Lost & Found & Restored

31 May 2022 — We’re in Camosun Bog, that magic enclave within Pacific Spirit Regional Park, delighted that the promised drizzle has become peek-a-boo sunshine. Our plan is to loop around the 300-metre boardwalk a couple of times, and then follow our feet onto trails that connect into the surrounding forest.

We pause at the Bog’s minute pond; walk alongside great carpets of sphagnum moss; read cheerfully instructive signboards about labrador tea/salal/huckleberry/blueberry/salmonberry/sun dew/ & more; and, at the very end of our first lap, we look for the tree with the carving.

The Tree With The Carving.

The one I noticed and showed you in April, “a thunderbird, perhaps?” I said. A carving someone had wedged in among some branches, making it impossible for my photo to capture the entire piece.

This time I can’t capture anything, because it isn’t there. Gone! Lost!

No. Not lost. Just tumbled to the ground, there by the tree trunk, behind the fence.

My friend fishes it out, holds it up. Still in perfect condition.

To make good news even better, I can finally pay tribute to the person who carved it, and give it the name he chose for it himself.

Jim Jules, Eagle Head, 2015, Nootka (now Nuu-chah-nulth) design. Later I look him up and, no, he is not an important carver, he does not seem to have a website of his own, and his works do not sell for impressive amounts of money. But he has a name, and a talent, and he creates works that honour his people — and this particular work now honours the Camosun Bog.

We restore the eagle to his perch in the tree, and continue our walk.

Onto side trails now, beyond the Bog, where buttercups spill through split-rail fencing…

moss-furred trees climb skyward…

a winding path guides our feet through the mixed deciduous-coniferous forest…

the high canopy sifts dappled sunlight onto our heads…

a web of sinewy roots embrace their nurse log…

and giant stumps wear their scars like medals, veterans of fire and logging.

Eventually we’re back in the Bog, and, just before heading out to city streets …

we spend a last moment with Jim Jules and the Eagle Head.


Quote-Unquote

1 March 2022 – Words published in 2011, and so very 2022.

Context: The novel’s protagonist, a Nigerian-German psychiatrist in training, walks the streets of New York City and muses about what he sees and experiences. Here, an unseasonably warm fall day triggers a riff on the growing tendency in society to jump to conclusions based on anecdotal evidence.

“This was part of my suspicion that there was a mood in the society that pushed people more toward snap judgments and unexamined opinions, an antiscientific mood; to the old problem of mass innumeracy, it seemed to me, was being added a more general inability to assess evidence. This made brisk business for those whose specialty was in the promising of immediate solutions: politicians, or priests of the various religions. It worked particularly well for those who wished to rally people around a cause. The cause itself, whatever it was, hardly mattered. Partisanship was all.”

Open City, by Teju Cole, Random House, 2011

Rules of Behaviour

8 February 2022 – In this time of shameful tumult, it strikes me that the rules we teach a tantrum-throwing toddler are also pretty well the basic rules of democracy.

Vancouver City Hall
  1. Use your words.
  2. Use your indoor voice.
  3. Listen as well as speak.
  4. Respect others.
  5. Accept that you don’t always get what you want.

Barge Brain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the near end …

looking toward the far end …

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

sliding off the far end …

with a final backward glance at the entire hulk.

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

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

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

I move on. I turn my attention to nature.

A whole flotilla of Barrow’s Goldeneye ducks …

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

and even the first spears of spring daffodils.

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

So I linger with it a moment …

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

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

Protocol

17 January 2022 – Here at the hair salon, everyone is vaxxed, masked, distanced, and hand-sanitized. Fully compliant.

Fully compliant with the current hygiene/medical protocol required by our provincial government.

Those of us who favour one particular hair cutter, however, must comply with an additional protocol.

It is linguistic.

We talk a blue streak. We discuss ships and shoes and sealing wax … and Vancouver’s recent snow … and Toronto’s current snow … even the derivation of the word “orangutan” (from the Malay/Indonesian orang + utan, i.e. person + forest).

But not a word about you-know-what. It is wonderfully restful.

Ostensible (1 & 2)

12 December 2021 – It is not what I anticipated, as I set out for a misty walk to False Creek, but here I am in an alley just west of Main & north of East 4th, pondering the meaning of the word “ostensible.”

Don’t you love an erudite alley dumpster? Grubby, battered & odiferous it may be, but by the Lord Harry, it is determined to improve our minds and build our vocabularies. All the way to polysyllabic adjectives.

Nothing “ostensible” about this dumpster, per definition no. 1: it is exactly what it appears to be. And if definition no. 2 seems (to my mind) to better fit “ostentatious” than “ostensible,” never mind! It defines the scene here on the alley’s east side.

It is indeed “open to view.” Indeed, “conspicuous.”

From barbed wire and ominous signage …

to the jumble of piled-up rubbish, punctuated by dumpsters.

Behind the rubbish, Nick Gregson‘s peacock mural still rides high.

It’s a 2016 veteran, one of the collection painted (largely in this neighbourhood) in that very first year of the Vancouver Mural Festival.

And here it is again, reflected in a doorway of the new construction on the west side of the alley — construction that undoubtedly explains the pile of rubbish.

Murals used to line both sides of this alley. Not now! Old structures disappear, new builds arrive.

Ahh, but. I have no right to sound that doleful; it is misleading. We have a net gain of murals every year, and I like a lot of the new construction, fresh & clean-lined & none of it high-rise.

And there are still murals in the alley, including Chairman Ting‘s 2017 bunny-rabbits, just north of East 3rd.

Partnered with — I hope you noticed — one of my beloved H-frame hydro poles, doing its party trick: a 45-degree pivot to accommodate alley intersections.

So that’s it, I decide: enough photos, enough to think about, should anybody be inclined to do so; I shall now just walk on on down to False Creek, and have myself an eyes-only walk.

That resolution lasts all the way to the Village Dock, the last ferry dock right at Science World. Where the pedestrian pathway leads me past this garbage bin. With this contribution neatly piled on top.

I dissolve in giggles and pull out my camera. Two passing 20-Somethings pause, and raise quizzical eyebrows.

“Look!” I say. And point, and giggle some more.

They flash bright nervous smiles, and scoot on past me as fast as their alarmed little legs can carry them.

Watson in the Rain

30 November 2021 – Raining still, expected to intensify, sombre warnings about the coming 48 hours.

I go out for a walk.

Watson runs parallel to Main Street, feels and mostly behaves like a lane but is just slightly too wide for the anonymity of lane-hood. It is officially street width, and requires a name. I do not know which Watson they had in mind; I can only think of clever Holmes barking an exasperated “Watson!” at his befuddled colleague.

So. That voice in my ear, and all this in my eye: drizzle & chilly air & sodden leaves & garbage bins & garbage in and out of bins & hand-lettered notices about missing dogs, cats and oh yes human beings.

But also, here at East 14th: a share-bike rack; Andrea Wan‘s vintage VMF mural (2016) peeking through the foliage; and the literal and emotional warmth of the Main Street JJ Bean café, one of 22 outlets of a fourth-generation Vancouver dynasty that offers quality to customers and better than Fair Trade prices and other support to its suppliers.

And also, one block farther south at East 15th: Phil Phil Studio‘s 2021 VMF mural opposite Heritage Hall; and Heritage Hall itself, currently shrouded for its seismic upgrade and re-roofing project — only the latest stage in a history that began in 1915 and has taken the building from post office to federal agriculture facility to vacant and derelict to restored as a community and cultural centre. I don’t know if it has remained open for events throughout this latest refurbishment, but I do know it will be open December 15-16 (obeying all virus protocols) for Music on Main’s Music for the Winter Solstice.

So much, all around us, that is uncertain, worrisome, just plain sad and wrong.

And all this as well.

The Balancing Act

1 October 2021 – Balance. That’s our daily context, isn’t it? Leonard Cohen pointed this out back in 1966, when (in Beautiful Losers) he praised those who achieve “balance in the chaos of existence.” But never mind grand philosophical abstractions, just consider the balancing act involved in putting one foot in front of the other. Some 6-3 million years ago our ancestors decided to get up off all fours and walk upright. We’ve been dancing with gravity ever since. (And our backs, so beautifully shaped for horizontal life, have been complaining ever since.)

I must add that absolutely none of this is in my mind as we stand at Denman & Davie streets, just off English Bay. We are entirely focused on the building in front of us, with its display of Douglas Coupland’s latest contribution to his home town.

Berkley Tower is being comprehensively renovated, all 16 storeys of it, and author/artist Coupland was commissioned to create the murals now being applied to all four sides. They’re bright & sassy & up-energy and we decide we like them. They hold their own, we agree, in an area already rich with public art — new Mural Festival additions all around, and the A-maze-ing Laughter collection of Vancouver Biennale sculptures right across the street in Morton Park.

The Coupland work gave us a starting point for our walk; now we’ll wing it, as we head east along the False Creek north shore Seawall, from English Bay Beach on past Sunset Beach near the Burrard Bridge, and on down to Granville.

There’s been lots of rain lately; we’re both wearing Seriously Waterproof jackets. With hoods. Without umbrellas. (Vancouverites tend to divide on the subject of umbrellas, pro/con.) No rain at the moment, just mist dancing in the air, creating a depth of mystery and potential beyond anything blatant sunshine can offer.

On we walk, now just east of the giant Inukshuk monument whose setting curves into English Bay right at the end of Bidwell Street. “Here,” says my friend, sweeping an arm to pull my attention forward. “Look.”

I look, I blink. How have I never noticed all this before?

More inukshuks, all of them unofficial, uncommissioned, but look at them. One after another, more sizes & shapes (& quantity) than the eye can register.

Later, hunting around online, trying to find names to credit for all this beauty, I discover they are examples of a global phenomenon known variously as rock balancing or rock stacking. I’m happy to adopt this language: these creations certainly are feats of balance, and they are not truly inukshuks, which tend to have humanoid structure. (I never do find current names of local rock balancers, alas, so cannot give the credit so richly due.)

We keep hanging over the Seawall, admiring one subset of rock stacks after another.

Sometimes imposing towers …

sometimes just a few tiny pieces, in perfect relation to each other.

By the time we reach Sunset Beach, the great sweep of rock stacks has finally ended. But look… there is compensation.

One of my enduring favourites of all the Vancouver Biennale sculptures: 217.5 Arc X 13. Bernar Venet’s work is exactly what its title promises — 13 arcs of steel, each curved to 217.5°. (It’s not a balancing act in the sense of the stone stacks we have just been admiring, but it does still have to contend with the laws of gravity…)

Close to the Burrard St. Bridge, we cock our heads at the astoundingly large, perfectly vertical cones poised like chandeliers on the branches of this enormous evergreen.

And then later, under the Granville St. Bridge, we see an even more improbable chandelier.

“And… why???” you ask. I can tell you it’s 7.7 m X 4.2 m of stainless steel, bedecked with polyurethene “crystals” and weighing more than 3,000 kilos, and you’ll wave away all those factoids, won’t you. You’ll ask again: “Why???”

Here’s why. Vancouver bylaws require that the developers of any building over 100,000 sq. ft. must contribute some piece of public art to the City. The developers of Vancouver House were simply meeting a legal obligation.

But they did it with panache, didn’t they? So I’m willing to be grateful.

On the Other Hand…

28 September 2021 – On the other hand, we live in a both/and world.

Both the realities lamented by Yeats

and other realities as well.

Realities in the Camosun Bog, for example, where three perfect fungi climb the tree trunk immediately behind your boardwalk bench …

and the bog itself spreads wide before your eyes, a whole ecosystem, quietly breathing.

Or realities in Dude Chilling Park, where the natural ecosystem welcomes a continuing succession of social ecosystems, each one its own celebration of connection and community.

This drizzly evening, dozens of geocachers have gathered (fully compliant with BC virus regulations) to share stories, trinkets and know-how. I don’t know how and I’m not even trying to learn how, I’m just along for the ride, but all around me veterans and newbies are deep in conversation about their hobby, with its twin attractions of high tech and boots-on-ground.

Then the shout goes up: “Group photo, everybody!” People pile in under some sheltering tree branches, with one late arrival (over there on the right) doing a bum-plant in her haste.

Nobody has just one interest in life, and so this gathering is shot through with the textures of sub-gatherings, as people discover what else they have in common.

I am shown some painted rocks, newly tucked into the boundary of the adjacent community garden, and learn something of the back-story.

They have become a birthday symbol for the young boy who helped paint this latest crop, because one year ago, when COVID lock-down prevented any birthday party, his friends each painted a rock and placed it in front of his house, for him to admire from the required distance.

And I am introduced to Deirdre Pinnock, whose name means exactly nothing at all to me — but whose work I know and have on occasion shared with you. She’s our resident Yarn Artist! The person who adorns chain-link fences with crocheted hearts and other symbols of love, support and community.

I gaze at her in awe, and then tug her hand like an eager puppy dog. “Let me take your picture,” I beg. “Choose one of your works here in the park. Whichever.” She chooses the pole.

I walk back home significantly more cheerful than I was a couple of days ago. I am reminded that, Yeats to the contrary, society’s bad guys do not have a lock on passionate intensity. It exists among the good guys as well, in all kinds of wonderful, affirming ways and places.

Take heart. (Crocheted, or otherwise.)

Along the Spine

11 September 2021 – “Yes,” we decide, studying the print-out of a Mural Festival neighbourhood map, “Strathcona’s a good choice. Nice cluster of murals along that Cordova/East Hastings spine between Heatley and Campbell.”

We each have some familiarity with this east-of-East-Van neighbourhood, my friend much more than I, but it’s the first time we’ve come here focused on murals. Not that we care that much — it’s good walking territory, no matter what.

But, oh yes, there are murals!

We stand on Campbell, laughing with delight as we stare westward down the alley between East Hastings and Cordova.

Flowers to the left of us …

dancing aerosole cans to the right …[

after that a three-storey building painted top to bottom, side to side …

and just a little farther along, this bold triptych, its cheerful style in stark contrast to the fencing and razor wire that protect it.

Strathcona is a decidedly mixed neighbourhood, with problems as well as gaiety. All the more reason to admire and salute everything they do so well, while dealing with their other realities.

Same alley block, yet more charm. This time an ocean-to-mountains-to-ocean mural, starting at this end with a leaping whale and (off the lower-right corner of the window, by the downpipes) a yellow pop-up seal …

and ending, on the far side of the mountain range, with the world’s most adorable little otter, waving his paw.

We’re out of the alley now, on Cordoba itself & heading for Heatley, thinking everything else will surely be an anti-climax.

Wrong!

That VW bug need offer no apologies. Even if the pigeon is unimpressed. (He’s there. You’ll find him.)

Barely onto a city street proper and we’re off it again, pulled into yet another alley to investigate flashes of colour obscured by the street-front buildings.

This is what we wanted to see close up, my friend telling me the history of this old family company while I go goofy-happy about the colours, the typography, the peeling paint, the paint-brush image on that open door.

Another voice, unexpected and unexpectedly close, urges me to take a picture of that as well.

I look up. The workman, carefully balancing his take-out coffee in one hand, points across the alley with his chin. “That,” he repeats. “Look!”

Yes, wow, look.

I ask if he’s a fan of street art. He waves aside the abstraction, sticks to the reality of this alley. “I work here,” he says. “Watched them paint that. I like it.”

I catch up with my friend, who is talking with some Harm Reduction workers down at the Hawks end of the block. I contemplate this … what? tea ceremony? … mural.

We emerge onto Hawks, look back down the alley, bright murals of assorted eras to both sides and there, on the left, the alley end of the East Van Community Centre garden that stretches up to and along East Hastings.

As we skirt the garden, we exchange nods with a middle-aged man at one of the picnic tables by the sidewalk, and then fall into conversation with him. He looks like he has known a tough life, but there is peace and dignity in his posture and he describes current produce in relaxed, clear, well-chosen language. He knows a lot about gardening, we later agree.

“Go look at the pumpkins,” he urges us, and crinkles his eyes in farewell as we nod agreement and head off down Hastings, to look for the pumpkins.

A while later we’re at Campbell and East Hastings, waiting for the light to change so we can claim the car and go have lunch at Finch’s up on East Georgia.

I stare kitty-corner across the intersection at the housing development on the other side. It’s Moshe Safdie’s Habitat 67 reborn right here in Strathcona, we agree — but a lot more colourful. (And more affordable.)

We fall into city-as-art-installation mode. Look: the colours of the building reflect the colours of the banner and the traffic signals.

Enough art appreciation. We’re off to Finch’s.

  • 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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