Barge Brain

21 January 2022 – I did not expect to contract Barge Brain. I was setting out from the Olympic Village dock in False Creek with an English Bay walk in mind — one that, yes, would include walking past the barge, but nothing more emphatic than that. Just a polite nod to an improbable celebrity as I carried on toward points farther north-west and whatever delights they might offer.

So I jump on the ferry with a clear plan in mind.

A family jumps on as well. The parents, engaged and empathetic, encourage their toddler to face forward, clutch an imaginary wheel with his little hands, and steer the boat. He of course will have none of it, and looks every which way but forward.

Ah well. They get off at Granville Island; I transfer to another ferry for the onward trip that takes us under the Burrard Street bridge, out of False Creek into English Bay, and across to the Aquatic Centre dock on the north side of the Bay. From there, I’ll walk the seawall — past Sunset Beach, on up to Morton Park just shy of Stanley Park, beyond the top frame of this map.

Sunset Beach is home to the barge. The cap-B Barge. The Celebrity Barge. The barge nobody knew or cared about until violent winds on November 15th sent it crashing onto the rocks of Sunset Beach. Where it hung its ponderous length at a tipsy angle, for all the world like a drunk clutching his lamp post, and has continued to hang ever since.

I step onto the Aquatic Centre dock, look north-west — and there it is. That rusty-red rectangle on a point of rocky land.

I start walking toward it, already feeling more fascination than I had anticipated. Two discoveries, even at this distance.

One, the barge is damn big. Lordy, it is big.

And two, the barge is just across that narrow tongue of water from my favourite Vancouver Biennale sculpture of them all: Bernar Venet’s 217.5 Arc x 13 installation of 13 arcs of steel, each arc shaped to that number of degrees. So before approaching the barge, I veer onto the sand, to pay my respects to the sculpture. (And to take this so-obvious shot of them both. Sorry! It is very obvious, isn’t it?)

Now on past that little tongue of water, closer to the barge — and to heaped piles of other debris, also thrown ashore by the storms.

Now I’m close, and I just stand there and gawk. Seeing one of these things far off in the water gives you no sense of scale. Up close, it’s different. You measure it against a parked car, or passers-by — these women with their strollers, for example.

My brain is whirling. How big is it? Media love factoids, why has nobody told me how long this thing is, how tall? And come to that, what is it? They say “barge” — but surely there are categories of barge? Why haven’t they told us these things? Pick-pick, grumble-grumble.

Later I look online. I can’t find any local reference to length, but a recent New York Times article about our celebrity barge says it is “nearly 200 feet long.” (Nearly 60 metres.) And one local story does in passing identify it as a “chip” (wood-chip) barge — corroborated by a photographer, who in November sent a drone aloft to investigate, which indeed saw scant wood chip residue in an otherwise empty shell.

I prowl its length, staring over and up. Up and up.

From the near end …

looking toward the far end …

taking in all those shades & shapes, all that texture …

sliding off the far end …

with a final backward glance at the entire hulk.

I think what fun Vancouverites have had, coming up with punning names for this impromptu event: “Barge on the Beach,” an easy slide from the Bard on the Beach open-air theatrical offerings across the water in Vanier Park; also “Barge Chilling Beach,” an amused play on our Dude Chilling Park.

But it’s not all fun, and I think about that, too. Several tiers of government are trying to solve the problem of guarding & removing the barge (which poses real environmental risks) and the owner, Sentry Marine Towing, is not proving particularly visible or forth-coming. Indeed, when I try to visit Sentry’s website I end up staring at a Not Found/404 message instead. As a recent CTV report suggests, removal is complicated and civic authorities, fronting the process & the costs, may not see either action or repayment any time soon.

And then I stop thinking about all that, and tell my Barge Brain to give it a rest.

I move on. I turn my attention to nature.

A whole flotilla of Barrow’s Goldeneye ducks …

two small stones resting atop two large rocks, in modest tribute (the storms tumbled all those grandiose stacked stones and I find I am pleased) …

and even the first spears of spring daffodils.

Just off Morton Park, where I’ve often visited the A-Maze-ing Laughter sculptures, I discover a sundial, a 1967 Centennial project that has until now escaped my notice.

So I linger with it a moment …

and then turn back east to start the walk & ferry travel that will take me home.

I walk several docks past the Aquatic Centre before boarding a ferry, all the way back to the Aquabus dock in David Lam Park, and I am well pleased with my day when I finally step into a floating rainbow.

Micro

9 June 2021 – Sometimes, when you’ve been trotting around a particular area often enough, your ungrateful eye begins to slide right off the macro view. Even when it’s as handsome as this one.

Here we are, south side / east end of False Creek, and just look at it — a macro worthy of the name, from boats to billowing clouds with mountains & condos & Science World tucked in between.

But all that, that macro sweep, is not what I notice.

All my eye wants to notice is this:

these mollusc-encrusted old wooden pilings.

And that’s how the walk goes.

My eye keeps snagging on micro snippets within the larger context.

One of Myfanwy MacLeod’s 18-foot sparrows, for example, in Olympic Village plaza.

Decidedly macro, as sparrows go, but not in terms of the plaza as a whole.

Same thing when I turn down an alley off Manitoba & West 3rd.

Lots going on, I promise you, but all I see is an alley cat …

and a bird’s nest.

Presumably not for the Olympic Village sparrow back there! Though the scale would work, wouldn’t it?

Outgoing, Incoming, & Just Plain Here

7 May 2021 – Well, here’s a near-generic urban redevelopment photo for you: detail-specific, in this case False Creek South, east end, but a common tide of events.

Out (R) with remnants of the Industrial Old, and in (L) with the Condo New.

I happen particularly to love that clapped-out, rusty old warehouse, or whatever it once was. I anthropomorphize it like crazy — yahh! you hang in there! love yer attitude!! — and I feel no shame.

I mean… just look. Despite weeds & chain-link fence, it really is somehow still hanging in, not yet knocked down (though a big wind might do the trick).

Yet I can’t be completely grumpy.

Because right next to it sit row upon row of neatly planted gardening boxes, all lined up behind that same chain-link fence and with a sign on the fence to make you pause, read, and puff out a happy little sigh.

Sole Food Street Farms — founded 2009, still active, here they are.

And here we all are, a poster on the utility pole next to the fence reminds me, here we all are, all us human beings …

messy, imperfect, and sometimes quite glorious. It’s just who we are.

So I walk on down to the Creek …

and enjoy myself.

Details

19 April 2021 – First you widen your eyes, and stare at the big picture. Then you narrow your eyes, and start to wiggle in among the details.

For example, here at the entrance to this alley, just south-west of Broadway & Main. Wide eyes for a whole big chunk of space and structure, whirling with styles & textures & purpose.

Semi-narrowed eyes for the joke of this temporary art/context juxtaposition: look! a pink Coast Salish whale diving into a Mercedes-Benz!

Then properly narrowed eyes for the steps/ledge tableau to the right of the whale.

Steps & railing lead up to a bouquet of flowers …

with an artisanal No Parking sign beyond that …

and beyond that, another painted bouquet on the wall, with tiny sprigs of real plants in various containers on the ledge below …

and ‘way over in the corner, where the ledge triangulates with right-angled walls …

a modest little chunk of log, with a spiral shell balanced on top.

There’s lots more going on in that alley, macro-to-micro like crazy, and I whirl around with it for quite a while. But then I leave, and I walk on south & east for a further while, right up to Prince Edward Park, where I notice a shoulder-height wooden fence bordering one of the homes opposite.

There is a big, hand-lettered sign hanging on the fence. I step closer for the details.

You know the next detail for my narrowed eyes, don’t you? Trying very hard to avoid touching the fence (do steadying elbows count?), I peer over the top.

And there they are. The hens.

I don’t want to keep hens myself, but I love knowing that somebody else does want to, and can, right here in the city.

Same way I don’t find tree-trunk faerie villages at all appealing, but I really like the fact that other people enjoy them, construct them, and make them their contribution to civic good humour.

So I am benign about the grass-level example I see over by West 10th & Alberta, and I’m actively intrigued by whatever-it-is jutting out from the tree at shoulder height.

In closer for the details.

I’m still not sure what it is! Purple light-bulb, fine, got that — but the rest of it? Snowmen? Michelin-tire men? Don’t care. They’re unexpected and they’re fun.

And, big bonus, they cause me to stop, look around, and notice the purple sequinned cat over there in the flower bed.

Is that not terrific? (Yet another example of something I don’t want for myself, but am delighted to see cherished and put on display.)

And on I go, dropping down north toward False Creek, through Charleson Park and finally eastward on the seawall.

The path skirts the Heather Civic Marina — definitely a moment for wide eyes, and the big-scene stare.

So I do, I stare.

Then I narrow my eyes, and wish — for the umpteenth time — that I’d remembered to bring my binoculars with me. However — again for the umpteenth time — I have not remembered, so I must make do with narrowed eyes.

Which pick out a detail.

Look, up there, among all those masts …

It is! It really is a human being! A human being having a Cirque du Soleil moment, atop a mast on a boat in the Heather Civic Marina in False Creek.

I am so pleased that I noticed it — and equally pleased to have my own two feet on a solid path right here on the ground. Stomp-stomp-stomp, all the way home.

Both/And

8 April 2021 – Once you notice the both/anded-ness of life, all those concurrent realties swirling around, examples just keep smacking you in the face.

Both the beauty of this cherry tree, arching its blossoms over an entrance to the coFood Collaborative Garden at Scotia & East 5th …

… and the wording of their welcoming signage, which recognizes the possibility that people will use this space to shoot up. (But, and here is a both/and within the larger both/and: note that they gently accept all possibilities, and only ask for considerate behaviour.)

Both the blue sky and shining waters of False Creek, right here by Science World …

… and the discarded face mask on the foot path.

Both the fresh, trim spring beauty of this volunteer-tended Green Streets garden, tucked by an access ramp to the north-east side of the Cambie Street bridge over False Creek …

and the graffiti on the ramp. (Note that I make a distinction between street art, and graffiti.)

But … but … here again, a both/and within the larger both/and: did you notice that bright posy of blossoms, in a circle of dirt within all that well-tended gravel?

See? Both a “bright posy of blossoms” and a tombstone for a felled tree, since the flowers sit atop a tree stump. (I am reminded of the neatly hand-lettered sign I once saw pinned to a wooden utility pole on a Toronto street, which read: “I miss being a tree.”)

Ahh but, how do I know which way ’round to assign the “both” and the “and”? Maybe it was a diseased tree. Come to that, why am I, even implicitly, suggesting that “both” and “and” are necessarily in conflict?

Whoops. Sorry.

I climb the ramp up to the bridge, where I’ll cross and loop my way back east. Another both/and as I reach the first bend: all that bouncy interplay of lines and curves, but also the litter on the ground.

Then I pause, and laugh out loud. Lookit those cheeky gulls, perched like sentinels on the light standard.

Both a very ordinary sight, as urban-waterfront sights go, and totally amusing.

Well, I think so, and this is my set of concurrent realities!

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.

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.

Lines & Spaces

9 November 2020 – Another looping walk down to my end of False Creek, west to the Cambie St. bridge, up and across, back east via Olympic Village plaza, and home.

Hadn’t planned any theme, but this industrial corner off Scotia & East 2nd seems to focus my eye in a particular way.

Lines & spaces!

In this case, with rust.

But later, with water …

with traffic lights and a seagull …

with a floating log …

with on-ramps for the Cambie St. bridge …

with a whole mad frenzy of tubular geometry …

and, most wonderfully of all …

with dog leashes.

It’s an outdoor doggie obedience class in the Olympic Village plaza.

The Thing About Labels

5 October 2020 – This is the thing about labels: sometimes they mislead you.

Oh, not always. Most of the time they are valuable.

Suppose you’re walking down a neighbourhood street, and you see a monster. Like this one.

You’d want to know what kind of monster he is, wouldn’t you? So you’d circle him …

and read his label. See? Valuable.

Or you’re still in the neighbourhood and you see a corner garden — an over-the-top wonderful corner garden. Like this one.

You’d be grateful for the labels. You’d read the official City one, telling you a local resident sponsored this plot under the Green Streets Program, and you’d look around a bit and …

next you’d read the gardener’s own label. Valuable.

And then you’d luck into a whole other dimension of labels — verbal labelling. It is provided by this bearded gentleman, later explaining to this lady as he had just explained to me …

that the garden was all thanks to Sherry. It is Sherry’s hard work, and he wants everybody to give credit where credit is due.

Which I am happy to do — and that leads me neatly into the topic of misleading labels.

“Naked ladies!” I squeaked at you in my previous post, adding “Amarylis belladonna” because that’s what my googling had told me. Hah. Two readers knew better and in the kindest possible way set me straight. “Autumn crocus,” they said; not Amarylis.

So I look again — and discover that “Naked Ladies” is a nickname for two entirely different families of fall-blooming flowers: the Amarylis belladonna, but also the one I’d photographed and in fact really had in mind from life in eastern Canada, namely the Colchicum autumnale, or Autumn crocus.

Just to keep the whole “misleading” riff going, I also learn that the Autumn crocus, despite its name, is not a true crocus. True crocuses belong to the Iris family and are harmless, while the Colchicaceae family aren’t crocuses and are toxic.

On the other hand, whichever variety of Naked Lady you choose to embrace, they both bloom in the fall and do so without any modesty screen of leaves.

Back to valuable labels, again with thanks to my readers (specifically fellow WP blogger bluebrightly). That stunning yellow flower I showed you last post with the iridescent buds is a Dahlia, specifically the Mystic Illusion dahlia, and is that not the perfect name?

One final label, this one discovered just hours ago, right where Hinge Park borders on False Creek. First you see the rubber boot, then you see the wording:

I go to the website, just like they ask, and read a plea from the City of Vancouver. “Help us prepare for sea level rise,” they ask.

I’d call that valuable. Definitely not misleading.

  • WALKING… & SEEING

    "Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking" -- Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

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    "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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