The Quiet Pleasures of the Perfectly Ordinary

13 August 2021 – This post title throws me into Alexander McCall Smith-land (many of whose titles follow this construction & tone, e.g. The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday; The Careful Use of Compliments; The Right Attitude to Rain). I considered other title possibilities, equally of the style (e.g. The Reassurance of Scorched Grass, or The Joy of Social Distancing), but finally settled on this one.

All this to say: I am walking past an ordinary local park, and I am touched and heartened by what I see.

Which is… perfectly ordinary.

Just people sitting about on the grass in a small (1.03 Ha) neighbourhood park.

But I see it with neighbourhood eyes. I am right-angling my way around two sides of Guelph Park (aka Dude Chilling Park), and I am thinking how important this small stretch of currently very scorched grass has been, ever since COVID hit our world and pinned us in place.

Right from the start, it has been a precious resource, a safe place to sit outside, breathe outside air, feel free. It still feels that way, even now, as we cautiously test greater freedom.

This is not extraordinary, it is surely the common story of parks all over the world. Peaceful space, for simple activities that result in quiet pleasure.

A place to check your phone for texts (right foreground, below) or to sit on a bench fingering your acoustic guitar (left, rear).

A place to drape your latest crochet-street-artist offerings.

A place to drop your bicycles beside you and just hang out for a while — with the eponymous Dude himself lounging in the background, host to your quartet and everyone else who has loved him since 1991.

Oh all right, small recap of the “Dude” story. I’ve pretty well backed myself into this corner, haven’t I?

In 1991 Guelph Park became home to a large cedar sculpture of an abstract reclining figure by Michael Dennis. Somewhere around 2012 (accounts vary & it doesn’t matter), someone installed a pseudo-Parks Board sign renaming the park, “Dude Chilling Park.” Sign removed; merry pranksters mount an online petition for the name change; on the kufuffle goes for a while. Meanwhile the cedar sculpture deteriorates, since that is what cedar does, and sculptor Michael Dennis offers to recast it in bronze. Citizens, the City & assorted businesses raise funds and in 2019 the new Dude (Reclining Figure, on the paperwork) is installed.

By then, the park-name business has long since been very nicely sorted out. It is still officially Guelph Park — but, as of spring 2014, it also sports an officially approved “art installation” of the name “Dude Chilling Park,” that exactly copies official signage.

You may want to suggest that, given all this, the park hardly deserves the description of “perfectly ordinary.” I’ll sort of agree — and then slide out from under. First: my post title refers to current park use, not its back-story.

And! Second! If we just pay attention, everywhere and everybody has a story. The ordinary always has something extraordinary going on…

Love That Dude

8 September 2019 – This is a love story …

about this Dude.

In 1991, the Vancouver Parks Board installed a handsome new cedar sculpture, Reclining Figure, in Guelph Park — a not particularly large or widely known park in the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, bordered on its east side by Guelph Street.

By 2017, as you can see in that Georgia Straight photo above, the wood was busy repurposing itself. Just fine for the planet as a whole; not so fine for lovers of the sculpture. The Parks Board paid to have it returned to the artist, Michael Dennis, on Denman Island.

And then… what to do, what to do?

Because, you see, this wasn’t really about Reclining Figure at all.

It was about The Dude. And Dude Chilling Park. And a community icon.

A little back-story:

  • November 2012, local artist Viktor Briestensky, in tribute to the sculpture, puts up a hand-lettered sign renaming the park, “Dude Chilling Park.” The Parks Board removes it.
  • February 2014, after an online petition gains some 1,800 signatures, the Parks Board thinks, Why not?, and puts up a Dude Chilling Park sign next to the Guelph Park sign. The park is still legally Guelph, but has dual-sign status.
  • The park’s alternate name gains international media attention; the “Dude” sign keeps being stolen as a souvenir; lots of people visit the park; and on we go.

And then it’s 2017, and the Parks Board finally removes decomposing Cedar Dude from the park, and reunites it with its creator. Guelph/Dude Chilling Park has lost its soul.

What happens next is a grassroots campaign to “Save the Dude.” ┬áThe Mount Pleasant Community Centre is a driving force in the campaign, local media get behind it, people and various societies chip in, Michael Dennis adds support — and, finally, there is money to back the public will to save The Dude by casting it in bronze.

Mid-August this year, Bronze Dude is triumphantly installed. (But I only catch up with it today…)

We love our Dude!

Fibre-art on the park’s tennis court fence proclaims it.

More fibre-art, twined around nearby tree forks, illustrates several more reasons why people love this park.

One reason, the park’s large community garden, visible behind that tree.

Spin about, sight along one of those two wrappings for another reason.

See? There to the left? People laughing and story-telling around one of the park’s many benches.

Just chilling with The Dude.

 

  • 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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