“If You Go Down…”

6 February 2021 – Here we are, edge of the woods, and that 1930s children’s song starts humming in my head.

“If you go down in the woods today

“You’re sure of a big surprise.

“If you go down in the woods today

“You’d better go in disguise!

“For every bear that ever there was

“will gather there for certain because

“Today’s the day the Teddy Bears have their picnic.

“Picnic time for Teddy Bears…”

And on it goes.

We are here in the woods — the 48-Ha forested ravine that comprises Robert Burnaby Park — precisely to look for the Teddy Bears. (Or Ewoks, if you must.) Along with all the other hidden tributes to the forest, to art, and to the human spirit rising above COVID to continue to play and create and make magic.

These well-hidden twigs & twine creatures, made from the forest’s own materials, are the work of somewhat reclusive local artist Nickie Lewis, who, when the pandemic closed down her usual art outlets, walked off into the woods to create her own.

She didn’t ask the City’s permission or place her installations in easy trail-side view. Burnaby has retroactively endorsed her work and we visitors tromp around in wonder, with only an enigmatic electronic map for guidance. We are grateful for whatever we find, tucked behind trees or upon a stump or deep in the cleft of a ravine.

This poignant reclining figure, for example.

We admire the texterity of the work, its delicacy despite the rough materials, and the skillful extra touches, such as that fall of ivy for her hair, tumbling to one side.

But in walking the trails looking for Lewis’ creations, we find we settle into enjoying the forest just for itself. It is as magical as anything the artist brought to it (which is, perhaps, what she wants us to discover).

The play of tree stump against tree roots…

the canopy soaring overhead…

the glowing fungi buttons almost underfoot…

the chuckling glee of the nearby creek, slaloming its way from ‘way up there, around-and-down-and-around to ‘way over there.

And look, even the magic of picture, frame and pedestal — all in one tree.

In the end, we only find two of Lewis’ installation. And we don’t care.

It has been entirely glorious, just as it is.

(But I’m still humming Teddy Bears’ Picnic!)

Wet

2 February 2021 – All these versions of “wet,” shining up at me immediately post-showers in a 2-km radius of home!

For example, there’s Tree-Bark Wet , whose sub-categories include…

Naked Gleaming Bark

Adorned Gleaming Bark (in this case, with a sodden felt heart)…

and even,

Hidden Gleaming Bark (here buried beneath squishy moss and droplet-shiny baby ferns).

Then there’s Art-Installation Wet

with its own sub-categories, including…

Sidewalk Mosaics (here, the eponymous Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathern — briefly Governor-General of Canada — glints up at us from his place of honour in front of Mount Pleasant’s Connaught apartment building) …

and also, and of course, Park Statues.

For example, The Dude!

Mount Pleasant’s very own bronze Dude (Reclining Figure, if you insist), at ease in the S/E corner of his very own Dude Chilling Park (Guelph Park, if you insist).

By now he is relatively dry on top, but still shedding droplets beneath his extended forearm.

I am completely dry, thank you, inside my Vancouver–proof raincoat, and I walk on home, much amused.

Burly Boles

29 January 2021Boles??? Until yesterday, I would have been unable to spring this title on you, because I didn’t know the word bole. I knew bowl, and I knew burl, and I had admired (in classy shops) beautiful bowls made from burls, and it’s only because of linguistic/dictionary ricochets I discovered the word bole.

In very broad terms, and I do stress “broad,” the bole is the trunk (stem + main wooden axis) of a tree.

So when I walk down East 7th, the stretch bordering the northern edge of Dude Chilling Park, I am not just fixated on a huge great burl protruding from that tree in front of me, I have the whole B-on-B phenomenon right there before my eyes.

You’ll notice a whole line-up of trees behind that one, Bs-on-Bs one after another, all along the sidewalk edge of the park. Look, here’s the very next tree.

Lumpy burls all over this sturdy bole. Though … check out the sudden indent about 2 metres up. A number of these trees have that same shape, I wonder if they were all chopped off at that height and defiantly grew on up anyway. (Take that, you think-you’re-so-smart human being!)

So maybe a bit of tree pruning history is being revealed. Along with lots of winter moss.

Back to the burls. Again in very broad terms, they occur when (perhaps through injury) the grain grows in a deformed manner, typically turning into a rounded outgrowth filled with small knots.

Small knots.

A few of the burls in this line-up of trees are purists, wearing no ornamentation beyond that offered by the tree itself …

but most of them, this being Vancouver in winter, reach for available accessories and luxuriate in moss.

Sometimes just a delicate spray or two …

sometimes a whole puffy cloak, a pile-on of shapes, textures & shades.

Not that the moss limits itself to burls. It flings itself everywhere. Bole, burl, branch, twig …

I walk from the park’s N/E edge to its S/E edge. In so doing, I pass abruptly from the eternal verities of nature to the street art of here & now. (Up high. Corner of the apartment building.)

This signature is appearing all around town these days …

Never mind.

Back to the eternal verities of nature.

I also see clusters of bright new snowdrops, rising up healthy & strong through last year’s dead, fallen leaves.

And you can read into that as much symbolism as you choose.

At Play

24 January 2021 – I had planned a different title. With the previous post in mind, I was going to call this More Light, Some Hoarfrost, & Another Crow. But then all that verbiage just seemed excessive.

Plus, the more I thought about the walks, the more the whole experience seemed to be all about play. Being playful with the light and the hoarfrost and the crow. Homo ludens and all that. But — and with due respect to this 1938 philosophical analysis of the importance of play to culture and society — we don’t need theory to convince us that playfulness is really helpful in times of stress. (Like, umm, right now.) Playing is fun, and fun is good.

On top of all that, Vancouver has just had a string of spectacularly bright days, motivating all nature, human beings included, to get out there and play. (Today it’s again oozing rain, but we’ll stick with the present historical tense, and celebrate recent sunshine.)

Out there, at play! For example, the person who picked up a big stick and scrolled this design all along the water’s edge, just below the Stanley Park sea wall between Second and Third Beach.

Also at play, one day later, these Barrow’s goldeneye ducks.

And now you will squint & mutter there are no ducks in the photo.

Well, there are, but you’ll have to expand the photo with your fingers, just there to the left of the tree trunk above the grass, where a white dot might have caught your attention… Got them? Good. They and a lot of other ducks (not to mention a whole flotilla of Canada Geese) were having a wonderful time, out there in the sparkling waters of False Creek, just east of the Cambie Bridge.

I took the photo, not for the ducks (because I didn’t see them either, not until later) but for the rich red gleam of the tree trunk, and the shining water beyond. I certainly felt larky and playful, so why not the ducks?

If you’re willing to play along (ooooo, I couldn’t resist), join me in discovering that the water itself is at play. With the help of ferry-boat ripples.

See? Boring old straight-line towers, turned upside-down and Gaudí-worthy in the reflections.

And then there’s the hoarfrost. Play with it.

Give it a palm-print …

or weave between lines of silver-tipped grasses as you walk Himy Syed‘s labyrinth opposite Hinge Park …

or blink at a very small leaf you’d otherwise not even notice, but here it is, shining up at you, playing compare/contrast with you, all glitter this edge and matt ochre that

or just silently applaud the versatility of clever old hoarfrost, which not only micro-touches one side of tiny leaves, but macro-rolls the full length of great long benches in Olympic Village.

Ah but then, alas, you can’t play with the hoarfrost any more. Not because it’s gone away, but because your focus has just been shattered.

And pretty near your eardrum along with it.

A crow! ‘Way up there, but making his opinion known.

Loudly.

A Moment, & Another Moment

21 January 2021 – One was colour, the other was light.

Colour!!

Heading home yesterday, I opt for West 10th since it’s a quiet residential street, and then, right there between Columbia and Manitoba …

I laugh out loud. Not exactly San Francisco’s fabled Painted Ladies, or as elaborate as ones I can think of in Toronto’s Cabbagetown … but there are similarities. These, too, are Victorian/Edwardian style wooden houses, built in the first decade or so of the 20th century, now restored and painted in bold colours to enhance the architecture. What’s extra here, I discover when I dig a bit, is that the Davis family not only received a Heritage Canada award for this streetscape but created decent rental housing in the process.

I don’t know all this at the time. I’m just enjoying the colour and the street-friendly, community-friendly extras that add to the pleasure. For example, the red Muskoka chair and the wheelbarrow of greenery (L & R, above) positioned by the sidewalk, to expand the charm right out into public space.

I cross the street. More details, equally colourful. A metal container (was it once a garbage can? surely not…), full of winter-hardy red/greenery …

a deep-ochre feline container for more winter ornamentals …

and, not to be outdone, a stylish canine container for yet more bright foliage …

on a bicycle.

Cat, dog, who cares? Make way for the lumberjack-plaid buck.

Immediately east of this run of houses is one that is clearly not part of the group. So, yes, definitely less colourful, but it is equally of the era and equally committed to improving the streetscape.

Albeit with a different sensibility.

I particularly like the stand-off between train and ‘gator. Though that T-rex atop another train engine almost gets my vote.

Light!!

Again heading for home, but this time via the Cambie Bridge and north side of False Creek. Unlike yesterday, today is all glitter & brilliance. I lean on the bridge and start noticing how morning light plays off, plays with, everything it touches. I begin to appreciate the literal truth of the words “sunshine” and sunlit.”

The rail beneath my elbows, the churn behind that Aquabus ferry headed for the Olympic Village dock, the ripples fanning out to either side …

and then, the curve of the Seawall, and two shining benches.

It’s hopelessly anthropomorphic, and I know it and I don’t care, and maybe you won’t care either, if I confess that, to me, those benches are positively basking in the sunny warmth. It takes me a moment to spot that each is just the eastern end of a trio of benches, companionably curved toward each other.

I want sunshine drama? Razzle-dazzle flashing light? Fine. There’s this moment, as I start down the off-ramp from the bridge…

I sit for a moment on one of those benches I had noticed from the bridge. And yes, it’s just as sunny-warm as I had imagined. Happy sounds are all around me — first some mother/toddler conversation, then dog-owner/puppy conversation, with mother & dog-owner both expert at deciphering what comes back at them, and everybody having a good time.

I walk on, still fascinated by the light. It just lasers down the pathway, hard shadows here, glitter there, and, ‘way down there, just in front of that mirrored marina building, the Blue Cabin — rocking gently on the ripples and, like those benches, basking in the sunshine.

As are these rocks, this side of the grove of trees next to the Blue Cabin.

And now for basking chairs!

Fabulous, big, come-sit-in-me blue & red chairs. They, and more, are tucked into the community park right at the end of False Creek. They’re empty, but the park isn’t — just out of frame, two teenagers are playing a furious game of table tennis in one direction, while in the other, a whole squad of (supervised) small children is playing some complicated game that involves kicking coloured balls around and Squealing Very Loudly with each kick.

I sink into that blue chair, prop up my feet on the log.

Sitting there, I realize that I’m almost at the end of a False Creek walk and I haven’t yet brought crows into the story. Which I usually do.

So now I will.

See? Crows on my toes!

Framed in sunlight.

Wired for Walking

11 January 2021 – I’m out walking again, with the same motivation that drove And Also. Medical & political turbulence aren’t going away any time soon, so let’s balance those realities with other realities — moments of delight, charm, generosity, fun, engagement.

French author Marcel Proust knew about concurrent realities when he observed that the voyage of discovery lay in having new eyes, not in seeking new landscapes. (The quote is on my home page. I’ve loved it ever since I saw it on a wall at the Art Gallery of Ontario, and I no longer remember why it was there. Though, arguably, it’s one of those anchor thoughts that need no further justification.)

One hundred-plus years later, neuroscience has caught up with Proust. Psychologist & author Rick Hanson (e.g. Buddha’s Brain, Hardwired for Happiness) points out: “Neurons that fire together wire together. Mental states become neural traits. Day after day, your mind is building your brain. This is what scientists call experience-dependent neuroplasticity…” Also: “When you tilt toward the good, you’re not denying or resisting the bad. You’re simply acknowledging, enjoying and using the good. You’re acknowledging the whole truth, all the tiles of the mosaic of life…”

So, hey, claim your favourite authority — from Buddha to Marcel Proust to experience-dependent neuroplasticity — but feel no guilt about also noticing what is delightful.

I have myself a truly delightful, absolutely guilt-free, and (for me) quite lengthy walk. I take lots of photos. I select a bunch for this post.

And decide to use only two.

Go find your own delightful moments — the ones that speak to you, for your own reasons, in your own environment. We’re each on our own voyage of discovery, each selecting our own moments that will select the neurons to fire together & wire together.

Two photos, I promised you.

And they’re all about wires!

Last few blocks in the homeward stretch, I am more intent on plod-plod than see-see.

And then I see — just peripherally, but the sight ambushes my eye, snags me, halts my feet. There, on that ground-floor balcony ledge, next to that winter-mossy tree.

I trespass, move in close.

She is perfect. She is exuberant, strong, literally wired for joy & walking & discovery & everything wonderful, and, in the multiplicity of her colours, totally inclusive. I shamelessly stole Michael Snow’s Walking Woman sculpture series for my blog title, but I’m now adding her as another avatar, another inspiration.

(Guys, you can claim her too. Just do a mental photo-shop, and substitute your dangly bits for her dangly bits.)

And here we are. Our very own Wired for Walking avatar, just when we need one.

And Also

7 January 2020 – Step back, I tell myself; take a break. Step back from newscasts tracking the political unrest rocking one country, whose ripples will eventually and somehow affect every country. Mentally step back from all that and physically step out the door. Take a walk, nowhere special, but with a different focus.

Notice other realities. Not instead of that big-headline reality; just … also.

A tree stump, for example. Not left there to nurture new life, but it’s turned into a nurse-log anyway.

A Chai Wagon, trucked back home after a day of serving customers downtown.

Baby buds on a front-yard shrub, already swelling with spring blossoms.

A nook next to the Sahalli Community Garden, created by its members and available to anyone who’d like to sit and relax for a moment.

I sit and relax. I start to notice the ornaments. Pottery toadstools and a metal insect, wings half-open, behind the companion chair …

glass coasters, piled on the log table between the chairs …

and one of the red overhead lanterns, swinging with the breeze. (Only later do I realize I’ve also caught a dark bird, slicing through the sky just beneath the lantern.)

Down by South China Creek Park, there’s a free exercise station for anyone who’d like to use it …

and a newly created play area for kiddies, very much in use.

None of this is important. It’s just what I happen to see, on this particular walk, at this time, on this day. It does not replace or discount the political reality rightly commanding headlines.

But it does remind me of all the other realities that also make up our world — every moment, everywhere, all entangled and endlessly re-creating what Leonard Cohen so wonderfully described as the “chaos of existence.”

I like that sense of larger context.

The Charm of the Unexpected

4 January 2020 – Given the city I’m in, I expect rain: I don’t get any. Given the city streets I plan to walk, I do not expect a bunny trail: I get one.

You see? It’s a walk full of the unexpected. None of it spectacular, I hasten to add, but each moment showing someone’s personality and engagement with the street and the community. I discover one little oh-look-at-that after another. I am charmed.

Bunny trail comes late in the walk, but the discoveries do start with a “B” as I cross East 16th and continue south on Ontario Street.

B-for-Buddha. (Or so I, in ignorance, think. I’ll be grateful to be corrected.) Very peaceful, not very large and calling no particular attention to itself, tucked among the fallen leaves & tufted grasses in someone’s street-corner garden.

Another block, another sculpture. Also among fallen leaves in someone’s garden, but there the resemblance ends.

From peaceful Buddha, to pugnacious crow.

Then, in a little corner parkette, community notices and a book exchange. Splendid idea; not-so-splendid protection from the elements.

From across the street, I watch an elderly couple study the collection (much larger than the bit I’ve shown) and select two to carry away with them. Books can be dried, after all, and a few ripples in the pages are really neither here nor there.

Another block, another pleasure: my first 2021 sighting of a street-side child’s swing.

Half a block farther south again, and my first 2021 sighting of spring bulbs poking up from the ground.

(This is the kind of image that Vancouverites love to send to snow-bound eastern friends, January-March. I promise you that it is invariably done with a smirk, and, having received such photos while in Toronto, I vowed never to send any once I lived here. Oops. Maybe I just did…)

Moving right along!

And in this walk I do move right along, farther south and farther west for a while and then I curlicue my way eastward again and find myself on James Street somewhere south of East 28th. By now I am ready to start heading north for home, so I walk on down James.

And find myself in a cul-de-sac.

And discover … the Bunny Trail.

Capital letters, City Parks Dept. plaque, paved path through the grass, and all.

Could there be a more wonderful way to escape a cul-de-sac? I wait for a woman coming westward with toddler & Labradoodle to clear the path, spend a few moments scratching the ‘Doodle behind his ears (his leash at full extension) and then take the path eastward.

And discover, if not flesh & blood bunnies on the Trail, a few pebble bunnies, tucked in among the tree roots.

Out the other end of the Trail, and pop, just like that, I’m at East 27th & Quebec. Where I see this quietly beautiful row of 1912 early-Craftsman houses, the Shirley Houses.

I’m able to identify them for you because I’m able to read signs.

I turn around and, smack on the opposite corner, see this interesting-looking little apartment building. Some degree of vintage, surely?

Neither then nor later can I find out anything about it, but I don’t really care. I just zero in on the corner juxtaposition of Art Deco (probably?) tile work with a very contemporary poster.

A passing couple exclaim in delight. We agree, from safe distance, that Dr. Henry’s words have become our provincial mantra and deserve their place on this highly unofficial version of the B.C. coat of arms. Then on they go and on I go — and then Quebec Street seems to disappear on me, so I find myself walking east on East 24th.

Where I bump into another offering of the unexpected. You might call it, the last in a bumper crop of the unexpected.

Well, anyway, a bumper.

Canine wisdom, to guide us through the year.

And It Rains

1 January 2021 – Rain smacks onto Scotia St. and courses on down the slope, tracing the route followed for millennia by Brewery Creek, now sealed away beneath the pavement. I am out in seriously waterproof gear, ready to take on the day.

As always, I slow my steps by the totem pole that soars up this side of the Native Education Centre at East 5th.

The work of master carver Norman Tait of the Nishga First Nation, this totem is a tribute to all indigenous peoples, past, present and future, and bears the title “Wil Sayt Bakwhlgat,” or “place where people gather.”

I look into the oval alcove, as I always do … then step closer, cock my head, peer inside.

Yes, it’s just a rock, but I pause, for I have seen tributes tucked into this alcove before now. If there is intention to this placement, I wish it well. (If not, I like the rock anyway. — shape, colour, and shine.)

The rain and I carry on downhill to East 1st, where my brain — supposedly running the show — waits to see which way my feet decide to go. My feet turn left, my brain raises no objection, so I’m headed for False Creek.

Goodness, it is so wet! Temperate rainforest strutting its stuff. No takers for any of these rental bikes …

just occasional pedestrians, like that woman keeping pace with her aging German shepherd.

In contrast I pick up my own pace, and then start to giggle. Here I am pitching attitude at rain drops! (Yah, well, just keep heaving it down! I can — literally — take you in stride!)

Self-praise has me barrelling right along, a little more west & a little more north, and then here I am, curving ’round Science World at the end of False Creek. Down here at the sea wall, I’m not the only person pitching attitude at the rain: lots of people are out for a bit of January 1st exercise — adults, kids, cyclists & runners, with a pretty even division between the pro- and anti-umbrella camps.

I lurk under the Science World canopy on the west side for a bit, where I eye the sail boats and that clever heron who has neatly tucked away his neck, presumably to keep it dry.

There he sits, patiently waiting out the storm.

We all know how that feels!

Happy new year.

If Moss Could Talk…

27 December 2020 – Well, moss can talk.

It can say …

I 💚 you!

In emerald green, of course. (And twice over, just to show off.)

  • 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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