Up the Mighty Fraser

16 April 2019 – Drop that paddle, shuck that life vest — I’m talking street, not river.

No, not the river that tumbles 1,375 km from B.C.’s Mount Robson Provincial Park, down & down to empty into the Pacific via the Strait of Georgia in Vancouver. Yes, the 13.6 km street that runs through Vancouver and neighbouring Burnaby.

Why Fraser Street? Because — like Sophia Street — it’s there, and I’ve never spent any time on it.

I join Fraser at the Kingsway, with a utility-box owl to cheer me on my way.

Right across the street, under that orange awning you can see behind the owl, the grocery store advertises some of its specials in a note taped to the window.

Not-quite-gentrified neighbourhoods, with their independent shops and quirky homes, have a particular kind of streetscape. They teem with juxtapositions.

Guns & gardens, for example …

Followed by a variety of calls to civic activism, one after another. On a post box …

on a utility pole …

and in a convenience store window.

There are homes as well as shops along Fraser, with peaceful gardens glimpsed over weathered fences.

And then — just after a big evangelical church, and just before a compact Hindu temple — I see a side street with a long string of Vancouver Specials. Bonus!

Another 7-8 blocks farther south, I decide to cut over westward toward & through Mountain View Cemetery, making the first of the turns that will eventually bring me back north & home.

And what greets me, on this residential cross-street? Two more Vancouver Specials, one each end of the block. Both comprehensively restored, each in a very different style. The first is cozy-charming, as comfy as a glass of warm milk at bedtime. The second …

is quiet, and austere.

I stand there shaking my head, delighted. Talk about vernacular architecture! Architecture-turned-folk-art!

This once-despised design — boxy, pragmatic, purely utilitarian, churned out in generic quantity — is now, I suspect, the play toy for a new generation of owners. Are you old enough to remember how hippies loved their VW vans, turned them into expressions of their own identity? Something like that seems to be going on with the VS.

Around a corner and another couple of blocks south, I’m about to dive through a hobbit-hole gap in the hedge surrounding Mountain View Cemetery … but I stop. I’m intrigued by the cheerful lady I see cutting strands from the ivy that cascades through the hedge.

“My mother’s name was Ivy,” she explains. “When she died at 95, I decided to include fresh ivy in every bouquet I make. The City told me I can take as much as I want, as long as it’s from the outside of the Cemetery hedge.”

I don’t expect anything inside the Cemetery to be as touching as what I have just experienced on the outside. But I am wrong.

What could be less alike than fresh ivy and a plastic Snoopy? Or a 95-year-old great-grandmother and a toddler? But they are entirely alike in the love of the families who remember them, and have found a visual icon for that love.

Outside the Cemetery again, I nod at the white trilliums in someone’s front garden — my Ontario moment! — and then make one last westward dog-leg toward Main Street.

And, of course, run into another Vancouver Special.

See what I mean about individual expression? People are not intimidated by the VS. They just grab that box, and run with it. Wherever their self-image wants them to go.

Onto Main Street. I am finally heading north.

An owl marked the start of this walk; a pair of ravens mark its final few klicks.

 

 

Stone the Crows!

26 October 2017 – It’s an old folk-expression of dismay or surprise, say somewhat vague online sources, but I’ll go with it.

Since moving to Vancouver I have been surprised by the number of crows in the city, and by the number of crow references in signage and artwork.

 

I spotted this one a few days ago while out walking with Frances in the city’s downtown East Side. The sign points the way to a drop-in treatment clinic for drug addicts. To my mind, it positions the crow as a symbol of strength and hope.

But then, I’ve fallen in love with the crow (genus Corvus, of the Passerine family). I love their spirit, their energy, their sleek minimalist beauty.

Imagine my delight when dear friends offered me this plate, purchased on their recent Alaskan cruise.

 

It depicts a raven, not a crow, but the raven is a larger member of the same genus, and I love them both. (Memories of my years travelling Arctic hamlets, and the whopping huge ravens I’d see up there.)

No wonder I purchased a crow fridge magnet at the Vancouver Art Gallery!

It makes number three in a trio that speaks to my heart — the other two being artist Michael Snow’s Walking Woman figure, and an Icelandic stamp. First I walked myself to an Icelandic adventure; now I have walked myself to Vancouver.

Hello, Mr. Crow.

I see them just like this, on utility wires.

And I see crow imagery all over town. I thought the references benign — affectionate, even. I thought Vancouver loved its crows.

Then I entered “crows vancouver” in a search engine, and …

Well, stone the crows! I was surprised by what I found.

Headlines shouted at me:

  • Murder mystery: the reason 6,000 crows flock to Burnaby [adjacent municipality] every night” …
  • Stalked and dive-bombed: Increase in Vancouver crow attacks” … “
  • Vancouver, beware” …
  • Spike in crow attacks in Vancouver’s west end” …
  • Crow attack season in Vancouver” …

Ahhhh, you get the idea.

I discover there is an interactive website, Crowtrax, where you can post an attack to the area map. In early spring 2017, it looked like this, with grey flags marking 2016 attacks and red flags for the first few months of 2017.

Good grief.

I learn that the crow/raven place in mythology goes back millennia, and is largely negative. I find two versions of an old folk rhyme, each building to the same dire final line.

Here’s the longer version, with thanks to Mind Space Apocalypse, right here on Word Press.

“One Crow for sorrow,
Two Crows for mirth;
Three Crows for a wedding,
Four Crows for a birth;
Five Crows for silver,
Six Crows for gold;
Seven Crows for a secret, not to be told;
Eight Crows for heaven,
Nine Crows for hell;
And ten Crows for the devils own self.”

But crow/raven have their defenders. That Mind Space Apocalypse post includes their position in First Nations mythology as the Trickster, with all it implies of intelligence and ingenuity.

An article on native-languages.com says crows are often viewed as omens of good luck in First Nations cultures, and are a clan animal for some as well.

Thoughtco.com writes about “The magic of crows and ravens.”

And Derek Matthews (chair, Vancouver Avian Research Centre), interviewed by dailyhive.com on 16 April 2017, says: “Crows have very human like personalities and just like us, they protect their young. If we protect our kids, we’re called heroes, and if they do it, they are called villains.”

Bottom line: in the spring nesting season, leave crows alone.

Enjoy their images in artwork instead.

For example, cuddling up to a clown, in this wall mural detail near Commercial Drive and East 1st Avenue.

Or these crows dancing with butterflies, on Hawks Avenue near Powell Street.

Or these crows guarding the doorway in an exuberant mural on Commercial Drive north of East 1st.

I like to think of crows guarding that doorway — intelligent, inquisitive, alert, curious and fearless.

Hurray for crows!

 

  • 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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