Old Haunts

22 July 2021 – “Down to Strathcona,” I decide, my first return to this east-of-downtown neighbourhood since COVID reined in my travels. First visit since 9 February 2020, in fact, a walk celebrated with the now-ironic title of “And then the sun came out.” Who knew the metaphoric sun was about to go in?

Off I go.

North down a favourite alley, H-frame hydro poles overhead and a DATA-face levelling her eyes at me above the dumpsters.

Bounce east from False Creek, cut through False Creek Flats (the still-scruffy end, spelled with a final “s” not yet the snappy “z”), with a couple of murals on the wall and two sea gulls overhead. Who are almost certainly not levelling their eyes at me.

Another bounce, this time off the east corner of Chinatown and then east-east along E. Georgia to Princess, where a beautifully restored/maintained home demonstrates that, yes, Strathcona is the oldest residential neighbourhood in Vancouver.

More east along East Georgia, over to Hawkes and the brick-laid circle at a south corner of MacLean Park, with its benches and a mosaic that possibly links Strathcona to the nation-wide Communities in Bloom organization. (I try, but can’t quite track it down. Oh well.)

Another pedestrian & I exchange “Good morning’s”, then cock our heads as the first four notes of O Canada fill the air. Aha! The 12-noon ritual, courtesy of the Heritage Horns at Canada Place. We giggle and amend our greeting. “Good afternoon!”

On north along the east side of MacLean Park, already anticipating a latte at The Wilder Snail café up at Keefer. I pause at this alley corner en route, delighted that this workshop is still here, still vividly painted, still adorned with industrial art…

including this tribute to cycling embedded in the sidewalk: chain, gears & even an upright bike pedal.

On up to Keefer, about to cross the street to the café, and… whoa! This is new. The drop-dead sleekest community book box ever created.

No, not part of the Little Free Library chain that I admire so much; this (the discreet sidewalk plaque tells me) was brainchild of the Strathcona Community Centre Association, funded by some civic Neighbourhood Small Grants program.

I peer inside. On offer, Easy Songs for the Beginning Baritone/Bass. Also on offer — in case you’d rather read about a musician than be one — Life, by Keith Richards. (Isn’t this perfect? The autobiography of “Keef,” right here on Keefer Street.)

Enough of that, I want my latte. Except, once inside The Wilder Snail, I succumb to the day’s heat & my own curiosity and instead choose something cold called (as I recall) Turmeric Sunrise. Or something like that. Anyway, tart & citrus-gingery and perfect for the day.

I sit outside, and watch the woman in the red dress kitty-corner, inspecting offerings in that book box.

(D’you suppose she walked off with Keith Richards under her arm?)

Now it’s my turn to walk off, still heading vaguely northward, until I find myself in front of this wonderful mural of North Strathcona Pre-WWI.

I am at Campbell & East Hastings, and I know this because there’s the intersection, in its bright turquoise lozenge.

Once again I have cause to admire the perfect symmetry of location and language: the eponymous George Campbell was part owner of the Hastings Sawmill.

I start thinking about looping my way toward Commercial Drive and, eventually, a bus back home.

But meanwhile, still lots to look at. Mad animal cyclists in this mural near Woodland Park, for example.

And in this Venables/Victoria alley, a garage with a mural and some life-lesson instructions.

The life lesson? How to be an artist.

I’m particularly fond of “Make friends with freedom & uncertainty” near the top, and, closer to the bottom, “Listen to old people.” (Well, natch.) Also: “Play with everything.”

Fine, I think, that’s it. Camera back in my pocket.

But then I see this: garage-top garden, complete with sunflowers and an apiary.

Okay, I think. This time that’s it. But a few blocks over, I see this: wonder woman flexing her muscles.

And then?

That really is it.

Other Realities

16 March 2021 – Ohhh, growl. I’ve dutifully listened to the Morning Misery (aka morning news) and I am out the door. I need a dose of other realities.

Happy, fun, friendly, plain-old-neighbourly realities.

And I want them right now. Stomp stomp.

Is one block sufficiently “right now”? Because look, up on that balcony, a little “boy” climbing his ladder to admire the “moon.”

And, immediately next door, on a boring old wire-mesh fence, a mural of moon/clouds/skyline.

Around a couple of corners, on up south (how can south also be up? it just is), past the corner garden tended by Sherry. I’ve never met Sherry, but almost every time I linger to admire her work, someone local tells me her name. They want me to know who is offering so much pleasure, and I’m happy to hear it, every time.

This time, I notice a wonky set of shelves, decorated with strawberry ornaments, offering a child’s book below (Five Little Gefiltes), and up here on the top shelf — also for the having — small plastic figurines. “One per child,” asks Sherry. I love that one is a hockey player. Canadian, eh?

Still climbing my way south, nod at the cowboy just off the corner of Robson Park …

and check out the books in the neatly painted, sturdy Little Free Library kiosk near Prince Edward Street & East 19th. And — one final detail in this whole generous offering — isn’t that a lovely knob on the kiosk door?

A few more blocks, and Prince Edward Street borders Prince Edward Park. I sit on a bench for a moment, watch a passle of pre-teens kicking a ball around & shrieking with joy. I decide not to worry about COVID; I will instead assume they are bubbled class-mates.

When I leave, I read the plaque on my bench.

It makes sense of the companion bench, with a female first name, same surname, and a later death date. That plaque reads: “Together again.”

And yes, East 21st, the park’s northern border, is a “perfect walking street.” Not just big, happy park to the south, but, look: trees with great big burls! And a whole block of painted pavement!

Plus, tucked into this particularly twisty-twirly burl, a whole fairy kingdom of mushrooms and doorway. (Fact is, I am not a fan of twee little fairy kingdoms decorating trees. Other fact is, I love that people are being happy, and sharing what they hope will make the rest of us happy as well.)

My next other fact is, pretty well any street can be a “perfect walking street” if you just damn-well decide to view it that way…

Here on Sophia, for example, as I turn back north.

Tiny new astilbe shoots, just beginning to unfurl inside that thicket of old stalks from last year.

And dog-paw solar lights in the next garden down.

One more park-bench moment, in the wonderfully named Tea Swamp Park at Sophia & East 16th. (The name, explains the Vancouver Park Board, is a reminder of the Labrador tea plants that once flourished in the area.) And then, just off the park, the Tea Swamp Community Garden.

With its turquoise & sunshine yellow garden shed, and its tidy plots, just about to rev up for the new season.

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.

  • 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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