Into the Similkameen

27 September 2022 – Just back from travels and I travel again, but I can’t resist. Yet more splendid countryside, this time a long weekend with friends and what of course becomes a welcoming & expanding cluster of friends-of-friends.

We drive into the B.C. southern interior, past Hope and then turn onto Highway 3, the Crowsnest Highway, working our way into the Similkameen Valley.

Our interests keep us in the Princeton – Hedley – Keremeos area, pivoting around the Jura Family Ranch.

It’s a family ranch, producing grassfed beef and lamb, mostly for direct-delivery customers. I stand by, watching sheep streaming back toward the enclosures for their evening meal, with some cattle dotting the pastures just above, and feel catapulted into an Alberta Moment. (The terrain, the activity, the sky…)

Dogs help work the herd and they protect the herd. Coyotes are an on-going concern.

For millennia, this valley has been home to the Similamix and Smelqmix peoples; more recently to ranches and orchards; most recently to the logical offshoot of orchards, namely craft wineries and cideries.

And so we visit other spreads…

and descend on, first, Courcelettes Estate Winery (first vintage 2011) near Keremeos…

and then, second, Twisted Hills Craft Cidery (est. 2012) near Cawston. The tasting and sales room is geodesic-dome modern…

but the orchards are full of traditional apple varieties specifically meant for cider production.

I fall in love with the simplicity of the Wild Ferment offering — an apple variety dating back to the 1550s, wild fermented — and buy a bottle. (I shall finish this post, and pour myself a glass.)

One cannot live by premium beef, lamb, wine and cider alone; one also needs a face-full of chips etc. at a local diner. We visit the K Mountain Diner, in Keremeos…

where we place our order with a rainbow-bright young waitress and appreciate the posy of Community Garden flowers while we wait.

Eat enough chips, and you need some exercise, right?

We hit the KVR Trail. One astoundingly small portion of the Trail, mind you, since this repurposed Kettle Valley Railway trackbed runs more than 600 km between Hope and Midway. Not much grade to it, but serious length and challenging trestles & tunnels along the way.

Big views, more big-sky Alberta Moments for me, spiked path-side with tall spears of mullein…

and a very local, very site-specific view of a kettle pond (i.e. fed from underground, with no surface in- or outflow).

The pond attracts birds, and birders. We talk with a local enthusiast, hear about the Sandhill Crane that has, exceptionally, been spotted in the area.

Some slightly wobbly out-buildings near the road farther along, looking picturesque as all-get-out but needing serious attention if they are ever again to serve any purpose.

Then again, sometimes picturesque is enough.

This battered old cowboy boot has already served two purposes:

once on somebody’s foot, and later rescued from a thrift shop to serve as prop in an elaborate Hallowe’en scenario just last year.

(Yay! Post is complete. On to my glass of Wild Ferment.)

Blanket to Binoculars

20 September 2022 – Remember Port Hardy? A 16-hour ferry ride to get there from Prince Rupert; a midnight-plus arrival; and a no-foolin’ early departure that very morning.

Why? you may ask.

To catch another ferry.

Port Hardy – Campbell River

We do not complain.

We are aboard the K’ulut’a, making the 40-minute hop from Port McNeil to Alert Bay on Cormorant Island. Our destination is the U’mista Cultural Centre, whose mission is to strengthen the culture of the Kwakwaka’wakw people. It houses — among other resources — an important collection of repatriated potlach and other ceremonial objects.

By chance, I receive an introduction to the culture of the potlach during our ferry ride.

It is with their permission that I fall into conversation with these two young women, learn something of the work they are doing, and take these photos (which I also send to them). They are finishing a blanket that will be draped around a two-year-old’s shoulders as part of ceremonies to be held this evening in the Big House. “Just during the ceremony,” they explain; “then it will be put away.” They work as they talk. “This is my great-grandmother’s design — wolf, because that is our clan,” says one.

They attach the last buttons as we begin to pull into Alert Bay. “Thank you!” I say. “Enjoy your visit to U’mista!” they say.

We are a few minutes early for our appointment to visit the Cultural Centre, which is being opened today only for our small group. While waiting, we walk about the adjacent park and play area, where inviting swing ropes hang from trees and the waterfront glimmers through the lingering mist.

Later, as we watch a documentary about the power and significance of the potlach ceremony (“We dance to celebrate life, to be grateful for what we have, to show our history”) and then walk quietly past the Potlach Collection (items laboriously repatriated from the private and institutional hands that had seized them), I think how the ceremony has endured despite everything — how I saw it alive and potent, literally taking new shape and presence in the hands of those two young women.

The mist lifts, the harbour and its boats sparkle in the sunshine…

I peek under the wharf, I am rewarded with fading but still strong murals…

and then we ride the ferry back to our waiting van.

Walk-about time and lunch in Telegraph Cove (fresh halibut), and on to Campbell River and a quiet lodge looking across a channel to Quadra Island.

Campbell River – Victoria

A civilized (as opposed to Silly O’Clock) start, with time to stand on a wharf for a bit and think about nothing at all.

Away from the beach, into the forest: we visit nearby Elk Falls Provincial Park and wind along the trail, through the trees, down and down.

With more down to come, right over there

Completed in 2015, this suspension bridge is 60 metres long and hangs a good 60 metres above the canyon bed.

Which helps explain the scale of the protective mesh.

I think of trying to yoick my camera above the wall, but change my mind. An eager boating friend recently watched her camera slip from her fingers and spiral out of sight, lost to the ocean floor. I don’t wish to follow her example, here in a canyon. So… I settle for mesh-wrapped falls.

We drive on down-island, increasingly rejoining the busy urban world as we draw closer to Victoria. Then it is abruptly peaceful once again — our hotel is tucked in quiet surroundings on the West Victoria side of the Inner Harbour.

I meet a city-based friend for walkies & dinner. We prowl the Old Town, reading 19th-c. dates on heritage buildings, discovering street art in alleys, finally doubling back along Wharf St. as dusk begins to deepen.

He sets me a challenge. “Art hidden in plain sight,” he says, and then — vastly amused — plays the old “Cooler, warmer, frigid, hot” game with me until I finally see what I am supposed to see.

I yelp with delight. The Hands of Time: Holding Binoculars, by Crystal Przybille. What could be more perfect? Just one of 12 bronze sculptures of life-sized hands dotted about the city, each set of hands doing something appropriate to the location. As we scoot off to Virtuous Pie for pizza, I make a private vow to return tomorrow, and see the sculpture — and its harbour view — by daylight.

Post-pizza, it’s back to West Victoria for the night via the Johnson St. Bridge. This bridge is technologically impressive — at 46 metres, it is one of the longest single-leaf bascule (rising/falling by counterweights) rolling bridges in the world — and sculpturally beautiful. Technically single-leaf, and visually as well.

We admire its night-time drama…

and then make use of its functionality, to walk our way back to West Vic.

Victoria-Vancouver

Eleven days, 3000-plus kilometres, and whoosh, today is the last day.

Tour-by-van in the morning, including the breezy southern tip of the entire island, in Clover Point Park.

Later, I pass on the Butchart Garden option, consider a revisit to the charming in-city Abkhazi Garden… and settle instead for my first-ever visit to the Royal British Columbia Museum (where I am captivated by the Natural History section), followed by more lazy exploration along the Inner Harbour.

And by a wild-salmon taco lunch from the Red Fish Blue Fish kiosk, where I sit on a bench and watch water taxis come and go. (All very reminiscent of Go Fish! just west of Granville Island in Vancouver.)

One last thing to do, before rejoining the van for one last ferry ride.

See those binoculars by day!

So I do, and I give them a little pat.

Onto the van, down to Swartz Bay, onto the ferry, back into the van, trundle-trundle-trundle back into Vancouver…

And I am home.

Rain (and More Water)

18 September 2022 – Before we arrive in Prince Rupert someone asks, “What’s the weather like?” The answer is: “Well, it rains. And then sometimes it’s … ‘Oh! It’s not raining!'” We fall around laughing.

Prince Rupert

So we are not surprised, the following morning, to awaken to rain.

But we don’t care, because (a) we can dress for it, and (b) some of us are starting the day dry & comfy in the Museum of Northern BC. It is a magnificent introduction to this part of the world, and I recommend it to everyone who visits the city.

Late in the visit we pass through a gallery with an exhibition of recent works by local artist Suzoh Hickey. It includes a painting I want to show you (which I therefore downloaded from her own website), because it shows another face of Highway 16. Yes, it is the Highway of Tears, but it is also more than that — and that, too, is the way of the world. Both/and.

From the Museum, I look out over Prince Rupert Harbour…

and decide that’s where I’ll start a local walk. So I do.

It takes me past commercial docks toward old cannery buildings, now repurposed, down in Cow Bay…

where I hang over a wharf edge to eye a cluster of buildings. I am particularly struck by that patch of vivid blue.

Later I walk around the corner, and discover it is called Smiles Seafood Café, and dates from at least 1968 since that is the year of an old menu on display in one of the windows. I go in. I want a salmon burger.

I don’t get it, since they don’t offer it, but I’m happy to try my first halibut burger instead. And — while also busy with well-vinegared crispy chips — I shamelessly eavesdrop on local conversation. There’s the son working up in Alaska… the mother-in-law who just sold her home in Vancouver… the couple just back from a camping experiment with the kids. (“They loved it! Happy kids? Happy parents.”)

And back out into the rain, where I admire the whale-tail mural on the side wall of Johnny’s Machine Shop…

and the whale-tail bench almost next door.

I think it a one-off, but it’s not. It is the style of local benches, and once I understand that, I’m able to identify this handsome silhouette on the far side of a rain-deserted children’s playground.

We all put our heads down early this night, because we must be out of the hotel by 5:40 a.m. the next morning. Really. (“Silly O’Clock,” as English relatives of mine describe that kind of hour.) That day will be our day to travel the Inside Passage with BC Ferries.

Inside Passage

The rain is pelting down when I first get up (at Very Silly O’Clock), but merely drizzling by 8 a.m., when we get underway.

Good-bye Prince Rupert.

The trip will be 16 hours, Prince Rupert to Port Hardy at the northern tip of Vancouver Island, on a modern, spacious, safe & comfortable vessel provided with a number of distractions to while away all those hours. But, oh, it is still a great many hours!

Sunny/cloudy around 11 a.m., as we pass through the Grenville Channel…

and quite sunny indeed at 5 p.m., with ripples spiralling out to trace our course past the Dryad Point Lighthouse at the northern entrance to Lama Passage. Built in 1899, it still earns its keep: that light is visible for 29 kilometres.

Just take my word for the fact that we dock in Port Hardy about midnight.

It is very dark and we are stunned-stupid with travel. We are also busy being resolutely stoic at the news we’ll be making an early departure from Port Hardy! All in the name of further adventures.

The adventures justify the early start.

And that comes next…

Games, Tears and Heart

17 September 2022 – A long drive day, we’ve been warned: some 725 km from Prince George to Prince Rupert, smack on the Pacific Ocean. We arrived late in Prince George, we leave early, and I have only time to walk a few blocks before we take off.

The distinctive smell of a pulp-&-paper town fills the air as I admire the mural. Fresh air in the skier’s lungs, if not mine…

In 2015 Prince George hosted the Canada Games, and this building, now the downtown post office, was Canada Games House.

We roll through such different countryside from the previous few days, it takes conscious adjustment. Horse paddocks, logging trucks and great stacks of lumber…

and field after field of neatly rolled hay, drying the requisite period of time before being sealed into durable bundles.

Sidewalk-patio lunch in Smithers, our backs warmed by the sun and our bellies by perogi. (The immigrant mix in town guarantees a range of restaurants and excellent food. Four of us choose Ukrainian.) There is time for a brief bit of exploration, and I take advantage.

I am of course drawn to this powerful mural, wrapping two sides of the Dze L K’ant Friendship Centre.

I have to read the signage, to make the necessary connections.

I know we are on Highway 16, a section of the Yellowhead Highway, but I do not equate it with a term that I have heard, but not situated: the Highway of Tears. In driving between Prince George and Prince Rupert, we are travelling the length of the Highway of Tears.

Here is one section of what I read on the long, street-side wall.

One can quibble about the exact range of years and the exact number of women and girls, but the acronym MMIWG tells you the large truth: Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Lack of money, private vehicles or public transport all make it tempting to hitchhike. According to Carrier Sekani Family Services, between 1989 and 2006 on this stretch of highway, nine young women were found murdered or went missing, all but one of them indigenous.

I read more about this mural, part of the larger At The Heart project, funded 2020-2021 by the Federal Dept. of Women and Gender Equality. That long wall is the Resilience Wall, with its image of the healing power of the sun, the animals from each of the clans affected, and stylized butterflies, dragonflies, feathers and indigenous healing plants.

The wall facing the alley is the Lost Ones Wall.

The rings radiating around the female moon symbolize the continuing impact of the trauma for these families and communities; the red dress is dancing regalia, to honour the lives and memories of the women lost; rain drops are tears, with falling rain a reminder that tears also have the power to help heal. The grizzly family honours the clan on whose land this building stands.

We drive on.

In the final stretch, close now to Prince Rupert, we make a brief stop in a roadside park that allows glimpses of the Skeena River. Like us on its way to the Pacific Ocean, this river is home to salmon (Sockeye, Pink, Chinook, Coho and Chum), trout (Rainbow and Cutthroat), Dolly Varden char, and sculpin and stickleback and more.

It is, says the signage, the River of Mists.

My heart is still with the Highway of Tears.

Rock, Water, Ice, Sky, Fir Trees

15 September 2022 — The basics. Rock + water + ice + sky + fir trees. The elements of our journey from Banff to Jasper, and then from Jasper to Prince George.

Almost to Prince George. You’ll see.

Banff – Jasper

Lake Minnewanka, with all those elements in play, plus freedom to scuba dive.

Dams twice raised the level of this glacial lake, once in 1912 & again in 1941. This created additional hydro-power as desired, but in the process first submerged the indigenous community on the original shores and subsequently the first dam and bridge pilings as well. I can imagine the attraction of hovering over all this drowned history, but still find it somehow disrespectful.

Bow Lake next, again all those elements. (Minus scuba diving.)

And oh, that sky.

Again and again, fir trees against folds of rock, against the sky.

Also again and again, water falling across rock, through trees.

Ice.

Joining many others, we ride specialized vehicles up onto Athabasca Glacier, on the Columbia Icefield. I was last here 39 years ago, when the glacier was larger and the human presence much smaller. Parks Canada suggests the ice is receding some 5 metres a year, while aggressive new management of the site now shuttles very large numbers of people up and down again in rapid succession. (Note I am not suggesting the latter causes the former; just saying that they co-exist and I don’t like either.)

This photo therefore, while un-retouched, is also misleading. Had I spun on my heel, I would have shown you the mob scene at my back.

Back at the Discovery Centre I queue for coffee. It gives me time to contemplate this sign on the countertop — one I am to see it frequently, over the next few days. Very literally a sign of our times.

Let us agree that kindness is, or should be, as elemental as rock/water/ice/sky/fir trees.

Back to our own little van, on to Athabasca Falls.

Lots of rock. Lots of, specifically, Gog quartzite rock, the hardest rock in this region’s geology. It means that when the Athabasca Valley Glacier inched over this cliff during the last glaciation, the rock was not pulverized.

Instead…

it broke off in great chunks.

I love this. I am mesmerized.

We then follow the Athabasca River, on to Jasper.

We may be stopping for the night, but the river has barely begun. It rises on the Icefield and then makes its way north for some 1,538 km. Over that long journey, its waters empty first into Lake Athabasca, then into Great Slave Lake in the NWT, on into the Mackenzie River and, finally, into the Arctic Ocean.

Jasper-Prince George

A civilized start, 9-ish in the morning, with female elk grazing at the highway sign…

and a smoke-hazed sun rising above the mountains. (No worse than haze. The town is safe.)

We take a cruise on Maligne Lake. Not a mob scene! A modest boat for our modest number — though there is nothing at all modest about the world that surrounds us.

We hear about the French missionary who didn’t believe the indigenous people’s warning that a water crossing in this system was treacherous. When, mid-crossing, the priest lost all his possessions and nearly his life, he proclaimed these waters to be truly evil, truly malignant.

The name stuck.

You may well have seen a variation of the next photo, which I take when we stop at a point that allows us to approach Spirit Island on-shore. (It is in fact a peninsula except for a few high-water weeks a year.) This site was a two-month Kodak publicity poster in Grand Central Station in 1960, an iPad promotion photo in 2014, and on and on around the world, now whirling on social media as well.

Here you are, my very own 2022 version.

I like Maligne Lake a lot but, predictably for me, given that I’m a fool for rock, I like Maligne Canyon even more.

Look at it!

We follow a short trail, just over 2 klicks. It is mostly downhill, but with plenty of pay-attention-to-your-feet moments along the way. When not watching our feet, we yet again look down into the canyon, and yet again engage with rock, water, fir trees and sky.

Back into British Columbia.

Somewhere near that provincial boundary, we have also crossed the Triple Continental Divide. From a point on the south slope of Snow Dome, part of the Columbia Icefield, waters flow west to the Pacific, east to the Atlantic and (witness the Athabasca River) north to the Arctic Ocean.

We are not at any of those end points.

We are next at the Parks Canada visitor centre on Mount Robson. As it turns out, this is the only time on our trip that we will see a moose — and here a whole succession of them hang on the wall facing the toilets.

“Are you as big as a moose?” asks the poster.

Turns out I am, in moose height, about 6 months old (153-168 cm).

Outdoors, I admire as much of the Mount Robson complex as clouds allow us to see — and discover that this shiny picnic grounds spiral is neither a sculpture not the side wall of a children’s slide.

It is a climbing wall, where people heading up the mountain can test their skills.

We are not heading up the mountain. We are driving to Prince George.

While still some 120 km east of Prince George, we stop to walk the boardwalk in British Columbia’s newest park, the Ancient Forest / Chun T’oh Whudujut Provincial Park. It protects a small portion of the world’s only inland temperate rainforest, signage tells us, and the boardwalk leads us past thousand-year-old western red cedars.

We have left the world of hard-edged beauty, and re-entered a world where rock is softened with the textures of moss and lichen.

Tonight, Prince George. Tomorrow, Prince Rupert and the Pacific Ocean.

Fire and Water

11 September 2022 – It started with fire, on Friday the 9th, and the threat of more to come.

I’m passing through Hope, BC, with 10 other people — nine fellow tour members and one Discover Canada van driver. It is more specifically a caffeine stop, since we left Canada Place in downtown Vancouver at 7 a.m. and have been driving east since then.

A wonderful trip, two days into it I know I chose well. We will spend 11 days looping north-east through Kelowna to Banff; farther north but now west to Jasper; even farther north and even more west through Prince George to Prince Rupert back on the coast; then south (thank you BC Ferries) down the Inside Passage to Vancouver Island; yet more south down the island; and finally one more ferry loop and short drive home to Vancouver.

All those mountains, all that coast, it promises to be spectacular. For me, it means some new territory and lots of revisits to much-loved territory from decades back.

For all of us, whatever our background and experience, it means the sombre reality of travelling toward areas affected by wildfire.

And so, post-lattes, we stand on the banks of the Fraser River, looking across to the plumes of smoke from the wildfire discovered at 3 a.m. that very morning.

We watch three helicopters shuttling back and forth between the river and the fire, dropping their water buckets into the Fraser and then emptying them on the blaze. We’re in Banff, two days later, before we learn how viciously the fire continues to spread.

Saturday morning has us climbing through the arid landscape east of Kelowna. Below us, Kalamalka Lake in the Coldstream Valley. I wow at the big vista, but my heart loves the snake fence even more. (Memories of small childhood, and rural Quebec fields.)

On up, on east, a moment at the cairn for the Last Spike in Craigellachie, BC — the literal final spike that on 7 November 1885 “welded East to West” by joining the two concurrently built sections of the cross-country Canadian Pacific Railway. The human cost, we now acknowledge, was horrific (labour safety was unknown, and the dynamite teams of Chinese labourers imported for the purpose suffered most of all) — yet it is equally true that the engineering feat, given the terrain and the technology of the day, was extraordinary. Both true. And both now finally acknowledged.

And up some more. Another brief stop in the Rogers Pass (elevation 1,330 m.), an avalanche-prone area that now uses avalanche guns to trigger dangerous loads rather than wait for a potentially deadly surprise. I circle the avalanche guns on display at the Parks Canada site …

but spend longer contemplating the office windows full of red “restricted activity” notices. All because of wildfires.

And higher still. We’re now following the Kicking Horse River and somewhere in here cross both the BC/Alberta border and the Continental Divide. We’re at some 1,600 m. elevation and the river through the van window has the exaggerated winding loops of rivers at height of land.

It’s late afternoon by the time we reach Lake Louise, but it is also a sunny, abnormally warm Saturday afternoon, — and good grief, we might as well be jostling through the Louvre, straining for a glimpse of the Mona Lisa. All those decades ago when I lived in Calgary and could bop up to Lake Louise on a whim, I tell myself, it was not this crowded. And then I slap down my Old Fart tendencies, my Good Old Days tendences, and…

fall under the lake’s spell one more time. Because it is stunning. “Rock flour” created by glaciers grinding against bedrock hangs suspended in the water, reflecting the light and creating the glowing blues and turquoise.

I’m glad I saw it again, even if it did involve dodging & weaving along the pathways. It conjures not just summer memories, but also memories of being part of the media horde invited up to celebrate the winter reopening of Chateau Lake Louise. I’ve skated there, I think fondly to myself, as I turn to leave.

And then somewhere new: Moraine Lake. How could I have lived in Calgary, and never visited it? Doesn’t matter, I am here now. It is higher than Lake Louise, smaller, and, for me, more captivating. Perhaps because I’ve never seen it before? And the crowds are so much thinner?

I stand at one end, looking past the moraine (rock rubble deposited by glaciers) that gives it its name, and the equally trademark log jams, to the lake itself. Oh, that glowing blue water!

I have to read the signs, to learn about that log jam. Simple, once you know: winter avalanches sweep trees down onto ice-covered lakes; spring melt causes the logs to drift to the stream outlet and jam into place.

I walk farther down the lake, as I had done at Lake Louise, again marvelling at the colours. Perhaps because we are closer to sunset, everything seems to glow more intensely. I am caught both by the mountain reflections into the water, and by that final horizontal slash of intense turquoise, ‘way down there at the far end.

Which comes back to mind — though not immediately — the next day.

That’s today, Sunday, here in Banff.

I go for a nostalgic early-ish morning stroll along Banff Ave., eyeing past a wooden mother/cub carving to Mount Rundle, anchoring the village as it always has.

There is haze. We are aware of the Jasper wildfires to the north-west. So much water in our travels, these last few days, but, always, out there in the larger context, fire.

A morning tour: quick stop at the turreted and surreal splendour of the Banff Springs Hotel, a CPR hotel built in the 1880s in deliberate imitation of royal castles, in order to lure monied aristocratic visitors and start recouping some of the costs of railway construction. (“If we can’t export the scenery,” snapped Van Horne, entrepreneur behind the railway, “we will import the visitors.”)

And on to Bow Falls, tumbling water into Bow River that will make its way through Calgary and beyond. I climb to the lookout, listen to the glorious white noise of the rushing water and suddenly snap back from that near-meditative state to instead focus on the hard dynamics of rock and water. Great long spines of rock, vertebra upon vertebra, all laced together with water.

Another view of the Bow River a little later, looking down into the valley and picking out the Hoo Doos — the grey needles of harder rock exposed when the softer sedimentary layer is worn away.

There are the Hoo Doos, just mid-right in the photo, and, beyond that, the whole great sweep as the river courses on down through the valley.

I visit it yet again, this time on the section of the Bow Trail that follows its course within Banff itself.

I take this photo for all those iconic symbols smack on top of each other: turquoise water and trail bikes and canoes and, visible through the leaves, a Canadian flag. I don’t yet know that the canoes in this image — like my shot of Moraine Lake with its hard slash of turquoise — will soon take on extra meaning.

Very soon.

I follow a short-cut from the Trail to the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, and tumble in the door, eager for whatever they choose to show me. I loved this museum when I lived in Calgary, I loved it during a visit in my Toronto years, and I love the fact I am right now about to visit it again.

Along with the permanent exhibits, there is a special exhibit simply titled Canoe. It presents paintings and 3D objects that trace the history of the canoe over 200 years, right from an 1820 watercolour to a 2018 acrylic. (Visit it yourself, for 3 minutes, with a CBC reporter.)

I love lots of what I see in this show, including Inuit carvings and folk art and a superb small study by Alex Colville and works by a range of other significant artists. However, it is a 1923 oil (Against the Current, Thomas Wilberforce Mitchell) of two men poling a canoe through some rapids that suddenly makes this show not just canoe history, not just Canadian history, but my own history as well.

My father spent two university summers in the late 1920s on a small survey team that paddled the rivers of northern Saskatchewan for four months straight each year, their days in canoes and their nights in tents. My dad was proud of his ability to run rapids in a canoe, but (he wrote in his diary) he was awe-struck at the poling technique used by their Chippewa support team. They taught him, he practised, and he was as proud of that new skill as he was of his ability to handle the cumbersome survey equipment of the day.

That oil is my nostalgia moment; this acrylic is my right-now moment.

Summer Drift, 2018, by David Thauberger, has me jabbing my finger mid-air, the way we do when something really stops us in our tracks. Look! I breathe to myself. I see not just a canoe, an object of pure and perfect design… but, look, there are the horizontal slashes of turquoise water, bands of them in the distance, that I had seen at Moraine Lake.

So I come away from the show full of joy.

And I am subsequently sobered. A text from our tour guide advises us that yes, we will proceed to Jasper on Monday, despite continuing wildfires in the area. The town itself is safe, it largely once again has power, and the hotel wants us to come. But… they only have cold water. Be advised.

Nobody whines. Lack of hot water is nothing, compared to the devastation caused for others (human and wildlife). Had we been asked to stay away, we would have done so. Since we have been asked to honour the reservation, we will. It is their decision that our (and others’) arrival will help them recover, and that makes it the right thing to do.

Tomorrow, Jasper.

Artspeak

8 May 2022 – “Artspeak” is the term that I (and some equally snippy friends) use to disparage gallery signage we consider unduly precious about the art they are describing.

This Japanese camellia blossom, recently dropped into this bronze hand, made me think about that term another way ’round.

Restore ‘speak’ to verb form, I say to myself: the power of art to communicate with the viewer.

More specifically, the power of some public art pieces to speak so powerfully to passers-by — everyday, you-and-me passers-by — that they become part of their community, adopted by that community, beloved.

My mind jumps a few kilometres east to my own neighbourhood park, officially Guelph Park, unofficially and pervasively Dude Chilling Park. Because of this bronze statue by Michael Dennis…

officially Reclining Figure, but unofficially The Dude who — just look at him — is chilling. We chill with him. We hang with him from our favourite park bench…

and we cuddle up to him with our picnic lunches.

The fact I enjoy seeing this kind of familiarity is… extraordinary. I respect art work! It is art, dammit, so admire with your eyes and keep your hands (and other bodily bits) safely out of range! And yet…

With the onset of the pandemic, The Dude became not only beloved, but comforting. The park was a safe place to visit, everybody carefully distanced, and, for the first time, I saw people sit on the plinth, creep into the Dude’s embrace. He is now regularly visited this way. He has never been vandalized.

Very similar story for another bronze sculpture, this one by Henry Moore: Large Two Forms, which for a very long time sat by the sidewalk at the north-east corner of the Art Gallery of Ontario, owner of the sculpture (and much more by Moore as well). Not fenced off, fully accessible, right there by a street car stop. Torontonians have a history of loving works by Henry Moore — this one more physically than the rest. Of course it featured in endless selfies! And of course people sat in its convenient curves, or boosted their children to slide through those curves, while waiting for a street car!

I took this photo in 2015, when the statue had already become seriously weathered — except for that bright patch in the middle, constantly burnished by hands and backsides.

More recently, the AGO has had the statue restored and moved into the equally refurbished (and public) Grange Park to the south of the art gallery. A recent AGO communiqué shows it sparkling bright — but, apparently, still accessible to loving hands.

Back to that camellia, dropped into a local bronze hand, right here at Main and East 24th.

The blossom caught my eye, as I walked past. How could it not?

A child offering a flower to a fire fighter… I read the plaque, later go online. This statue honours the BC Professional Fire Fighters Burn Fund, a charitable organization that does exactly what the name suggests — offers help to burn victims. My guess is that the flower is a very personal tribute, to one instance of that help and the difference it has made in someone’s life.

Statues and floral tributes. My mind jumps years and continents to land in Havana, Cuba, in 2009. I’m revisiting Habana Vieja to write a story for Outpost about the places that my habanero friends love best in their city. One example: the Plaza de San Francisco in general, and this bronze statue in particular.

This is sculptor José Villa’s representation of a much loved local street person, nicknamed El Caballero de París for his insistence (unlikely) that he came of aristocratic French origins. One friend remembered him, still a familiar figure in her childhood: “He was a love! He refused to go into an institution, so everybody fed him and looked after him.” She then sang for me a local ballad, composed in his honour, about the way he greeted his community: “… con una flor tan linda para tí / y un saludo para mí.”

The pretty flowers are now being offered to him, not by him, and on a regular basis. I just happen to pass by when the offering is an Ostrich Plume (aka Red Ginger, or Alpinia purpurata, and thank you to my generous Master Gardener friend, who identified it for me).

I remember lingering across the street, watching the community greet their Caballero. Again and again, passers-by of all ages slowed for a moment, trailed their fingers across his hand or stroked his beard.

Or even…

threw their toddler arms around his legs.

Art that speaks.

Walk, Talk, Rock… B.C.-style

31 August — Just back from a six-day escape to Vancouver and the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, visiting much-loved family and friends in an area that always uplifts me.

I say “much-loved” for many reasons, but after all these decades recognize that one of them is the resonance added by sheer passage of time. Part of the worth is in the while — a concept I borrow from John Fowles, who first deconstructed “worthwhile” this way in his 1964 book of personal philosophy, The Aristos.

Count back on your fingers and, yes, I posted “King, Queen and Moose” not from Toronto, but from the home of my friends Sally and Owen in North Vancouver. I sat there at Sal’s laptop, looking out over their back yard to the fence dividing it from the trees and shrubs of Mount Seymour Provincial Park immediately beyond.

The shrubs include blackberry bushes, up against the fence. Which means ripening blackberries are more than a sign of changing seasons, they signal potential danger. Black bears love blackberries, and literally turn gate-crasher on occasion, once they’re that close to residential properties with other potential sources of food.

(Sally once emailed me the photo of a black bear foraging in their yard. All I could send in return was a raccoon sleeping in my birdbath.)

Of course the visit included some hiking about! You can’t be in British Columbia, halfway up a mountain, and not go walking. First target, Old Buck Trail, which sets off halfway up Mount Seymour Road. Various other trails split off, such as this Empress Bypass option, but I stuck with the main trail.

I hadn’t brought my pedometer, and settled for a 90-minute outing instead right on Old Buck itself. First I went up (and in these mountain ranges, up is up), awe-struck by the huge stumps of long-ago trees. Yes, I’ve seen them before, but they never fail to move me.

Somewhere beyond here, short of the Baden Powell junction but not by much, I turned about.

At least as high as I went, the trail was much like this — a smooth, clear dirt path.

Just as the ancient stumps move me, so do the great columns of contemporary tall trees. The path moves gently among them, and I think a bit about paths, and making one’s path (thank you, Antonio Machado), physically and otherwise.

I remember, too, that tai chi is sometimes described as “walking meditation.” I don’t specifically meditate when I walk, but I do usually feel myself expanding out into my surroundings, somehow.

Then, sometimes, the elegant columns of trees give way to great bursts of nature’s very own mixed media: rock and moss and other layered vegetation and spikey remnants of old logs and forest, forest, forest.

But no, I don’t spend the whole six days in the woods.

Soon I’m deserting this far corner of North Van for a visit to Vancouver proper — across Burrard Inlet by Seabus, then south on the Canada Line (built for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics), and out onto Cambie St. at Broadway. Where I grabbed this shot northward up Cambie, sightlines back to North Vancouver and the framing mountains beyond.

Mountains and ocean, Vancouver is the Rio of the north.

But even here, walking with my friends Louise and Rolf through residential streets over to Main Street and then south… even in this dense bit of cityscape, there’s still great exuberant nature. (When I lived in Calgary, a semi-desert climate, and came visiting, the sheer humid profligacy of Vancouver’s nature always smacked me in the eye and up the nose.)

My friends waited cheerfully while I eyed the detail of growth on city trees. Like this one.

We had lunch one place, lattes somewhere else, prowled shops with strong design sense… and finally good-bye and back north I went, retracing my way via the Canada Line to the Seabus again. Where I was charmed by these little girls, their noses pressed against the ferry’s front window, party balloons to one side.

Another walk, still in North Van and on Mount Seymour, but setting out from the little community of Deep Cove.

 That’s Sally’s back, in an early stretch of our chosen hike, up the Baden Powell Trail to the Deep Cove Lookout. The lookout is aka Quarry Rock — indeed a succession of big old rocks, but no sign anywhere of past let alone present quarrying. So, go figure.

Sal characterized this as an up-and-down trail, probably an hour each way. The footing was at times smooth and the path gently curving, but in other places the path twisted narrowly among trees and boulders, intensely scored with tree roots and rocks.

It was also much less solitary than my Old Buck outing! Then again, a weekend morning vs weekday. More people than we really wanted — oh, the cherished illusion of being alone in nature — but at least everybody observed pretty good trail etiquette.

Even the dogs behaved themselves. Including a snowy white little pooch who clearly had been having a wonderful time in mucky streams. Her owner observed her four black legs, and quipped, “Her name is Emma, but we may have to call her Boots.”

Finally there we were on Quarry Rock, looking over the Indian Arm inlet of the ocean, with the village of Deep Cove itself hidden away to the right.

Going back down, I lost track for a moment. So many ups and downs enroute… where we really descending? Yes, we were. Sometimes on the twisty paths I described above, sometimes on stairways pressed against rock faces, like this.

Yah, finally, indeed down and walking along the Deep Cove beach, with all the boats bobbing in the water and great red and yellow blocks of kayaks set out, waiting their turn for some action.

We consider hanging around for Deep Cove Daze [sic], but resist.

It’s going to be all the usual late-summer, small-community mix of booths and games and noise and T-shirts and organizations with their  tables… and it is tempting… but we have other plans.

Which involve lunch on a patio elsewhere, so it’s easy to leave. But not before paying tribute to this metric flower bed!

One last walk, days later and down in the Lower Mainland where I’ve joined family for the final few days of my trip. Karen and I head out to Watershed Park in Surrey, one that she and husband Tim know well, both on foot and on their bikes.

I’m luxuriating all over again in the sights and smells and texture underfoot of these west-coast trails. Some of the scenes are the sort of thing I anticipate…

But some are not!

At first I tut-tutted, a graffito in such a setting. Then I realized I rather liked the face — just a bit Picasso-esque, don’t you think? And also realized it is if anything an improvement on the concrete ruin it adorns.

This last photo takes us back to West Coast Classic, and is a bit of a cheat. Well, only in time, not in place.

I took this photo of a “nurse log” right here in Watershed Park, but some years ago. Karen had explained the phenomenon to me, that of an old rotting log nurturing new life, and I remember being so happy to find such a good example of it.

And now I’m home. Posting this from Toronto, and planning my next walk right here…

  • 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

    • 113,056 hits
  • Since 14 August 2014

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

    Join 1,972 other followers
%d bloggers like this: