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.



Into the Woods

2 May 2016 – I’m off into the woods with my friend Mary — and when you have 100 acres, as she & Mike do north of Gananoque, you have lots to explore, right there on your own property.

This is Canadian Shield country, with its ancient, massive granite outcroppings, the land scraped to its elemental bones by glaciers.

outcropping of Canadian Shield, near Gananoque

We’re on a big looping walk that will take us eventually up to a road, to a farmhouse for a new supply of eggs, and via road on back home.

That’s eventually. Meanwhile, we enjoy the woods, scramble our way to a high point with sweeping views across the wetlands and the creek meandering its way from South Lake to Gananoque Lake, ultimately to dump its waters into the St. Lawrence River.

Sassy admires the view!

That’s Sassy — officially lives on the farm next door, but always up for a walk.

The glory of early spring in Canadian woods is the wildflowers. Glorious for their beauty, also for their ephemerality — here today, gone tomorrow, one display after another, all pell-mell for their brief moment in the sun before the tree canopy leafs out.

The cool spring has put everything a bit behind schedule. Trilliums are just beginning to unfurl.

White trillium buds

Some, though, are fully out.

Trillium grandflora

That’s the white trillium, Trillium grandiflorum, the provincial flower here in Ontario.

Soon, to my delight, we begin to see red trilliums as well, the Trillium erectum. They are typically less plentiful than the white, which — especially when happy on south-facing slopes — carpet the woodland floor.

red & white trilliums

Other treats as well.

Look! Dutchman’s Breeches! (Dicentra cucullaria)

Dutchman's Breeches

A member of the bleeding heart family, just look at those leaves, and nicknamed for its twin-tipped flowers, quite like upside-down trousers, pegged out on a laundry line to dry.

And look again!

Dogtooth violet, I say promptly. Then I begin to doubt myself. Ummm. Trout lily, perhaps?

Trout lily, aka Dogtooth violet

Later, thumbing a guidebook, I learn I am right. Both times. Two common names for Erythronium americanum. Hurray for me. (Not being at all sure of these things, I enjoy any moments of accuracy that happen to come my way.)

We reach a bit of fencing, the dividing line between this property and that of a neighbour.

Sassy tummy-wiggles through a convenient gap in the fence. We use legs, not tummies, and instead climb over the stile.

Mary climbs the stile

A distinctly boggy bit next, rare & welcome (even if personally inconvenient) in this unusually dry, as well as cool, spring. Sassy splashes through; we explore this way, then double back that way, and find a sufficiently narrow stretch to hop across.

Someone has carefully laid branches across the rivulet next to where we hop, creating a mini-version of the pioneer-era “corduroy road” — logs laid perpendicular to the road’s direction in swampy areas, and named for the fabric, with its distinctive ridges.

a corduroy road (mini-mini)

I am grateful not to be in a buggy, jolting over long stretches of corduroy road.

Instead, we climb on up a path; Sassy and a neighbouring dog shout a few half-hearted (and safely long-distance) insults at each other; we wave at a couple of young men splitting wood in a clearing — and we end up on the road.

Where we buy the eggs, and finally walk on home.




    "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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