The Thing About Labels

5 October 2020 – This is the thing about labels: sometimes they mislead you.

Oh, not always. Most of the time they are valuable.

Suppose you’re walking down a neighbourhood street, and you see a monster. Like this one.

You’d want to know what kind of monster he is, wouldn’t you? So you’d circle him …

and read his label. See? Valuable.

Or you’re still in the neighbourhood and you see a corner garden — an over-the-top wonderful corner garden. Like this one.

You’d be grateful for the labels. You’d read the official City one, telling you a local resident sponsored this plot under the Green Streets Program, and you’d look around a bit and …

next you’d read the gardener’s own label. Valuable.

And then you’d luck into a whole other dimension of labels — verbal labelling. It is provided by this bearded gentleman, later explaining to this lady as he had just explained to me …

that the garden was all thanks to Sherry. It is Sherry’s hard work, and he wants everybody to give credit where credit is due.

Which I am happy to do — and that leads me neatly into the topic of misleading labels.

“Naked ladies!” I squeaked at you in my previous post, adding “Amarylis belladonna” because that’s what my googling had told me. Hah. Two readers knew better and in the kindest possible way set me straight. “Autumn crocus,” they said; not Amarylis.

So I look again — and discover that “Naked Ladies” is a nickname for two entirely different families of fall-blooming flowers: the Amarylis belladonna, but also the one I’d photographed and in fact really had in mind from life in eastern Canada, namely the Colchicum autumnale, or Autumn crocus.

Just to keep the whole “misleading” riff going, I also learn that the Autumn crocus, despite its name, is not a true crocus. True crocuses belong to the Iris family and are harmless, while the Colchicaceae family aren’t crocuses and are toxic.

On the other hand, whichever variety of Naked Lady you choose to embrace, they both bloom in the fall and do so without any modesty screen of leaves.

Back to valuable labels, again with thanks to my readers (specifically fellow WP blogger bluebrightly). That stunning yellow flower I showed you last post with the iridescent buds is a Dahlia, specifically the Mystic Illusion dahlia, and is that not the perfect name?

One final label, this one discovered just hours ago, right where Hinge Park borders on False Creek. First you see the rubber boot, then you see the wording:

I go to the website, just like they ask, and read a plea from the City of Vancouver. “Help us prepare for sea level rise,” they ask.

I’d call that valuable. Definitely not misleading.

Following Fall

2 October 2020 – Fall leads the way, and I follow.

Past a spray of gleaming leaves (magnolia is my guess) that guide me onto a path leading to the VanDusen Botanical Garden …

under the gleaming overhead ribs that guide me into the Visitor Centre …

and, tickets displayed to the masked attendant behind plexiglass, on through the Centre and out into the Garden with my friend.

We pause long enough to enjoy the mum dancing with her toddler by Livingstone Lake …

and then head into some woodland pathways, where we giggle at the white Doll’s Eyes (Baneberry, Actaea pachypoda) …

who are suitably shocked at the sight of all these Naked Ladies (Amaryllis belladona) stretched out in dishevelled languor.

“Red Maple” says the handy label on a tree next to Cypress Pond, and a tiny little red leaf obligingly displays itself on a mossy branch.

Decades of flaming fall colour in Ontario & Quebec leave me only mildly impressed by the foliage here — but I am wowed every time by the moss!

Also by the footbridge across Cypress Pond …

and, this time around, by the seasonal contrast of yellowing lily pads among the green.

A Bald Cypress at the far end of the bridge flaunts both its needles and its knees, the former due to fall off any day now but the latter there in delightful permanence.

I dance around for a bit over by Heron Lake, lining up a glimpse of fountain spray through the autumnal foliage …

but soon move on, to stand enchanted by the sight of yet more tree branches draped in moss.

We are both enchanted by what we see next: a profusion of this startling yellow flower (no identifying label, sorry), with numerous multi-hued, iridescent buds about to take their own turn centre-stage.

The Garden is also host to the annual Artists for Conservation Festival at the moment, so we pass some tents with relevant displays, like this one explaining a breeding program for the highly endangered Northern Spotted Owl. Squint hard enough & you’ll make out the owl on that female volunteer’s left wrist.

“Look like giant rose hips,” says my friend, eyeing this shrub as we head back along Livingstone Lake, and they do, don’t they?

Turns out to be Medlar (Mespilus germanica), not rose — a fall fruit that is ripe “when it turns to mush,” says the delightfully named Gardenista website. Also known, adds the website, as “cul-de-chien,” and if that doesn’t set you sniggering, it’s time to wish you spoke French.

Eastern Redbud leaves do their stained-glass-window impersonation when viewed against the sun …

and a helpful sign near the artists’ display tent teaches us yet another way to measure two metres of social distance.

Goodness, the things you learn. Two metres = 20 Ulysses butterflies = 1 Bald Eagle’s wingspan = 1 cougar, nose to tail tip. Also = six feet, but how boring is that?

One latte & much conversation later, I’m primed for a meandering walk home. It leads me through the neighbourhood where I saw all those swings a while back, but this time around, it yields a teddy bear.

Made of stone, but wearing his heart on his sleeve.

Crisis

19 August 2020 — Elements of crisis:

Danger …

plus …

Opportunity.

5 + 7 + 5

7 June 2020 — A neighbourhood challenge is issued, in the friendliest possible way …

albeit with a few technical specifications.

Replies start being pinned to the line.

Including this one, my favourite.

My favourite, I think, because of that image of a starlight-filled heart — unexpected, unexplained, and perfect.

7 p.m., 18 May 2020, E. 7th Avenue

18 May 2020 – What are they looking at?

All along this block of East 7th, just off Main Street?

The apartment building opposite.

More specifically, the 4th, 6th and 9th balconies facing onto East 7th.

Most specifically, the 4th-floor balcony.

Where, at 7 p.m. every single evening, its residents host a short, sharp patio dance party to honour our at-risk frontline workers.

This Vancouver tradition began on 20 March, when a single woman out in the west end decided to Make Noise — both to thank our health-care professionals, and to cheer up her own neighbours. First her neighbours joined in, then the idea spread around the city, then ships in Burrard Inlet began blowing their whistles as well, and now the downtown Steam Whistle has added a 7 p.m. blast of O Canada to its usual 12-noon rendition.

Each micro-location has its own traditions.

Our local version, as you can see here, now includes sidewalk dancing.

Attitude

7 May 2020 – They (the omniscient “They” that permeate our lives) insist that our success in handling a situation  depends in part on  the situation itself, and a whole lot on our attitude.

Well, here we are with a situation to handle.

I (the not-omniscient “I”) feel better-equipped when my attitude includes:

gratitude …

humour …

and a bracing shot of nature.

All the better with a regal Great Blue Heron thrown into the mix.

And better yet — talk about good omens — if the freighter lying in the Burrard Inlet “parking lot” beyond bears the name, “Wisdom Line.”

The Best/Worst of Times

21 April 2020 – Extreme times call forth extreme behaviour, the best and the worst, so I can’t be the only person with that famous opening line drumming in my head. When Charles Dickens wrote A Tale of Two Cities, he was contrasting Paris with London during the French Revolution, but, as we all live with this pandemic, I see those juxtapositions right here, in my own daily experience. Maybe you do too.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…

As I walk around, I see reminders of the worst that confronts us, and the best of our own human response.

A brand new crochet-art tree hug …

a face mask, dangling from this car’s rear-view mirror…

brightly painted houses and spring blossoms popping along this residential street …

a reminder of our safe-behaviour obligations, written (it says on the other side) by a front-line health care professional and tied to his fence …

a salute to our Health Heroes chalked on the sidewalk …

new, heart-tugging meaning for this sidewalk mosaic, with its focus on home and staying close to home …

a young man cradling a drum under his left arm, softly beating out comforting rhythms as he looks across Prince Edward Park …

skateboard dog – !!! – carefree & cruising through the parking lot next to China Creek North Park …

a driveway SAFE line, chalked by parents to remind their children to go no farther, but stay on their own property …

and a big, fat ❤️ for Dr. McRae.

I want to explain this one.  I stop to admire this exuberant particle-board display, with all those “Go …” messages, and I fall into 2-metre-distant conversation with the pony-tailed young woman busy tidying up her front yard behind the board.

“The kids did that while I was at work,” she says. “At work,” I repeat, “so you’re in some kind of essential service?” She smiles. “I’m a doctor.” I throw up my hands in respect.

“See?” she continues. “Right there, top-centre, right under the tree trunk? That’s my name. Then the kids added everybody else they could think of — even our postman.”

So expand the photo, and you’ll see it: GO: dr mcrae.

Thank you, Dr. McRae.

Thank you all the doctors McRae, everywhere — and the truck drivers and grocery store clerks and posties and everyone else who is out there making it possible for the rest of us to stay home.

Thank you.

We Speak ❤️

6 April 2020 – It seems Canada has added a third official language: ❤️

Young Miss Mila is the first one to speak it to me, carefully chalked on the ledge between the sidewalk and the front steps to her home.

And then… I realize that ❤️ is being spoken everywhere.

Pasted to a metal utility pole …

stapled to a wooden pole near Robson Park (with solitary sun-bathing woman and solitary dog-walker both in the blurry background) …

painted on a repurposed clear drum head, propped against a homeowner’s fence …

painted in a whole rainbow of colours, high on a second-storey window …

paper-chain-dancing across a doorway & front porch …

all that, plus flag …

even chalked onto the sidewalk sign for this (now offsales only) brew-pub.

But that slogan no longer fits, does it — the main thing is no longer the beer.

It’s the heart.

 

 

Distance, Connected

29 March 2020 – We’ve finally got the mantra right: physical distance, social connection.

We’re all thinking about it, adapting to it, noticing it, each in our own little corner of the world. Here’s a bit of how it is currently evolving, in my little corner, as noticed in my walks of the last few days.

Almost everyone in Vancouver now works from home and we all largely stay at home, but — except for those in quarantine or self-isolation — we may still go out for exercise and essential shopping, while maintaining 2 metres of physical distances from others.

Here I’m threading my way between condo buildings toward False Creek, under a canopy of business-as-usual spring blossoms.

But life is not business-as-usual, is it?

Science World (that “golf ball”), like all public attractions, is closed, and the creek itself almost empty of all watercraft. No ferries!

Like you, like everyone, we are adapting to our new world.

Local busses permit rear boarding only (to protect the drivers) …

and waive the fee (to make any touching/tapping unnecessary).

Attractions and retailers of varying sizes expand their online presence and, as appropriate, keep some form of structured physical presence as well.

Greenworks, for example, offers its building-supply products by free delivery or through no-contact transactions at the door, all explained in trim, professional signage.

Some of the other local signs are more homespun, but just as determined to find a way to obey regulations, keep everybody safe and still, somehow, maintain connection with their customers. They position themselves at different points on the closed/open scale.

This skateboard shop is more closed than open …

while this little bicycle store is more open than closed.

Federal Store has a similar street-front strategy to Greenworks, but with its own lunchonette/grocery store spin.

Step up to the door, place your order, and then wait for it at a respectful 2-metre distance from everyone else.

We’re all beginning to get some sense of 2 metres, or hope we have — but it’s so easy to forget, isn’t it, when you’re out with your friends.

Not for this trio. They have it all worked out. I notice them today, on a walk that takes me south rather than north.

You can see two of them, properly spaced, with the third (also properly spaced) partially visible behind the woman on the right.

I don’t realize how clever they are until they move on. That’s when the rope becomes visible. They’ve looped it waist to waist, attached at 2-m intervals. They keep it taut as they walk.

I’m enjoying all this, taking comfort and inspiration from examples of good adaptations to bad circumstances — but I am also noticing examples of good things that were already with us before COVID 19, and still are.

This fabulously painted block of E. 21st Avenue, for example, probably my favourite block in the whole city …

and this front-yard statuette of the seated Buddha, his lap full of Nature’s own tribute of petals …

and this front-window evidence of a good neighbour — a heart for the community, a bike for the environment (visible through the glass), a feeder for the birds.

Heart.

Along with the opportunists and idiots that always appear in bad times, there’s a whole lot of heart on display, isn’t there? (Think of your own examples…)

Our good hearts, as we encourage balcony noise-making at 7 p.m., to support the people who protect us …

and as we reach out to support each other.

Note: Just now, as I typed that reference to the sign in Dude Chilling Park, I heard the raucous sound of clattering pots & pans, right here in my own neighbourhood.

I looked at my watch.

Exactly 7 p.m.

 

 

 

Four Sad Words

8 March 2020 – People love messing with the pedestrian crossing signals around here – that little blank face on the mannequin invites all kinds of artistic alternation.

I’d never before seen anybody add text.

A life story, in four words.

And, while I admire the economy and quality of language …

how very sad, the story it tells!

 

  • 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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