The Balancing Act

1 October 2021 – Balance. That’s our daily context, isn’t it? Leonard Cohen pointed this out back in 1966, when (in Beautiful Losers) he praised those who achieve “balance in the chaos of existence.” But never mind grand philosophical abstractions, just consider the balancing act involved in putting one foot in front of the other. Some 6-3 million years ago our ancestors decided to get up off all fours and walk upright. We’ve been dancing with gravity ever since. (And our backs, so beautifully shaped for horizontal life, have been complaining ever since.)

I must add that absolutely none of this is in my mind as we stand at Denman & Davie streets, just off English Bay. We are entirely focused on the building in front of us, with its display of Douglas Coupland’s latest contribution to his home town.

Berkley Tower is being comprehensively renovated, all 16 storeys of it, and author/artist Coupland was commissioned to create the murals now being applied to all four sides. They’re bright & sassy & up-energy and we decide we like them. They hold their own, we agree, in an area already rich with public art — new Mural Festival additions all around, and the A-maze-ing Laughter collection of Vancouver Biennale sculptures right across the street in Morton Park.

The Coupland work gave us a starting point for our walk; now we’ll wing it, as we head east along the False Creek north shore Seawall, from English Bay Beach on past Sunset Beach near the Burrard Bridge, and on down to Granville.

There’s been lots of rain lately; we’re both wearing Seriously Waterproof jackets. With hoods. Without umbrellas. (Vancouverites tend to divide on the subject of umbrellas, pro/con.) No rain at the moment, just mist dancing in the air, creating a depth of mystery and potential beyond anything blatant sunshine can offer.

On we walk, now just east of the giant Inukshuk monument whose setting curves into English Bay right at the end of Bidwell Street. “Here,” says my friend, sweeping an arm to pull my attention forward. “Look.”

I look, I blink. How have I never noticed all this before?

More inukshuks, all of them unofficial, uncommissioned, but look at them. One after another, more sizes & shapes (& quantity) than the eye can register.

Later, hunting around online, trying to find names to credit for all this beauty, I discover they are examples of a global phenomenon known variously as rock balancing or rock stacking. I’m happy to adopt this language: these creations certainly are feats of balance, and they are not truly inukshuks, which tend to have humanoid structure. (I never do find current names of local rock balancers, alas, so cannot give the credit so richly due.)

We keep hanging over the Seawall, admiring one subset of rock stacks after another.

Sometimes imposing towers …

sometimes just a few tiny pieces, in perfect relation to each other.

By the time we reach Sunset Beach, the great sweep of rock stacks has finally ended. But look… there is compensation.

One of my enduring favourites of all the Vancouver Biennale sculptures: 217.5 Arc X 13. Bernar Venet’s work is exactly what its title promises — 13 arcs of steel, each curved to 217.5°. (It’s not a balancing act in the sense of the stone stacks we have just been admiring, but it does still have to contend with the laws of gravity…)

Close to the Burrard St. Bridge, we cock our heads at the astoundingly large, perfectly vertical cones poised like chandeliers on the branches of this enormous evergreen.

And then later, under the Granville St. Bridge, we see an even more improbable chandelier.

“And… why???” you ask. I can tell you it’s 7.7 m X 4.2 m of stainless steel, bedecked with polyurethene “crystals” and weighing more than 3,000 kilos, and you’ll wave away all those factoids, won’t you. You’ll ask again: “Why???”

Here’s why. Vancouver bylaws require that the developers of any building over 100,000 sq. ft. must contribute some piece of public art to the City. The developers of Vancouver House were simply meeting a legal obligation.

But they did it with panache, didn’t they? So I’m willing to be grateful.

… and Macro

13 June 2021 – So there I was, last post, making a big fuss about micro-focus. This time out, my eye snaps right back to macro.

And micro.

Both.

Maybe because I’m on less familiar ground. I’m on the edge of Morton Park — me, plus the 14 bronze gentlemen who make up the collective sculpture A-Maze-ing Laughter. The work of Chinese artist Yue Minjun, it was the hit of the 2009-2011 Vancouver Biennale, and is now a permanent installation owned by the City.

Like his 13 companions, he’s just laughing his ears off. I’m equally happy as we leave micro for macro — past the sculpture, on down to the water just where False Creek swells out into English Bay and the Sea Wall carries on up into Stanley Park.

Micro to macro. Beach plants up close; then down across the sand and rocks of low tide; on out over the water to freighters in the Port Authority “parking lot,” waiting their turn to acquire/deposit cargo; and finally, oh always, mountains and sky.

Mine is not the only eye on the scene.

More micro to macro: first plant life on driftwood stumps, and then beyond & beyond & beyond.

I’m in close for this one: all the colours & textures that dance in a single slab of rock.

Speaking of dance!

Ignore Second Beach Swimming Pool in the background; ignore the snappy bike helmet; narrow your gaze to that crow dancing with the saddlebag behind the seat.

The cyclist must have stashed some pretty delectable gorp back there — and, I guarantee, there’s now a lot less of it than there used to be. The crow has spent the last five minutes methodically dipping his beak. (Oh! Just hit me! Exactly like those dipping-beak bird toys you see advertised.)

On we go, on up to Ferguson Point, just short of Third Beach. More micro-to-macro. A trio of marine biologists, doing something detailed & specific at water’s edge — and out beyond them, a laden freighter.

I’ve been watching it ever since we joined the Sea Wall. It’s the only one out there stacked high with containers and, thanks to the photographic genius of Edward Burtynsky, shipping containers rivet my eye.

We leave the Sea Wall, climb up inland a bit, our target something delicious at the Teahouse.

We arrive. It’s closed. Oops. (I channel Phyllis, my partner in the Tuesday Walking Society back in Toronto: she’d greet a failed-destination moment with the shrugged reminder, “We’re out for a walk.”)

So! Shrug to the Teahouse.

Back down to sea level, back onto the Sea Wall, back toward Morton Park.

A final micro-image reward.

A very small detail, in a very tall tree.

  • 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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