Wired for Walking

11 January 2021 – I’m out walking again, with the same motivation that drove And Also. Medical & political turbulence aren’t going away any time soon, so let’s balance those realities with other realities — moments of delight, charm, generosity, fun, engagement.

French author Marcel Proust knew about concurrent realities when he observed that the voyage of discovery lay in having new eyes, not in seeking new landscapes. (The quote is on my home page. I’ve loved it ever since I saw it on a wall at the Art Gallery of Ontario, and I no longer remember why it was there. Though, arguably, it’s one of those anchor thoughts that need no further justification.)

One hundred-plus years later, neuroscience has caught up with Proust. Psychologist & author Rick Hanson (e.g. Buddha’s Brain, Hardwired for Happiness) points out: “Neurons that fire together wire together. Mental states become neural traits. Day after day, your mind is building your brain. This is what scientists call experience-dependent neuroplasticity…” Also: “When you tilt toward the good, you’re not denying or resisting the bad. You’re simply acknowledging, enjoying and using the good. You’re acknowledging the whole truth, all the tiles of the mosaic of life…”

So, hey, claim your favourite authority — from Buddha to Marcel Proust to experience-dependent neuroplasticity — but feel no guilt about also noticing what is delightful.

I have myself a truly delightful, absolutely guilt-free, and (for me) quite lengthy walk. I take lots of photos. I select a bunch for this post.

And decide to use only two.

Go find your own delightful moments — the ones that speak to you, for your own reasons, in your own environment. We’re each on our own voyage of discovery, each selecting our own moments that will select the neurons to fire together & wire together.

Two photos, I promised you.

And they’re all about wires!

Last few blocks in the homeward stretch, I am more intent on plod-plod than see-see.

And then I see — just peripherally, but the sight ambushes my eye, snags me, halts my feet. There, on that ground-floor balcony ledge, next to that winter-mossy tree.

I trespass, move in close.

She is perfect. She is exuberant, strong, literally wired for joy & walking & discovery & everything wonderful, and, in the multiplicity of her colours, totally inclusive. I shamelessly stole Michael Snow’s Walking Woman sculpture series for my blog title, but I’m now adding her as another avatar, another inspiration.

(Guys, you can claim her too. Just do a mental photo-shop, and substitute your dangly bits for her dangly bits.)

And here we are. Our very own Wired for Walking avatar, just when we need one.

Fazes, Flatz & Catz

9 December 2020 – I am zed-obsessed, you will have just noticed, and it’s all because my feet turn right instead of left and send me on a tour of Zedland. (As in, South Flatz-with-a-zed.)

But before the Flatz, a face. (I’m back to proper spelling. Aren’t you glad? A little cute goes a long way.)

This image is just where it should be, in an alley betwixt garbage bin & hydro pole, and I like it a lot. Partly for the message (“It’s okay / to let things / feel a little / bit easier”), mostly for the line strength and enigmatic stare. The power of this graphic brings to mind the face by Toronto street artist Anser that became a city icon.

See what I mean? Not the same, but reminiscent.

I see the face again as I enter an alley down between East 2nd & East 1st, right where my feet turn me right instead of left — unexpectedly toward Emily Carr University and away from my intended visit to False Creek. Eyes even more powerful this time, framed by that rusty railing. (The artist signs as DATA, and I can find nothing helpful online.)

On East 1st now… and yet more faces! Each one presumably giving you a reason to drink Red Truck Beer.

And now, closing in on Emily Carr University of Art + Design, I hit the Zed.

South Flatz will be an entirely legit and valuable campus of high-tech buildings close to Emily Carr. The branding, however, meant to establish creative, street-smart creds for the development, has drawn heavy sarcasm online: “spelled with a ‘z’ because it’s cool!” snipes one review; “so hip it hurts!” I have to confess, my own lip curls at the sight.

But my humour is restored when, in the midst of that glossy line-up of images, I spot Sir Wilfrid Laurier Cat.

What do you mean, you don’t see any resemblance to our country’s 7th prime minister? Look at the collar.

Another cat, but this one more Parking Lot than Parliament Hill. He’s on a service pole in the parking lots stretching on east from Emily Carr. Train tracks to the other side and, here, trucks and tents associated with location shooting for a new documentary film: Managing the Pandemic Risk. (Sigh.)

Also in the parking lot, more faces and — perhaps — another cat. Faces on the back of that colourful van, showing the eponymous Two Nice Guys ready to move your belongings; Perhaps Cat scrawled on that white van right-forefront.

And on I go, as far as Clark Drive, and then south (uphill, pant-pant) until I turn west again on East 10th.

Where I meet two more cats.

In a manner of speaking. Black cat high; gold cat low; neither deigning to acknowledge the other or passers-by. Well, they can’t, can they, because they’re not real. But the behaviour is real …

And just when I think I’m fresh out of cats, and into Starry Trees instead …

I get another cat. In among the branches. White polar bear on the left, more vivid, but red cat nicely visible as he prowls above that star.

Above them all, tucked in the crotch of the tree, a fairy door and a heart with the first phrase of Dr. Henry’s mantra.

“Be kind.”

Nothing to do with faces or cats or Flatz or the letter zed — but always appropriate.

Time for Grit

25 November 2020 – This time, my feet walk me right past the waterscape of False Creek, on north into the cityscape of Yaletown.

Time for some city grit.

I am standing at the corner of Mainland and Davie, just behind the skytrain station. I’m about to wander this downtown enclave with its mixture of upscale boutiques (everything proudly “artisan”) for the influx of upscale residents, plus services for and reminders of the population they displace.

So I do smile at this image, as requested — including at the sassy “Take requests?” someone has added — but I know I’ll have cause during this walk to sigh as well as to smile.

Oh look — a skeleton! With a mic for its chest. And why not, entertainment is one of the neighbourhood offerings.

Still on Mainland, now at Helmcken, where I contemplate the guy quickly, and surely illegally, slapping a poster on that utility pole. A ribbon of street mural weaves around his bicycle, on its way up this block of Helmcken.

Steps right opposite Poster Guy bear a message now blurry with time, but still warm in intent.

Can you make it out? “We shape/each other/and fit/together.”

My zig-zags take me along Helmcken. At Seymour I’m drawn to this bright ceramic tile plaque on a building wall:

Only then do I notice the building itself. This is the City-run Gathering Place Community Centre, a social centre for the Downtown South community. “We primarily serve vulnerable populations…” says its website, and this is obviously true.

For one thing, individual tiles in the plaque often commemorate lives cut short.

For another, the website lists practical support for the homeless, such as showers and laundry service, along with meals and other programs less specifically focused.

And for yet another, one of the windows displays this poster:

In the midst of pandemic, more addicts are using alone, and more are dying.

Walk around with open eyes, and you are reminded how many worlds co-exist in the same geographic space.

Back among the boutique shops of Helmcken, I see another poster — this one on the sidewalk, adapting Dr. Bonnie Henry’s mantra to a best practices code for considerate shoppers.

While over in Emery Barnes Park, on the fence of the off-leash area, there is another best-practices code on display.

This one is for considerate dogs.

(I am enchanted at the thought of all those up-market, downtown dogs: both literate and considerate!)

I walk and I walk and eventually my feet have me back south of False Creek, home once again in Mount Pleasant.

An alley off Broadway reveals the devastation of a recent three-alarm fire among shops on Main Street …

while a front view, on Main itself, shows that our local Yarn Artist has joined others in expressing sympathy and support.

All these realities, all at the same time.

Lines & Spaces

9 November 2020 – Another looping walk down to my end of False Creek, west to the Cambie St. bridge, up and across, back east via Olympic Village plaza, and home.

Hadn’t planned any theme, but this industrial corner off Scotia & East 2nd seems to focus my eye in a particular way.

Lines & spaces!

In this case, with rust.

But later, with water …

with traffic lights and a seagull …

with a floating log …

with on-ramps for the Cambie St. bridge …

with a whole mad frenzy of tubular geometry …

and, most wonderfully of all …

with dog leashes.

It’s an outdoor doggie obedience class in the Olympic Village plaza.

Detour

7 November 2020 – I’d planned to stick with West 4th, all the way to Cambie, but roadworks force a detour. I angle through a parking lot just past Manitoba St., to catch the nearest alley.

First glimpse of the alley, and I think: “This could be fun.”

Turns out that guy isn’t pointing at Grecian Goddess there on the wall: he’s concerned about a stack of boxes inside the doorway beside her, and wants his buddy’s opinion.

I hit the alley and stand stock-still, mesmerized by all that it offers.

Finger-Pointing Guy asks, with kind concern, “Are you okay?” I reassure him. “I’m just stunned by all this art.” He blinks at me. Art???

Yes, art. Look.

If the style of those writhing creatures seems familiar …

perhaps you’re remembering the wolf sculpture by Paige Bowman (‘birdfingersss”) I celebrated in my Animal Flow post. This is also her work..

Human being to the left is suitably horrified.

Soothing waves just a bit farther west …

and a musical pirate opposite. (A lute-loving pirate! Not to be confused with any loot-loving pirate you may happen to know.)

Beyond the pirate, a dead ringer (or so I think) for Sammy Davis Jr., flying from one adventure to the next, the length of this entire mural …

from his first brave leap, upper left …

through repeated moments of great concentration …

to a confrontation with some Force of Evil, upper right.

Swivel head back across the alley, and … change of pace.

Something Escher might do, were he alive now and more fascinated by tubing than by fish and birds.

A few more steps (a few more paces, ho ho), and … change of pace.

I hit Columbia St., the next intersection, and look back with appreciation. Lots of surprises, in amidst all that scruffiness.

I decide to stick with the alley for one more block, but expect nothing more from it. After all, how do you top technicolour LOVE?

You write an erudite pun in neat blue letters on a white wall, is how.

Clever, but — I am happy to report — without any evidence, either visible or olfactory, to back the claim.

The Boards, the Fox & the Big Red Fish

24 October 2020 – I’m back on Port Moody’s Shoreline Trail, subject of a very enthusiastic post last March 1st. I’m still enthusiastic, for all the same reasons: it is a charming, diversified trail cupping the eastern end of Burrard Inlet, offering forest, seascape, mud flats, history, signage and wonderful stretches of boardwalk.

I’m amused to see that I’ve photographed the same sinuous curve of boardwalk both times.

(Can you blame me?)

The sea/mountain vistas are as soul-lifting as ever.

But something has changed, something more all-encompassing than the seasonal difference between March and October. Back then, COVID-19 was not yet the context of our lives. Now it is.

Polite signage all along the Trail keeps reminding us of the new requirements that go with this new reality: physical distancing, and one-way traffic. Outward bound on the foot path as usual, but now back on the paved path previously reserved for cyclists.

And — just in case the printed word isn’t enough — we are forced to lock eyes with our highly respected, much-admired provincial health officer. Who among us would flout a directive from Dr. Bonnie Henry?

I follow the boardwalk back into the forest, still on the footpath, enjoying as always the many “nurse logs” (this one proud mother to triplets) …

and also some one-off delights, such as this slender tree, neatly fastened into its bark sheath with a line of fungi buttons.

But then, after a few more kilometres of forest, shoreline and boardwalk, I’m ready to turn back.

And that takes me to the Fox.

Not that fox. I just threw him in — the work of an unidentified mural artist near Fraser & East Broadway — because I like him so much, and think you will too.

No. Changing direction out here on the Shoreline Trail means switching over to join this Fox …

where he trained before dipping his artificial leg in the Atlantic Ocean at St. John’s on 12 April 1980 — the start of his planned run all the way back to the Pacific.

I’ve always known the broad outline of the Terry Fox story, but now, in pandemic, I think about it differently, react viscerally. When this young man lost his leg to cancer in 1977, he responded by deciding to raise money for cancer research with a cross-country Marathon of Hope. It didn’t end well for him personally — he had to abandon the run in northern Ontario, when they found the cancer had spread to his lungs — but it has continued to work wonders for cancer research. As of April 2020, more than $800 million has been raised by millions of people, in annual Terry Fox runs and other events in more than 25 countries world-wide.

But it’s not just a cancer story, is it? It’s for all of us. It reminds us that while bad things happen, they are part of life, it is then up to us to decide how we will respond.

The thought stays with me, even as I turn onto a side trail that follows a sparkling creek back toward town. It’s back of mind, I’ll grant you, especially when I fall into a game of kick-the-ball with an eager King Charles spaniel, but the theme of resilience, of bouncing forward to rise to the challenge, stays with me.

And then I discover the Big Red Fish.

I’m well up the creek by now, and I see the artwork on Noon’s Fish Hatchery (home to the Port Moody Ecological Society) …

before I notice the cedar house pole being carved in the open shed just opposite.

First I step in, to admire the pole — the colours, the grain, the sinuous lines, everything — and then I step back, to read the signage.

It’s another story of adversity, resilience, and rising to the challenge.

Adapted and survived … Adapted and survived …

I think about wise adaptation on my bus-ride home.

Surprise!

15 October 2020 – So satisfying: happy surprises, even when I’m walking a not-wildly different variation on a pretty familiar route.

I’m not surprised by moss on this tree trunk, as I head south on St. Catherine around East 10th, but I stop to admire it, you know I will. And while I’m at it, I salute the bike-share racks across the street. At a time when so many bad possibilities threaten, let’s treasure everything that looks unreservedly good.

Then… surprise! I notice that somebody has tucked a little painted stone into a crevice of the tree bark.

A micro-surprise, if you like, but lovable all the same.

Macro-surprise comes later, as I pass an alley between East 18th & 19th, by Carolina. First surprise is that, by total chance, I’ve just rediscovered Bee Alley. I first shared it with you last 24 May, under the pretty obvious title, B Is For Bee.

It’s a whole alley-block of pavement art, celebrating bees.

It still has those wagglers to lead me in …

and there is still bee motif all along the way, but there are some additions, some new images.

Surprise!

A butterfly …

a salmon (I think) …

and a whale.

Still no artist signature I can find & no explanations, so I can only wonder, and guess. The butterfly looks generic to my uneducated eye, but both the salmon and whale surely come to us from the rich Coast Salish imagery of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-waututh people.

On I go, already very pleased with the day, as you imagine — but it just keeps handing me more discoveries.

I’m on East 18th, near St. George, okay-residential-not-amazing, and then I see this plaque set in the walkway to an infill house. The house is fine — modern in a clean-lined, minimal way, and in scale with & respectful of its setting.

But the plaque interests me more.

“Certified passive”? I build up a whole scenario of a bone-lazy house that won’t even pick up its underwear from the floor. Alas, I do realize (though regretfully) that is probably not the explanation.

And it’s not.

Still … surprise!

Well, for me. I didn’t know there was a world-wide Certified Passive movement, let alone metrics and civic support right here, for homes that meet specific standards for occupant comfort & energy performance.

On down the block, and stop to admire a slightly but lovably dishevelled older house, with a slightly but lovably overgrown garden inside its picket fence, and a Little Free Library box out front.

I check out the books, and only then notice — surprise! — this welcome to passers-by, hung in the protected archway of the gate.

I like that very last bit especially: “Be completely silent, and that will take you to the depths of your spirit.”

The Thing About Labels

5 October 2020 – This is the thing about labels: sometimes they mislead you.

Oh, not always. Most of the time they are valuable.

Suppose you’re walking down a neighbourhood street, and you see a monster. Like this one.

You’d want to know what kind of monster he is, wouldn’t you? So you’d circle him …

and read his label. See? Valuable.

Or you’re still in the neighbourhood and you see a corner garden — an over-the-top wonderful corner garden. Like this one.

You’d be grateful for the labels. You’d read the official City one, telling you a local resident sponsored this plot under the Green Streets Program, and you’d look around a bit and …

next you’d read the gardener’s own label. Valuable.

And then you’d luck into a whole other dimension of labels — verbal labelling. It is provided by this bearded gentleman, later explaining to this lady as he had just explained to me …

that the garden was all thanks to Sherry. It is Sherry’s hard work, and he wants everybody to give credit where credit is due.

Which I am happy to do — and that leads me neatly into the topic of misleading labels.

“Naked ladies!” I squeaked at you in my previous post, adding “Amarylis belladonna” because that’s what my googling had told me. Hah. Two readers knew better and in the kindest possible way set me straight. “Autumn crocus,” they said; not Amarylis.

So I look again — and discover that “Naked Ladies” is a nickname for two entirely different families of fall-blooming flowers: the Amarylis belladonna, but also the one I’d photographed and in fact really had in mind from life in eastern Canada, namely the Colchicum autumnale, or Autumn crocus.

Just to keep the whole “misleading” riff going, I also learn that the Autumn crocus, despite its name, is not a true crocus. True crocuses belong to the Iris family and are harmless, while the Colchicaceae family aren’t crocuses and are toxic.

On the other hand, whichever variety of Naked Lady you choose to embrace, they both bloom in the fall and do so without any modesty screen of leaves.

Back to valuable labels, again with thanks to my readers (specifically fellow WP blogger bluebrightly). That stunning yellow flower I showed you last post with the iridescent buds is a Dahlia, specifically the Mystic Illusion dahlia, and is that not the perfect name?

One final label, this one discovered just hours ago, right where Hinge Park borders on False Creek. First you see the rubber boot, then you see the wording:

I go to the website, just like they ask, and read a plea from the City of Vancouver. “Help us prepare for sea level rise,” they ask.

I’d call that valuable. Definitely not misleading.

Chillin’ with The Dude

15 September 2020 – The smoke haze has lessened somewhat, and I visit Dude Chilling Park, first time out of the house in two days.

Two days ago, I did go out on my balcony, but only long enough to take this photo.

Never mind no mountains visible, almost no city visible either: that blue-tinged building mid-photo, just one and a half blocks away, is the limit of clarity. All this because of winds swirling north from those terrible wild fires along the American west coast. The morning of that photo, Vancouver’s air quality was second-worst in the world, behind Portland. Not only Old Wrinklies like me, everybody was being urged to stay indoors, with closed windows.

Then, suddenly, this afternoon, visibility improves. It’s not great, and I know the level of particulates is still dangerous, but I go for a walk. Over to see The Dude.

Understand this: this neighbourhood green space is really, officially, Guelph Park. Not Dude Chilling Park. Got that? Guelph Park.

And this sign …

is not an official Parks sign. It is public art.

Which is fitting, because the whole Dude Chilling thing is the result of another piece of public art. This one.

Well, to be tediously precise, it is the result of this sculpture’s predecessor, by the same artist. Michael Dennis created the original work in cedar, which after many years had deteriorated badly. He replaced it with this new version in bronze. The official name for either version is Reclining Figure, but the popular name was immediately, and remains, The Dude.

Of course. Just look at it — a dude leanin’ back, and chillin’. As a prank, somebody started an online petition to dump the boring old Guelph Park name in favour of Dude Chilling Park. Good prank, good fun, and tons of people signed the petition. Which did not amuse the Board of Parks. Then somebody installed a home-made Dude Chilling Park sign in the  park. Which still-unamused officials removed.

Things went on like that for a while, Fun vs Unamused, with a new public petition gathering some 1,500 signatures pleading that the fun sign/name be restored. Until I looked it up just now, I believed officialdom had yielded, and the park now had two official names. But no! Even better than that. Somebody donated this perfect imitation of a Parks sign … and the Board allowed it to be installed, as a work of art.

Not as an official name for the park. As a second work of art.

Well, I love this. Somehow nobody loses face and everybody wins and the good times roll and The Dude chills on.

Thing is, now with COVID, I swear people are seeking comfort from the embrace of his body language. They sit right up there with him. Like this.

 

I move down toward the tennis court fence, to check out its current crop of public art. This is one of the display walls favoured by our local (I think local) Yarn Artist, and the display sometimes changes.

One creation never leaves: this now-weathered yarn version of the park’s unofficial name.

 

This creation is somewhat newer — it features our beloved Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, beside the first phrase of her simple mantra for dealing with the virus.

“Be kind,” says the yarn. My mind fills in the rest: Be calm, Be safe.

I’m leaving the park, read a Megaphone magazine notice tacked to a post — and there is the mantra once again.

Dr. Henry and The Dude. We can do this.

 

 

 

The Open-Air Gallery (Year 5)

5 September 2020 – We’re talking street art, but organized street art, with the street as part of the art. Which justifies the invitation on the Vancouver Mural Festival home page: “Discover the city’s open-air gallery of murals.”

Now in year 5, this non-profit event has to date added more than 200 murals to the cityscape and made them a welcome, a vaunted, part of our identity.  It’s a little different this year — no street parties, for obvious reasons — but even so, 60 new murals, and an expanded presence in nine neighbourhoods.

Armed with the app, friends & I descend on three of them: West End + Robson one day, and my very own ‘hood (and birthplace of the VMF), Mount Pleasant, a few days later.

In a regular gallery, the art dynamic is between you and the work of art. Out on the street, it becomes a three-way conversation: you, the work of art, and whatever’s happening in that bit of the city at the moment you three collide.

So, standing in Pantages Lane behind Davie Street, eager to see Pearl Low’s Precious Fruit, we wait patiently while the Steam Works Brewery driver climbs back into his cab and methodically — oh, so methodically — organizes himself to drive off.

We chat, comfy in the shade. Then the door slams, the engine catches, lights flash on, and he’s gone.

Start looking at the murals, and you look at everything else as well — all the other visual cues to where you are, and to the rhythm and values of the part of town where you happen to be standing.

Maybe it’s signage right here in Pantages Lane at a cross-alley …

or a memorial next to St. Paul’s Anglican Church, just off Davie St. on Jervis.

The whole city is an open-air gallery, not just the murals.

A few days later, we’re in Mount Pleasant, where the Festival began and still its epicentre. We prowl more streets and alleys, this time in an 8-km curve from north/west-ish to south/east-ish.

In the alley just off Columbia & West 8th, artist Carole Mathys talks to my friend about her mural, Reclaimed. Finishing touches still to come, but the work already proclaims that we humans are just one small part of the eco-system, and not, ultimately, in control.

Right opposite, a work still so much in creation I don’t even have a name for it, and artist Cara Guri hasn’t yet arrived to satisfy our curiosity.

By the time Year 5 rolls around, the legacy of previous years is all around you. At Columbia & West 7th, we bounce with the energy of Magic Music Ride, a 2018 work by American artist Bunnie Reiss.

The car this side of the street bounces with it as well. See how its windshield and gleaming hood throw reflections back at the mural?

Makes me goofy-willing to see art in everything.

Ohhh, that yellow van is so perfectly framed in these blind-spot mirrors, high on the wall where Manitoba meets the alley just north of West 7th … And look, the green of the wall complements the green of the trees… (Sigh… )

Down the alley, something more substantial than traffic mirrors!

A succession of murals, but we stop longest at Entangled Flow, by Abbey Pierson, a Cowlitz/Mexican/European artist based in Olympia, Washington.

It covers a long stretch of wall, the artist statement as powerful as the work itself. “Each new generation faces the effects of neglect that spreads through the world like poison in veins. It takes form in our hatred, our carelessness and in our environment …”

A sombre message, with an optimistic call to action. “Our issues are entangled, but so are our solutions.”

Another 2018 favourite of mine, at Ontario & West 7th — a wall-full of people (many modelled on local residents), cats, dogs, wine glasses and seething activity. It was created by all seven members of the Phantoms in the Front Yard collective, but seems not to have a name.

Every time I look, I see something more.

Like this cat (yet another cat), peeking ’round a window bolted shut.

Sorry cat — my head swivels.

Right across the street, a 2020 mural-in-the-making, Gabriel Martin’s Presence.

At first it seems the opposite of its neighbour — where the Phantoms’ mural pulls you close, to search for every detail, the one by Martin pulses from afar. You almost feel the need to stand back, as if it can only be read from a distance.

Which would be a mistake.

Because, A to Z, in deliberately ghost-pale lettering, Martin neatly prints a dictionary of emotions to either side of the figure. The mural pulses with more than radiant colour; it pulses with the ebb & flow of human emotions.

Later, in a Main Street café, we talk about the art, the city, and how lucky we are. Despite all the threats — medical, political, environmental — there is also laughter and art and generosity and possibility.

Abbey Pierson got it right, didn’t she? “Our issues are entangled, but so are our solutions.”

 

 

  • 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"

  • Recent Posts

  • Walk, Talk, Rock… B.C.-style

  • Post Categories

  • Archives

  • Blog Stats

    • 103,511 hits
  • Since 14 August 2014

    Flag Counter
  • Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,862 other followers

%d bloggers like this: