Good Signs

30 May 2021 – As in, “Good signs!!” — pronounced with the inflection and rationale of patting the head of a “Good Dog,” cheered by his energy & optimism. And believe me, I need the cheer. After a totally inert morning (let’s blame it on pandemic brain fog), I finally get myself out the door and hope for some stimulation.

Things immediately improve.

I stand at the very next street corner, and laugh at the irony: the rampaging good health of this garden now obscures the gardener’s advertisement.

See what I mean, about “energy and optimism”? Now that I’m looking for signs of good stuff happening, they’re all over the place — with physical signage attached, to make sure I notice.

On down East 7th, along the edge of Dude Chilling Park, and I blink in disbelief at what I think I see — but surely I am mistaken — in the pathway between the park and the adjacent school. Tents? A street fair? Really?

Well, yes. And was ever a “Do Not Enter” sign so welcome a sight?

The cheerful masked rep for Vancouver Farmers Markets explains that, yes, the market is legal, but, also yes, I cannot enter at this end. One-way traffic is part of the safety protocol: go loop through the park to the other end, enter there, and see ya later. So I do.

Where more signage tells us what’s in season at the moment, and encourages us to whistle through our masks, if we want entertainment.

A dozen-plus tents run down the two sides of the space, with everything from honey to veggies to fish to sauces to the truly important things in life …

like chocolate.

Taped to a tent pole between the Drunken Chocolatier and Bali Bites … a llama.

A snuggly llama.

With a social conscience.

So far I’ve had 2 m / 6 ft measured out for me in eagles, cougars, bears, and butterflies. A llama is an adorable addition to the list.

I don’t stop at the Good Fish tent, and I politely stand back (leaving enough room for at least two snuggly llamas) while the Good Fish guy checks out the offerings at Bali Bites.

He moves on, I move in, and when I walk off again it’s with a pouch of their gado-gado sauce in my backpack.

One last happy look back from the exit end, where yet more signage — “Stay Safe!” — reminds us how to behave, if we want our markets to be able to stay open.

And I’m out, and off, and wandering deeper south-east along these residential streets.

More Good Signs, as I go.

The St. George Library on East 10th, for example, named for the cross-street, is a year-round hub of local give-and-take. The chair is new — perhaps on offer, or perhaps an amenity for someone waiting until it is safe to move in and check current titles.

More wildly healthy foliage obscuring a sign at Carolina and East 11th, another cheering demonstration of neighbours who care about each other. You and I never knew Julia, but this decorated street corner celebrates her as a good friend and neighbour.

Farther south on Carolina, approaching East 18th, and another community free library: BOOKS, albeit in battered lettering on a peeling box. Don’t care. Love it; love what it stands for.

And — I realize, to my absolute glee — the derelict house and blazing buttercups in the background mean that, by sheer chance,I have rediscovered one of my favourite alleys in the entire city. I first took you there with me just over a year ago, with a 24 May 2020 post entitled B Is For Bee (& Buttercup).

Here we are again. With a crow thrown in for good measure.

Later, heading back toward home, somewhere near Mount St. Joseph Hospital on Prince Edward, one more Good Sign. It’s one we all know well, but I have to acknowledge that by now our response is wearier than it was at first.

It is still a Very Good Sign.

“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.

Yoga Now

18 September 2020 — A display rack of note cards in an upscale shop, the usual collection of art cards, pretty-pretties, and swelling coastline vistas of Scenic B.C.

Plus this one.

Perhaps a very new offering, certainly a very timely one, from a local outfit called Ben & Company.

I buy it. (Svelte Lululemon gear is so six months ago…)

 

Chillin’ with The Dude

15 September 2020 – The smoke haze has lessened somewhat, and I visit Dude Chilling Park, first time out of the house in two days.

Two days ago, I did go out on my balcony, but only long enough to take this photo.

Never mind no mountains visible, almost no city visible either: that blue-tinged building mid-photo, just one and a half blocks away, is the limit of clarity. All this because of winds swirling north from those terrible wild fires along the American west coast. The morning of that photo, Vancouver’s air quality was second-worst in the world, behind Portland. Not only Old Wrinklies like me, everybody was being urged to stay indoors, with closed windows.

Then, suddenly, this afternoon, visibility improves. It’s not great, and I know the level of particulates is still dangerous, but I go for a walk. Over to see The Dude.

Understand this: this neighbourhood green space is really, officially, Guelph Park. Not Dude Chilling Park. Got that? Guelph Park.

And this sign …

is not an official Parks sign. It is public art.

Which is fitting, because the whole Dude Chilling thing is the result of another piece of public art. This one.

Well, to be tediously precise, it is the result of this sculpture’s predecessor, by the same artist. Michael Dennis created the original work in cedar, which after many years had deteriorated badly. He replaced it with this new version in bronze. The official name for either version is Reclining Figure, but the popular name was immediately, and remains, The Dude.

Of course. Just look at it — a dude leanin’ back, and chillin’. As a prank, somebody started an online petition to dump the boring old Guelph Park name in favour of Dude Chilling Park. Good prank, good fun, and tons of people signed the petition. Which did not amuse the Board of Parks. Then somebody installed a home-made Dude Chilling Park sign in the  park. Which still-unamused officials removed.

Things went on like that for a while, Fun vs Unamused, with a new public petition gathering some 1,500 signatures pleading that the fun sign/name be restored. Until I looked it up just now, I believed officialdom had yielded, and the park now had two official names. But no! Even better than that. Somebody donated this perfect imitation of a Parks sign … and the Board allowed it to be installed, as a work of art.

Not as an official name for the park. As a second work of art.

Well, I love this. Somehow nobody loses face and everybody wins and the good times roll and The Dude chills on.

Thing is, now with COVID, I swear people are seeking comfort from the embrace of his body language. They sit right up there with him. Like this.

 

I move down toward the tennis court fence, to check out its current crop of public art. This is one of the display walls favoured by our local (I think local) Yarn Artist, and the display sometimes changes.

One creation never leaves: this now-weathered yarn version of the park’s unofficial name.

 

This creation is somewhat newer — it features our beloved Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, beside the first phrase of her simple mantra for dealing with the virus.

“Be kind,” says the yarn. My mind fills in the rest: Be calm, Be safe.

I’m leaving the park, read a Megaphone magazine notice tacked to a post — and there is the mantra once again.

Dr. Henry and The Dude. We can do this.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

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.

 

High Knees (+ 18)

13 April 2020 – Turn off Netflix; leave Zoom; renounce YouTube. (Even, gasp, say good-bye to WordPress, but, there-there, only temporarily.)

Pull on your exercise clothes; lace up your shoes; meet me on Gore Street, half a block south of Union. Face north. Do a few preparatory stretches.

Ready?

JUMP.

RUN around the corner onto Union.

Now SHUFFLE until …

it’s time to HOP and then BALANCE.

WALK

up the ante with some ZIGZAG

and GALLOP!

SKIP for a bit …

Now SPIN WALK, taking your directional cue from the spirals, and next — but only once your head stops spinning — WIGGLE.

Gauge SOCIAL DISTANCE, measured in hearts …

take a running jump at HOP SCOTCH

DANCE your way to LEAP FROG

and then flash those HIGH KNEES of yours on every star.

Walk BACKWARDS (oops, trust me on this one) …

and soar into the SKI JUMP.

Finally! It’s finally time to SLITHER

sssskillfully ssslither …

your way to two-block, 19-station, sidewalk exercise …

ssssuccess.

Now cool down, pat yourself on the back, down a celebratory whatever-you-celebrate-with, and go buy some chalk.

There has to be a two-block stretch of sidewalk near you, eager to host your very own community exercise event.

 

  • 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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