“All the Possibilities…”

17 April 2022 – Wisdom courtesy of Eeyore, who was always my favourite in the Hundred Acre Woods cast of characters (and as drawn by E.H. Shepard, thank you, none of that Disney nonsense). Not that Eeyore was even remotely in my mind, on either of the Friday-Saturday walks I’m about to show you.

But later, looking at photos with their various camera angles, two references came to mind. One was that corporate stand-by, the 360 Review: assess from every angle, not just a chosen few. The other reference, which amounts to pretty well the same thing, is the advice Eeyore gave a flustered Piglet and eaves-dropping Christopher Robin, back in 1928:

“Think of all the possibilities, Piglet, before you settle down to enjoy yourselves” (The House at Pooh Corner, chapter 6, by A.A. Milne).

I love it, I’m glad I remembered it. Because … that’s what we’re all doing, isn’t it? There it is, in your posts and mine: we bounce around, full of curiosity, we notice all those 360-possibilities, and we enjoy ourselves.

On Friday, heading north-west down an alley, my enjoyment is distinctly vertical. I’m captivated yet again by a line of H-frame hydro poles.

I look up …

and up …

and finally away, as my eyes track those wires off into the sky.

Saturday has me walking north again, but this time veering east not west, down to Great Northern Way by the Emily Carr (University of Art + Design) campus.

Where I look down, not up.

Construction for the Broadway Subway is all around my neighbourhood. This mammoth hole in the ground, nicely framed for sidewalk-superintendent convenience, will eventually become the Great Northern-Emily Carr station on the new line.

From eyes down to eyes up, as I pass Emily Carr. Skateboarders are clacking away on an unseen obstacle course to my left, while Kandis Williams’ Triadic Ballet silently unfolds on the wall screen to the right of a building entrance.

Just east of the university, in front of the Digital Media Centre, I literally do a 360 review. First, I am in front of this striking red heart. Striking, but awkward in its placement.

Then I circle around, and read Ron Simmer’s explanation.

I think it’s wonderful, and I no longer care about the ungainly placement. It’s all part of the vulnerable charm of this survivor (and the dotty determination of the man who rescued it).

On east along Great Northern Way, and then eyes all over the place as I head north on Clark Drive.

Below to my left, protective arched screening over the Millennium Line tracks, beyond that railway tracks with all those colour-block shipping containers rolling past; straight ahead, only slightly upwards, the Expo Line as it crosses Clark; and ‘way beyond that, very up indeed, those Coast Range mountains.

Plus — back to right here in front of me — an old-fashioned street lamp. Charming, and still part of the mix.

Nothing charming about the next bridge I cross, which I meet after exploring northward-then-eastward and finally back south again on Commercial Drive. The best you can say for it is, it’s functional.

Until you read both plaques. (“Explore all the possibilities…” Thank you, Eeyore. Got it.)

Plaque on the left announces the civic factoids of this Commercial Drive Bridge. Plaque on the right is a whole other, human story.

One last spin-around when I’m back in my own neighbourhood, as I cut through Guelph (aka Dude Chilling) Park.

To the north, the cherry trees that line East 7th Avenue (Kanzan cultivar, the Blossom Map tells me) …

while to the east, there are members at work in the Brewery Creek Community Garden, children playing on the swings, and over toward the south, a group of seniors just hanging out.

Meanwhile, on his plinth by the southern park edge, the eponymous Dude is also hanging out. Just chilling, right along with the rest of us.

I look back over my shoulder, catch this fresh new baby Kanzan blossom emerging from a mossy old tree trunk …

and walk on home.

Trafalgar!

12 March 2022 – No, no, not Battle of — that event sits several centuries and various oceans distant from my Trafalgar. I’m on a street in the Kitsilano district of Vancouver, not floating around just off Cape Trafalgar, Spain. Mind you, there is water a kilometre or so to the north of us, and by carrying on down Trafalgar, we’ll hit it.

Which is the plan.

We already have a nautical reference point.

Not particularly well made, but so very cheerful. Intriguing, too. Why is this little boat perched on the roof of that front yard lean-to? Surely too high for any resident toddler to see… Ah well, it’s fun for passing adult pedestrians.

More gratuitous fun (always the best kind), another block or so to the north.

Why? But again, why ask? Just enjoy it.

Each little peak shelters its own ornament. In this case, a truck…

but others display everything from shells to toy animals to pretty pebbles to a plastic leprechaun, perhaps specially installed for St. Patrick’s Day.

Sedate good taste comes next: this fine balcony banner with its leaping salmon.

And right after that — side yard of the same Good Taste home, I think — comes another hit of nonsense.

Not that you’d be seriously tempted to ride it, but the draped fairy lights do emphasize that this bicycle is decorative, not functional.

Right at the next intersection, prayer flags and a plaque.

Well-worn flags — just imagine how many thousands of prayers they have fluttered into the breeze by now! And an equally weathered plaque, erected (it says here) in 2013 by “Friends of Siri” — their tribute to long-time resident Siri Kidder Halberg, who “loved to trade books.”

Thus, the little community book exchange these friends have created, right next to the bench.

This resonates for me, in many ways. First, I admire and support take-one/leave-one street libraries. Second, I am a huge fan of author Colin Cotterill‘s novels about the 1970s adventures of another Siri — Dr. Siri Paiboun, “the national and only coroner of the People’s Democratic Republic of Laos” — and indeed I am reading one of them right now (The Merry Misogynist). And, third, when I dive into this little library, I discover an unread novel (This Poison Will Remain) by another of my favourite authors, Fred Vargas. I snap it up.

A few more blocks and we’ve walked as far north as we can go, right into Point Grey Park. Trafalgar finally meets the water — in this case, English Bay.

‘Way out there, some freighters waiting their turn to carry on down Burrard Inlet and unload at the port (yay! supply chain at work!); in close, dozens of Barrow’s goldeneye ducks, obeying no schedule but their own.

Like the ducks, we’re on our own schedule. We turn east, curve with the land mass onto Kitsilano Beach, backed by Kits Park. My favourite swimmer is up there, flutter-kicking like mad.

I do mean up there:

Meet Wind Swimmer, and could she be better named? I see basic credits on the plaque — by sculptor Douglas R. Taylor, installed 1996 — but that’s not the half of it. Ohhh, the adventures she has known.

The prototype created in 1993 and installed in Stanley Park, but smashed by a log; the current version created in a collaboration between the sculptor, the Parks Board and donors (the Auerbachs) and installed on Kits Beach in 1996. Then came the wind storms of August 2015. The swimmer literally took a dive, and was again badly damaged and removed.

Three years go by… Repair work (largely by the Parks Board), and safety upgrades. In 2018, she is re-installed, finally back home and swimming again.

I like her even better, for knowing all this.

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.

“Strange Adventures”

13 May 2021 – I’m not looking for adventure, I’m just walking Point A to Point B — and I get highjacked by this little sign. Who could have predicted it? Who’d expect anything even mildly interesting, on the little grass island smack beneath the traffic ramps at the south end of the Cambie Street bridge?

But here it is: well beyond interesting, all the way to Strange Adventures.

I step past the sign, through the gap in the scruffy hedge … and there’s the first Adventure.

An unexplained, and definitely unofficial, wooden chair, with a tree stump foot-rest.

So I sit down, of course I do. The overhead ramps don’t offer anything adventurous … but, wait, there’s that shocking-pink poster on the pillar …

Surely the promise of Strange Adventures to come?

Yes, it is.

Voxel Bridge, explains this Vancouver Biennale signage, will bring us an “immersive installation” here beneath the bridge, courtesy of this Colombian artist and her planned combination of adhesive vinyl and Augmented Reality.

Hop a few days, and I’m about to enter an immersive installation (perhaps a Strange Adventure) already on offer: the Imagine Van Gogh exhibit in the Convention Centre down on Burrard Inlet. Waiting my turn, I look back through the lobby windows to Douglas Coupland’s wonderful Digital Orca, a pixellated happy-dance for the city, the harbour, and the Coast Range mountains beyond.

After the barrage of high-tech inside, it’s a pleasure to go back outside and see what adventures are on offer just from walking around.

A shot of horizontal yellow: from buttercups and dandelions, to those float-plane logos, to the sulphur piles of North Van over there on the north shore.

A shot of vertical light: storey on storey, the mirrored panels of one building reflect the balconies of the building next door, given extra sparkle by the fountains in Harbour Green Park.

Another day, more adventures.

A real, live crow guards a bus stop …

and a stone lion guards a parking lot.

It’s just one adventure after another, isn’t it? He is in a parking lot. He has blue eyes. And he is hanging out with a gnome. (Oh please! Gnomes.)

Later, I look up the Recovery Gnome Project, and change my attitude. It’s a grass-roots project, started here in Canada by people who have loved ones in recovery. The idea? Get people to celebrate the positive impact of addiction recovery, by creating and placing a gnome in their own community — anywhere in the world. (It’s already spread to the USA and England.)

Now, that‘s an adventure.

Hallelujah!

14 August 2020 – We are at the foot of Burrard St., smack on Burrard Inlet, and headed for Hallelujah Point — not that we quite precisely know that.

As we look north across the water, with the “sails” of the Vancouver Convention Centre (East Building) soaring into the sky …

what we do know is that we plan to follow the seawall north-west along the water, around the great scoop of Coal Harbour into Stanley Park.

Like this. (Ignore the “you are here”: we aren’t, so you aren’t.) From that wine-red building lower right; past the Vancouver Harbour Flight Centre; all along Devonian Harbour Park; around the curve into Stanley Park; then (as it turns out) eastward along that park lobe that looks like Vancouver’s answer to the Italian “boot” beloved of map-readers; and right out to the heel of the boot, Hallelujah Point.

Cormorants stare north-west across the Flight Centre toward Stanley Park, and so do we.

Float planes all lined up, today’s tidy remnant of Coal Harbour’s long industrial / maritime past.

Col. Moody discovered low-grade coal here in 1859, giving the area its name. The coal was never commercialized but the area was, especially after it became western terminus for the CPR (Canadian Pacific Railway) in 1884. Decades and decades of ship yards, seaplane ports, shipping piers and commercial activity followed, but then a series of fires in the 1950s destroyed the docks, ushering in a half-century of massive redevelopment (hotels, condos, parkland).

I’m not complaining. I love the parkland; I love the Sea Wall; and I respect how much signage, and how many installations, ensure that we connect with the history piled up behind us.

The Komagata Maru Memorial, for example.

On 23 May 1914 the Komagata Maru steamed into the harbour, bearing 375 Indians from India and other British colonies who claimed right of entry as citizens of the British Empire. Only a few were allowed ashore; the rest were refused entry under Canada’s assortment of regulations designed to prohibit Indian immigration. The stalemate lasted until 23 July, when a Canadian naval vessel escorted the steamship out of the harbour and sent it back to India, with the great bulk of its passengers still on board.

Attitudes have changed. The memorial was donated by the Khalsa Diwan Society (which in 1914 fed the people trapped aboard the ship), funded by a branch of the federal government, and supported by the Vancouver Parks Board. This incident, says the plaque, was

a catalyst for change to Canadian citizenship and immigration laws. This monument reflects Canada’s commitment to a nation where differences are respected and tradition honoured.

Here’s what I find so powerful about the memorial. Those walls are pierced with the names of the ship’s passengers. We are not just recognizing a seminal moment in history, we are recognizing — and thus honouring — the specific people caught up in it.

I think about the power of naming-the-name. The Vietnam War Memorial in Washington leaps to mind. So does Toronto’s memorial to the 329 victims — each one named — of Air India Flight 182, brought down by a terrorist explosion off the coast of Ireland in 1985. And Ireland Park, also in Toronto, honouring the starving immigrants trying to escape the Irish Famine of the 1840s — but only able to name a handful, though paying tribute to them all.

And always, as backdrop as we walk, rolling parkland, tranquil with shrubbery and benches.

But water’s edge is focus, and there is always more to look at.

Light Shed, for example, Liz Magore’s half-scale tribute to one of the freight sheds that used to line Coal Harbour …

and a ship’s bell, engraved not just with names of the industries that used to be active here, but names of the employees as well.

There are marinas full of boats, some of them owned by Americans who have no chance of visiting them this summer — and, amidst all that glossy wealth, a trio of sassy houseboats.

We’re around the curve now, in Stanley Park, heading east down the “boot.”

Maritime history is also maritime right-now. This stretch will take us past the Vancouver Rowing Club, still housed in its 1911 building; HMCS Discovery out on Deadman’s Island, which has recruited & trained thousands of Canadians since being commissioned as a naval reserve facility in 1941; and the venerable Royal Vancouver Yacht Club. (You’ve got “Royal” in your name? You are venerable.)

All that on the water side of things. On the Park side… lots and lots of trees. This one a soaring great cedar, but there are plenty of other varieties to keep it company.

“We’ll go as far as The Gun,” says my friend. “Okay,” I say, no image springing to mind but practically hearing the capital letters of respect in her voice.

The Gun is a Vancouver institution — a “naval type, 12-pound muzzle loader,” cast in 1816, brought from England to Vancouver in 1894 or thereabouts, and still busy today.

It is not just The Gun, it is the Nine O’Clock Gun. There is an astounding amount not known about its history, but this we know about it now: it deserves its name. Every night, at 9 p.m., it is fired.

And that is quite enough.

So… hallelujah!

We are at Hallelujah Point, and at the Nine O’Clock Gun. We turn smartly on our heels to head back to town.

One last moment with nature, with parkland still at our backs but the traffic of West Georgia St. very much in our faces.

Otters!

We swivel our heads with the inscription. It tells us that otters hold hands so they don’t drift away from each other.

Umm, well, I’m not really sure about that…

But I love the thought, and I carry it with me on my bus ride home.

 

 

Animal Flow

9 August 2020 – That’s where it starts. Sheer visual reference.

I see Paige Bowman’s canine prowling a street corner opposite Jonathan Rogers Park.

It flips my mind back to Brian Jungen’s whale, which I saw last week at the VAG (Vancouver Art Gallery) …

and farther back than that, back to 2013, when Ai Weiwei’s snake coiled across the ceiling at the AGO.

Three works, connected by subject matter — an animal — but, above all, by flow.

Flow. The sheer pulsing energy that the artist has infused into each element of each creature.

The rib cage & attendant structures …

the head …

the vertebrae.

But the flow transcends physical form, as I realize when I look up Paige Bowman and re-acquaint myself with these specific works by Brian Jungen and Ai Weiwei.

The works, like the artists, also flow across identity, voice, appropriation and meaning.

Paige Bowman is a Vancouver illustrator who self-identifies as “human dog,” chooses the pronoun references of “they/them,” and — like the art they create, lives “on the unceded territory of the musqueam, squamish and tseil-watuth, or so called vancouver.”

Brian Jungen, born in northern BC of Swiss/ Dane-Zaa heritage, has built up a rich body of work in which he repurposes running shoes, golf bags, hockey masks, car fenders and plastic chairs into representations of indigenous masks and war bonnets, furniture, and  living creatures. Cetology, shown here, a complete whale skeleton created from patio chairs, is owned by the VAG and was on loan last year to the AGO for its 2019 retrospective of Jungen’s work, “Friendship Centre.” Jungen has cheerfully pointed out how suitable it is that he appropriate sports equipment for his sculptures, given how freely sports organizations have appropriated native terminology for team names. (A practice that now appears to be in sharp reversal, at least here in North America.)

In Snake Ceiling, Ai Weiwei uses a favourite Jungen material, backpacks, to give voice to those literally buried by the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and buried again by Chinese official silence about the disaster. Some 5,000 of the est. 90,000 victims were schoolchildren, killed when their shoddy schools collapsed around them. Each segment of that snake is a child’s backpack: as an AGO volunteer at the time, I watched visiting schoolchildren listen to the story, their faces changing from polite semi-attention to focused shock and empathy. Every element of that exhibition (“Ai Weiwei: According to What?”) flowed across the boundaries of its material; told stories; pulsed its connection with a viewer willing to flow with it, and connect.

Shape-shifting works, shape-shifting concepts, in our shape-shifting times.

 

 

 

 

Stories

22 June 2020 – These twirling figures are literally burdened with stories …

since Bruce Voyce’s 2016 Love In The Rain installation is Vancouver Park Board’s first official “love lock sculpture.” Each padlock, key ritually discarded, tells its own frozen-moment story of love & commitment, and we can only guess at how each story has evolved since the lock was snapped into place.

The closer you come, the more you see.

And, in our case this past Tuesday, the more you hear.

Scroll back up a moment to that first shot. (Photo credit FM, by the way, and thank you.) See those two figures, intent on the back left sculpture? Two eager young girls, studying each sculpture, choosing their favourite locks, and absolutely delighted to share their discoveries with us.

We let them lead us around and, keeping prudent social-distance between us, we admire their choices.

The big fish, for example, ‘way down low! (Not to mention that heraldic lock next to it.)

And the shiny turtle, ‘way up high!

Later, in the gardens section of the same Queen Elizabeth Park, we hear another story, this time a botanical story.

We’ve stopped to watch the meticulous bedding-out being done by a young Parks employee, fall into conversation, congratulate her on how good everything looks — and then redouble our praise when we notice a stretch of bent-vine fencing.

“It’s even a living fence,” we breathe, in awe at all those tendrils of new growth. The young woman laughs, and shares the credit. She twisted some discarded pieces of cut vine into place; Mother Nature — surprise! — brought them back to life.

Later yet again, now walking north from the park on Prince Edward Street, we come across two blocks’-worth of community stories. Art, commentary, photos, poetry … all of it neatly stapled to wooden utility poles between East 21st & East 19th.

Like this.

On top, a photograph of a mossy log; middle level, somebody’s yellow “My COVID Map”; bottom left, a poem; bottom right, a watercolour. And more to the other side.

I explore the COVID Map, section by section. Not surprisingly, it features walking, and discoveries made while walking …

Now. Did you notice that bit of a bright orange head at the bottom? The bit I seem to have forgotten to crop out of the shot?

Aha. I left it on purpose. A segue to the next section of the map.

I like the boyfriend-James story. I also notice, and sigh at, the artist’s further observation on the right. “Xenophobia and tribalism” indeed.

Several of the poles feature a poem by Julia Pileggi, a name that has meant nothing to me until now.  Here’s just one example.

I like her work a lot, and I like her even better when I visit her website later on. A local  performance poet/artist, she has just won a 2020 IABC Golden Quill Award for Excellence for her I Am Your Nurse tribute to nurses. Created in 2019, it’s stunningly relevant right now, and you can see the video when you follow the link above.

Every pole wears its own stories.

Someone shares a reading list …

and someone else pretty well sums up what they’ve all been doing, all these contributors with all these stories, up & down these two blocks of Prince Edward Street.

My friend points out what I’ve missed: a multitude of tiny figures on the stem of the rose.

Helping each other create something beautiful.

 

 

Mind-Hops / Foot-Hops

24 March 2020 – Circumstances change, and trigger new responses, both mental and behavioural.

Mind-hops. Foot-hops.

Or lack of foot-hops. Not the usual mass of happy feet this mild, sunny day, in the Olympic Village plaza at False Creek. Giant sparrow (one of Myfanwy MacLeod’s pair, The Birds, created for the 2010 Winter Olympics) pretty well has the place to himself.

I admire this rainbow & frog chalked onto the pavement, but don’t, as I would have done just two weeks ago, go get a shot with that frog right-side-up …

because that would have brought me within 2 metres of the cyclist over there. (See his bike tire, upper left?)

Another chalked message …

has me thinking, “Self isolation?” — not, “Break-up!”

A woman and her lap-dog soak up some sun, with open space all around her (I’m farther away than it seems) …

and a couple are peacefully, safely, alone, over there on the far side of Himy Syed’s stone labyrinth.

(But!!! Even as I’m appreciating the physical distance we’re all maintaining here at Olympic Village, crowds of idiots (aka COVIDIOTs) are packing English Bay. Let’s hope that the only thing going viral afterwards was the images of their irresponsibility.)

I leave False Creek for Cambie Street, slaloming around the relatively few other pedestrians as I walk. I pass more new behaviour for our new times: controlled entry into this big box retailer, with tape marking the 2-metre distance between standing points, and a staffer monitoring the queue.

Interesting, but not personally relevant. The retailer I want to check is this grocery chain. Have the new hours begun? With the promised first morning hour for people like me?

Yes.  7-8 a.m., before regular opening.

Which is why, two days later, I’m out in the breaking-dawn drizzle, heading up the street with my wheelie.

Shopping goes well: a smiling employee, out of physical range but at the door, ensuring only those qualified come in; well-stocked shelves; relatively few shoppers, all of us smiling at each other but keeping our distance.

Including at the check-out, with its taped lines to show spacing for the line-up.

Later on, some neighbourhood streetscape.

More mind-hops, foot-hops, including this example of what is becoming commonplace. A physically closed eatery, with a warm message to the community.

And, just one block over, a graffito for the times.

Well no, I don’t endorse the middle part of the message, but I love the humour.

And I love this blooming magnolia. Just for being there.

Eight years ago, I changed my About message on this blog, to explain the name-change from Sagas of Iceland Penny to Walking Woman. This excerpt comes to mind now.

Until August 2012, this blog was about training for the big Arthritis Society trek in Iceland, and then doing it. As of August 2012… I walk on! With my feet and in my mind as well.

Whatever restrictions limit our feet, nothing need limit our minds. Now, more than ever, let’s walk on. We’re in this together.

 

 

108 Steps

21 March 2020 – It all starts with a query-by-text. The Much-Loved-Relative tapping out the message has just seen a sculpture he can’t account for, on Kingsway near Gladstone, a ladder soaring to the skies. A tribute to firefighters, perhaps?

He trusts that Iceland Penny will know the answer.

Well, she doesn’t. But she now knows where she will go walking, this very day. She feels a particular need to solve the mystery because MLR is the person who gave her the “Iceland Penny” nickname, all those years ago.

I’m on it.

Good grief, that ladder does indeed soar. I’m still more than a block away, and look at it.

Right up to it, on the median.

Encased and locked down at the bottom …

against any fool who might be tempted to climb up.

Very, very up.

No signage.

I retreat to Kings Café just opposite, in the hopes of (a) information, and (b) a latte. I get both.

The café fits our new-normal: tables stacked, take-out only, and a young masked & gloved man swabbing an already-sparkling floor as I walk in. We nod, and swerve apart as I pass.

The young woman behind the counter, also masked & gloved, takes my order. When I ask about the ladder, she slips down the mask long enough to answer, revealing a warm smile and great enthusiasm for my question.

The artist’s name is Khan Lee, she tells me; also originally from Korea, just like her. The ladder has 108 rungs, symbolizing the 108 — here her already-impressive English doesn’t quite meet the need, and she mimes a bow, an obeisance — of spiritual practice.

I ask if I may take her picture, because I am delighted by her respect for the work of art and her eagerness to share what she knows, and I want you to feel this human connection as well.

So, please meet Hailey (her chosen English name). But note: she has pulled off mask & gloves and loosened her hair for the shot; immediately afterward, she reties her hair, washes her hands, and replaces mask & gloves.

Later, online, I learn Hailey got it right.  In his artist’s statement for this 40-metre installation, Khan Lee explains:

108 Steps is a steel sculpture of a free-standing ladder with 108 rungs. The ladder is one of the oldest and simplest tools. The number 108 has significance for a variety of cultures, and is considered sacred within many Dharmic faiths. There are approximately 108 blocks on Kingsway.

I take my latte outside, place gloves & sunglasses on the little table, take one more photo …

and then drink my coffee, more attuned to the ladder’s calm majesty than the traffic all around.

Later, walking back west along Kingsway, a printed message in keeping with the benign mood of that earlier visual.

Kindness, reaching out, even as we practice social distance.

I think of that the next day, walking past Rogers Park.

Social distance, with friends, in the sunshine!

We can do this.

 

 

“Things could change …”

14 March 2020 – I cross paths with two young men, and overhear just a snippet of their conversation. “But by next week,” says one, “things could change.”

For all I know, they’re talking team standings, but that’s not how I decode it. I think infection tallies, health guidelines, further restrictions, evolving strategies.

Because the world has changed — my fortunate little world in a fortunate city in a fortunate country has changed — and suddenly my perceptions all change as well. Put the ordinary in an extraordinary new context, and it is no longer ordinary.

Marcel Proust got it right. “The voyage of discovery,” he wrote (as translated on an Art Gallery of Ontario wall), “is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

I’m walking a familiar landscape, my favourite False Creek loop, but I’m doing it with new eyes, new reactions.

  • Item: The woman next to me at a traffic light sneezes into a tissue, and I am consciously grateful for her good hygiene.
  • Item: Two ducks swim toward the railing, down by World of Science, I notice the gap between them, and I think …

“Social distancing! Even the ducks.”

I’m not trying to be clever. There’s no audience for this little quip except my own brain. It’s just an example of new reactions, in these new times.

As I walk I realize I am looking around me with some wonder, with heightened appreciation because of heightened awareness of our common here-and-now, immediate, vulnerability.

I watch two young women shuck their shoes, string up a volleyball net in Concord Community Park, and start to practise their technique.

I’m used to this. I see it all summer long, but now, in these circumstances, a display of health and joy seems precious, special, something to notice, to value.

I sink into one of the park’s welcoming chairs, prop up my feet on the log …

and for a while just watch the life of north-east False Creek flow past. It is reassuringly, wonderfully normal. (Even though, as that young man will say in an encounter I have not yet had, “by next week things could change.” And will.)

People with bikes, with scooters, with dogs, with smart phones, with strollers and kiddies. Kiddies in helmets, learning their own tiny scooters, and kiddies squealing with delight as daddy (it’s usually daddy) scoops them up for a tickle. Ferries come and go. There’s a guy in a kayak. And those two young women just keep spiking that volleyball.

I wander on. More normal things to cherish, in this abnormal time. Look! two new inukshuks, so easily created from the waterfront stones. And look! a crow to admire them.

The seawall leaves the Creek long enough to thread between a nightlife venue and BC Place Stadium. As it curves back toward Plaza of Nations and the water, I’m startled by a big, fresh sign.

Startled, again because of the way I decode it. I take it for reassurance that despite the pandemic, the False Creek ferries are still operating. Only much later do I realize that it is almost certainly construction-related, nothing to do with COVID-19.

And yes, the ferries are running.

Still heading west, approaching Coopers Park, and I pass a sign I’ve seen before. It explains an art installation I know well and have already featured in this blog.

So, nothing new here — except it triggers memories of two recent exchanges with friends who note tartly they’d like to see the world get as focused on climate change as on the virus.

And here they are, the sea-level stripes on the Cambie Bridge supports.

Children play happily under the bridge’s north-end ramps, no sign that parents are yet keeping them home. Swings, slides, all the usual equipment with cushiony surfaces underfoot, plus a chalk wall and a hard surface for chalked hopscotch and other artistic impulses.

Even a carrot and a bunny-rabbit on the utilities box!

I walk on as far as the Yaletown dock, take in the children’s artwork on a BC Hydro box, whose message suddenly bears additional interpretations …

and double back to Coopers Park.

Up the long zigzag ramp onto the Cambie Bridge …

and across the bridge, with my favourite dock, Spyglass Place  to welcome me on the south side …

where I again sink into one of those welcoming chairs.

I again prop up my feet, respectfully positioning them to one side of the butterfly …

and again watch some False Creek life flow by. More dogs, kids, adults. More ordinary stuff, suddenly so extraordinary.

I head on east. Clipping along. Pass a staircase, slow down to read its scrawled message. And freeze.

The answer would seem to be: No.

But let us rise to the challenge. And let us support all the authorities who provide science-based information, and follow their guidance. This is a “voyage of discovery” worthy of Proust.

I stop for a latte in Olympic Village. I move to the pick-up counter, where another woman is waiting for her order. We smile at each other — and each take one step back. And smile again, in wry acknowledgment.

If Mr. & Mrs. Mallard can get the hang of social distancing, so can we.

 

 

 

 

 

  • 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"

  • Recent Posts

  • Walk, Talk, Rock… B.C.-style

  • Post Categories

  • Archives

  • Blog Stats

    • 111,769 hits
  • Since 14 August 2014

    Flag Counter
  • Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,957 other followers

%d bloggers like this: