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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stories

22 June 2020 – These twirling figures are literally burdened with stories …

since Bruce Voyce’s 2016 Love In The Rain installation is Vancouver Park Board’s first official “love lock sculpture.” Each padlock, key ritually discarded, tells its own frozen-moment story of love & commitment, and we can only guess at how each story has evolved since the lock was snapped into place.

The closer you come, the more you see.

And, in our case this past Tuesday, the more you hear.

Scroll back up a moment to that first shot. (Photo credit FM, by the way, and thank you.) See those two figures, intent on the back left sculpture? Two eager young girls, studying each sculpture, choosing their favourite locks, and absolutely delighted to share their discoveries with us.

We let them lead us around and, keeping prudent social-distance between us, we admire their choices.

The big fish, for example, ‘way down low! (Not to mention that heraldic lock next to it.)

And the shiny turtle, ‘way up high!

Later, in the gardens section of the same Queen Elizabeth Park, we hear another story, this time a botanical story.

We’ve stopped to watch the meticulous bedding-out being done by a young Parks employee, fall into conversation, congratulate her on how good everything looks — and then redouble our praise when we notice a stretch of bent-vine fencing.

“It’s even a living fence,” we breathe, in awe at all those tendrils of new growth. The young woman laughs, and shares the credit. She twisted some discarded pieces of cut vine into place; Mother Nature — surprise! — brought them back to life.

Later yet again, now walking north from the park on Prince Edward Street, we come across two blocks’-worth of community stories. Art, commentary, photos, poetry … all of it neatly stapled to wooden utility poles between East 21st & East 19th.

Like this.

On top, a photograph of a mossy log; middle level, somebody’s yellow “My COVID Map”; bottom left, a poem; bottom right, a watercolour. And more to the other side.

I explore the COVID Map, section by section. Not surprisingly, it features walking, and discoveries made while walking …

Now. Did you notice that bit of a bright orange head at the bottom? The bit I seem to have forgotten to crop out of the shot?

Aha. I left it on purpose. A segue to the next section of the map.

I like the boyfriend-James story. I also notice, and sigh at, the artist’s further observation on the right. “Xenophobia and tribalism” indeed.

Several of the poles feature a poem by Julia Pileggi, a name that has meant nothing to me until now.  Here’s just one example.

I like her work a lot, and I like her even better when I visit her website later on. A local  performance poet/artist, she has just won a 2020 IABC Golden Quill Award for Excellence for her I Am Your Nurse tribute to nurses. Created in 2019, it’s stunningly relevant right now, and you can see the video when you follow the link above.

Every pole wears its own stories.

Someone shares a reading list …

and someone else pretty well sums up what they’ve all been doing, all these contributors with all these stories, up & down these two blocks of Prince Edward Street.

My friend points out what I’ve missed: a multitude of tiny figures on the stem of the rose.

Helping each other create something beautiful.

 

 

DIY

14 June 2020 – You know my habit: with each post I weave images & words into a story, a single story among all the other images and other themes I could have chosen instead. But not this time. You’re on your own.

True, I have selected the images, but only because each struck my eye, not with a story-line murmuring in my ear. No, wait. To be more precise: each image tells me an individual story, but I haven’t assembled them to tell a collective story.

Which maybe is my story.

Or maybe I’m just getting precious.

So, over to you. It’s do-it-yourself time. See what story-line starts murmuring in your own ear.

A sticker on a traffic bollard …

the top bit of a display of locally made masks outside a craft shop …

a bright yellow alley weed …

two crows arguing possession of the same hydro wire …

freshly chalked sidewalk art …

and a red paper lantern under its canopy of trees, one of the group I showed you a few posts ago in that Muskoka-chair nook just off the Sahalli Community Garden.

Today I drop into one of the chairs, and look up.

Walking back home, I cut down an alley, where I am startled at the sound of applause. I look at my watch. Of course: it’s 7 p.m.

So I clap too, joining these neighbours as they stand on their balconies either side of the roadway to once again salute frontline workers — and, I think, each other as well.

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.

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.)

 

 

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.

  • 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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