The Incongruity of Snow

22 February 2018 – There! That’s what I mean. Not “Silly in Snow” or “Surprised in Snow” — though both titles appealed to my sophomoric love of alliteration — no, it’s the sheer incongruity of snow in Vancouver that I’m struggling to express.

I’m used to snow in cities (says the native Montrealer), but in cities that are themselves used to snow. Snow scenes that look entirely normal in that context are bemusing — to me, anyway — when viewed in a city whose ecology and architecture prove that snow is a rare phenomenon.

In this context, it is… incongruous.

And for precisely that reason, I am alive to it here in a way I no longer respond to it in more snow-normal contexts.

Even paw prints delight me.

As does the sight of a snow-silly dog himself, leaping at snowballs thrown by his owners, getting his ears scratched and whirling snow from his tail as he waits for the next toss.

See the pale green chair, in the lower left? We’re down on the Arbutus Greenway again, and there are chairs and other warm-weather, garden-related objects all around.

A week or so ago, in the green glow of seasonal warmth, they looked quite normal. Now everything reads differently, in juxtaposition with the white of snow and the sparkle of ice.

Icicles trace frozen vines in the foreground; a blue chair waits out the snow beyond.

As does this hibiscus!

And these primula — part of the exuberant display of plants & garden-implement art on the gates of the Vancouver Compost Demonstration Garden.

Around the corner now, away from the Greenway and heading into Kitsilano.

Tree buds furry with the promise of blossoms are, at least for the moment, also bright with the hard glint of ice.

The homeowner has just shovelled his sidewalk and is now sprinkling a bit of salt. We tell him he is Our Hero. He grins, says it’s nothing much really, we don’t get snow all that often. “Not like back east! Those guys, it’s a life sentence.”

By now it has become our game, as we walk, to spot objects/plants that seem particularly incongruous in the snow. This yellow ducky, for example?

Definitely!

Soon after, down on the Kits main shopping street, we burst out laughing at a street corner decal. Nothing to do with snow. Just plain incongruous, all on its own.

Right. Back to snow sights.

This little woollen stuffed animal, tied to a bench in Vanier Park. Why is it that can we just laugh at the sight of the yellow duck, but somehow wish we could protect this little creature from the elements?

I think we would have been touched anyway. But more so, because the bench has a plaque on it, commemorating a young woman who was, say her grieving family and friends, both “beautiful and fierce.” We pause for a moment, honouring the loss to the universe of this bright spark.

I’m almost used to the next sight — palms wearing snow berets. (Am I acclimatizing?)

And I can at least decipher the sight after that — this, thanks to many walks along Lake Ontario in Toronto’s Beaches neighbourhood. There as here, poles wait for the volleyball nets of summer. But here, unlike there, laden freighters sit in the water and mountain peaks line the horizon.

Next day we’re up at the VanDusen Botanical Garden. Again the contrast to my visit a week or so ago: everything now snow-covered, silent, still.

Even this pond, temporarily frozen.

“Snow bomb!” shouts my friend. A ski veteran of the Lizard Range near Fernie, B.C., she knows what she’s looking at.

Meanwhile, Down South…

Go read Lori Greer‘s recent posts about snow in Portland, our nearish neighbour across the border. They, too, find snow a bit bemusing. (If you don’t know her blog, this may be a happy discovery.)

 

 

 

Rok Tok

11 February 2018 – Rocks can talk. And make magic. We discover the magic, rok by rok.

We’re partway along the Arbutus Greenway Corridor — an otherwise unprepossessing stretch one must add, between Nanton Rd. and Quilchena Park.

See what I mean?

But look again. See. See the long line of rainbow rocks. Thank the grade 2 students of York House School, and all the people who helped them.

We bend our heads, crouch to read.

The Corridor runs just east of Arbutus Street, repurposing a disused CPR line for some 8.5 kilometres or so …

from Fir St. & W 6th Av. near False Creek, to just south of W 7oth, near the Fraser River.

We start at the False Creek end, work our way south to W 70th, lingering in this stretch with the rocks.

 

Don’t see, or hear, a stellar jay. But when you do, oh, they are wonderful.

 

Imagine how much stronger a sense of community those children have, thanks to this project.

It’s reflected in their rocks.

Some add pictures …

 

or mix their languages, comfortably at ease …

and they all, rock by rock, move the rest of us to action.

Yes, nature is waiting for us. All around us. Farther south we come across another stretch of community gardens.

At first with silent sentinels …

but then with cheerful real-live gardeners, out removing winter mulch, preparing the soil, doing all those tidy-up-get-ready steps of early spring.

And we get an answer to the question posed earlier by one of the rocks.

The answer — the winter-time answer at least — is: Brussels sprouts and kale.

Walk & Gawk

28 July 2017 – Tuesday we do indeed go walkies on the Arbutus Greenway, as promised in my previous post. Another bright sunny day, so I’m armed with hat/sunblock/water.

I’m first to arrive at the 6th and Fir Park, the north (False Creek) end of this 11 km pathway stretching south along a disused rail corridor to the Fraser River. (In fact, we’re still on temporary pathways, with the final work yet to be done, but the details are beyond me and … frankly … at the moment I don’t care. I’m happy as is.)

Being first to arrive, I kill time reading messages on the Park noticeboard. Here is my favourite:

Have you ever seen tattooing so winsomely advertised? I am thoroughly charmed — though not enough to respond to the ad.

Lots of notices, lots to read, and this lady ignores her pooches long enough to scrutinize them all. Maybe she’s local, checking for updates?

Busy park, 9-ish in the morning: a volunteer (I assume) watering & pruning, a visitor checking her messages, parents & toddlers (out of frame) in the mini-playground. And a discarded water bottle. This is real life, after all, not Fantasy Land.

The Park’s online write-up includes, in its list of amenities, a water fountain. It should, but doesn’t, point out there is a canine fountain as well,

Frances arrives, we slap on another layer of sunblock, swig some water, and set off.

And stop pretty darn soon, because who could resist this gate?

Not us. The gate is unlocked, even better, so we head in. I linger to admire all the fun someone has had, creating the objets d’art — all from objets trouvés — on the gate.

Turns out we are visiting the Vancouver Compost Demonstration Garden, which since 1990 has been a joint project with the non-profit City Farmer Society. The Society manages the Garden; the City taps multiple departmental resources (Solid Waste, Water Design, Parks, Health, Green Streets…); all this to show Vancouverites a whole range of ways to “go green” at home.

Raised produce beds and other features show us water conservation techniques, pest control, and composting options. Including — but of course! — a very classy composting toilet.

Back to the Greenway.

We’re still in the northern section, with community gardens and wild greenery all around. Including blackberry bushes, their fruit just beginning to ripen.

See those few fully ripe berries? They are no longer on the bush. They disappeared, lickety-split, down our throats.

Not a lot of art on display, and it would be ungrateful to demand that the Greenway also be an art installation. All the more reason to enjoy the artist’s palette on a signal box (or something) ’round about where we cross West 16th.

Farther south, we’re on a long staightaway of naked paved pathway. Not pretty. It’s a relief to arrive at a stretch that is, we suddenly realize, lined with painted rocks. Well … at least it’s something.

I warm to it when I see a Vancouver Biennale sign, explaining that this is a BIG IDEAS Education Program carried out by grade 2 students at York House School. After seeking community input, they decided to beautify their stretch of the Greenway with these long lines of rocks —  more than 800 in all, moving from one colour block to another.

But! Wait-there’s-more! Turn over a rock or two. Go ahead, says a sign; do it.

So, in a red-rock stretch, we do.

Love it.

Even farther south, we’re back in cascading greenery, here up and down a retaining wall with trees soaring overhead. Vancouver keeps stunning me, the way green stuff just tumbles over other green stuff…

And suddenly we’re crossing West 41st, where, I am very reliably informed, there are excellent cafés.

We admire yet another harlequin painted signal box (it seems to be the Greenway theme), plus the wooden bench behind it with old railway axles (or something?) for end pieces …

and head for a near-by bistro.

Which is as good as promised.

I pass up my usual almond croissant & try something new: a flaky sacristain —  twisted puff pastry with ground almonds and cinnamon.

All I can say is: go find yourself a French bistro, and try it for yourself! (Or follow this recipe.)

 

Bees & Bears

22 July 2017 – The title is not inspired by A.A. Milne, but Pooh’s lament does come to mind. Remember? He is at the foot of a tree, the bee hive (surely dripping honey) is high overhead. If he wants that honey, he will have to climb.

It’s a very funny thought [he observes] that if bears were bees,

They’d build their nests at the bottom of trees,

And that being so, if the bees were bears,

We shouldn’t have to climb up all these stairs!

I am not thinking about bees or bears or stairs, as I weave my way home last Monday evening, I am thinking about the fun we just had doing an outdoor Taoist Tai Chi demonstration next to False Creek. I turn at random on a nearby street, pause to admire a series of raised planters, and wonder — very vaguely — what the little raised wooden structures are all about.

 

See? One per planter.

Then I see the signs on the wall. Big Rock Urban Brewery is not maintaining these planters for human enjoyment; they are bee habitats.

I like this. I like that they care for bees, and educate humans as well. I learn things about prudent behaviour around bees. I resolve not to “act like a bear.”

And that’s that, for a couple of days. I do not think about bees.

Until I am again wandering home in the early evening, this time from an Iceland presentation out in Kitsilano (“Kits” to its friends). Again a random turn, on a random street, in that golden pre-dusk light.

And look what pops up.

“Pop up” being the right phrase: I have stumbled upon the City of Vancouver’s 5th and Pine Pop-Up Park. Created in late 2016, it offers community meeting space with a large wildflower garden designed to attract bees & other pollinators.

Just look at all those bees.

And not just on the walls!

Those black specks among the wildflowers are, oh yes, real live bees. I remember the rules on that Big Rock poster. I keep calm, step back, and strive not to act like a bear.

It works. I walk through the park and around the next corner, unstung, and very impressed.

Only to be even more impressed. Now I’ve landed in the Pine Street Community Gardens. I stand there and laugh. How can you just turn a downtown corner, and, boom, fall into this kind of magic?

It’s older than the pop-up park, I later learn: founded in 2006, running parallel to disused railway tracks, with an Orchard Side (apples, pears, plums, etc.), a Garden Side (more than 40 plots), modest yearly fees and, not surprisingly, a waiting list of would-be gardeners.

There are vegetable plots …

and flower plots …

and a brightly painted storage shed.

With bee hives.

I again act not-like-a-bear. It again keeps me safe.

There’s a sign, up on that storage shed. I always read signs.

Yet more serendipity.

See that reference to the Arbutus Greenway? It’s very much a work in progress, early days for a trail that will repurpose the old CPR tracks to provide a walking/cycling/rolling corridor from False Creek to the Fraser River.

Temporary pathways are already open. One starting point is right here, in yet another pop-up park at the eastern end of the Community Gardens, at West 6th & Fir.

Frances & I have already decided to explore the Greenway in next Tuesday’s walk. I plonk my bag on the bench, and send her this photo:

“Bag marks the spot,” I say. “See you there!”

Consider this your Sneak Preview…

 

 

 

 

  • 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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