“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 ┬áto 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"

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