River-Watch

11 January 2022 — The capital-W Weather just keeps piling up. The snow I blogged about late December was followed by more snow and more cold, and then a windstorm combined with king tides that tore up Stanley Park seawall and flooded the Ambleside Park I’d visited just a little earlier that month.

And now plus-zero temperatures and a new multi-day Atmospheric River, due to start … well, any time now.

“Now” being a few hours ago, as I set out to walk east toward home. Ah, but, I am wearing my Seriously Waterproof Coat and my duck boots, and I trust them to keep me safe and pretty well dry. So I am watchful — aware of the grey sky and impending River — but perfectly happy to let my eye snag on tiny details as I walk along, and not particularly care whether I beat the rain home or not.

Here at Yukon & West 8th, it isn’t the motorcycle I notice first …

it’s the butterfly decal someone has stuck to the back of the traffic sign. I don’t care that it’s wrinkled and beginning to peel, I like it a lot.

I pivot east into the alley just south of West 8th, away from the construction for the Broadway Subway Project (an extension of the existing Millennium Line) that keeps pounding along, whatever the weather.

I see this bold taco-shop mural right at the intersection …

but again it’s a detail that draws me in: a delicate line-up of red dots above one of the florets on one of the plants.

I wonder if this is a later, complementary (and complimentary) addition by some other hand, but then see another touch of red in the swirls of ground cover, and decide it is all by the original artist.

Only later, looking at this image, do I see the magic continuity of colour — black/white/red, flowing from the mural across those cars to the red building beyond.

Just east of Alberta there’s full-tilt alleyscape, so much going on I barely register the young woman who walks into frame on the right, checking her messages …

because I’m focused on that mirror up there on the balcony. Looking very pretty, in the midst of a lot of not-pretty.

Just past Columbia, I see the pumpkin-coloured car, who could miss it …

but, really, I’m fascinated by that convex traffic mirror, and the art-nouveau swirls it bestows on tall trees and power lines.

East side of Manitoba, I’ve seen this before but for a change it’s not the H-frame hydro pole that makes me pause …

it’s the haunting mural tucked into the garage on the left. So instead of walking by, I walk in …

and when I turn to the back wall, my curiosity is rewarded — finally! — with this artist’s name.

J. Whitehead, I later learn, is a Saskatchewan-born member of the Cree Nation, a Fine Arts graduate of the Nova Scotia College of Arts and Design, and now resident in Vancouver. I’ve seen his distinctive work elsewhere, am glad to give you a chance to discover him as well.

Same alley block but closer to Ontario, I once again halt at this battered old garage …

but, this time, it’s the sway-backed roof that pulls me close. I really look at it, at the textures, the colours, the thriving moss on crumbling shingles — the sheer topography of it all.

And then … and then, I’m east of Ontario, on to Quebec, and the end of the alley.

I swerve north to East 8th, away from all those alleyscape details …

into the ordered, aromatic, calm and considered details of a latte at my favourite café.

I make it home, just before the River starts to flow. (And flows still, as I type this. And is expected to continue to flow, right through Thursday.)

Watson in the Rain

30 November 2021 – Raining still, expected to intensify, sombre warnings about the coming 48 hours.

I go out for a walk.

Watson runs parallel to Main Street, feels and mostly behaves like a lane but is just slightly too wide for the anonymity of lane-hood. It is officially street width, and requires a name. I do not know which Watson they had in mind; I can only think of clever Holmes barking an exasperated “Watson!” at his befuddled colleague.

So. That voice in my ear, and all this in my eye: drizzle & chilly air & sodden leaves & garbage bins & garbage in and out of bins & hand-lettered notices about missing dogs, cats and oh yes human beings.

But also, here at East 14th: a share-bike rack; Andrea Wan‘s vintage VMF mural (2016) peeking through the foliage; and the literal and emotional warmth of the Main Street JJ Bean café, one of 22 outlets of a fourth-generation Vancouver dynasty that offers quality to customers and better than Fair Trade prices and other support to its suppliers.

And also, one block farther south at East 15th: Phil Phil Studio‘s 2021 VMF mural opposite Heritage Hall; and Heritage Hall itself, currently shrouded for its seismic upgrade and re-roofing project — only the latest stage in a history that began in 1915 and has taken the building from post office to federal agriculture facility to vacant and derelict to restored as a community and cultural centre. I don’t know if it has remained open for events throughout this latest refurbishment, but I do know it will be open December 15-16 (obeying all virus protocols) for Music on Main’s Music for the Winter Solstice.

So much, all around us, that is uncertain, worrisome, just plain sad and wrong.

And all this as well.

Mid-Fall

21 October – Mid-fall in Vancouver.

It’s the season when nature is the biggest litterbug of all…

scattering leaves all over windshields and grassy sidewalk verges…

and across outdoor café tables.

But mid-fall is also still warm enough for couples to sit at one of those outdoor café tables …

and sink into each other’s eyes.

Tucked snugly behind their very own sheet of anti-COVID plastic.

The Moment In Between

16 October 2021 – It has just rained and it will soon rain again, but, meanwhile, there is this moment in between.

I walk back east, in this moment.

A burst of nature’s own autumnal colour blocking on West 8th, climbing the Whole Foods wall near Cambie …

and a cryptic message, one block farther east.

It’s a study in contrasting response to the rain: the paper lies limp & sodden, literally washed out, while the leaves and pavement dazzle & dance in glowing colour.

Over at Alberta St. I angle myself off 8th Avenue, pivoting S/E around this blue-mural’ed building (artist Debra Sparrow, VMF 2020)…

into the alley.

I’d forgotten the march of murals down this alley, discover them again. Right here at the corner, Reclaimed, a 2020 VMF work by Carole Mathys.

There’s more than murals, marching down this alley! I salute the H-frames

and, out at the corner of Manitoba St., take in yet more colour blocking. Red/orange tree; grey building with golden window frames; bright blue utility bin; and a whole swatch of very angry black on the wall beside me.

You’re gone, graffiti! Though I suspect all that black makes a tempting canvas for a new round of aerosol cans.

Just east of Manitoba, a mural style I’ve seen elsewhere (notably around the Native Education College) but so far without an identifying artist name.

This is the alley that keeps on giving.

Approaching Ontario, here’s the back door to a doggie spa, with a so-cute cartoon on the wall and a real live client showing off his latest trim. Just groomed, his owner tells me, and very pleased with himself.

Opposite that, the antithesis of grooming.

Nearing Quebec St. by now, and I finally learn the ID of the artist for this powerful mural just past the Raven Song Community Health Centre parking lot. It’s the VMF 2017 work of “Morik,” as in Russia-born Marat Danilyan.

Out of the alley onto Quebec, pivot N/E past all this ivy, flaming with the impact of fall weather…

onto East 8th, where weather has no impact on the pace of construction. (Though it makes the ground a lot soggier.)

You often see their hard hats among clients at my own favourite café, just a few doors farther east on 8th.

I slide in for a latte.

Herewith an unabashed plug for Melo Patisserie: the refinement of Melo’s French culinary training, with the warmth of his Brazilian heritage. Plus a posy of fresh freesia on every table every day, and a trio of teddy bears in the window.

Silly

10 July 2021 – I’m walking home along a shady street, minding my own business, and — just like that! right here on the sidewalk! — I enter another jurisdiction.

It is the jurisdiction of silly walks.

I do not obey. But I do giggle, as that Monty Python skit unrolls yet again in my mind.

I’m practically at the end of the block when I hear more giggling — not my own, somebody else’s, backed by the sound of stomping feet.

I turn, I look, and there’s a teenage girl, getting Silly.

It’s perfect.

Blossoms With Attitude

27 April 2021 – It’s the height of cherry blossom season here, so the whole city is pretty in pink. But pretty-pretty is not the whole message.

First, there’s the sublime indifference to COVID. Our assorted cherry blossom festivals may once again be cancelled, but the trees bloom anyway. Take that, virus! Very comforting, very encouraging.

And then there are all the other messages. I tell you, these blossoms have attitude.

There’s over-the-top bravura: “I own the street.”

There’s elegant restraint: “I craft one perfect nosegay.”

There’s narcissism: “Ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille.”

There’s even the civic irresponsibility of the litterbug: “What? What’s your problem?”

And then, turn down an alley, and it’s a whole different pink.

With an attitude of street-punk defiance.

As in: “So I’m not a cherry tree and nobody planted me or looks after me and there’s no festival in my name and … yah… okay … I’m a weed.

“But here I am.”

I like it a lot.

Both/And

8 April 2021 – Once you notice the both/anded-ness of life, all those concurrent realties swirling around, examples just keep smacking you in the face.

Both the beauty of this cherry tree, arching its blossoms over an entrance to the coFood Collaborative Garden at Scotia & East 5th …

… and the wording of their welcoming signage, which recognizes the possibility that people will use this space to shoot up. (But, and here is a both/and within the larger both/and: note that they gently accept all possibilities, and only ask for considerate behaviour.)

Both the blue sky and shining waters of False Creek, right here by Science World …

… and the discarded face mask on the foot path.

Both the fresh, trim spring beauty of this volunteer-tended Green Streets garden, tucked by an access ramp to the north-east side of the Cambie Street bridge over False Creek …

and the graffiti on the ramp. (Note that I make a distinction between street art, and graffiti.)

But … but … here again, a both/and within the larger both/and: did you notice that bright posy of blossoms, in a circle of dirt within all that well-tended gravel?

See? Both a “bright posy of blossoms” and a tombstone for a felled tree, since the flowers sit atop a tree stump. (I am reminded of the neatly hand-lettered sign I once saw pinned to a wooden utility pole on a Toronto street, which read: “I miss being a tree.”)

Ahh but, how do I know which way ’round to assign the “both” and the “and”? Maybe it was a diseased tree. Come to that, why am I, even implicitly, suggesting that “both” and “and” are necessarily in conflict?

Whoops. Sorry.

I climb the ramp up to the bridge, where I’ll cross and loop my way back east. Another both/and as I reach the first bend: all that bouncy interplay of lines and curves, but also the litter on the ground.

Then I pause, and laugh out loud. Lookit those cheeky gulls, perched like sentinels on the light standard.

Both a very ordinary sight, as urban-waterfront sights go, and totally amusing.

Well, I think so, and this is my set of concurrent realities!

Colour Blocking

15 February 2021 – Snow, surprise-surprise; then rain, no-surprise; and always colour.

I think about Colour Blocking and then — the way it sometimes works out — the idea takes over.

So, eyes & mind, I go along for the ride, and make an afternoon of it.

Online

“This design technique is all about showcasing curated combinations of colour,” says Google, adding that it arose during the modernist art movement of the 20th century.

In Museums & Collections

… by Piet Mondrian, for example, with his 1935 Composition C (courtesy of http://www.piet-mondrian.org).

Or, back here in my own real world…

In Window Displays

… for a local art supply store.

On Neighbourhood 1920s homes

On Alley Walls

Underfoot, in Street-Café Decor (the puddle a temporary embellishment)

and finally…

On a Winter-Mossy Tree

I say “Finally” because, whatever human beings care to think, Mother Nature always has the last word.

A Moment, & Another Moment

21 January 2021 – One was colour, the other was light.

Colour!!

Heading home yesterday, I opt for West 10th since it’s a quiet residential street, and then, right there between Columbia and Manitoba …

I laugh out loud. Not exactly San Francisco’s fabled Painted Ladies, or as elaborate as ones I can think of in Toronto’s Cabbagetown … but there are similarities. These, too, are Victorian/Edwardian style wooden houses, built in the first decade or so of the 20th century, now restored and painted in bold colours to enhance the architecture. What’s extra here, I discover when I dig a bit, is that the Davis family not only received a Heritage Canada award for this streetscape but created decent rental housing in the process.

I don’t know all this at the time. I’m just enjoying the colour and the street-friendly, community-friendly extras that add to the pleasure. For example, the red Muskoka chair and the wheelbarrow of greenery (L & R, above) positioned by the sidewalk, to expand the charm right out into public space.

I cross the street. More details, equally colourful. A metal container (was it once a garbage can? surely not…), full of winter-hardy red/greenery …

a deep-ochre feline container for more winter ornamentals …

and, not to be outdone, a stylish canine container for yet more bright foliage …

on a bicycle.

Cat, dog, who cares? Make way for the lumberjack-plaid buck.

Immediately east of this run of houses is one that is clearly not part of the group. So, yes, definitely less colourful, but it is equally of the era and equally committed to improving the streetscape.

Albeit with a different sensibility.

I particularly like the stand-off between train and ‘gator. Though that T-rex atop another train engine almost gets my vote.

Light!!

Again heading for home, but this time via the Cambie Bridge and north side of False Creek. Unlike yesterday, today is all glitter & brilliance. I lean on the bridge and start noticing how morning light plays off, plays with, everything it touches. I begin to appreciate the literal truth of the words “sunshine” and sunlit.”

The rail beneath my elbows, the churn behind that Aquabus ferry headed for the Olympic Village dock, the ripples fanning out to either side …

and then, the curve of the Seawall, and two shining benches.

It’s hopelessly anthropomorphic, and I know it and I don’t care, and maybe you won’t care either, if I confess that, to me, those benches are positively basking in the sunny warmth. It takes me a moment to spot that each is just the eastern end of a trio of benches, companionably curved toward each other.

I want sunshine drama? Razzle-dazzle flashing light? Fine. There’s this moment, as I start down the off-ramp from the bridge…

I sit for a moment on one of those benches I had noticed from the bridge. And yes, it’s just as sunny-warm as I had imagined. Happy sounds are all around me — first some mother/toddler conversation, then dog-owner/puppy conversation, with mother & dog-owner both expert at deciphering what comes back at them, and everybody having a good time.

I walk on, still fascinated by the light. It just lasers down the pathway, hard shadows here, glitter there, and, ‘way down there, just in front of that mirrored marina building, the Blue Cabin — rocking gently on the ripples and, like those benches, basking in the sunshine.

As are these rocks, this side of the grove of trees next to the Blue Cabin.

And now for basking chairs!

Fabulous, big, come-sit-in-me blue & red chairs. They, and more, are tucked into the community park right at the end of False Creek. They’re empty, but the park isn’t — just out of frame, two teenagers are playing a furious game of table tennis in one direction, while in the other, a whole squad of (supervised) small children is playing some complicated game that involves kicking coloured balls around and Squealing Very Loudly with each kick.

I sink into that blue chair, prop up my feet on the log.

Sitting there, I realize that I’m almost at the end of a False Creek walk and I haven’t yet brought crows into the story. Which I usually do.

So now I will.

See? Crows on my toes!

Framed in sunlight.

And Also

7 January 2020 – Step back, I tell myself; take a break. Step back from newscasts tracking the political unrest rocking one country, whose ripples will eventually and somehow affect every country. Mentally step back from all that and physically step out the door. Take a walk, nowhere special, but with a different focus.

Notice other realities. Not instead of that big-headline reality; just … also.

A tree stump, for example. Not left there to nurture new life, but it’s turned into a nurse-log anyway.

A Chai Wagon, trucked back home after a day of serving customers downtown.

Baby buds on a front-yard shrub, already swelling with spring blossoms.

A nook next to the Sahalli Community Garden, created by its members and available to anyone who’d like to sit and relax for a moment.

I sit and relax. I start to notice the ornaments. Pottery toadstools and a metal insect, wings half-open, behind the companion chair …

glass coasters, piled on the log table between the chairs …

and one of the red overhead lanterns, swinging with the breeze. (Only later do I realize I’ve also caught a dark bird, slicing through the sky just beneath the lantern.)

Down by South China Creek Park, there’s a free exercise station for anyone who’d like to use it …

and a newly created play area for kiddies, very much in use.

None of this is important. It’s just what I happen to see, on this particular walk, at this time, on this day. It does not replace or discount the political reality rightly commanding headlines.

But it does remind me of all the other realities that also make up our world — every moment, everywhere, all entangled and endlessly re-creating what Leonard Cohen so wonderfully described as the “chaos of existence.”

I like that sense of larger context.

  • 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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