We Make Magic

2 December 2018 – In the very smallest of ways, I have helped make magic.

You take that clear plastic water bottle, and you snip the sides into fringes, and you angle-cut each fringe tip, and you run each fringe backward against the blade of your scissors to make it curl, and

And then you plop it into the waiting barrel, and move on to the next bottle. You are just one member of that shift of volunteers, one little part of an extremely congenial assembly line. Later on, others will insert the light bulbs that turn these water bottles into “flowers.”

This November, I was one of the 250-plus volunteers who helped test lights, shape light receptacles, and generally do the prep for the 34th Festival of Lights, an annual Vancouver event run by the Parks Department at the VanDusen  Botanical Garden. Parks employees then draped all those lights over trees, shrubs, walkways and light standards, across 15 acres of the Garden grounds.

The Festival opened yesterday. The day before that was the dress rehearsal — a preview open to everyone who had helped make it possible.

Preview night, Frances & I are there! (She did many more volunteer shifts than I, but we are equally excited to see the results.)

We see familiar sculptures (here, Michael Dennis’ Confidence) in a new context …

and Livingstone Lake sparkling with more than its own fountains …

and brilliant new end-points for long views down the lake …

and lanterns dancing overhead.

The Preview is like a gigantic family gathering. We all did something-or-other, and everybody looks for signs of their own contribution. “The star at the top of that tree?” cries one young Parks employee to her friends, as she points to an enormously tall conifer. “I was up in the bucket for that one. I placed that star.”

My turn to get all excited when we see the first “flower garden.”

I am almost immediately diverted to the Next Amazing Thing. Namely, two young women who visited a dollar store somewhere, and festooned themselves with light-bulb necklaces.

We take their picture for them; they offer to take ours. We are already wearing Make A Wish Foundation star necklaces, but our new friends offer us extra props, also courtesy of the dollar store.

I wave a holly-trimmed top hat over my head, Frances grabs an elf hat — plus a couple of arrows bearing editorial comments. (She is therefore fully responsible for the resulting character analysis.)

If you think all those competing lights do odd things to the colour of our faces, please observe this heron.

 

This is not a frosted glass etching of a heron. This is a real, live, fishing-for-dinner heron, focused on his own needs in that creek and oblivious to the hullabaloo.

We wander and wander, finally turn back, walking down one side of the R. Roy Forster Cypress Pond. In its Festival illumination, the pond’s walkway seems to hang suspended, equally untethered from sky and water.

Final magic: restorative hot drinks in the café. As usual, its mirror bears a slogan in praise of coffee. This, too, dances with the lights, inside and out.

I’ll almost certainly be back later this month, enjoying it all over again with family. Want to visit it yourself? Book online, to save money and time as well.

Lions? No. Sisters!

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

But then … I got drawn in.

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

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

A little earlier this afternoon, from my balcony …

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

Of course! The Lions!

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

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

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

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

Wikipedia picks up the story:

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

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

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

But the Twin Sisters legend reached our English ears anyway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

No king.

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

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

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

It already sports the Main Alley Urban Park.

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

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

But.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

All Hail, Rain City

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

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

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

it bounces expanding circles into parking lot puddles …

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

Umbrellas again define us.

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

in use, they bubble the sidewalk …

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

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

Along with big, bright rain hats!

“We remember them”

 

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

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

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

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

I keep reading. There is history.

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

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

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow…

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

We are the dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders Fields.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A Tug to the West

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

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

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

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

The Ella McKenzie is now his fishing platform.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Oblivious. And Observant

5 October 2018 – These people are oblivious …

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

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

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

layer on layer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Street artists should respect existing street art, right?

 

Good-bye September

30 September 2018 – Simply bucketing down as I write this.

All the more reason to share these photos. (With thanks to Frances, who took them & sent them to me.)

But perhaps you prefer words to images?

Oh yes. If there’s one word Vancouverites should know in 19 languages, it is surely “umbrella.”

Citrus Rising

28 September 2018 – And now the deciduous trees start to show their true colours — the colours hidden by summer’s green, only to shine out at us in fall when all that chlorophyll breaks down.

Though red does turn up out here (contrary to my snotty eastern-Canadian assumptions), lemony yellow is dominant.

It’s there year-round in arbutus bark but, this time of year, also sets the theme for a visit to the VanDusen Botanical Garden.

The turtles still bask, but now the greenery in and around Livingstone Lake is tinged with yellow. and the lily pads have lost their flowers.

It’s the same over on the R. Roy Forster Cypress Pond …

and — despite one shot of red  — in the colours on, around and reflected in the Pond’s surface.

Grasses glow by Heron Lake …

and the leaves of a shrub on a nearby trail are edged with gold.

Most of the yellow I see is a sign of fall decay, yet in places it instead brings us fresh growth. These Yellow Waxbells are just now bursting into bloom.

Yellowing lily pads are background to the fountain on Heron Lake, whose bright waters throw a heron, lower right, into dark silhouette.

His iconic pose is caught in the cut-out design on the back of every bench in the Visitor Centre forecourt.

Afternoon sunshine streams through. More gold.

The Return of Rain City

21 September 2018 – Cartoon explanation of Vancouver seasons, overly simplified but broadly accurate: rain starts = fall; rain stops = spring.

We’ve hit fall. The day is cool-cloudy-heading-for-rain. I’m equipped for rain & heading for Granville Island, to join friends on a self-guiding Textile Walking Tour around Island shops, arranged in conjunction with the Textile Society of America Conference currently underway.

So Vancouverite am I becoming — rain is irrelevant — that I’m not even seeking the protection of a bus. I’m going to walk to the Island along the False Creek seawall, which means that, first, I walk north on Cambie and under the Cambie Bridge ramps down to Spyglass Dock. This takes me past the public chalk board (@chalktalkYVR) screwed into one of the bridge supports. Headings vary, from time to time; currently it is encouraging people to “DRAW your favourite memory.”

Lots of comments, and one drawing …

with an explanation near-by.

Almost at the water, I pause again: the weather tells me it’s fall, and so does this impromptu art installation by Mother Nature.

I like it. I think of the fall colour display I’ll see, or anyway hope to see, while in Toronto, and smile in happy anticipation.

And smile again as I turn west along the Seawall.

I’m not a big lover of Smiley-face, but I just have to love this one, painted on a Seawall rock. And I always love the sight of an Aquabus — my favourite of the two False Creek ferry services — so yes-okay, I am smiling.

Then I look at my watch, and up my pace. Time to hoof right along! I have friends to meet, fibre art to admire …

Which I do, and we do, and the rain comes down as promised and We Don’t Care Because We Are Vancouverites. We up our umbrellas and carry on. So there. (With time out for bowls of chowder in the Market …)

Most of the fibre art installations are in shop windows, viewed from the Island laneways, but some pull us inside.

Where, right at each doorway, sits another sign of fall.

Did I mention that it’s raining?

 

 

 

 

  • 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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