The Incongruity of Snow

22 February 2018 – There! That’s what I mean. Not “Silly in Snow” or “Surprised in Snow” — though both titles appealed to my sophomoric love of alliteration — no, it’s the sheer incongruity of snow in Vancouver that I’m struggling to express.

I’m used to snow in cities (says the native Montrealer), but in cities that are themselves used to snow. Snow scenes that look entirely normal in that context are bemusing — to me, anyway — when viewed in a city whose ecology and architecture prove that snow is a rare phenomenon.

In this context, it is… incongruous.

And for precisely that reason, I am alive to it here in a way I no longer respond to it in more snow-normal contexts.

Even paw prints delight me.

As does the sight of a snow-silly dog himself, leaping at snowballs thrown by his owners, getting his ears scratched and whirling snow from his tail as he waits for the next toss.

See the pale green chair, in the lower left?¬†We’re down on the Arbutus Greenway again, and there are chairs and other warm-weather, garden-related objects all around.

A week or so ago, in the green glow of seasonal warmth, they looked quite normal. Now everything reads differently, in juxtaposition with the white of snow and the sparkle of ice.

Icicles trace frozen vines in the foreground; a blue chair waits out the snow beyond.

As does this hibiscus!

And these primula — part of the exuberant display of plants & garden-implement art on the gates of the Vancouver Compost Demonstration Garden.

Around the corner now, away from the Greenway and heading into Kitsilano.

Tree buds furry with the promise of blossoms are, at least for the moment, also bright with the hard glint of ice.

The homeowner has just shovelled his sidewalk and is now sprinkling a bit of salt. We tell him he is Our Hero. He grins, says it’s nothing much really, we don’t get snow all that often. “Not like back east! Those guys, it’s a life sentence.”

By now it has become our game, as we walk, to spot objects/plants that seem particularly incongruous in the snow. This yellow ducky, for example?

Definitely!

Soon after, down on the Kits main shopping street, we burst out laughing at a street corner decal. Nothing to do with snow. Just plain incongruous, all on its own.

Right. Back to snow sights.

This little woollen stuffed animal, tied to a bench in Vanier Park. Why is it that can we just laugh at the sight of the yellow duck, but somehow wish we could protect this little creature from the elements?

I think we would have been touched anyway. But more so, because the bench has a plaque on it, commemorating a young woman who was, say her grieving family and friends, both “beautiful and fierce.” We pause for a moment, honouring the loss to the universe of this bright spark.

I’m almost used to the next sight — palms wearing snow berets. (Am I acclimatizing?)

And I can at least decipher the sight after that — this, thanks to many walks along Lake Ontario in Toronto’s Beaches neighbourhood. There as here, poles wait for the volleyball nets of summer. But here, unlike there, laden freighters sit in the water and mountain peaks line the horizon.

Next day we’re up at the VanDusen Botanical Garden. Again the contrast to my visit a week or so ago: everything now snow-covered, silent, still.

Even this pond, temporarily frozen.

“Snow bomb!” shouts my friend. A ski veteran of the Lizard Range near Fernie, B.C., she knows what she’s looking at.

Meanwhile, Down South…

Go read Lori Greer‘s recent posts about snow in Portland, our nearish neighbour across the border. They, too, find snow a bit bemusing. (If you don’t know her blog, this may be a happy discovery.)

 

 

 

Westward Ho…

16 February 2018 – You’d think I was already as west as it gets, but no! Not in Vancouver terms. Here we are in West Van this grey-shimmer morning, following a good chunk of the West Van Seawall.

It is a delightful 5.6 km ribbon of pathway, snaked between Burrard Inlet to the south and a still-active CN railway track to the north. Community gardens and luxuriant growth screen the tracks; we are free to enjoy the long views across the water, with Lion’s Gate Bridge to one side and those Coast Mountains to the other.

We see fish as well. Though not in the water…

A whole little gathering of these mosaics, a 1994 project (if I interpret signage correctly) of grade 6 Irwin Park students called “The Meaning of Peace Goes Beyond Words.”

More artwork as we walk along, some official — such as Bill Pechet’s outsized chairs — and some definitely spur of the moment. A predictable moment, any time you have quantities of rocks to hand.

We walk out one of the wooden piers, then blink at all those feathers at our feet. Some of them bloody. Our speculation is cut short by a middle-aged man leaning against the railing.

“I can tell you what happened,” he says.

Picture it: gull minding his own business in the waves; eagle on high, looking for breakfast.

“He just snatched up that gull, plucked it clean of feathers right here on the pier. And look!” Our informant points to the top of a very tall tree back from the water’s edge. “There he is! Digesting, I guess…”

Next pier along is Ambleside Pier. Long distance, I pay more attention to the near-by gull, posing for his moment of fame (I hope he’s watching for eagles), than to the human activity out on the pier.

A handful of men out on the pier, dropping their crabbing paraphernalia into the water. Each one of them, presumably, armed with his valid Tidal Waters Sports Fishing Licence. Large signs specify exactly what they may take, and how many, how often.

Heading back toward the car, I am again gob-smacked by happy palm trees, out there in a Canadian winter. This particular time, I am also pleased by their dance with the spidery bare-branch Something, right next door.

My friends indulge me. Other pedestrians stride by without a glance. I guess they are all used to palm trees.

But my friend slow down as much as I do, to eye the ducks. We’ve been fascinated throughout the walk by convoys of these boldly marked black & white ducks. They seem to cluster much more than other ducks I’m used to — sometimes bobbing head-down beneath the water one after another like an aquatic chorus line, or all swirling in one direction, or suddenly exploding in two opposite directions.

Or, as here, stretched in one long scribble across the silvery surface.

They make me think of the Bufflehead duck that I know (sort of know) from back east, simply because they are also black & white. My friends do a better online search later than I manage to do, and identify them.

Barrow’s Goldeneye!

Aren’t you glad you know that?

  • 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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