5 + 7 + 5

7 June 2020 — A neighbourhood challenge is issued, in the friendliest possible way …

albeit with a few technical specifications.

Replies start being pinned to the line.

Including this one, my favourite.

My favourite, I think, because of that image of a starlight-filled heart — unexpected, unexplained, and perfect.

The Kindness of Strangers

1 June 2020 – The kindness of strangers did not, in the end, protect Blanche DuBois from the rest of her Streetcar Named Desire realities, but it did give her many moments of joy. Nor does it protect me and others in my Vancouver neighbourhood from pandemic realities, or from reverberations of the fury currently sweeping the entire nation to our south.

Even so. Each walk reveals to me tangible acts of kindness by people I don’t know, by strangers, deliberately carried out for my pleasure and that of everyone else passing by on the street.

Kindness is also real. And more important right now than ever.

It may be a bench, placed in tended gravel under a tree at road’s edge, so that we may sit a moment and enjoy someone’s garden …

or a planter also at road’s edge, bright with ornaments, kept company by painted stones beside a utility pole …

or a fabric toy perched on a tree-trunk bole, the bole itself decorated.

It may be a block-long sweep of garden outside a property owner’s fence — this one on Quebec Street, for example — meant to delight passers-by on the sidewalk. In this case the fence itself is rich with ornamentation, something I celebrated in a May 2019 post and still celebrate every time I walk by.

Or, the act of kindness may be the explanatory sign on a fence that entirely fails to contain that yard’s explosion of monster leaves. The leaves are a good two feet in diameter on stalks some four feet high, so an explanation does seem called for.

Not that the explanation helps a lot. Unless you are adept at deciphering young-child printing, or are a taxonomy fiend yourself.

I am neither, but I have an impressively credentialed, taxonomy-fiend friend, who sent me to a link for Petasites hybridus (aka Butterbur, Devil’s Hat, Bog Rhubarb). It is a member of the Daisy family, can you believe it, and described as “aggressive.” That last part is easy to believe.

I am entirely charmed by the child, who wants us to learn all this, and by the kindness of the adult who encouraged the child and facilitated the signage.

Then there are the local traffic circles.

Not just concrete relics of a disappearing form of regulation but, under Vancouver’s Green Streets Program, a place where volunteers can indulge their green thumbs and make the rest of us happy at the same time.

Often these anonymous gardeners tuck in extras along with the plants. A birdbath, for example …

or two bright red chairs, socially distanced across a freshly bark-chipped path, and affording a splendid view on north into Dude Chilling Park.

On the subject of chairs! Anonymous donors are leaving gifts of chairs in parks and by sidewalks, providing additional places for isolation-weary pedestrians to sit a moment and enjoy being outside.

Here is just one example. True, here as elsewhere, these are clearly chairs the original owners no longer want, but this is a thoughtful way to dispose of them.

Two more chairs offered through the kindness of strangers — but nothing ready-for-a-thrift-shop about these.

They are splendid examples of what I know as Muskoka chairs, tucked beneath lantern-adorned tree boughs in this peaceful nook next to Sahali Community Garden, itself adjacent to Sahali Park.

The gentleman looks up from his book long enough to say this space is open to all, courtesy of the Community Garden, and adds that the chairs were made by a woodworker who lives right across the street.

I am delighted to hear this nook is an initiative of the Community Garden, and tell him my own story of one member’s kindness to a stranger.

Just last week, I say, I was walking through the park, and admired the arm-load of Bee balm (Monarda didyma) being carried by a woman going the other way. She thrust it into my arms, saying she was just trying to clear a path in the Community Garden, where the plant was running riot.

So I took it home, where it looked absolutely wonderful, next to my very own Muskoka chair.

B Is For Bee (& Buttercup)

24 May 2020 – Walking south through quiet residential local streets, as usual, and, again as usual, head-swivelling to check out each back alley as I pass. Because there might be something to explore.

And, oh, this time, there is.

A brightly painted bee-trail the length of the block.

It starts with that one bee, then leads you hippity-hop forward …

 

to a node with two bees, to keep you motivated …

and a final twist of hippity-hop …

 

to the three-bee finale.

And then the magic spell is broken.

Or perhaps intensified, depending on your attitude to cityscape.

I turn my head to the right, and take in the boarded-up old house, the beater-car in the yard — and what explodes all over the rest of the yard.

B is for buttercup.

 

 

7 p.m., 18 May 2020, E. 7th Avenue

18 May 2020 – What are they looking at?

All along this block of East 7th, just off Main Street?

The apartment building opposite.

More specifically, the 4th, 6th and 9th balconies facing onto East 7th.

Most specifically, the 4th-floor balcony.

Where, at 7 p.m. every single evening, its residents host a short, sharp patio dance party to honour our at-risk frontline workers.

This Vancouver tradition began on 20 March, when a single woman out in the west end decided to Make Noise — both to thank our health-care professionals, and to cheer up her own neighbours. First her neighbours joined in, then the idea spread around the city, then ships in Burrard Inlet began blowing their whistles as well, and now the downtown Steam Whistle has added a 7 p.m. blast of O Canada to its usual 12-noon rendition.

Each micro-location has its own traditions.

Our local version, as you can see here, now includes sidewalk dancing.

Red for Joy (Update)

12 May 2020 – Aha! My neighbourhood stealth fibre-artist is at it again.

On April 24, I showed you her/his handiwork — the red crochet balloon attached to a playground wall mural, one-half of that post’s demonstration of joy & grief as intermingled realities.

Back then, the balloon addition was linked to the mural-child’s hand by a simple white cord. But not now.

Now the cord is covered in little red bows. (Maybe the “balloon” is really a kite?)

So I think: “red for joy” update.

And then I think:  I bet there are other red symbols of joy to be seen, if I just look 

Well, why not. As good a theme for a walk as any other.

So. A red rhodo bud, about to blossom …

and a red (pinkish-red) fish kite, hanging in a backyard garden.

Red to remind us that double-doubles are still available …

and red to cover both bum & noggin, when out for a walk.

Red for city bike racks, waiting for our return to this patio …

which are in counterpoint to the black rack beyond, where a solo cyclist is fastening her bike. (But not in order to visit Open Door Yoga! It’s only open online these days, as its signboard explains.)

And finally, a Red Temptation for all you guys, working from home.

Maybe you’ve already succumbed.

Grow your beard!

And, yes, dye it red. Why not? There’s no end of eminent red-beards to serve as your role model.

(There is a point, to all this red blather. I think it is not wrong, or even frivolous, to enjoy joy in the midst of the stress & grief that also surround us. Joy is more than a flash of pleasure. It is a reminder that life contains many realities, all at the same time. When we remain open to joy, we remain open to energy & optimism and we respond better to all the difficulties that are also present in our lives.)

 

 

Attitude

7 May 2020 – They (the omniscient “They” that permeate our lives) insist that our success in handling a situation  depends in part on  the situation itself, and a whole lot on our attitude.

Well, here we are with a situation to handle.

I (the not-omniscient “I”) feel better-equipped when my attitude includes:

gratitude …

humour …

and a bracing shot of nature.

All the better with a regal Great Blue Heron thrown into the mix.

And better yet — talk about good omens — if the freighter lying in the Burrard Inlet “parking lot” beyond bears the name, “Wisdom Line.”

Talk-Back

3 May 2020 – It all starts with sitting safely in my stay-at-home chair, and clicking on this virtual tour of the Murals of Gratitude down in Gastown.

Go ahead! Click! I’ll wait for you …

I love these murals — 35-plus of them, by 20-plus artists — painted on the plywood covering shop windows boarded up to await healthier times. And I love what the project says about this neighbourhood, the way local businesses have expanded on a grassroots initiative, to create …

a testament to the influence the frontline staff has had on our community and a reminder that we are all in this together.

A friend and I decide to go see for ourselves. We were prepared to abort the visit, should there not be room to do it safely, but it is safe — wide sidewalks, few people, room to observe 2 metres of physical distance.

So we walk about.

Here in Maple Tree Square, Water & Carrall streets, right at the heart of it all, a statue of the first (white) settler in this founding area of Vancouver, the loquacious English immigrant turned Fraser River boat captain turned saloonkeeper & hotel-owner: Capt. John (“Gassy Jack”) Deighton.

Somebody has slung an “Anyone for takeout?” apron around his neck, a fitting addition given his pubkeeper background — and fitting for the area as well, which in normal times is a tourist/entertainment epicentre, pulsing with lights & laughter & music & action.

But those overlays are stripped away, at least for now, and Gastown is again largely the preserve of its own residents — a downtown, east-end community that, beneath the glitter, was already deeply stressed before COVID-19 came along.

So we see more than the “official” murals showcased in that virtual tour, we also see unofficial messages, by and for and about that local community.

Everybody talking with each other, and talking back to COVID-19.

Health messages, focused on local issues, sometimes in a leaflet pasted on hoardings …

sometimes in a one-off urgent graffito.

There are jokes with a marketing message thrown in …

and jokes with a political protest added later on (read the red small print) …

and thank-you’s that also have an editorial comment added later on (considerably more in-your-face).

There is a “heroes wall,” really just a naked corner of plywood beneath the window frame, with its growing number of inked tributes and post-its …

and a reminder, pasted on a number of the hoardings, that this plywood can be usefully recycled, some healthy day in the future.

And then there is this Stand United mural …

with added messages, by many hands, of hope and love and support …

radiating across hoarding panels to either side.

Messages butt up against messages, a cacophony that makes perfect harmony.

The work on the right, professional; the work on the left proudly signed “Phoebe age 7,” the p’s in her “Be happy!” message reversed but no less joyous for that.

We’ve been drinking it all in, impressed & touched & buoyant with the energy.

Then we see a board with nothing but shaky lettering on it, just words with no design flair at all. We stand still, moved to silence.

The text salutes yet another hero — but, this time, not a local frontline worker. It recognizes the RCMP constable on the other side of the country who died in that 22-person massacre on April 19.

And it goes beyond honouring Const. Heidi Stevenson, it comforts her children.

I hope, when life stabilizes into a new-normal, that it still includes the compassion and empathy so much on display in this time of pandemic.

 

Red for Joy, Red for Grief

24 April 2020 – I had not meant to continue the best/worst theme of my previous post, but here we are.

Out walking today, passing the school adjacent to Dude Chilling Park, and there it is on the playground back wall: the red of joy, delight, exuberance and fun …

…  all wrapped up in the red  balloon some crochet artist attached to an existing wall mural of a strolling child.

But later, heading back home, passing a condo building with this RCMP jacket and hat hanging from an upper-level balcony: this time it is the red of sorrow …

a tribute here in Vancouver joining others nation-wide. It is just one expression of our collective shock, grief and love for RCMP Const. Heidi Stevenson and the other 21 people massacred during a one-man rampage in rural Nova Scotia a few days ago.

Today, the nation joined Colchester and all Nova Scotia in a virtual vigil

Now you can too.

 

 

 

The Best/Worst of Times

21 April 2020 – Extreme times call forth extreme behaviour, the best and the worst, so I can’t be the only person with that famous opening line drumming in my head. When Charles Dickens wrote A Tale of Two Cities, he was contrasting Paris with London during the French Revolution, but, as we all live with this pandemic, I see those juxtapositions right here, in my own daily experience. Maybe you do too.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…

As I walk around, I see reminders of the worst that confronts us, and the best of our own human response.

A brand new crochet-art tree hug …

a face mask, dangling from this car’s rear-view mirror…

brightly painted houses and spring blossoms popping along this residential street …

a reminder of our safe-behaviour obligations, written (it says on the other side) by a front-line health care professional and tied to his fence …

a salute to our Health Heroes chalked on the sidewalk …

new, heart-tugging meaning for this sidewalk mosaic, with its focus on home and staying close to home …

a young man cradling a drum under his left arm, softly beating out comforting rhythms as he looks across Prince Edward Park …

skateboard dog – !!! – carefree & cruising through the parking lot next to China Creek North Park …

a driveway SAFE line, chalked by parents to remind their children to go no farther, but stay on their own property …

and a big, fat ❤️ for Dr. McRae.

I want to explain this one.  I stop to admire this exuberant particle-board display, with all those “Go …” messages, and I fall into 2-metre-distant conversation with the pony-tailed young woman busy tidying up her front yard behind the board.

“The kids did that while I was at work,” she says. “At work,” I repeat, “so you’re in some kind of essential service?” She smiles. “I’m a doctor.” I throw up my hands in respect.

“See?” she continues. “Right there, top-centre, right under the tree trunk? That’s my name. Then the kids added everybody else they could think of — even our postman.”

So expand the photo, and you’ll see it: GO: dr mcrae.

Thank you, Dr. McRae.

Thank you all the doctors McRae, everywhere — and the truck drivers and grocery store clerks and posties and everyone else who is out there making it possible for the rest of us to stay home.

Thank you.

Stealth Art

17 April 2020 – Borrowing a brand name, and it’s one I’m about to promote, but not just yet. Meanwhile, “stealth art” in the generic sense, something that sneaks up on you. You’re not in a gallery (impossible right now anyway), you’re just going about the day that current local regulations leave open for you — and then, boom, there it is.

Art.

As long as you have a cheerfully open attitude about what constitutes “art.”

It can be an arrangement of spring blossoms, as curated by mother nature. (Blossom festivals cancelled, so what, they bloom anyway.)

Or an arrangement of caution tape, as woven by a Canadian who just can’t do without hockey, even though the season is on hold. (The crow was apparently less impressed than I was.)

Or a whole evolving Little City of rock and clean fill and other found materials out the Leslie Spit in Toronto — as arranged, or at least as initially arranged, by The Stealth Art Collective, but with other appreciative hands ever since.  Here’s one image to start with … (I am such a fan of their work out the Spit – I stood wide-eyed again and again, in the years I cycled or walked out there myself.)

Or street art on your very own table! Just download this colouring book of designs created by some of Toronto’s best-known names, all for you to enjoy in your physical isolation.

“Such a lovely, local, timely, engaging response to the times,” wrote the friend who sent me the link. Yes, it is.
I think we are all experiencing a good many lovely, local responses to the times, and feel a resulting surge of joy and energy and courage. Let’s keep it up…
  • 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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