely perched.

Starting to loop back east takes me along the little creek through Hinge Park that feeds into False Creek. At the moment it’s full of Mallard ducks, bright against the soft grey light.

Heading back up Main Street, one last tribute to birds, at the corner of East 6th.

The leaves have fallen, no shade here until next spring. But I do pause. A moment of appreciation is always in season.

 

 

All Hail, Rain City

23 November 2018 – And there was, literally, a rattle-drum’s worth of hail along with the rain.

But rain is the constant, not hail. It is the pulse of Vancouver winter.

It makes headlights gleam, in the late afternoon of our ever-shorter days …

it bounces expanding circles into parking lot puddles …

and it plays polka-dot on a balcony glass wall.

Umbrellas again define us.

Waiting for use, they sit neatly furled by the front door …

in use, they bubble the sidewalk …

Inside shops, they are jammed into some kind of wet-umbrella stand …

and, once finally home, they are propped open, to dry.

Along with big, bright rain hats!

“We remember them”

 

10 November 2018 – I am in a hurry, pressed for time, just striding down the Cambie Street hill: “Out of my way! I have things to do!”

And I stop flat at City Hall, not for the architecture I love so much, but for this:

Almost Remembrance Day, and isn’t this cascade of poppies a touching & wonderful sight? How could I power on by, oblivious?

I step into the installation, begin to read its signs.

I keep reading. There is history.

I nod, like these children, to the Tower of London project — but, above all, I nod to Lieut.-Col. John McCrae, the Canadian surgeon, poet, author and artist who enlisted at the outset of the War, in August 1914, despite being 41 years of age. He served as Medical Officer with the 1st Brigade of the Canadian Field Artillery.

In April-May 1915, he tended the wounded at the Second Battle of Ypres, the first battle in which poison gas was used. During that prolonged battle, he wrote the poem that has made poppies a world symbol for remembrance.

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow…

All of it is powerful, but I am most touched by this very human stanza part-way through:

We are the dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders Fields.

The poem has been recorded by Leonard Cohen, another author/poet/global Canadian.

Here at one precise intersection in one city in one province in one country in a whole world of remembrance, I read the words of the children who created this installation, this year.

Stepping gingerly around poppies, careful not to step on a single one, I keep reading.

They should feel good, about their own craftsmanship, along with everything else.

And so history lives within us, and through us, generation to generation, and we interpret present meaning from past events.

John McCrae survived the Second Battle of Ypres, but not the war. His asthmatic lungs further weakened by the poison gas, he died of pneumonia in 1918, in Boulongne-sur-Mer, France.

He lies in the nearby Wimereux Communal Cemetery, one of 2,847 Commonwealth soldiers to share that final resting place. If you’re ever in Guelph, Ontario, visit his childhood home, now museum.

 

A Tug to the West

28 October 2018 – So there we were, admiring the Radium Yellowknife, a Vancouver-registered tug working the Toronto harbourfront …

And here we are, admiring the Ella McKenzie, the 1951 wooden tug who once worked the B.C. coast and now bobs at anchor in False Creek, enjoying her retirement in the outdoor section of the Vancouver Maritime Museum.

She may be retired, and she may bear a notice telling us not to step aboard, but this Great Blue Heron doesn’t care.

He has not retired, and he is aboard, and he ignores our admiring presence on the walkway.

The Ella McKenzie is now his fishing platform.

We work our way past the various exhibits — all a bonus, since this dock also serves the False Creek ferries, and we landed here en route the Museum of Vancouver, also located in Vanier Park.

Another stimulating, intriguing visit to the MOV — I am such a fan — and eventually we’re back on the dock. It’s time to pick up a ferry to downtown and launch our planned evening out in Chinatown.

The heron is still at his hunting station on the Ella McKenzie.

And he is picking off those teeny-tiny fishies one after another, so he is.

See that glitter at the tip of his beak? Gulp! and it’s gone.

Pretty soon a ferry arrives, and we too are gone.

Bye-bye Mr. Heron: we’re off to hunt our own dinner, down on E. Pender Street.

 

X-Power

22 October 2018 – I’m not sure how to pronounce it, but I for-sure like the results when womxn street artists are invited to paint up a storm in a particular city alley.

I’m here thanks to a tip-off from Chloe, another onetime AGO colleague who has turned into a continuing good friend. She’d have cause to know about this 2018 project: apart from anything else, it’s virtually across the street from the Art Gallery of Ontario — in the alley on the north side of Dundas, between McCaul & D’Arcy streets.

So right after Anthropocene, I cross the street and left-turn into the alley from McCaul. First up, a big black blank canvas — probably not part of the project, but something Chloe told me to check, since it is regularly repainted with another quote. Current version is:

One other person is prowling the alley, camera in hand. I mean, a real camera, with attachments and everything. Backpack Guy and I dance around each other very agreeably all the way down the block.

And there’s lots to see.

Down at the end of that long shot, you’ll see the multi-coloured suggestion of this (I think) leopard, who leaps right at me once I reach that particular garage door.

He’s in high contrast with an image more often associated with women …

I particularly like the jaunty angle of the needle.

There are eyes, twice over …

and dancing cranes …

and dancing water-babies. A splashy great mix of diving styles, complete with a couple of exuberant cannonballs.

As I head back to Dundas West, one final message.

Life philosophy all wrapped up in a tongue-twister. I twist my tongue around it a time or two, as I wait for my streetcar.

Sur/real

20 October 2018 – What do you do when the real keeps crashing into the surreal? If you are Edward Burtynsky, you document it.

This Canadian photographer & artist has been doing so for a while, mostly recently with his enormous multi-media project, Anthropocene — in collaboration with Nicholas de Pencier & Jennifer Baichwal — now on view at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

I have loved Burtynsky’s large-scale, high-resolution photographs of human impact on the earth (“built landscapes”) since I first saw a show of his works at the AGO during its 2008 expansion — and as a result decided to become a Gallery volunteer.

Here he is again.

The show is epic. And it deals with an epic new stage in human history. As Burtynsky points out on his webpage devoted to this project:

The Holocene epoch started 11,700 years ago as the glaciers of the last ice age receded. Geologists and other scientists from the Anthropocene Working Group believe that we have left the Holocene and entered a new epoch: the Anthropocene. Their argument is that humans have become the single most defining force on the planet and that the evidence for this is overwhelming.

When your skills and technology allow you to view our impact at something approaching its true scale, real does indeed merge with surreal.

I walk about, disoriented once again by the way large-scale destruction can often look so beautiful.

Is this a Georgia O’Keefe flower painting?

No. It is Phosphor Tailings # 5 near Lakeland, Florida.

Is this a Renaissance tapestry?

No. It is waste at the Morenci copper mine, Clifton Arizona.

Are these snail shells?

Again, no. This is Uralkali Potash Mine #4, Berezniki, Russia.

Other confusions are also possible, and more charming.

My one-time AGO colleague and continuing good friend Cyndie joins me. She leads me to this video of coal trains coming & going.

A visitor told Cyndie about standing here with her young son, someone who had heard his parents discussing jazz giant John Coltrane. “Look!” cried the child. “Coal train!”

The technology on display, and the skills of those using that technology, are staggering. Huge scale, huge depth of field, and razor-sharp focus. Here’s another sweeping view of the land and a phosphor trailings pond near Lakeland, Florida …

 

and, look, here is a croc, sunning himself at pond-edge.

Sometimes, the team is able to document “good anthropocene.”

Take this short video sequence shot by Baichwal and de Pencier in Cathedral Grove, Vancouver Island.

Before …

and — boom! — after.

All good.

So-called “danger trees” — ones that through age and other frailties pose danger to workers and visitors — are routinely exploded. Their debris settles back to the forest floor, hastening the return of their nutrients to the soil.

More good anthropocene — a thriving coral reef lying more than 18 metres underwater in Komodo National Park, a World Heritage Site in Indonesia.

As we walk out, I tug Cyndie over to the huge work hanging by the exhibition entrance, one I have always loved in the AGO’s permanent collection.

With that coral reef still dancing in my mind, I suddenly know why this glorious work by Québécois master Jean-Paul Riopelle …

is such an appropriate visual introduction to the show.

 

 

 

A Secret Handshake on Pape (with cheese)

18 October 2018 – I’m walking north on Pape and stop at the corner of Wroxeter for a fond smile at The Schmooz, where I enjoyed many a fine coffee during my Toronto stay last winter.

Click!

(There’s only one of me. Something about that reflecting glass doubles me up.)

But that’s not the best. The best is the café’s sidewalk sign, both sides of it.

A “secret handshake!” I chortle.

And now we digress.

The term is the invention of Douglas Coupland, who first burned his way into the global mind by inventing another term back in 1991 and writing a novel about it: Generation X.

By 2014 he had long since added other media to his initial reputation as a novelist. That year, he had an exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery in his sort-of home town, called everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything. (Though not born in Vancouver nor always resident there, he is very much claimed by the city.)

One of its sections was The Secret Handshake.

Said the VAG:

Through a wide range of media Coupland has persistently investigated Canadian cultural identity, both benign and menacing.  Using imagery and objects latent with symbolic meaning for Canadians, he delineates what it means to be Canadian, offering a “secret handshake” not easily understood by others.

In April 2015, The Secret Handshake was one section of a Douglas Coupland exhibition in Toronto, and I blogged about it. With no pretence at originality, I called that post The Secret Handshake.

End of digression.

We’re back on Pape, with The Schmooz’ addition to the canon of secret handshakes.

North side of sign:

South side of sign:

If you’re not Canadian, but you get the references, then welcome! You are an honorary Canadian, and entitled to say “double-double” with the rest of us.

 

T-Time

11 October 2018 – T-Time, not as in fine china & scones.

T-Time, as in YYZ; as in 43.6532°N  79.3832° W.

T-Time, as in … Toronto.

Here I am.

With luck, there will be wonderful autumn colour. With certainty, there are wonderful friends, and that is quite enough already.

A first walk-about, with assorted friends, and there’s the city, amusing me as I go.

In front of a construction site at Bathurst & Bloor, for example …

with my tummy already warm with a Green Beanery latte, so this is a bonus.

Later, down in the financial district, I look up at this play of black-on-white.

The black is one edge of one building in the cluster of buildings that make up the Toronto-Dominion Centre, designed by Mies van der Rohe in the 1960s.

I’m not there for those knife edges, however, not even for how they play out in geometric shadows on the ground, at precisely 2:13 p.m. on a sunny October afternoon.

I’m there for what I know lies through that arch, over by those luminous trees. Something I have loved (and visited) in every season of the year. Something I want to visit again.

The PastureJoe Fafard‘s wonderful pasture of seven life-size bronze cows, at peace and at home in the courtyard of the TD Centre.

Later yet again, Phyllis (yes! co-founder of the Tuesday Walking Society!) and I are taking a pedestrian overpass across the Yonge Street subway line, between Eglinton & Davisville.

I’ve had cows, now I get racoons. A distinctly less classy setting than a Mies van der Rohe architectural design, but perhaps better suited to the animal in question. Or, at least, showing him in one of his typical urban habitats.

Down an alley.

There’s the guy in the garbage pail, claiming the pizza box …

and the guy navigating a ladder …

and it’s all so Toronto I am giggling my silly head off.

Please, raise your glass to T-Time.

 

Oblivious. And Observant

5 October 2018 – These people are oblivious …

to the whole busy other world going right here next to them, all around Norman’s Fruit & Salad market .

They’re put to shame by these Plum Birds, who are so observant they’re practically falling off their wire.

See? It’s a world of activity, all stretched out, right beneath those bright beady eyes …

layer on layer.

All quite fanciful, too, with a certain ornithological flair.

That’s a cardinal on her head, I like to think, and on his finger, oh, let’s call it a cockatoo. (The rare crestless variant.)

Perhaps distracted by the wine, they are oblivious to the scrutiny from above.

Up there, an observant trio, who watch what’s happening below …

despite their own distractions of book, apples and, I’m willing to guess, a daffodil. (Clearly they are not the least bit distracted by untied shoe laces.)

Beside them, a second trio, the sleeping cat nicely counterbalanced by two watchful crows.

Beside them, yet another trio. A trio of trios! This time it’s a sad clown, a perhaps-concerned crow and, underneath, an I-have-my-own-problems sad civilian.

I confess. This is not where I began. Not what first switched me from oblivious to observant.

I was hiking right along at that street corner, when the young Joe Stalin caught my attention.

There he was, back from the dead to glower over a box of cabbages.

It took me a long while to notice the — what? Benedictine monk? — reading his breviary in the background.

What I noticed next was the bad-tempered cat, there at young Joe’s feet, giving that Plum Bird on the pole a hard time.

Or, perhaps, Joe & the cat are just ticked at whoever scrawled all over them.

Street artists should respect existing street art, right?

 

  • 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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