Surprise!

8 November 2022 — So there we all were, we downtown Vancouverites, tucked up in our little beds and minding our own business… and this morning we wake up to snow.

Surprise!

We should not have been surprised. We were warned. Yesterday, we woke up to proof that winter had arrived — the freezing level was again drawing its sharp horizontal line right across the Coast Range Mountains. Bright above; dark below.

“Freezing level,” as in, the altitude at which the temperature is currently 0 C, causing precipitation to land as rain below the line, and as snow above.

But surprised we are anyway, because we always are.

This bicycle, for example, did not take cover in time.

And most of the city’s deciduous trees & shrubs are equally surprised, since they haven’t yet had time to shed their leaves.

It makes for magical combinations, as a friend & I discover in a mid-day visit to the VanDusen Botanical Garden. There wasn’t that much snow to start with, and by now some has melted, but despite blazing sunshine the air is still crisp, and snow still lingers.

Peer over the walkway edge into a gully and, look, dark pebbles gleam snow-free but the ground plants are entirely white and even the conifers play white-against-green.

West side of the Cypress Pond pedestrian bridge — star of my deosil walk — where a distant Red Maple blazes bright, but is outshone by the moss in the nearby Cypress. This is such a neon-green smack in the eye that I almost miss the traces of snow, still smudging some of the branches.

Neon green moss? I don’t know how neon neon can be, until we walk farther west, toward Heron Lake. A bush shines red, over there beyond the snowy grass by the lake, but I am transfixed by the neon green outline of the mossy tree branches right in front of me by the path.

(Sorry, I can’t account for that turquoise flash in the tree trunk.)

Finally, just as we’re about to head indoors to warm up, proof that gold can be just as punchy as red or moss green — especially when all wrapped up in white, for contrast.

We stroke the Larch’s silky needles, and go find ourselves some hot chocolate inside.

Deosil, Around the Pond

30 October 2022 – I have neither pond nor this extraordinary word “deosil” in mind as I pick my way through the Woodland Garden, one of the areas within Vancouver’s VanDusen Botanical Garden.

Instead, I am looking for a very specific image — the visual echo of one of my recent stacked-stone photos in Stanley Park.

This is the photo I have in mind.

There they are, a stone couple stop their rock, looking out across English Bay to the far freighters.

And here I now am in the VanDusen woods, where — yes!– I find what I am seeking….

a red cedar couple atop their knoll, looking out across Livingstone Lake to the Visitor Centre.

Different scale, different material, and a known sculptor, but there’s my visual echo, and I am happy.

I circle the installation before moving on.

It’s one of my favourites: Confidence, 2012, by Michael Dennis. (Among his other works, one I show you frequently: the eponymous Dude, aka Reclining Figure, in Dude Chilling Park.)

I decide to go walk around the Cypress Pond, partly because it’s near-by and mostly because I just plain like it a lot. Quickest way there is back through the Woodland Garden, where nature’s dramatic fall colour contrasts punch me in the eye…

before I emerge onto the path just south of the pond.

If we think of the pond as hat-shaped, its crown to the north…

I’m now at the lower right, eastern edge of the brim.

Purely on whim, I decide to walk clockwise, water to my right, rather than my usual counter-clockwise.

“Widdershins!” I think happily to myself. Such a ridiculously wonderful word and now I can actually use it. “I am walking widdershins….” Oh, um, oops. Which way ’round is that? So, later, I look it up and, thanks to the Waning Moon website for southern-hemisphere “lovers of Earth’s mysteries,” I discover the etymology and definition, not just of widdershins, but of deosil as well.

Deosil! In all my decades of life, I had never heard that word. Now I not only know the word, I am able to tell you that, in choosing to walk with the pond to my right, I am walking deosil, not widdershins. The persistence of language! From their Scottish Gaelic/Middle Irish/Lowland Scottish/Germanic origins, through their centuries of misspellings and re-spellings — they are still with us today, two ancient words to distinguish right-turning from left-turning.

All that book larnin’ comes later. Meanwhile, back here at pond’s edge, I soon forget fancy language, and just start my loop.

There’s the pedestrian bridge to the north, as I set off from the pond’s south-east corner.

I follow that southern edge, and then make a right turn onto a trail cutting north through the woods on the pond’s west side. It offers me more dramatic fall contrast of colours, this time in a Lebanese Cedar.

Talk about colour-blocking! I walk close…

and then really close…

and finally back off, back to my trail.

Nobody is sitting on the little bench just south of the bridge, not in today’s chill, and no turtles are sunning themselves on the rocks either.

About to step onto the bridge, I pause to enjoy the reverse view, west to east, and the way drooping tree branches frame the view (Sweet Gum on the left, Bald Cypress on the right).

Droplets from the morning showers still glisten in the Cypress needles, and a Red Maple beckons from the far side.

Off the bridge now, into the Eastern North America woods to the east of the pond, with more bright blaze from some Red Maples.

Completing my deosil loop, I’m back where I began. I give the pond one last glance…

and head indoors.

I’ll approach the cafĂ© either deosil or widdershins, and who cares? Either way, there will be a latte at the end of the loop.


Light

2 November 2021 – Northern hemisphere, somewhat northern latitude in that hemisphere, and the late fall theme is darkness.

Shorter days. Darker days, too, with seasonal rain and low-hanging clouds.

And then… and then a couple of days of dazzling light. Sunshine and breeze and exploding colour and skies to infinity.

I’m up in the VanDusen Botanical Garden, on the edge of the Cypress Pond, and I am punch-drunk with it all.

Even the greens pulse with energy.

And, all around, those Bald Cypress doing what they do in fall — prove they are conifers, yes, but deciduous as well. Their needles blaze rust, and will soon be shed.

Up the zig-zag footbridge that floats pedestrians over one side of the Pond, and a view from the far end worthy of an impressionist painting. Perfectly anchored with that one dot of distant scarlet, a Sourwood Tree.

Now circling back down the other side of the Pond, promising myself a closer look at that Sourwood, but stopping half way. Stunned yet again at the buzz of colour and texture all around, the Pond and its little footbridge just visible, down below.

With an Alberta-blue sky overhead! (Ever since my Calgary days, I’ve called any intensely blue sky, “Alberta blue.”)

I’d never heard of the Sourwood Tree before. Not very big, and I bet most of the year entirely unremarkable. But, this short moment in fall… this is its moment. I sight through its leaves, a last look at the Pond in that tangle beyond.

And then it’s just a short woodland trail to Livingstone Lake.

Where everything glitters silver-white.

I circle the Lake, brush past shining plumes as I follow a path that will lead me back down to the Visitor Centre…

and, still be-dazzled, out to city streets.

Green Peace

17 June 2021 – I’m at the entrance to the VanDusen Botanical Garden, and I suddenly decide that, this visit, I shall focus on the colour green.

This is why.

All these themes & variations of green, and I’m not yet even into the grounds.

So, green it will be — no labels, no ID, no scrupulous effort at learned info. Just shades, shapes, textures & moods of green.

With, oh all right, a dash of cinnamon.

Colour!

There’s the rich British-racing-green of those ferns, but there’s also citrus-green …

and ghost-silver-green.

There’s growing-tip green…

and sun-dappled green.

Then there’s all the ways a green can dance with the light.

Matte vs high-gloss, for example.

Or, textures! From feathery-droopy…

to spikey-erect.

You only need two ferns for a whole world of contrasts …

but if you really want to see what’s possible, settle down in the Garden’s Fern Dell and look around.

Then there’s green-in-the-pond…

and green-across-the-pond.

And of course — but of course — there is also copy-cat green.

Because, why should nature have all the fun?

Green on a bench…

and later, viewed from the patio, latte to hand, just beyond nature’s own green hedge …

the green apex of a garden umbrella.

And a crow.

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.

  • 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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