The Open-Air Gallery (Year 5)

5 September 2020 – We’re talking street art, but organized street art, with the street as part of the art. Which justifies the invitation on the Vancouver Mural Festival home page: “Discover the city’s open-air gallery of murals.”

Now in year 5, this non-profit event has to date added more than 200 murals to the cityscape and made them a welcome, a vaunted, part of our identity.  It’s a little different this year — no street parties, for obvious reasons — but even so, 60 new murals, and an expanded presence in nine neighbourhoods.

Armed with the app, friends & I descend on three of them: West End + Robson one day, and my very own ‘hood (and birthplace of the VMF), Mount Pleasant, a few days later.

In a regular gallery, the art dynamic is between you and the work of art. Out on the street, it becomes a three-way conversation: you, the work of art, and whatever’s happening in that bit of the city at the moment you three collide.

So, standing in Pantages Lane behind Davie Street, eager to see Pearl Low’s Precious Fruit, we wait patiently while the Steam Works Brewery driver climbs back into his cab and methodically — oh, so methodically — organizes himself to drive off.

We chat, comfy in the shade. Then the door slams, the engine catches, lights flash on, and he’s gone.

Start looking at the murals, and you look at everything else as well — all the other visual cues to where you are, and to the rhythm and values of the part of town where you happen to be standing.

Maybe it’s signage right here in Pantages Lane at a cross-alley …

or a memorial next to St. Paul’s Anglican Church, just off Davie St. on Jervis.

The whole city is an open-air gallery, not just the murals.

A few days later, we’re in Mount Pleasant, where the Festival began and still its epicentre. We prowl more streets and alleys, this time in an 8-km curve from north/west-ish to south/east-ish.

In the alley just off Columbia & West 8th, artist Carole Mathys talks to my friend about her mural, Reclaimed. Finishing touches still to come, but the work already proclaims that we humans are just one small part of the eco-system, and not, ultimately, in control.

Right opposite, a work still so much in creation I don’t even have a name for it, and artist Cara Guri hasn’t yet arrived to satisfy our curiosity.

By the time Year 5 rolls around, the legacy of previous years is all around you. At Columbia & West 7th, we bounce with the energy of Magic Music Ride, a 2018 work by American artist Bunnie Reiss.

The car this side of the street bounces with it as well. See how its windshield and gleaming hood throw reflections back at the mural?

Makes me goofy-willing to see art in everything.

Ohhh, that yellow van is so perfectly framed in these blind-spot mirrors, high on the wall where Manitoba meets the alley just north of West 7th … And look, the green of the wall complements the green of the trees… (Sigh… )

Down the alley, something more substantial than traffic mirrors!

A succession of murals, but we stop longest at Entangled Flow, by Abbey Pierson, a Cowlitz/Mexican/European artist based in Olympia, Washington.

It covers a long stretch of wall, the artist statement as powerful as the work itself. “Each new generation faces the effects of neglect that spreads through the world like poison in veins. It takes form in our hatred, our carelessness and in our environment …”

A sombre message, with an optimistic call to action. “Our issues are entangled, but so are our solutions.”

Another 2018 favourite of mine, at Ontario & West 7th — a wall-full of people (many modelled on local residents), cats, dogs, wine glasses and seething activity. It was created by all seven members of the Phantoms in the Front Yard collective, but seems not to have a name.

Every time I look, I see something more.

Like this cat (yet another cat), peeking ’round a window bolted shut.

Sorry cat — my head swivels.

Right across the street, a 2020 mural-in-the-making, Gabriel Martin’s Presence.

At first it seems the opposite of its neighbour — where the Phantoms’ mural pulls you close, to search for every detail, the one by Martin pulses from afar. You almost feel the need to stand back, as if it can only be read from a distance.

Which would be a mistake.

Because, A to Z, in deliberately ghost-pale lettering, Martin neatly prints a dictionary of emotions to either side of the figure. The mural pulses with more than radiant colour; it pulses with the ebb & flow of human emotions.

Later, in a Main Street café, we talk about the art, the city, and how lucky we are. Despite all the threats — medical, political, environmental — there is also laughter and art and generosity and possibility.

Abbey Pierson got it right, didn’t she? “Our issues are entangled, but so are our solutions.”

 

 

Swings & Roundabouts

25 August 2020 – Doing an extended zigzag through residential streets, making my leisurely way home from a visit to the VanDusen Botanical Garden, I find myself in swing territory.

This kind of swing: the kind attached to a sturdy branch of a sturdy tree, to please kids who are happy to mix traditional amusements with the electronic kind.

This swing is as trad as they come — rope threaded through a wooden plank — but I soon start seeing variations on the theme.

Synthetic ice-blue plank and black plastic rope, for example, plus snazzy red discs to stabilize the rope …

or trad wooden plank, but with a nearby bench for passing pedestrians as well .

Every now & then, I must admit, rampaging fall flowers distract me from my theme. There are masses of rudebekia …

and, speaking of yellow flowers with attitude …

towering sunflowers. Plus happy bees. Check the rim of the “clock face” of the central bloom: just about 1 o’clock, that’s a bee.

Back to the swings!

Another twofer — this time, inner tire suspended from a tree-branch rope, plus wooden climbing slats nailed to the tree trunk itself. (With an “I ❤️ climbing!” sticker up near the top.)

There’s the bright-blue minimalist swing …

and then there’s the bright-blue maximalist swing.

And then, just as I’m quipping happily to myself, “All these swings, so where are the roundabouts?”  …

and then, right at the corner of Tea Swamp Park …

I see one.

 

Crisis

19 August 2020 — Elements of crisis:

Danger …

plus …

Opportunity.

About Those Otters…

16 August 2020 — I am delighted to say: I was wrong.

And you are going to enjoy this correction as much as I enjoy posting it.

Last image of my Hallelujah! post, I showed you charming otters painted on a utility box — but expressed serious doubts that they hold hands in the water, as claimed in the accompanying text.

Well.

I have been very gently, but very promptly, set right by both a dear relation over in England and a dear friend right here, the one who was my companion on that walk. She included with her email a YouTube link, with proof.

While I’m making amends, let me give belated credit to the creators of that utility-box magic, both images and text.

For all that’s dark and threatening, these pandemic days, there is also this: otters hold hands as they rock gently in the waves.

 

 

 

Hallelujah!

14 August 2020 – We are at the foot of Burrard St., smack on Burrard Inlet, and headed for Hallelujah Point — not that we quite precisely know that.

As we look north across the water, with the “sails” of the Vancouver Convention Centre (East Building) soaring into the sky …

what we do know is that we plan to follow the seawall north-west along the water, around the great scoop of Coal Harbour into Stanley Park.

Like this. (Ignore the “you are here”: we aren’t, so you aren’t.) From that wine-red building lower right; past the Vancouver Harbour Flight Centre; all along Devonian Harbour Park; around the curve into Stanley Park; then (as it turns out) eastward along that park lobe that looks like Vancouver’s answer to the Italian “boot” beloved of map-readers; and right out to the heel of the boot, Hallelujah Point.

Cormorants stare north-west across the Flight Centre toward Stanley Park, and so do we.

Float planes all lined up, today’s tidy remnant of Coal Harbour’s long industrial / maritime past.

Col. Moody discovered low-grade coal here in 1859, giving the area its name. The coal was never commercialized but the area was, especially after it became western terminus for the CPR (Canadian Pacific Railway) in 1884. Decades and decades of ship yards, seaplane ports, shipping piers and commercial activity followed, but then a series of fires in the 1950s destroyed the docks, ushering in a half-century of massive redevelopment (hotels, condos, parkland).

I’m not complaining. I love the parkland; I love the Sea Wall; and I respect how much signage, and how many installations, ensure that we connect with the history piled up behind us.

The Komagata Maru Memorial, for example.

On 23 May 1914 the Komagata Maru steamed into the harbour, bearing 375 Indians from India and other British colonies who claimed right of entry as citizens of the British Empire. Only a few were allowed ashore; the rest were refused entry under Canada’s assortment of regulations designed to prohibit Indian immigration. The stalemate lasted until 23 July, when a Canadian naval vessel escorted the steamship out of the harbour and sent it back to India, with the great bulk of its passengers still on board.

Attitudes have changed. The memorial was donated by the Khalsa Diwan Society (which in 1914 fed the people trapped aboard the ship), funded by a branch of the federal government, and supported by the Vancouver Parks Board. This incident, says the plaque, was

a catalyst for change to Canadian citizenship and immigration laws. This monument reflects Canada’s commitment to a nation where differences are respected and tradition honoured.

Here’s what I find so powerful about the memorial. Those walls are pierced with the names of the ship’s passengers. We are not just recognizing a seminal moment in history, we are recognizing — and thus honouring — the specific people caught up in it.

I think about the power of naming-the-name. The Vietnam War Memorial in Washington leaps to mind. So does Toronto’s memorial to the 329 victims — each one named — of Air India Flight 182, brought down by a terrorist explosion off the coast of Ireland in 1985. And Ireland Park, also in Toronto, honouring the starving immigrants trying to escape the Irish Famine of the 1840s — but only able to name a handful, though paying tribute to them all.

And always, as backdrop as we walk, rolling parkland, tranquil with shrubbery and benches.

But water’s edge is focus, and there is always more to look at.

Light Shed, for example, Liz Magore’s half-scale tribute to one of the freight sheds that used to line Coal Harbour …

and a ship’s bell, engraved not just with names of the industries that used to be active here, but names of the employees as well.

There are marinas full of boats, some of them owned by Americans who have no chance of visiting them this summer — and, amidst all that glossy wealth, a trio of sassy houseboats.

We’re around the curve now, in Stanley Park, heading east down the “boot.”

Maritime history is also maritime right-now. This stretch will take us past the Vancouver Rowing Club, still housed in its 1911 building; HMCS Discovery out on Deadman’s Island, which has recruited & trained thousands of Canadians since being commissioned as a naval reserve facility in 1941; and the venerable Royal Vancouver Yacht Club. (You’ve got “Royal” in your name? You are venerable.)

All that on the water side of things. On the Park side… lots and lots of trees. This one a soaring great cedar, but there are plenty of other varieties to keep it company.

“We’ll go as far as The Gun,” says my friend. “Okay,” I say, no image springing to mind but practically hearing the capital letters of respect in her voice.

The Gun is a Vancouver institution — a “naval type, 12-pound muzzle loader,” cast in 1816, brought from England to Vancouver in 1894 or thereabouts, and still busy today.

It is not just The Gun, it is the Nine O’Clock Gun. There is an astounding amount not known about its history, but this we know about it now: it deserves its name. Every night, at 9 p.m., it is fired.

And that is quite enough.

So… hallelujah!

We are at Hallelujah Point, and at the Nine O’Clock Gun. We turn smartly on our heels to head back to town.

One last moment with nature, with parkland still at our backs but the traffic of West Georgia St. very much in our faces.

Otters!

We swivel our heads with the inscription. It tells us that otters hold hands so they don’t drift away from each other.

Umm, well, I’m not really sure about that…

But I love the thought, and I carry it with me on my bus ride home.

 

 

In Plane Sight

5 August 2020 – We see the planes, all right, not that they’re paying any attention to us. One after another, they are too busy making their final approach to YVR (Vancouver International Airport) across the shining mudflats exposed by low tide in the Strait of Georgia.

Well… let me modify that. The occasional passenger face might be pressed to a window, wondering about that pair of long, skinny jetties visible just to the north, like a pair of jaws stretched wide.

We stand at the hinge end of the jaws, in Iona Beach Regional Park. The park is truncated on the north where it smacks against the private/industrial North Arm Jetty,  but it stretches the full length of Iona Jetty on the south …

… where it offers us 4 km of trail with rocks & sea-debris & dune-happy plant life to either side.

My first visit here, so I’m not sure how high the tide ever rises, but at the moment it is low indeed. We admire the grasses and the tangled piles of flotsam …

… and also the energy of the tide, even at low water, carving its pathways through the flats beneath.

The film of water, and the flats beneath, glisten in the sun. They catch and reflect a billow of white cloud, dead centre above mountains far off to the north.

Vegetation thrives, often a burst of yellow …

sometimes the magenta of dune-stabilizing beach pea, a sight that brings back my time on Sable Island, so very long ago.

Where “found materials” may be found, someone will play with them. (And this evokes many memories of Leslie Spit, not so long ago.) Here, it’s storm-tossed lumber, propped at jaunty angles in the convenient riprap below.

Out we walk, & back we walk. We’re almost off the jetty when my friend points out the plaque. She has sharp eyes; the plaque is low, to one side, and almost hidden by vegetation.

RIP. A name, dates, a life cut short by a “plane crash at sea.” The tribute is offered by his fiançée and joined by his parents. We pause a moment, are silent, draw breath.

Back to the life & potential death of right now.

Park Dept. signage at the start of the trail reminds us to “help keep parks open” by observing the 2-m. rule for social distancing.

They do it in a site-specific way. We’re not in Pacific Spirit Regional Park any more, are we? So we won’t be able to measure it out against a handy passing cougar, will we? Of course not.

We are instead invited to imagine a handy passing Bald Eagle.

Wing-tip to wing-tip.

 

Seeking Sundew

23 July 2020 – Let’s visit Camosun Bog, says my friend, go explore its boardwalks. Let’s! I chirp happily, not that I’ve ever heard of this place before in my life. Which is motivation right there. And, as if I need more, there’s the promise of boardwalks.

I love prancing along on boardwalks …

part of the environment but above it as well, each of us safe for, and safe from, the other.

Camosun is a very small enclave in a very large park, just one hectare in the 874-hectare Pacific Spirit Regional Park on University Endowment Lands out in Vancouver’s west end. See that green knob poking out from the upper-right side of this Pacific Spirit map? That’s the bog.

Small as it is, we should be both grateful and impressed.

The story began 12,000 years ago with glacial ice, as most Canadian geological stories seem to do. Glacial ice became glacial melt, which created a depression, which became a lake thanks to streams, which became a marsh thanks to happy vegetation encroaching at water’s edge, which then became a bog thanks to really happy vegetation blocking the streams entirely.

So, some three thousand years ago, there it was: 15 hectares of open, sunlit bog. But by the late 20th c. it had almost disappeared, as nearby development drove down the water table and other species moved in.

Since 1995, the Camosun Bog Restoration Group, plus a whole mix of public and private resources, has been working to restore the bog and reverse the damage  — pulling out the invaders (including 150 shade-creating hemlock trees by helicopter); digging out layers of detritus to get closer to the water table again; re-introducing bog species; and building boardwalks.

This drawing on the Bog’s website shows the result: one hectare of open bog, with its ecosystem of true bog plants and bog-friendly plants, accessible from the 300 metres of boardwalk that also weave into the edges of the neighbouring forest.

Turning right at a junction instead of left means we start in the woods. A moss-capped nurse stump rears up through the Salal …

a tree fungus throws its white stripes against the host bark …

moss glows bright green on a nearby branch …

and, middle-distance, shimmers grey-green instead. Just look at it — we may live in a temperate rainforest, but it is definitely still rainforest.

A few more turns, more curves of boardwalk, and there it is: the bog.

As promised, it is open, sunlit, and filled with bog-happy plants that thrive in standing water:  Labrador Tea, Bog Laurel, Bog Cranberry, Blueberry, Cloudberry, Skunk Cabbage, Tufted Loosestrife, Salmonberry, Arctic Starflower …

And more.

The best example of more: sphagnum moss. Thirteen varieties, all of them water-absorbent & acidic, and also the foundation of the entire bog plant community, because they form the soil and create the growing conditions for everything else.

They also show you the current state of local rainfall — the wetter the weather, the greener the sphagnum.

Pale, isn’t it? We haven’t had a lot of rain, recently.

My friend pokes me. She’s been reading the signage, and she’s on the hunt. She wants to find the Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia).

This is a challenge that has us peering downward over the protective boardwalk fencing, because Sundew’s tiny leaf clusters are right at ground level, and no larger than a Toonie ($2 Canadian coin). Still, they do throw up slender, reddish stalks, 5-25 cm, to catch your attention. Helpful for us; deadly for insects. Delicate, adorable Sundew is carnivorous. Sticky liquid first attracts the insects, and then traps them.

There! She peers, points, and aims her camera. I don’t even try; I know my phone-camera’s limitations.

Her camera gets the shot.

We’ve now walked the entire boardwalk, and even found the Sundew.

We can leave.

With just a tiny little side-trip into the soaring forests of Pacific Spirit before we go.

Park signage reminds us that social distancing is a fact of life these days, even when out for a hike. Still having a little trouble visualizing 2 metres?

Don’t worry.

Just grab a passing cougar, and pace it out.

 

 

Stares for Stairs

11 July 2020 — We’re in downtown Vancouver, Yaletown neighbourhood, and, yes, we are here to stare at stairs. (Oh, such an obvious pun — but sometimes, you just let yourself pick that low-lying fruit.)

We’re on the hunt for a BIA morale-boosting project, artists invited to let loose on the edges and stairways of some of the area’s street-side terraces (architectural remnants of previous industrial life).

But stairs aren’t all that’s worthy of a gawk or two.

We tilt-head, open-mouth our way through the parkette immediately behind the Skytrain station at Davie & Mainland.

I’ve seen an installation of overhead umbrellas here before — a rainbow of colours then, solid yellow now. Yellow for hope and remembrance, the signage tells us.

More yellow umbrellas, this time café patio adornments, up a block at Hamilton and Davie streets. With bright new mural-work below.

We are not impressed. We are righteously indignant.

Fine, love the defiant messsage of continued strength & presence: “We’re here.” But is it too much to ask for an apostrophe? Apparently, yes it is, and we grumble away to each other very happily. What-is-this-younger-generation-coming-to-I-ask-you?

Until we turn the corner, and burst out laughing. And blush.

We only saw half the message.

No apostrophe called for. “Wish you were here.”

See? Sometimes the grumbling old biddies are wrong.

Much cheered, we carry on along Hamilton Street.

Shark’s teeth don’t seem to me a very welcoming symbol — come visit, snap-munch — but yes, it is bold & handsome & owns that staircase.

Moving on, and aha, here we go! very welcoming indeed.

All hearts & loving bilingual messages.

I play with its angles, like the way railings, steps, wall & ground all dance with each other.

And then there’s Chameleon Long Dog.

Still giggling, we turn away.

Only to discover that Hamilton Street offers more than cafés and murals. Its boutiques also offer décor tips. Nay… rules.

There is Correct and there is Incorrect in this world, so pay attention.

We argue ambiably about that all the way to the Skytrain station.

 

 

In the Loop

1 July 2020 – In & around the loop, more like it — the “loop” being a favourite & highly variable circuit of mine down to False Creek, west along one side of this end of the Creek, across the Cambie St. bridge, and back east.

As always, these strange months, much that is familiar suddenly viewed a-slant because of the new context in which I experience it.

Feet going zig-zag (“going all fractal,” I say pretentiously to myself), heading north in a near-by alley because I like alleys, with local alleys offering a less impressive alley-art presence than their Toronto counterparts, but a much more impressive structural presence, thanks to those towering hydro poles.

And this stretch, just east of Main, offers an okay bit of street art as well.

Not to mention the haze of the Coast Range Mountains, off there in the distance. (Take that, Toronto…)

I grin at a little white bird on a big blue dumpster …

peer through chain-link fence at signage for somebody’s mini-community garden …

and, finding myself at a dead end, double back out to E. 4th and Scotia.

Where a wedge of land shelters an only slightly less-mini community garden, this one with a friendly chair at the street corner.

Gardeners of the Galaxy” reads one of its signs — a banner of its evolution from one woman’s vacant-land purchase in 2010, to its current status in the coFood Vancouver Collaborative Garden Project, within the Living Systems Network of social/food/community activists.

Still on the zig-zag, still going all fractal, soon I’m past the Galaxy, in behind Main St. on something I thought was just a lane but is wide enough for an official name. I am now on Lorne St., where an old pseudo-vintage Mexican restaurant mural …

leads to a door with an entirely spring-2020 sign of its own.

(See what I meant earlier, about familiar old landmarks thrown a-slant in a new context?)

I didn’t sit down with those galaxy gardeners, and I don’t join this sober new version of “borrachos aquí”, either.

But I do sink down on this bench for a bit …

just off Quebec St. in Creekside Park, a tribute to the one-time CPR railway yards down here. There’s even a remnant of train track.

Not that much later, just a bit round the Creek-end curve on its north side, I sit on another bench, contemplate gulls/crows/ducks/geese/kids/cyclists/geezers/dogs/etc for a while, and very idly wonder why there always seem to be a few people who spurn benches to clamber right down to water’s edge and perch on the rocks.

Well, why not.

And I walk. And I shamelessly eavesdrop on passing conversations. And I helpfully alert a young mother to the cloth storybook her child has just pitched out of the stroller. And I share giggles with another woman, who has just taken a photo of a bit of doggerel on a utility box that manages to be rude, very rude, about the Kardashian sisters and — while the author is at it — Donald Trump as well.

No, I will not show it to you. All those people get quite enough free publicity as it is.

Moving on. Literally!

My favourite dog bench, dog muzzle and dog bowl in Coopers Park , with extra water courtesy of all the recent rain …

which is located right at the Cambie Street bridge. This sends me sharp right, then spiralling upwards, to walk south across the bridge.

A favourite view over my favourite ferry dock — Spyglass — before I spiral back down to ground level, and start east along the Sea Wall.

Heading toward Olympic Village and yes! Himy Syed’s stone labyrinth is somewhat overgrown but still intact, still a landmark between Hinge Park and the tiny man-made habitat island out in the Creek itself.

Slightly to my own surprise, I don’t as usual carry on to Olympic Village plaza. Instead I cut south through Hinge Park, delighted as always at how much mystery and nature it offers, even though it is very small and bordered by condos.

 

On up to walk along East 1st, between Manitoba and Columbia. I pass the home to the Arts Club Theatre Company (unknown to me until this very moment) — a typical bit of modern glass frontage for a typical pleasant-looking reception area for a performance venue.

And then, it is no longer typical. Well, it is — our new-typical. Mannequins stand in the window display area, each one clad in some kind of essential-worker garb, and bearing this sign.

Into another alley.

No, not an alley-alley. This is a landscaped, highly designed pathway-alley between low-rise condominium structures. Each with its own combination of shrubbery, benches and water features.

I look down at that metal medallion, there at my feet.

“Tread lightly,” it says.

What a good idea, in this stressed world in which we now all live.

Oh, and, Happy Canada Day!

 

 

 

 

 

Cirque du Plaisir

26 June 2020 – Oh, forget the Circus of Sunshine. Here comes the Circus of Pleasure — pleasure for its lithe young participants, and for anyone else in Jonathan Rogers Park at the time, who happens to notice them.

I almost don’t.

I’m busy watching a patient woman tirelessly hurling a ball (from one of those hurling sticks) for her eager Border Collie. Again & again, he streaks across the field to chase it and then prances back in triumph the way they do, all head tosses, quick paws and waving tail.

So I almost miss the other performance on offer. This one is human, very quiet by comparison, and limited to the dimensions of the young man’s body length on the grass.

Still, something makes me look beyond the oblivious couple just there on the lip of the park’s main bowl of space … and notice that other couple straight-line beyond them, mid-field.

Really? She’s not just getting all friendly with her boyfriend? (As in: oh please, we are decorous Canadians, save it for home?) No, she’s not. This is serious acrobatics.

I start paying attention. Look: a series of moves, one foot in each of her partner’s hands.

And look: now hands to hands, her hips to his feet, and stretched horizontal above him.

And keep looking: the moment of levering upright to a hands-on-hands handstand.

I am slightly tempted to  tell you she held a flawless handstand for 5 seconds before precisely folding her way back to earth. But that would be a lie. She held the pose barely a nano-second before over-balancing and crash landing on the turf.

There is no need, no motivation, to lie. Indeed, a lie would disrespect them. Distant as I am, I can hear their laughter. They want to get it right — but they are also just having an extremely good time, enjoying their strength and their skill and each other and the fresh breezy day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 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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