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.

Winter Growth

5 December 2019 – “Winter growth” is not quite the oxymoron it sounds, even if some things — daylight hours, for example — definitely contract in this season. Some other things increase.

Cats grow more fur.

And Vancouver trees grow more moss.

Everywhere you see trees packing on the moss, including downtown streets like this one.

Porch Guy is eyeing me, and I spend a nano-second or two wondering if he would be reassured or insulted to learn I am taking a picture of the tree, not him…

Who cares, back to the moss. Moss spreading down tree trunks right to the curb-side ground …

fattening branches to shaggy splendour …

creating mossblots …

snuggling down with other moss-family relations and a lichen or two …

and popping up in emerald bubbles against streaky bark.

The scene is just as luxuriant, and a lot more lyrical, out at the VanDusen Botanical Garden. (It also lets me look like I know what I’m talking about, since most trees are tagged.)

Red Maples compensate with moss for their loss of leaves …

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and a Black Elder flashes green against the dramatic backdrop of rusty orange across the Garden’s Cypress Pond.

Not surprisingly, there are a lot of Bald Cypress trees in the vicinity, and all that vivid orange is their needlework. They’re no slouch in the moss department either, whether on solid land or growing in the water …

I mean, look closer — even their knobby knees are covered in moss!

In this temperate rainforest climate, winter moss doesn’t just leap all over the trees, it will happily grow on pretty well any wooden surface that presents itself.

Including the shingled rooftop of this temporary Festival of Lights kiosk, in stark contrast to the undulating lines of the Visitor Centre’s permanent rooftop just behind & above.

 

A Lake & a Latte

1 May 2019 – Assorted obligations at the VanDusen Botanical Garden today, and, with all those obligations duly met, it was time for play.

Time to stand with the Michael Dennis Confidence couple, soaring figures of salvaged red cedar, and with them admire the fountain’s dance in Livingstone Lake …

Time, also, to sit for a while on that lakeside bench, listening to the water, the ducks, the geese, the occasional chickadee, scraps of visitor conversation …

and, finally,

Time for a latte inside.

My sentiments exactly.

We Make Magic

2 December 2018 – In the very smallest of ways, I have helped make magic.

You take that clear plastic water bottle, and you snip the sides into fringes, and you angle-cut each fringe tip, and you run each fringe backward against the blade of your scissors to make it curl, and

And then you plop it into the waiting barrel, and move on to the next bottle. You are just one member of that shift of volunteers, one little part of an extremely congenial assembly line. Later on, others will insert the light bulbs that turn these water bottles into “flowers.”

This November, I was one of the 250-plus volunteers who helped test lights, shape light receptacles, and generally do the prep for the 34th Festival of Lights, an annual Vancouver event run by the Parks Department at the VanDusen  Botanical Garden. Parks employees then draped all those lights over trees, shrubs, walkways and light standards, across 15 acres of the Garden grounds.

The Festival opened yesterday. The day before that was the dress rehearsal — a preview open to everyone who had helped make it possible.

Preview night, Frances & I are there! (She did many more volunteer shifts than I, but we are equally excited to see the results.)

We see familiar sculptures (here, Michael Dennis’ Confidence) in a new context …

and Livingstone Lake sparkling with more than its own fountains …

and brilliant new end-points for long views down the lake …

and lanterns dancing overhead.

The Preview is like a gigantic family gathering. We all did something-or-other, and everybody looks for signs of their own contribution. “The star at the top of that tree?” cries one young Parks employee to her friends, as she points to an enormously tall conifer. “I was up in the bucket for that one. I placed that star.”

My turn to get all excited when we see the first “flower garden.”

I am almost immediately diverted to the Next Amazing Thing. Namely, two young women who visited a dollar store somewhere, and festooned themselves with light-bulb necklaces.

We take their picture for them; they offer to take ours. We are already wearing Make A Wish Foundation star necklaces, but our new friends offer us extra props, also courtesy of the dollar store.

I wave a holly-trimmed top hat over my head, Frances grabs an elf hat — plus a couple of arrows bearing editorial comments. (She is therefore fully responsible for the resulting character analysis.)

If you think all those competing lights do odd things to the colour of our faces, please observe this heron.

 

This is not a frosted glass etching of a heron. This is a real, live, fishing-for-dinner heron, focused on his own needs in that creek and oblivious to the hullabaloo.

We wander and wander, finally turn back, walking down one side of the R. Roy Forster Cypress Pond. In its Festival illumination, the pond’s walkway seems to hang suspended, equally untethered from sky and water.

Final magic: restorative hot drinks in the café. As usual, its mirror bears a slogan in praise of coffee. This, too, dances with the lights, inside and out.

I’ll almost certainly be back later this month, enjoying it all over again with family. Want to visit it yourself? Book online, to save money and time as well.

Citrus Rising

28 September 2018 – And now the deciduous trees start to show their true colours — the colours hidden by summer’s green, only to shine out at us in fall when all that chlorophyll breaks down.

Though red does turn up out here (contrary to my snotty eastern-Canadian assumptions), lemony yellow is dominant.

It’s there year-round in arbutus bark but, this time of year, also sets the theme for a visit to the VanDusen Botanical Garden.

The turtles still bask, but now the greenery in and around Livingstone Lake is tinged with yellow. and the lily pads have lost their flowers.

It’s the same over on the R. Roy Forster Cypress Pond …

and — despite one shot of red  — in the colours on, around and reflected in the Pond’s surface.

Grasses glow by Heron Lake …

and the leaves of a shrub on a nearby trail are edged with gold.

Most of the yellow I see is a sign of fall decay, yet in places it instead brings us fresh growth. These Yellow Waxbells are just now bursting into bloom.

Yellowing lily pads are background to the fountain on Heron Lake, whose bright waters throw a heron, lower right, into dark silhouette.

His iconic pose is caught in the cut-out design on the back of every bench in the Visitor Centre forecourt.

Afternoon sunshine streams through. More gold.

Poppp!

28 August 2018 – It’s a grey day, but grey with rain not wildfire smoke, so we are all relieved and grateful.

And, once again, on this latest visit to the VanDusen Botanical Garden, I am reminded how colours really pop against a luminous grey background.

The cypress knees so orange!

And the railing moss so green!

And the blue spruce so blue!

And the white birch so white!

And the Great Blue Heron so … well, all right, not exactly blue, but shimmering & regal as he poses in his very own lake (Heron Lake, VanDusen Botanical Garden), so I’m excited anyway.

And the Barred Owl so brightly barred! (Never mind excited, now I am awed. I drop my eyes & step back one submissive pace, as he stares at me.)

And the Sorry sign so Canadian!

I walk to the end anyway, as do a couple of bouncy young Millennials. We contemplate the entangled greenery and the pond bright with lily pads, down there at the end of the path.

Ms Millennial turns to her boyfriend. “Well,” she says, “it’s a very nice 100 metres.”

 

Benched

10 August 2018 – How much civility is added to our lives by the strategic placement of public benches! They allow us to sit, to consider, to rest, to be at ease in public space, perhaps to share that space with others, or simply to enjoy the present moment — or a succession of present moments, if we are patient enough to allow them to unfold for us, in their own time and way.

I am particularly enamoured of benches at the VanDusen Botanical Garden. They exist in great variety, and in magic settings.

These Michael Dennis red cedar figures (Confidence, 2012) need no bench as they gaze upon Livingstone Lake, but we humans appreciate the one down there in the shade at water’s edge.

It is a classic bench shape ..

as simple and timeless as the lines of a canoe.

I sit there, mentally floating with the water lilies on the lake.

Then I sharpen focus, both mind and eyes, my attention snagged by movement in the lake. One lily pad, just one, is jigging back & forth.

I watch. I wait.

And I am rewarded by the sight of a tiny black triangular snout popping up on the lily pad’s far side. A turtle is busy doing turtle things, and I would have missed it but for my willingness to just … sit there.

Many benches have plaques, most of them just a commemorative name. I am so grateful to discover this one, for it perfectly captures what I am doing, what benches offer us if we come to them on their own quiet terms.

The plaque is attached to this bench beside the R. Roy Forster Cypress Pond — another classic bench shape

From here I often rest my eyes on knobby cypress knees all around the Pond and, one memorable day, listen to a young woman chant mantras at the far end of the floating boardwalk, just out of sight.

Very plain, these flat benches, but they often have ornamentation.

An impromptu walking stick, for example …

or a whole smother-load of plant life.

Another classic bench shape, with arms-and-back, this time also with guy-and-cellphone, up by the Scottish Shelter and Heather Garden.

Same bench shape elsewhere, but minus the guy — and minus a few back slats as well.

All the different ways, to make a bench part of your meandering exploration of this botanical garden.

Walk quietly into the Meditation Garden, rest on a stone bench.

 

Walk the narrow wood-chip Azalea Trail, sit a moment tip-tilted on the world’s most rustic bench …

and, farther down the Trail, sit a more stable moment on the world’s second-most-rustic bench.

Say good-bye to rustic.

Loop to the north-eastern side of Heron Lake, cross the open lawn between the Giant Redwoods and the South African Garden, do a double-take, suddenly realize that the elegant green ellipse down by the water is not a companion sculpture to the David Marshall work in the background …

it is a bench.

That is my discovery this very day, after a year-plus of visiting the VanDusen. So I sit there, and I laugh at myself and all the discoveries we can make as we go through a day. What fun this is!

I think a moment about what I have seen and heard, just by sitting quietly on one or another of their benches — ducks carving a slalom curve through thick lily pads in Livingstone Lake; hummingbirds darting back & forth among shrubs above the Cypress Pond; a heron suddenly landing on (where else?) Heron Lake; chickadees calling; squirrels scolding; ducklings plonking along after mum, past my bench & back to the security of the water.

I walk on, read another plaque.

“A place to sit in the garden.”

Yes. Exactly.

 

 

Eye-Smack

5 August 2018 – I have a plan. (1) Quote “better than a smack in the eye with a wet kipper”; (2) thank Monty Python’s Fish Dance for this immortal line; and (3) segue very niftily to being smacked in the eye with colour.

Then I discover that Fish Dance doesn’t include this line, and that there are a zillion variations on the line, with attributions as wide-ranging as Aussie slang, Uncle Anatole in the Tintin series, and even Dr. Cottard in the 1908 work Du côté de chez Swann by Marcel Proust.

Good grief. Let’s forget all that, and get back to my being smacked in the eye with colour.

Which is what happens during a week of blazing, pulsing sunshine.

Green!

Blue-purple!

Yellow! (bee-flecked with black)

And — just to show nature doesn’t have all the fun — look what happens when you leave the VanDusen Botanical Garden and take the Canada Line downtown to Yaletown-Roundhouse Station.

Underbrella!

Welcome to the new public art installation bobbing among the trees in Bill Curtis Square, courtesy of the Yaletown BIA.

Perfectly sensible adults dance around under it, squinting upwards, and giggling.

 

We are in love with it — at least partially because, as someone suggested, all those brollies currently shield us from sunshine rather than pelting rain.

 

Tug

23 May 2018 – I am again at the VanDusen Botanical Garden, one of my favourite places in the city. No, make that: one of my favourite places. Period.

I sit by the Cypress Pond in the Garden, I come back inside to take part in a class, I walk home.

I am entirely happy.

 

Knobby Knees

19 March 2018 – And hairy naked ones too, but I haven’t come to the VanDusen Botanical Garden to admire human knees.

I want these guys.

Whole great marching platoons of cypress knees!

Proof I am indeed circumnavigating (with protracted time-outs on every pond-side bench) the R. Roy Forster Cypress Pond.

The Garden as a whole is very busy, on this warm, sunny weekend day —  bursting with new blossoms, excited children, and keen photographers staggering under their telephoto lenses.

The Pond, tucked away to one side, is a quiet haven. I slide off to join it.

The approach is part of the pleasure.

First, the serene warm presence of the Confidence couple, Michael Dennis’ 2012 creation in Western red cedar …

then silver sunlight glinting off Southern Magnolia leaves (their native habitat, the south-eastern USA, proving what a benign climate I now call home).

I sink onto a first bench, its wooden planks warmed and made redolent by the springtime sun. It gives me a good view of the floating bridge that zigzags its way across the Pond.

I sit there quite a while, happy to let the day come to me, feeling my muscles expand again after their two weeks’ contraction in the Toronto chill. (For all that we are a special animal, we are animal. Our bodies tell us so.)

Then I rise, turn away from the main paved path leading to the bridge, and instead walk a bark-chip path around a far pond edge.

Cypress knees delineate shoreline, neatly encircle the mini-island opposite.

I look away from the Pond, eyes right-not-left, and admire blossoms floating in a bowl of water on the other side of the path. There are several of these bowls, each placed on an upturned log, filled with blossoms currently on offer in nearby shrubs.

What could be simpler? Or prettier?

Eyes pond-side once again, but lazily so,  my mind slightly ahead of my eyes, already anticipating the next bench.

Then a double-take. I freeze. Did I see … ? Was that … ? No, couldn’t be … !

Look again.

Silly me. Of course it’s not real.

Slightly shame-faced, I walk around the far end of the floating bridge and sink onto another bench, giving me a fine view from the far side.

Another month or two, the surface will be thick with water lilies.

Two Days Earlier …

I know. Chronology shot to pieces. And no thematic link at all. (Except that, yes, I am back in Vancouver.)

But you don’t mind, do you.

Barely back in town, greeted with sunshine and double-digit temperatures, I head for favourite places. The VanDusen, above, is one — but so is the Main Street / False Creek area, and that’s where I take myself just a day or so after returning to town.

Where I meet:

Backpack Woman, scampering for safety in the Main & E. 7th parking lot …

and Bookworm Woman, soaking up sunshine and the printed word by False Creek …

and Exercise Man, digging in that paddle as he flashes under the Cambie Street bridge.

Truth is, I’d stopped to admire the flamingoes — or whatever they are — somebody has added to the acrylic stripes on this bridge piling, one element of this art installation showing the 5-metre rise in sea levels that climate change could cause.

And then racer-guy joined the scene.

Very Vancouver.

 

  • 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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