Light

2 November 2021 – Northern hemisphere, somewhat northern latitude in that hemisphere, and the late fall theme is darkness.

Shorter days. Darker days, too, with seasonal rain and low-hanging clouds.

And then… and then a couple of days of dazzling light. Sunshine and breeze and exploding colour and skies to infinity.

I’m up in the VanDusen Botanical Garden, on the edge of the Cypress Pond, and I am punch-drunk with it all.

Even the greens pulse with energy.

And, all around, those Bald Cypress doing what they do in fall — prove they are conifers, yes, but deciduous as well. Their needles blaze rust, and will soon be shed.

Up the zig-zag footbridge that floats pedestrians over one side of the Pond, and a view from the far end worthy of an impressionist painting. Perfectly anchored with that one dot of distant scarlet, a Sourwood Tree.

Now circling back down the other side of the Pond, promising myself a closer look at that Sourwood, but stopping half way. Stunned yet again at the buzz of colour and texture all around, the Pond and its little footbridge just visible, down below.

With an Alberta-blue sky overhead! (Ever since my Calgary days, I’ve called any intensely blue sky, “Alberta blue.”)

I’d never heard of the Sourwood Tree before. Not very big, and I bet most of the year entirely unremarkable. But, this short moment in fall… this is its moment. I sight through its leaves, a last look at the Pond in that tangle beyond.

And then it’s just a short woodland trail to Livingstone Lake.

Where everything glitters silver-white.

I circle the Lake, brush past shining plumes as I follow a path that will lead me back down to the Visitor Centre…

and, still be-dazzled, out to city streets.

The Moment In Between

16 October 2021 – It has just rained and it will soon rain again, but, meanwhile, there is this moment in between.

I walk back east, in this moment.

A burst of nature’s own autumnal colour blocking on West 8th, climbing the Whole Foods wall near Cambie …

and a cryptic message, one block farther east.

It’s a study in contrasting response to the rain: the paper lies limp & sodden, literally washed out, while the leaves and pavement dazzle & dance in glowing colour.

Over at Alberta St. I angle myself off 8th Avenue, pivoting S/E around this blue-mural’ed building (artist Debra Sparrow, VMF 2020)…

into the alley.

I’d forgotten the march of murals down this alley, discover them again. Right here at the corner, Reclaimed, a 2020 VMF work by Carole Mathys.

There’s more than murals, marching down this alley! I salute the H-frames

and, out at the corner of Manitoba St., take in yet more colour blocking. Red/orange tree; grey building with golden window frames; bright blue utility bin; and a whole swatch of very angry black on the wall beside me.

You’re gone, graffiti! Though I suspect all that black makes a tempting canvas for a new round of aerosol cans.

Just east of Manitoba, a mural style I’ve seen elsewhere (notably around the Native Education College) but so far without an identifying artist name.

This is the alley that keeps on giving.

Approaching Ontario, here’s the back door to a doggie spa, with a so-cute cartoon on the wall and a real live client showing off his latest trim. Just groomed, his owner tells me, and very pleased with himself.

Opposite that, the antithesis of grooming.

Nearing Quebec St. by now, and I finally learn the ID of the artist for this powerful mural just past the Raven Song Community Health Centre parking lot. It’s the VMF 2017 work of “Morik,” as in Russia-born Marat Danilyan.

Out of the alley onto Quebec, pivot N/E past all this ivy, flaming with the impact of fall weather…

onto East 8th, where weather has no impact on the pace of construction. (Though it makes the ground a lot soggier.)

You often see their hard hats among clients at my own favourite café, just a few doors farther east on 8th.

I slide in for a latte.

Herewith an unabashed plug for Melo Patisserie: the refinement of Melo’s French culinary training, with the warmth of his Brazilian heritage. Plus a posy of fresh freesia on every table every day, and a trio of teddy bears in the window.

Thankful

11 October 2021 – This Thanksgiving Day, I walk down the street in breezy sunlight and, as I approach a corner, memory suddenly tugs. Am I right? Is this the corner with that poem about birds spray-painted on the S/E building wall?

And even if I’m right, spray-paint comes & goes. Will the poem still be there?

I peer eastward around the corner.

I am thankful that I remembered to look, that the poem is still here — and that I still enjoy it. (Revisiting old delights is sometimes a bad idea.)

Later, walking my “Cambie Loop,” I find myself looking for birds above power lines. Not obsessively, you understand, but as part of paying attention to the here-&-now of my walk.

And yes, just past my turning point, just down that spiral staircase from the Cambie Bridge to the south side of False Creek, I do indeed pause in the shade of a tree and look up to watch the dance of birds and power lines.

Only two birds. Not very dramatically criss-crossing anything much.

Ordinary.

But, perhaps because of that poem and the title of this holiday, I think about John O’Donohue’s “eucharist of the ordinary” and I am thankful for these birds and for everything else I have just experienced, these last five kilometres: lots of ordinary people doing a whole range of ordinary things on the paths and on the water, walking/dog-walking/child-walking/hand-holding/bench-sitting/jogging/dawdling/cycling/kayaking/ferry-riding.

All that activity! And all of it in peace and safety.

Oh yes, I am thankful.

The Art of Navigation

9 October 2021 – More precisely: the art of using public art for personal navigation.

I’m just off my bus at the main transit hub on UBC campus, and all pleased with myself because (a) I am wearing a bright water-resistant jacket suitable for the misty day, and (b) I know exactly where I am going.

My clever little brain instructs my feet: Go there-there-there, and then I’ll be on University Blvd. and after that it’s just turn right when I reach West Mall, and after that hop across the road to the Museum of Anthropology (MOA).

So feet go there-there-there as instructed, and … ooops. Neither clever little brain, nor obedient feet, nor any bit of me in between, is now on University Blvd. Or anywhere else I recognize.

Brain meekly asks feet to take over. Feet dance another there-there-there, following some algorithm of their own inaccessible to the brain, and …

And here we are, from feet to brain and every bit in between, here we all are on University Blvd. The University posts helpful sign-maps at all the major intersections, but the campus is also dotted with public art and I find it much more rewarding to navigate with the art.

Brent Sparrow Jr’s Double-Headed Serpent Post, for example, here at the intersection with East Mall.

I border the serpent as I climb on up University Blvd, enjoying the gleam and the prickles of raindrops in the watercourse as I go.

Martha Piper Plaza, honouring the former UBC president and vice-chancellor, marks the intersection with Main Mall. The dancing fountains are not dancing, now that it’s fall, but the rain drops are definitely dropping, for the same reason.

Just across the way, my next two navigation aids. Your eye has surely already snagged on the bright yellow one, back right corner of the above photo? Now pull your focus a little more central, yes, there, to that brown triangular structure.

That’s it. And don’t I wish I could name it for you, but I can’t find signage anywhere. I circle it two-three times, not just in the interest of artist credit, but also because I really like the design.

And then I move on.

West Mall lies straight ahead, and I already know it has some kind of bright yellow artwork to mark the spot.

Very bright, very yellow, and it even has signage: Cumbria, by Robert Murray. Again I circle around, no artist mystery to solve here, just the pleasure of viewing from all angles.

Just out of frame, a student with a pile of luggage grows steadily more anxious as he awaits some promised ride that must by now be long overdue. I feel slightly callous as I step around him to admire the geometric dance between Cumbria‘s strong angles and the equally strong (and colourful) verticals of the Audain Art Centre behind it.

Good-bye University Blvd! Right turn onto West Mall and then straight on — or so my clever little brain intends — to the MOA. Except that, there at the corner of Crescent Rd., I see a sign pointing to the Belkin Art Gallery. It says, “Open.”

Sod the MOA! says my clever little brain; on to the Belkin! My feet smartly right-turn onto Crescent Rd.

I don’t remember ever visiting this Gallery, but I do remember this piece of art at the entrance: Myfanwy MacLeod’s Wood for the People. The descriptions I read about it are full of the kind of artspeak that makes me cranky, so I’m going to ignore them. I’ll just say: whatever its larger objectives as socio/eco/political commentary, this piece also perfectly depicts the way people stack a woodpile. My mind flips back to an autumn visit to Fernie, BC, a few years ago, with stack after stack next to one home after another, ready for the coming winter.

Thoughts of Fernie still in my mind, I enter the Belkin.

Where I meet Dark Matter, and Sudbury’s SNOLAB, instead.

I drift with the art …

and I emerge again into the Gallery’s own firm angles of light and space.

Back outside. The rain is now bucketing down. My merely water-resistant jacket proves more protective than I have any right to expect.

Brain, feet and all the bits in between arrive back home perfectly happy with the day.

“Passionate Intensity…”

25 September 2021 – An old poem, with new signifiance.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre   

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere   

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst   

Are full of passionate intensity.

The Second Coming, first stanza, by W.B. Yeats, 1919

Reference texts note that Yeats wrote this poem in the immediate aftermath of a global war.

We may today instead note that he wrote it in the middle of a global pandemic.

Old Logs & Floating Red

22 September 2021 – Old logs from the get-go; floating red has to wait its turn.

I’ve made my way to Barnet Marine Park in Burnaby, driven by sheer curiosity. I’ve never been here before, it’s on the water, and the rain has more or less probably mostly stopped. What else could I want?

Initially I turn east, away from the pathways and any sense of capital-P Park, hopping across a braided rivulet one thread at a time, onto this stretch of quiet beach.

I’m on the south shore of Burrard Inlet, pretty well right above the “nab” in the word “Burnaby” below (and thank you, Wikipedia for the map).

(An aside: I’m grateful finally to learn the names of each segment of the Inlet, but perplexed by the sequencing. Outer, then Inner, and only then Central? ??? Shouldn’t Central come between … Oh, never mind.)

Logs are plentiful, lying along the high-water mark, everywhere you look, part of the environment. Grasses with log …

and fallen leaves (plus one crab shell) with log …

and then evidence of Barnet’s past: purposeful logs, arranged for cause.

This narrow little park (1.5 km long), in additional to its long traditional role as a harvesting/gathering/processing site for Coast Salish peoples, became a lumber and logging mill camp in the early 20th century.

I will see more evidence of that history once I turn, recross that rivulet, and head back west.

I turn, and there it is, ‘way down there in the distance: floating red. How the eye is drawn to red. I don’t walk that way because of it, but I am aware of it, and calibrate my progress by the growing size of that freighter.

There are pathways, now that I’m in the developed section of the park, and I walk on west with this line-up of poles. Floating red on the right now has a partner: vertical red near shore on the left, a marker of some sort?

I veer slightly inland for a bit, catch that red marker pole from another angle, now just off the end of this concrete remnant of the old industrial days.

More poles marching west, and now a quartet of reds to keep them company: two floating, punch-punch, and two bouncing along, the jackets of visitors exploring the shoreline.

More logs …

and even more logs, now surely the remains of a wharf?

Benches line the path, most of them with a plaque. I always read the plaque, respond to the story, and, this time …

I act on it.

I sit. I enjoy the view. I watch this couple paddle closer and closer to shore, finally to beach their kayaks, tired and happy. (Tone of voice carries, if not the words.) They’re headed for home.

Soon, so am I. I retrace my steps and, before heading inland and uphill to the bus stop, look back to the water.

One final juxtaposition of old logs and floating red …

plus a heron. He turns his head just so, to display that magnificent beak.

Into the Stream

1 September 2021Getting close! I think, spotting this traffic circle with its mosaic accents.

I’m looking for Mosaic Creek Park, something I mentioned in my Long Slide to Dusk post, after my online search for mosaic-art info coughed up a reference to this wonderfully named parkette. So here I almost am, on Charles Street in Britannia neighbourhood, but not quite sure whether to turn right or left on Charles at this intersection.

I opt for right, for no particular reason. This takes me east to Grandview Park, perfectly fine & good, but not what I’m after. So I spin around, and, as I head back west, have two encounters in close succession.

Sunflower, and plums.

Sunflower is metal, on a hydro pole, no longer framing whatever it once contained, but perky good fun all the same.

Soon after come the plums, not that I immediately know that’s what’s on offer.

I’ve exchanged a few complimentary words about his garden with a gentleman just stepping back onto his porch; we do the chit-chat and then he asks, “Got a bag?” I tilt my shoulder, revealing my knapsack. He beams, holds up a handful of plums — “Just picked them!” — and slides them into my knapsack for me.

So I am in even better humour than ever as I walk the last block on west to Mosaic Creek Park. Talk about “random acts of kindness”!

And there’s the little park, with one outlying chunk of mosaic to welcome me in.

Just a tiny corner of land, but with a big, wonderful story behind it.

The Britannia Neighbours Community Group wanted to do something with this vacant lot; project coordinator Sarah White pulled in artists Glen Anderson and Kristine Germann, who ran mosiac workshops for interested community members; more than 300 people took part, and added their handiwork to the stream of mosaics that make up the “creek” giving the park its name.

And added their names as well.

Individuals, school and other groups, and even neighbourhood animals — all part of the stream. “Topsy,” I’m guessing, is a dog, and Maggie & Pat’s cats are as involved as their humans.

I wander along the stream. Look! there’s a cat …

and here, just to the right of a sweetly cuddled mother and child …

… are those dogs?

No need to puzzle this next one. A heart, universal and eternal symbol, placed here pre-pandemic but even more meaningful now.

I’ve walked the stream, I’m at Charles & McLean, and look back at it, admiring the curve.

I also admire Stonehenge-on-Charles at the far corner (oh all right, a basalt-pillar playground) …

and then settle on a bench for a while. And eat one of those plums.

That’s the end of the Mosaic Creek discovery, but not the end of discoveries — all because, as I walk back home, I notice this musical notation over somebody’s front door.

On a whim I photograph it, and on a further whim, send it to my friend Jeff, a writer/musician/translator with a quick & curious mind. Does it say something? I ask, or is it just pretty?

“Well, there’s music here,” he replies, “but also a technical error.

  1. A piece with one flat (the bulbous little guy after the treble clef) is in the key of F, which takes B flat. The flat here is E flat. So the key as notated, at least by western standards, does not exist! (B flat and E flat together would give you the key of B flat, however.)
  2. There is a cute little tune here, but not exactly that of any doorbell I’ve heard. I attach a recording.”

Jeff also notes (unintended pun, sorry), Jeff also comments that the actual key seems to be A Minor, which has no sharps or flats.

So it’s all a bit of a mishmash, but pretty to look at, and offered to the world (by homeowner, Jeff and me) with cheerful good intentions.

Call and Response

28 August 2021 – But not musical, not this time.

Think… ceramic/botanical/neighbourhood garden.

Call …

Response …

Call and response!

And that’s all.

Beach, Beach, Beach (& a Bunny Rabbit)

25 August 2021 – Temperature down, air quality up, perfect day to walk my way from one Burrard Inlet beach to another.

So I do.

Spanish Banks Beach eastward to Kitsilano Beach is my target, and the transit company trip-planner says take #84 bus to Blanca, walk north on Blanca to the end … and … um … Spanish Banks will be right there in front of you.

Which is why I’m in this leafy cul-de-sac at the north end of Blanca Street, admiring the painted bear that signposts the gated home there on the right …

but aware that I am still high above beach level.

It’s down there somewhere. Here-to-There is the challenge.

Then I see a dirt path into the trees with guardrail on one side. It doesn’t say “This way to Spanish Banks” — but it doesn’t say “Trespassers keep out” either. I give it a shot (and trust nobody will shoot me.)

It works! Down & down I go, curve upon curve, and yes, here I am at NW Marine Drive, and yes, that’s the east end of Spanish Banks Beach right opposite.

Everybody’s having a good time — freighters lolling about at anchor out there in the Inlet, waiting their turn to enter Vancouver Harbour, and humans of all sizes and inclinations lolling about each in their own chosen way, armed with tents, umbrellas, kites, chairs and blankets.

I start walking. I’m not certain, but I’m pretty sure that between bike & pedestrian paths I can chain my way through a trio of beaches — Spanish Banks, Locarno & Jericho — and then have only a relatively brief hit of city streets before dropping onto beach once again, all the way to Kitsilano.

And yes, I’m right. That first trio works out just like the post title promises: beach, beach, beach.

The title also promises a bunny rabbit, and here he is in Locarno Park, completely at home as he nibbles grasses behind a path-side bench.

“They’re European rabbits,” explains the young man checking his smart phone from the bench, “let loose when their owners got bored with them. They live under the marina over there, and they breed like crazy.” We sigh about the damage done when people dump unwanted pets into the wild. “Like gold fish in park ponds,” I grumble. More head-shaking, but then he brightens up. “Yes, but! Coyotes eat these rabbits, and otter eat the gold fish in Lost Lagoon.” That’s mildly cheering, and after we share some final philosophic shrugs, I go on my way.

On through Jericho Beach Park (stopping for a salmon-burger at the waterfront café, oh bliss), a few city blocks as anticipated, and then down some steps onto the so-called “Wilderness Beach,” the stretch of Point Grey foreshore that connects on east to Kitsilano Beach, but is itself entirely undeveloped.

I’ve never been this far west on the Wilderness Beach, and I haven’t seen this sign before. I stop to read it.

The People’s Castle?? I have no idea; don’t ask. But after the human irresponsibility documented by those European rabbits, how agreeable to see this call to responsibility about our noise levels and trash.

Oh, I do like it down here!

Whole carpets of mussels in front of me, as I look across the water to the north shore and that glorious spill of Coast Range mountains beyond…

and, here at my back, glistening rocks, mosses and seaweed.

It’s an absolute delight, and I’m happy walking all the way to Kits.

(Where, truth be told, I find I am happy to stop walking and sit down for the bus-ride home.)

Out the West End

21 August 2021 – “Out”? “Up”? “Into”??? By any preposition, the West End is where I’m headed as I walk north across the Burrard St. Bridge, with False Creek beneath me.

It’s a wonderful bridge, its steel-truss functionality wrapped up in Art Deco flair — all the more wonderful that they bothered with flair, given the bridge opened in 1932, deep in the Depression. And flair abounds. Just look at that ochre-coloured horizontal “gallery” down there, for example …

yes, that’s it.

Stylish as all get out, and purely decorative. It exists solely to hide some of the superstructure.

I’m not here for the bridge; this is just my entry-point to the “West End,” loosely defined as the chunk of Vancouver north of False Creek between Burrard Street and Stanley Park. I’m partly attracted by the promise of a few new murals, as part of this year’s Mural Festival, but, mostly, I’m just enjoying the fact that it’s finally good walking weather. Temperature has dropped; air quality has risen; West End … why not?

First mural hit, practically right off the bridge, just west of Burrard & south of Davie St. in Pantages Lane.

Thank you, artist Christina Boots: LOVE & a flamingo head, out on the restaurant patio.

On down the lane, between Thurlow & Bute by now, and two more heads — strictly B&W, and not a flamingo to be seen, but equally exuberant.

I head north on Bute and, right there at Davie Street, meet yet more faces. A whole line-up of faces.

This time, the faces have names. I’m looking at Elizabeth Hollick’s tribute to jazz greats in a mural that clearly has been here for quite a while. The likenesses are not all that terrific, but you can’t argue with her choice of musicians.

L to R: John Scofield, guitar; Charlie Mingus, bass; Max Roach, drums; Dizzy Gillespie, trumpet; Charlie Parker, sax; Benny Goodman, clarinet; Ella Fitzgerald, vocals; and Dave Brubek, piano. I pause a moment in tribute, but also to remember a cat named Mingus I once knew, and then continue my rambling north-west progress toward English Bay.

North now on Jervis from Davie, and I stop for this aqua butterfly, tacked to a utility pole in the lane.

This is See-em-ia Lane, and I again thank the City for its decision to add a brief fine-print explanation to each laneway sign.

You see? This lane honours Mary See-em-ia, a Matriarch of the Squamish Nation. (Thanks to the fine print, I can also tell you that Pantages Lane back there is named for Peter Pantages, Greek immigrant & restaurateur, and founder of the Vancouver Polar Bear Club. The sign doesn’t add, but Wikipedia does, that he was also nephew of Andrew Pantages, the vaudeville-circuit theatre giant.)

It’s pretty well just a head-swivel from the butterfly on up to the corner of Jervis & Pendrell, and St. Paul’s Anglican Church.

The doors are open (unexpected, in these continuing days of pandemic), and I seize the chance to go inside. It’s a heritage building, the 1905 replacement for the little 1889 church moved onto this site in 1898. The church has evolved with its times, and now embraces the LGBTQ community along with the more bourgeois middle-class of earlier days — and everybody else, for that matter.

A week-day communion service is just ending as I enter. I am struck by this. Today’s walk seems to me a continuation of the “quiet pleasures of the perfectly ordinary” that I celebrated in a recent post, an attitude powerfully expressed by John O’Donohue in a couplet in The Inner History of a Day (from, To Bless the Space Between Us).

He wrote: “We seldom notice how each day is a holy place / Where the eucharist of the ordinary happens.”

The eucharist of the ordinary! It has been all around me, all day — and here is a religious eucharist, to join it.

The rector welcomes me, invites me to stay for the post-communion coffee gathering and is smilingly gracious when I explain that, thank you, I plan to keep on walking. But first, I want him to tell me about this glorious organ, and he is happy to oblige.

Yes! a Casavant. I am a groupie for Casavant Frères, the Quebec company that has been building organs since 1879, and I start squeaking with excitement. Known as Opus 264 and installed in 1906, this one is the oldest extant Casavant in BC. It is not in use today, but I don’t care. It is enough to know it exists and, like its sibling in St. James in the downtown east side, it has been meticulously restored & revoiced and will have a long life yet.

Back out to the street, back to working my way north-west, and here I am at Broughton & Henshaw Lane.

I love everything about this building: its architecture, its community-centre function, its artwork, its welcoming signage. And I love the laneway signage too, you bet, which explains that this lane honours Julia Henshaw — author, botanist, and alpinist.

Eventually I make it to Davie just off Denman, right at Morton Park (home to A-Maze-ing Laughter) and English Bay.

A new tower is rearing up just over there, across the street, with artwork top to toe.

And I can’t tell you anything about it! I don’t weave through enough traffic to snoop around its base for any possible info. I don’t think it’s Mural Festival, and the Festival map is maddeningly vague, so we’ll just have to let the visuals speak for themselves.

One more mural, just a block or so away. This one is indeed a 2021 Festival addition, the work of Coast Salish artist Sinàmkin (Jody Bloomfield). Since he belongs to the Squamish Nation, it is fitting that his mural is right at the Denman end of See-em-ia Lane, which we’ve already learned is named for a matriarch of that Nation.

I turn back. Time to head east once again.

I look up at the neighbourhood banner with appreciation.

To again quote John O’Donohue, the West End has offered me “the eucharist of the ordinary” all day long, and I am grateful.

  • 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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