“Being near water …”

6 January 2018 – The quote continues: “well … anything is possible.”

We don’t see the quote, or its context, until late in our Tuesday walk, but by then we have ample cause to agree.

The Tuesday Walking Society (West Coast branch) is out in full three-some force. Our first walk of the new year has us in North Vancouver, smack on the north shore of Burrard Inlet by Lonsdale Quay, about to explore the new Polygon Gallery.

New as Polygon — it opened last November — but with deep roots. It is the rebirth of Presentation House, which spent 40 years a bit farther up the sloping streets of North Van. Polygon sits between water and mountains and speaks to both: its south-facing glass alive to the Inlet, and its serrated roofline companion to the Coast Range at its back.

But the truth is, I don’t much notice the architecture until I am inside. Then I am wowed. It wraps us in the light-filled, warm minimalism that I love so much. All that quiet, highly functional beauty…

I fixate on the staircase.

Sally waves us on up, but I take an extra moment to admire the railing. Staircase railings protrude, right? Not here. This one, instead, is a calm, clean incision into the wall.

And it functions perfectly.

I scurry on up, discover the architect credits at the top of the stairs. Patkau Architects, I read — a Vancouver firm with an international (and award-winning) practice that emphasizes education and culture, along with their research projects.

Artspeak usually makes me itchy. Patkau’s capsule comment about Polygon seems exactly right: “Hovering, gleaming, framing the city of Vancouver, presenting a curated stream of photography and media art, reflecting the sky, flooded with northern light.”

And it is flooded with light. Provided by skylights, up here on the exhibition level. Even on this grey-brooding day, they fill the space with light.

And, occasionally, frame a construction crane on the building site next door.

Which works well with the exhibit, now that I think about it. This inaugural show, “N. Vancouver,” offers 26 existing and commissioned works by artists who have a history of engagement with north-shore themes.

My friends respond to the show as native Vancouverites: it brings back memories. I respond as the newcomer: it teaches me about this place, it builds dimension for me with backstory.

The works are strong. The archival pigment print of Kinder Morgan Sulfur Terminal, North Vancouver (Greg Girard, 2013/2017), for example …

or the hand-tinted black & white photos of Crossed Ski Poles Touching Shadows (N.E. Thing Co. Ltd., 1968).

I’m glad I read the small print. It explains how the shadows of these crossed poles shows them, instead, touching at the apex. (Never mind expanding the photo, here’s the story: the photos were taken at an angle.)

Brimming with curated North Van — photos, video, sculpture, weavings — we go out on the balcony for the physical North Van. Perhaps it is because we have just seen so many strong images, but we see this, too, as art. Nature’s art.

We’re looking south over Burrard Inlet, with the “Q” of the Lonsdale Quay logo here on the north shore to our right, and the city of Vancouver skyline across the way. With a line of cranes there on the left, marking the working port.

I orient you for a purpose. Things are about to go back-to-front. The Gallery’s glass wall behind us is either mirrored on the exterior, or, at this moment in the day, perfectly reflective. (How embarrassing not to have checked. Sorry.)

See? A slice of sharp-angled balcony floor beneath us, and a wall of glass that bounces the view on our right back at us from the left.

So we play with it.

Eternal nature meets 21st-c. electronics — Frances about to take a photo with her tablet; me with my phone to my eye, taking this very picture; Sally checking her tablet for the shot she has just taken. All of us facing north, aiming at the glass wall, and captured south.

More magic outside, when we rejoin the external world. The side wall of the adjacent building — and it’s not even an art gallery. It’s just (!!! “just”…) a working building, with a beautiful wall.

Lunch next, the weather raw enough to make us choose hot ramen over cold sushi at a neighbourhood Japanese restaurant, then along West 1st Street as we make our way back to Lonsdale Quay.

It takes us into Jack Loucks Court, a small & charming urban parkette dedicated in 2001 to the man who had served as North Vancouver’s mayor for many years. It contains attractive plantings, benches, water  — all elements that welcome you, make you linger.

But what really makes us linger is the series of life-sized, metal sculptures, each with a incised quote from the person who (we assume) was model for that sculpture. They talk about North Van, what roots them in this place.

When we read this one, we find ourselves nodding at the figure, and at each other.

I look out at the ocean.

Being near water … well …

everything is possible.

It stretches your imagination.

Pretty well sums up our day. And, perhaps, the inaugural exhibit in that new gallery next door.



Bears & Beaches, in North Vancouver

19 April, 2014 — I firmly believe that every place has its own beauty. If you sulk at the Prairies for not having mountain grandeur, for example, you’ll miss their own grandeur — that great rolling sweep to the horizon, under an infinite sky.

Even so, even so, there is something really special about the beauty of the B.C. coast.

I’m thinking about this as I set out for a Saturday morning two-phase walk in North Vancouver. Late afternoon I’ll be at the joyous family wedding that brought me west in the first place, but there’s time this morning for a quick loop on Mount Seymour, just behind Sally & Owen’s place, and a visit to the neighbouring community of Deep Cove.

First stop, the nearest street corner, for a sign that seems so out of place among these placid, homey bungalows.

Indian Trail Cres & Indian Trail Rd

But then look around, recognize you are on the street immediately bordering a trail into Mount Seymour Provincial Park, which sweeps thick and deep on up the mountain behind you — and, yes, the sign makes perfect sense.

(I once emailed Sally a photo of a raccoon sleeping in my birdbath. She replied with a photo of a black bear pillaging their bird feeder.)

I step between two homes onto the trail, into the woods, and suburbia falls away.

near Mount Seymour Provincial Park

Sunlight angles through the trees, creates momentary drama, and moves on. It’s a whole son et lumière performance, I realize: the shifting light dances to a backbeat of thudding woodpeckers and scolding red squirrels.

You have to look down, as well as all around.

mushroom log, Mt Seymour

I step into the shadowed forest cover for  closer look. Daisies? No, says Man-with-Dog, who stops to see what has caught my attention. Not daisies: tiny white mushrooms. And so they are.

Fleecy moss trails from tree branches just ahead, shimmering in the sunlight.

on Mount Seymour

It’s only 8:30 or so in the morning, but by the time I reach Old Buck Trail Head, the parking lot is rapidly filling with eager hikers. I turn back, collect my own car, and head for Deep Cove.

It’s the easternmost community at the eastern edge of North Vancouver, bounded to the south by Burrard Inlet and to the east by Indian Arm, components of the complex waterways twisting in from the Pacific Ocean that make this coastline such a jigsaw puzzle… and so achingly beautiful.

I know I’ll eventually walk along Deep Cove itself — nature’s Deep Cove, that is, the town’s defining waterfront — but first I follow a tangle of residential side-streets out of sheer curiosity. I find myself at a wooden stairway down to Indian Arm, and drop into a mini-parkette, slivered between two rather grand  homes.

Dollar Rd Park, Deep Cove

Here’s what I mean by “grand”: this pier is not part of the park, it belongs to the adjacent private property. But a cat can look at a king, and I can look at a private pier. I can also rock-walk my way closer, and peer between its struts.

view southward in Indian Arm

And I can turn around, look northward down Indian Arm…

northward in Indian Arm, nr Deep Cove

… and, picking my way back to the wooden steps, I can admire shells and seaweed caught in nature’s own still life.

on Dollar Rd Park beach

The town’s main commercial street leads you to Deep Cove and to Deep Cove Park, tucked neatly all around the the cove’s crescent shoreline. The whole area is  alive with boats, kayaks, hikers, dog-walkers, giggling teens and peaceful onlookers, heavy-lidded in the morning warmth and sunlight.

Deep Cove

I’m by the water, hear some whooping, look around… and there they are. Not Maori, not a haka, but doing their white, middle-aged-lady best to stir our blood along with their own.

kayak ladies warm-ups, Deep Cove

Warm-ups before a kayaking expedition!

A trim, glossy-haired 20-Something is watching them too. She is transfixed, dog leash to her impatient pooch slack in her hand. We catch each other’s eye, she crinkles up her face at me in delight. We agree. We are sort of amused, but also really, really impressed.

Several kayak rental shops here, kayaks laid out in clusters along the shore.

waiting kayaks on Deep Cove shoreline

I buy a latte, return to the shoreline, see a lifeguard perch flaming red in the sunlight, want a photo. And that would have been fine: a strong, angular focal point for a shot of boats, drooping tree branches and glinting water.

All good. But… generic, yes?

Then it becomes specific, and delightful.

on Deep Cove Park beach


That’s what it needed! Some real-life, boyish delight, hurling itself at the challenge. I watch a moment as he wriggles successfully to the lower platform, squirms across it on his belly, twists to U-turn his way upward to the higher platform. By now his father is hovering, but not — and I admire this — interfering. He lets the kid test his skills, and have a triumph.

It’s time to go, I have things to do. One last look back at the cove.

Deep Cove, on a sunny April morning

Enchanting, but I leave, and I’m fine with that.

Because soon I’ll be at the wedding, where the sun shines and the bride glows and her dad almost loses it in his toast to his beloved daughter and we are all happy together. It’s why I’m here.


    "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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