The One-Metre World

10 April 2020 – I didn’t measure, but it’s something like that. One sidewalk-pavement square must be about that size.

And one of our local child chalk-artists has put the whole world in that square.

Its message is one of hope and courage and — like the image — is about all of us and meant for all of us, wherever we are. I’d find it moving any time, but it seems especially sweet in this period of religious significance for a number of world faiths.

The words are a little pale, maybe hard to read.

This child is telling us …

“We will be OK!”

 

 

We Speak ❤️

6 April 2020 – It seems Canada has added a third official language: ❤️

Young Miss Mila is the first one to speak it to me, carefully chalked on the ledge between the sidewalk and the front steps to her home.

And then… I realize that ❤️ is being spoken everywhere.

Pasted to a metal utility pole …

stapled to a wooden pole near Robson Park (with solitary sun-bathing woman and solitary dog-walker both in the blurry background) …

painted on a repurposed clear drum head, propped against a homeowner’s fence …

painted in a whole rainbow of colours, high on a second-storey window …

paper-chain-dancing across a doorway & front porch …

all that, plus flag …

even chalked onto the sidewalk sign for this (now offsales only) brew-pub.

But that slogan no longer fits, does it — the main thing is no longer the beer.

It’s the heart.

 

 

Chalk It Up

2 April 2020 – Chalk it up.

Not to experience, as it happens…

but to the pandemic.

Schools are closed, children at home, and all that energy needs outlets.

Result? A boom in kiddy sidewalk art.

Solo-walking in my neighbourhood, and I’m right at the street corner. Arrows tempt me in both directions.

Veer left …

to walk — or hop — an entire block of hopscotch grids, end-to-end.

Or veer right …

to dance through fantasy flowers and assorted other explosions of colour.

I dance with the flowers, and pick this blossom just for you.

Keep safe. Even as we isolate physically, we can draw closer socially.

Distance, Connected

29 March 2020 – We’ve finally got the mantra right: physical distance, social connection.

We’re all thinking about it, adapting to it, noticing it, each in our own little corner of the world. Here’s a bit of how it is currently evolving, in my little corner, as noticed in my walks of the last few days.

Almost everyone in Vancouver now works from home and we all largely stay at home, but — except for those in quarantine or self-isolation — we may still go out for exercise and essential shopping, while maintaining 2 metres of physical distances from others.

Here I’m threading my way between condo buildings toward False Creek, under a canopy of business-as-usual spring blossoms.

But life is not business-as-usual, is it?

Science World (that “golf ball”), like all public attractions, is closed, and the creek itself almost empty of all watercraft. No ferries!

Like you, like everyone, we are adapting to our new world.

Local busses permit rear boarding only (to protect the drivers) …

and waive the fee (to make any touching/tapping unnecessary).

Attractions and retailers of varying sizes expand their online presence and, as appropriate, keep some form of structured physical presence as well.

Greenworks, for example, offers its building-supply products by free delivery or through no-contact transactions at the door, all explained in trim, professional signage.

Some of the other local signs are more homespun, but just as determined to find a way to obey regulations, keep everybody safe and still, somehow, maintain connection with their customers. They position themselves at different points on the closed/open scale.

This skateboard shop is more closed than open …

while this little bicycle store is more open than closed.

Federal Store has a similar street-front strategy to Greenworks, but with its own lunchonette/grocery store spin.

Step up to the door, place your order, and then wait for it at a respectful 2-metre distance from everyone else.

We’re all beginning to get some sense of 2 metres, or hope we have — but it’s so easy to forget, isn’t it, when you’re out with your friends.

Not for this trio. They have it all worked out. I notice them today, on a walk that takes me south rather than north.

You can see two of them, properly spaced, with the third (also properly spaced) partially visible behind the woman on the right.

I don’t realize how clever they are until they move on. That’s when the rope becomes visible. They’ve looped it waist to waist, attached at 2-m intervals. They keep it taut as they walk.

I’m enjoying all this, taking comfort and inspiration from examples of good adaptations to bad circumstances — but I am also noticing examples of good things that were already with us before COVID 19, and still are.

This fabulously painted block of E. 21st Avenue, for example, probably my favourite block in the whole city …

and this front-yard statuette of the seated Buddha, his lap full of Nature’s own tribute of petals …

and this front-window evidence of a good neighbour — a heart for the community, a bike for the environment (visible through the glass), a feeder for the birds.

Heart.

Along with the opportunists and idiots that always appear in bad times, there’s a whole lot of heart on display, isn’t there? (Think of your own examples…)

Our good hearts, as we encourage balcony noise-making at 7 p.m., to support the people who protect us …

and as we reach out to support each other.

Note: Just now, as I typed that reference to the sign in Dude Chilling Park, I heard the raucous sound of clattering pots & pans, right here in my own neighbourhood.

I looked at my watch.

Exactly 7 p.m.

 

 

 

Mind-Hops / Foot-Hops

24 March 2020 – Circumstances change, and trigger new responses, both mental and behavioural.

Mind-hops. Foot-hops.

Or lack of foot-hops. Not the usual mass of happy feet this mild, sunny day, in the Olympic Village plaza at False Creek. Giant sparrow (one of Myfanwy MacLeod’s pair, The Birds, created for the 2010 Winter Olympics) pretty well has the place to himself.

I admire this rainbow & frog chalked onto the pavement, but don’t, as I would have done just two weeks ago, go get a shot with that frog right-side-up …

because that would have brought me within 2 metres of the cyclist over there. (See his bike tire, upper left?)

Another chalked message …

has me thinking, “Self isolation?” — not, “Break-up!”

A woman and her lap-dog soak up some sun, with open space all around her (I’m farther away than it seems) …

and a couple are peacefully, safely, alone, over there on the far side of Himy Syed’s stone labyrinth.

(But!!! Even as I’m appreciating the physical distance we’re all maintaining here at Olympic Village, crowds of idiots (aka COVIDIOTs) are packing English Bay. Let’s hope that the only thing going viral afterwards was the images of their irresponsibility.)

I leave False Creek for Cambie Street, slaloming around the relatively few other pedestrians as I walk. I pass more new behaviour for our new times: controlled entry into this big box retailer, with tape marking the 2-metre distance between standing points, and a staffer monitoring the queue.

Interesting, but not personally relevant. The retailer I want to check is this grocery chain. Have the new hours begun? With the promised first morning hour for people like me?

Yes.  7-8 a.m., before regular opening.

Which is why, two days later, I’m out in the breaking-dawn drizzle, heading up the street with my wheelie.

Shopping goes well: a smiling employee, out of physical range but at the door, ensuring only those qualified come in; well-stocked shelves; relatively few shoppers, all of us smiling at each other but keeping our distance.

Including at the check-out, with its taped lines to show spacing for the line-up.

Later on, some neighbourhood streetscape.

More mind-hops, foot-hops, including this example of what is becoming commonplace. A physically closed eatery, with a warm message to the community.

And, just one block over, a graffito for the times.

Well no, I don’t endorse the middle part of the message, but I love the humour.

And I love this blooming magnolia. Just for being there.

Eight years ago, I changed my About message on this blog, to explain the name-change from Sagas of Iceland Penny to Walking Woman. This excerpt comes to mind now.

Until August 2012, this blog was about training for the big Arthritis Society trek in Iceland, and then doing it. As of August 2012… I walk on! With my feet and in my mind as well.

Whatever restrictions limit our feet, nothing need limit our minds. Now, more than ever, let’s walk on. We’re in this together.

 

 

108 Steps

21 March 2020 – It all starts with a query-by-text. The Much-Loved-Relative tapping out the message has just seen a sculpture he can’t account for, on Kingsway near Gladstone, a ladder soaring to the skies. A tribute to firefighters, perhaps?

He trusts that Iceland Penny will know the answer.

Well, she doesn’t. But she now knows where she will go walking, this very day. She feels a particular need to solve the mystery because MLR is the person who gave her the “Iceland Penny” nickname, all those years ago.

I’m on it.

Good grief, that ladder does indeed soar. I’m still more than a block away, and look at it.

Right up to it, on the median.

Encased and locked down at the bottom …

against any fool who might be tempted to climb up.

Very, very up.

No signage.

I retreat to Kings Café just opposite, in the hopes of (a) information, and (b) a latte. I get both.

The café fits our new-normal: tables stacked, take-out only, and a young masked & gloved man swabbing an already-sparkling floor as I walk in. We nod, and swerve apart as I pass.

The young woman behind the counter, also masked & gloved, takes my order. When I ask about the ladder, she slips down the mask long enough to answer, revealing a warm smile and great enthusiasm for my question.

The artist’s name is Khan Lee, she tells me; also originally from Korea, just like her. The ladder has 108 rungs, symbolizing the 108 — here her already-impressive English doesn’t quite meet the need, and she mimes a bow, an obeisance — of spiritual practice.

I ask if I may take her picture, because I am delighted by her respect for the work of art and her eagerness to share what she knows, and I want you to feel this human connection as well.

So, please meet Hailey (her chosen English name). But note: she has pulled off mask & gloves and loosened her hair for the shot; immediately afterward, she reties her hair, washes her hands, and replaces mask & gloves.

Later, online, I learn Hailey got it right.  In his artist’s statement for this 40-metre installation, Khan Lee explains:

108 Steps is a steel sculpture of a free-standing ladder with 108 rungs. The ladder is one of the oldest and simplest tools. The number 108 has significance for a variety of cultures, and is considered sacred within many Dharmic faiths. There are approximately 108 blocks on Kingsway.

I take my latte outside, place gloves & sunglasses on the little table, take one more photo …

and then drink my coffee, more attuned to the ladder’s calm majesty than the traffic all around.

Later, walking back west along Kingsway, a printed message in keeping with the benign mood of that earlier visual.

Kindness, reaching out, even as we practice social distance.

I think of that the next day, walking past Rogers Park.

Social distance, with friends, in the sunshine!

We can do this.

 

 

Adaptations

18 March 2020 – We are all adapting — in large ways, but also small. Small shifts in everyday activity, or how we perceive an activity, in this new context.

I am walking north on Willow Street, and that is already an adaptation. I had planned to be strolling the magical grounds of the VanDusen Botanical Garden. But I’m not.

Why not? Got to the Gardens, and found it closed. Just 10 minutes earlier, the slightly unnerved young staffer told me, word had come down to close the doors. Duration unknown, but effective immediately.

So I adapt, and exchange their 22 Ha for a 6-ish km walk home instead. Same sunshine and fresh air, and lots of residential-street shrubs and trees. (Albeit minus helpful botanical labelling.)

Second adaptation. If public venues are closing, I think, maybe the library system will be next. I am a junkie, about to be cut off from her usual source. Alternate source? Little Free Library boxes — that amazing book-sharing resource now totalling some 100,000 boxes worldwide.

I swear, the thought has no sooner crossed my mind than a LFL box pops in view.

Complete with cheerful spring flowers, did you notice?

I take two books.

I promise to keep my end of the bargain.

I walk on.

And I meet, some kilometres farther north/east, a call for another adaptation, this one chalked on the sidewalk at a street corner.

Perhaps not a change of behaviour, at that.

Perhaps it’s what you do anyway.

Now is sure the time for it!

 

 

“Things could change …”

14 March 2020 – I cross paths with two young men, and overhear just a snippet of their conversation. “But by next week,” says one, “things could change.”

For all I know, they’re talking team standings, but that’s not how I decode it. I think infection tallies, health guidelines, further restrictions, evolving strategies.

Because the world has changed — my fortunate little world in a fortunate city in a fortunate country has changed — and suddenly my perceptions all change as well. Put the ordinary in an extraordinary new context, and it is no longer ordinary.

Marcel Proust got it right. “The voyage of discovery,” he wrote (as translated on an Art Gallery of Ontario wall), “is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

I’m walking a familiar landscape, my favourite False Creek loop, but I’m doing it with new eyes, new reactions.

  • Item: The woman next to me at a traffic light sneezes into a tissue, and I am consciously grateful for her good hygiene.
  • Item: Two ducks swim toward the railing, down by World of Science, I notice the gap between them, and I think …

“Social distancing! Even the ducks.”

I’m not trying to be clever. There’s no audience for this little quip except my own brain. It’s just an example of new reactions, in these new times.

As I walk I realize I am looking around me with some wonder, with heightened appreciation because of heightened awareness of our common here-and-now, immediate, vulnerability.

I watch two young women shuck their shoes, string up a volleyball net in Concord Community Park, and start to practise their technique.

I’m used to this. I see it all summer long, but now, in these circumstances, a display of health and joy seems precious, special, something to notice, to value.

I sink into one of the park’s welcoming chairs, prop up my feet on the log …

and for a while just watch the life of north-east False Creek flow past. It is reassuringly, wonderfully normal. (Even though, as that young man will say in an encounter I have not yet had, “by next week things could change.” And will.)

People with bikes, with scooters, with dogs, with smart phones, with strollers and kiddies. Kiddies in helmets, learning their own tiny scooters, and kiddies squealing with delight as daddy (it’s usually daddy) scoops them up for a tickle. Ferries come and go. There’s a guy in a kayak. And those two young women just keep spiking that volleyball.

I wander on. More normal things to cherish, in this abnormal time. Look! two new inukshuks, so easily created from the waterfront stones. And look! a crow to admire them.

The seawall leaves the Creek long enough to thread between a nightlife venue and BC Place Stadium. As it curves back toward Plaza of Nations and the water, I’m startled by a big, fresh sign.

Startled, again because of the way I decode it. I take it for reassurance that despite the pandemic, the False Creek ferries are still operating. Only much later do I realize that it is almost certainly construction-related, nothing to do with COVID-19.

And yes, the ferries are running.

Still heading west, approaching Coopers Park, and I pass a sign I’ve seen before. It explains an art installation I know well and have already featured in this blog.

So, nothing new here — except it triggers memories of two recent exchanges with friends who note tartly they’d like to see the world get as focused on climate change as on the virus.

And here they are, the sea-level stripes on the Cambie Bridge supports.

Children play happily under the bridge’s north-end ramps, no sign that parents are yet keeping them home. Swings, slides, all the usual equipment with cushiony surfaces underfoot, plus a chalk wall and a hard surface for chalked hopscotch and other artistic impulses.

Even a carrot and a bunny-rabbit on the utilities box!

I walk on as far as the Yaletown dock, take in the children’s artwork on a BC Hydro box, whose message suddenly bears additional interpretations …

and double back to Coopers Park.

Up the long zigzag ramp onto the Cambie Bridge …

and across the bridge, with my favourite dock, Spyglass Place  to welcome me on the south side …

where I again sink into one of those welcoming chairs.

I again prop up my feet, respectfully positioning them to one side of the butterfly …

and again watch some False Creek life flow by. More dogs, kids, adults. More ordinary stuff, suddenly so extraordinary.

I head on east. Clipping along. Pass a staircase, slow down to read its scrawled message. And freeze.

The answer would seem to be: No.

But let us rise to the challenge. And let us support all the authorities who provide science-based information, and follow their guidance. This is a “voyage of discovery” worthy of Proust.

I stop for a latte in Olympic Village. I move to the pick-up counter, where another woman is waiting for her order. We smile at each other — and each take one step back. And smile again, in wry acknowledgment.

If Mr. & Mrs. Mallard can get the hang of social distancing, so can we.

 

 

 

 

 

Four Sad Words

8 March 2020 – People love messing with the pedestrian crossing signals around here – that little blank face on the mannequin invites all kinds of artistic alternation.

I’d never before seen anybody add text.

A life story, in four words.

And, while I admire the economy and quality of language …

how very sad, the story it tells!

 

Left, Right, & Over the Tracks

1 March 2020 – I think this will work. I’m on a promising creek-side trail in the woods, there is even a finger pointing the way …

but it still seems a good idea to check.

So I ask two fellows walking the other way if I am indeed headed for the Shoreline Trail. Yes! they say: left around the tennis courts just ahead, then right-ish around the soccer field, over the tracks, and then follow the trail signs.

Works perfectly. Brisk march left / right / over the tracks; then slow-step to read the signs.

I note the bear-in-area warning; nod respectfully at the Terry Fox Training Route sign; nod equally respectfully at the Great Trail (formerly Trans Canada Trail) sign, thinking about its +24,000 km across this country; read the mudflats warning; and finally turn onto the pedestrian option on the Shoreline Trail (the paved cycling track is roughly adjacent but, in this wooded terrain, usually out of sight).

Shoreline Trail is neither long (2.3 km one way) nor difficult (mild ups & downs), but beautiful, rich in habitat, and brand new country for me. It cups the eastern end of Burrard Inlet out in Port Moody, some 20 km or so from Vancouver.

Established in 1859 as part of the colony’s defence against potential attack from the U.S. (those pesky Americans), Port Moody had brief, bustling glory when, in 1879, it was officially chosen to be the western terminus of the new Canadian Pacific Railway. Alas — especially for the speculators — the CPR soon changed its mind, and pushed on a few more kilometres west to the newly-named community of Vancouver. Port Moody is now a small city, within Metro Vancouver.

Given all this, I am not surprised to learn there is a plaque in town to commemorate the city’s one-time status as western terminus of the railway — but no plaque to honour William Van Horne, the imperious CPR president who, by his route choices, determined the fate of so many communities.

That’s history, back in horizontal time. I re-immerse myself in vertical time, the here-and-now of the Trail beneath my feet, and the discoveries it offers me.

Mudflats, oh yes, all along the Inlet …

and boardwalks, at strategic locations.

Many little pedestrian bridges over the numerous creeks, with new greenery, like these Western skunk cabbages, just beginning to unfurl in the boggy areas …

and great shaggy fern beds & other ground cover all around the path, with the occasional nurse log as well.

This particular “baby,” as you can see, has long since shot free of its nursery and now soars to the sky.

I read more signs about habitat — the indigenous Douglas squirrel, for example, and bird life including sparrows, kingfishers, bushtits, towhees. This is an area rich in salmonberry, blackberry, thimbleberry, they tell me, and feel compelled to note the frequent presence of the banana slug as well. I’m sorry to say I don’t see any of the above, not even a banana slug. (Umm, not so sorry about that.)

I do see a great blue heron, though, patiently poised out in the mudflats, and I pass a nesting area.

This particular colony is close to a pond. Reading yet another sign, I learn the pond was man-made — created to support amphibian life, such as the indigenous red-legged frog, Pacific chorus frog, long-toed salamander, and the northwestern salamander.

I’m all in favour, glad it’s there — but I also notice that cluster of homes just beyond, and think how much we take away from nature, even as we now put more emphasis on its protection and restoration.

My turning point is down by the Old Windmill Park Site. I can’t guarantee these are the remnants of a windmill, but it seems likely, doesn’t it?

Shoreline Trail is such a pretty trail, winding as it does through woods, its edges softened with underbrush and ground cover, made even more inviting with the occasional bench.

This particular bench is framed by an arc of tree trunk; the next one sits by one of the many creeks, opposite the only metal relic I see along the way.

More Trail, more creeks, often with a cautionary “Salmon at work” sign, urging us to respect these waterways for the life they support.

I connect once more with the side-trail that  brought me here from town, and head back toward city streets. I pass trees with their lower trunks encased in wire cages, meant to protect them from local beaver. But, sometimes, the beaver get there first.

I think once again about our urban relationship with nature: a man-made wetland pond, but housing just above; protection for that colony of heron nests, but wire mesh to thwart the beaver.

So, when I’m back in town, and pass this handsome sculptural representation of a salmon run that adorns one flank of an office building …

I think about the real creeks I’ve just visited, home to real salmon runs.

 

 

 

  • 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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