Tag Archives: beach

First glimpses of winter

November’s end has brought a smack of winter weather and it’s that time of year when I usually mis-gauge the weather and leave the house dressed inappropriately. It’s raining. It’s really raining. It’s windy. It’s dry and cold, but the ground is wet. We’ll take the bus. The bike. There’s a cold front. The sun is out. How other people seem so comfortable these is beyond me even after living three winters here.

I get it right sometimes, but more often than not that’s because I’m carrying a pile of hats and mittens and extra socks and a different coat, which, if you’re doing much on-foot traveling, is a pain. It’s usually when I’m getting ready for a day like this when I miss the ‘Floridian lifestyle’ – not so much because of the cold, but because things are easier when the only pair of shoes you need are plastic flip flops and a hoodie is your go-to coat.

But to the diligent goes the reward I suppose, and the rewards of winter are already peaking out from behind grey clouds. I’ll be making some trips back upstairs to switch jackets for a while and I’ll probably step in at least one puddle in shoes that I forgot to waterproof spray, but at least I’ll be greeted with beautiful views.

Yesterday, we hung out at Acadia Beach for a while looking at winter’s visiting ducks and spotted some of the first snow on nearby mountains. The thin winter clouds are also here now and make for some really beautiful skyscapes.

A big white monster.

A big white monster on the Sunshine Coast.

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The view from a different kind of beach paradise.

And winter has a way of making us appreciate things familiar in a new way. Take the Bloedel Conservatory where we went for the first time in the dark the other day. You know, because it’s dark at 4:15 now. Good thing we have a secret tropical garden right here in town that happens to look like an alien ship in the right kind of fog.

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Bloedel looking almost alien in a winter sky.

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Responsibility, and an Otter.

A couple of weeks ago in a conversation with my sister, she told me that she and a friend of ours had been talking about me living in a big city. The friend asked how I was getting along. My sister’s answer wasn’t a yes or no – she told our friend that, since moving to Vancouver, I’ve developed a ridiculous number of hobbies. No way, I said. But then I counted.

Knitting, painting, exercise (yes, it counts), wool spinning, blog writing, other kinds of writing, cooking regularly (yes, I think this counts too), photography, Twitter, amateur film historian research, meditation, jewelry making, dedicated reggae music fan, cake eating, and altering my own clothes. That’s fifteen new hobbies. Oh wait, I forgot volunteer work. So sixteen, which is a little ridiculous.

After admitting she had a point, I though about why I’ve become so active given that I think my actual real favorite thing to do is drink coffee, read and then take a nap. I’ve landed on the idea that I think it comes down to responsibility.

What I mean by that is, I’m afraid I’m responsible only to myself. I don’t have any kids and I’m something like four thousand miles from family or friends who’ve been around long enough to have earned the right to be disappointed in me if I screw up. You know, the people with the highest standards. Maybe I got it from them and have carried it here, but somehow I’ve wound up being pretty strict.

This has turned into one of those thoughts that keeps slithering its way back into my head – when I leave this place, if  we move away, I’ll have to report out. ‘What have you done?’  ‘What have you to show for this?’ myself will ask.

As a thirty year old person, this is supposed to be a regular part of my day, right? Pick up some mushrooms for dinner, run by the bank on the way to work, contemplate the meaning of existence, fold the laundry. Or, wait. Is that what your twenties were for? Ever since that conversation with my sister, I’ve been upset by the triteness and complication of what I assumed would be my explanation of my time here. Last night, while I stood holding a net  in a little cage built around a plastic tank with a blue tarp to keep out the rain, I think I found a simple answer – future me can say, ‘When I lived in Vancouver, I helped take care of a sea otter that someone shot’.

I don’t know how much you know about sea otters, so I’ll spare the biology lesson in favor of summary: they are furry, they float, they eat shelled things, and they are obsessed with grooming hair that, not so long ago, was coveted enough that people killed nearly all of them. Apparently, if you too like to eat shelled things, you might consider them a pest. Somebody near Tofino did and, for reasons I don’t understand, shot him which  blinded him, tore up his  flipper, and left him unable to feed himself.  He’s still got some shrapnel (is that the right word? I don’t know a lot about guns, obviously) in his head.

You can read about Walter, or Wally, here on the Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue site. These are the people you call when you’re out on the beach and you see an emaciated sea otter with bloody flippers. It’s where, in my apparently frenzied onslaught of acquiring new hobbies, I started volunteering. Over the summer, I grind up fish for baby seals to eat, clean buckets of salmon oil, scrub dog kennels turned seal carriers. On a couple of chilly November nights, I help watch over a blind and underweight sea otter and net the shells and shrimp he drops because he can’t see them.

While I didn’t expect it, this kind of thing fills me with a nerdy sense of purpose that I normally try to minimize. The kind of person who talks about that one good thing they did one time is not the sort of person I intend to sound like. I didn’t plan on a once-a-week volunteer gig becoming something major. I did it because I was bored and afraid that my whole adventure might coming to nothing.

I’m sure the person who hurt the otter didn’t plan that out either. I’d bet it was a joke, or perhaps something that happened faster than you can think through. Maybe the person was angry, or pressured by something else. Or maybe that person is terrible. If we go with my fear that the only responsibility we hold is to ourselves, I guess none of that matters at all.

So, when I come home from watching the otter, I knit. A lot. And I spend loads of time looking at foodgawker. I’m probably going to watch five movies this week. If I make it to the art supply store, I’ll get a couple of canvases and paint pictures of birds while I watch movies. Maybe it’s all a coping mechanism, like my sister thought (in kindness, mind you – she and I both are small town girls and getting lost in a world like this is easy).

But from now on, if I get to feeling silly for entertaining myself here, I’m going to remember that sea otter and the people who are spending thousands of hours and dollars (turns out he likes to eat expensive shellfish) to help a furry critter that won’t get to see again and probably won’t return to a wild ocean. Perhaps if I help out I’ll have something to show for Vancouver – I’ll have taken a little responsibility back from someone who I think showed very little of their own. Maybe this makes it so that I’ll get to be responsible for more than just me.

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Summer, according to my phone.

Recently, I was asked what thing about people bothered me the most – as in, did I have an irrational fear of the elderly or an instant dislike of people who perpetually told you the gritty details of their health problems. It was one of those things that you can only talk about with close friends, but we all have ‘peves’ with each other and it makes for pretty good fun to identify the minimally terrible and often hilarious things about your friends that you so enjoy.

One of the things we didn’t bring up was over-use of cell phones that seems to have become socially acceptable. It’s a practice of mine that I don’t use my phone when I’m talking to, sitting with, or generally in the same area as someone I know. Right next to hand written letters, I think people sharing time with each other is one of the greatest things about friendship and family. These days, so many conversations between two or more humans is perpetually stopped or distracted by looks into pockets or screen-based chats. Hopefully this is a trend that will die out as we realize how rude we are being to each other. Not trying to sound like a bossy old lady, but one can only hope.

In the meantime, I must admit that I remain undecided about the addition of phone cameras into our lives. While I’m certainly no professional, I have appreciated photography since I was given access to my dad’s old 35mm Cannon with detachable lenses when I was eight or maybe twelve. Seeing the working mechanisms of a little dark place that made printed copies of things that otherwise exist only in memory made me want to take pictures, study photographer’s styles and techniques, and generally appreciate thoughtful and interesting documentation of the world.

Perhaps mistakenly, I often don’t carry a camera these days because I can rely on my phone to take snapshots. This brings me back round to the over-use issue and, like I said, I actually don’t know where I stand on this. Yesterday, I purposefully didn’t bring a camera or my phone to the release of a hand full of Harbor Seals that I had helped care for as a volunteer at the Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Center. This was the annual volunteer-led release where the people who have helped feed and clean and grow and heal get to carry cages down to the water and release now-healthy seals. The beach is usually cluttered with friends and family and yesterday was no exception. The dry beach where we were was pretty shallow and everyone was standing as close as they could almost piled on top of each other. Amidst the crowded bodies, all arm were up and out; everyone was ready with their phone cameras.

What I’m afraid of is that this sort of photography removes us from the moments we are experiencing. There’s no zoom on those things, after all, so we must push our way to the front and sometimes get so close that we loose the perspective of a regular camera man – one where you take the whole scene into account, where the background matters too.

On the way home, I looked though the things I had photographed this summer and found another layer to the argument – I had not remembered several of the events documented with a quick snap, or should I say finger press, of the camera phone. For this, spy-camera-sized and instantly obtainable photo ability, I guess I’ll have to say I’m glad. But I still think we should put phones down more often and really look around, listen to each other, and try to remember the events of our lives. Here are a few that, thanks to having the phone,  I’ll remember from this summer.

My first 'swim' in BC waters. Can you believe it took so long?

My first ‘swim’ in BC waters. Can you believe it took so long?

Weird things downtown.

Weird things downtown.

That afternoon we went to a neat forest on the riverside with some good friends.

That afternoon we went to a neat forest on the riverside with some good friends.

Neon.

Neon.

Wine and sunshine.

Wine and sunshine.

Cute street scenes.

Cute street scenes.

Tomatoes!

Tomatoes!

Jorts!

Jorts!

A day at the pool in Stanley Park.

A day at the pool in Stanley Park.

Visits to a muddy border.

Visits to a muddy border.

A picnic at Green College.

A picnic at Green College.

A paperweight at the Vancouver archives embellished with the humor of an antiquarian.

A paperweight at the Vancouver archives embellished with the humor of an antiquarian.

Finding this map of what Coal Harbor was going to look like once.

Finding this map of what Coal Harbor was going to look like once.

The plan I made for my Green Streets garden.

The plan I made for my Green Streets garden.

The walkway into the Anthropology museum.

Appreciating the walkway into the Anthropology museum.

Finding a view of the fireworks form our bedroom window.

Finding a view of the fireworks form our bedroom window.

Meeting this guy.

Meeting this guy.

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The Woods Down Another South – dispatches from Kerrisdale

Vancouver is a funny place in that a five mile difference in your address can feel like another city all together. From here, the south end of the city, we’re halfway to the southern parks we like, but don’t visit as often. The traffic or the early sunsets of winter, which keep us closer to home most times, have temporarily released their hinderance, so we’ve lately been walking in Pacific Spirit, romping in the low tide at Iona Island, and visiting the bottom end of the Fraser.

Pacific Spirit feel like a silent sister across the water to Stanley Park, which I know much better. It’s bigger, lots bigger, so people seem more spread out. The woods have a left-alone feeling and it’s so quiet. The only creatures I’ve seen so far have been slugs taking advantage of the wetter days. There’s a pleasant lack of tourist attractions making the people traffic minimal – we’ve bumped into  the occasional guys on bikes or joggers, but the walking trails are pretty empty.

There was a nice little moment the other day when we came across a guy walking a big black dog. We were walking south and they were both standing for a long time in a path that cut across and out to the west. They didn’t really move as long as it took us to see them from before the crossing, navigate the fencing to keep bikes out, and cross back into the deeper forest on the other side. The sun was coming down through the hole in the trees the path. I don’t know if was the beauty of the orange blaze  of sunset or something else all together, but the way they were both stopped in contemplation, no cell phones, no companion to speak to, made a lovely little scene.

Iona I have visited many times both to look for birds or just to be in a different landscape for a while. A big, flat place, the island has a long beach at low tide and is free of forest for the most part. The muddy flats look almost alien compared to the rocky beaches I’ve come to know. There are also neat little rolling meadows covered in grasses and moss. Interesting ducks or reed-dwelling birds can be found on the lakes and the little alder (I think) thicket at the back end of the park has a feeling like little fairies could be living under the leaves and branches.

The other neat thing nearby is the bottom end of the Fraser River. Over the summer we visited it further north and east, so it’s neat to see where the water ends up. There’s a little park that follows it along the opposite shore from Iona with an old grey-wood board walk and lots of people brining playful dogs down to the beach. While the criss-crossing trails of the other parks in town are lovely, it’s nice here because there’s only the one place to walk along the river. The other evening, we watched the tide pulling out long grasses from the shallow places under the walkway and the sun going down over the water.

We’re also close to VanDussen and we caught the rare plant sale there last week. It was a neat little scene, but I knew precious little about what I was looking at. I did recognize some tropical plants and also the native Gary Oak, but the flats of tiny-leafed berries and succulents were like little black cups of  mystery. I’ve been reading on one seller’s site and hope to better understand the beauty of these specimens by next year’s sale. By then, we’ll be back home in the West End, so will have to make more of a trek. Somethings, it seems from our short stay in a different kind of south, are worth the journey.

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An Inward Season

Yesterday it took a literally astronomical event to get me out of the house. The Perseid meteor shower to be exact. For anything less, I simply couldn’t be bothered. Sunshine, warm weather, Saturday on the beach? Keep it. I am tired. A quick trip to a dark place I managed, but when I looked up last night I was more impressed by the thin cloud spread over our skies than by the few streaks of color bright enough to cut through. Even August is taking a break of summer it seems. I think it’s time to acknowledge that I am too.

Is it a case of being spread too thin? Have I fallen into the terribly predictable and cheap habit of saying I don’t have time for the things I like? Am I simply too hot and too surrounded by excited, happy people running around getting tans and having loud get-togethers in public places? Or is it that this is the time of year I have decided to rest all my resentment of the seasons upon?

In the place where I’m from, the weather doesn’t change that much through the year. Neither does the length of the lighted day. Sure it’s colder in February than in June, but you can still swim in some Februarys. Here, the seasons are strong. They pull people’s personalities this way or that. Try and find a sad looking person on the streets out there and you’ll be looking until the rain boots get taken out of the closet in October. But theirs is not a marathoner’s strength. The seasons here are sprinters.

Summer, with its 4 am bird call alarms and sunsets that stretch into the double digits of evening’s clock, feels like it’s over before we had time to adjust. Already the paths outsides are littered with  little dried up carcasses leaves that were new only last month. June’s broods of baby animals have broken out and can be seen lumbering around alone in the dark. Each morning feels measurably darker. On a walk at night, you already feel the cold sensation on your arms that makes you reach for a trusty sweater. Late August already approaches.

In this seemingly inward-facing season, perhaps these are the clues I’ve been missing; these are the turns of each day that I have been ignoring. Are the changes slipping past me upsetting my biology? Should I be storing some kind of energy for what I should know is coming? Soup recipes? Warm blankets? Puzzles and other things to do in the dark at 4 pm?

As I write, I hear thunder in the clouds outside. We will have showers today for only the second time since the end of June. Water will start to sweep the dried up leaves down towards the culverts and crevices. Summer isn’t over yet, but I can count on the day when the rain will return and remain for weeks. The wind will pull the petals from the flowers and we will bring our umbrellas. I will not get to see the Perseid this year as we will swing away from this place in the universe before the sky here clears. What I am I to do then besides adapt, adapt, adapt? Today I have a hope that I can begin from this place of acknowledging my ignorance since, after all, it’s this place from which I am so often able to find direction. Even under a clouded sky.

 

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North, South, West, West.

I don’t think I’ll ever get too old for a road trip. There’s something that just feels American (or, as I’m learning, North American) about renting a car, buying a map, bringing a camera and hauling yourself and the best possible company along some roads you’ve never been down.

Some of the roads I just traveled with my sister I will probably never visit again. Today, the day she packed up and flew to her home back in Florida, this feels a bit tragic. That one thing we saw just doesn’t look as cool as it was in the photo. What was the name of that place we stopped for ice cream? Did we turn there, or here after that one city? Why do we wish so much to try and preserve these adventures in the first place? When will we get to do this again?

Looking through photos this afternoon, I want only to preserve the idea of the West. We drove through about 1,400 miles of it and spent the better part hugging the coastal roads of the Pacific. From that, what’s sticking with me are the images of the coast. The edge of the world. The fault line from Monterey, CA to Tofino, BC. The Pacific is lovely and big and cold and beautiful. One guy on a boat we rode on called it “majestic.” I’m hopeful my memories (and possibly the snapshots) can continue to be called that so as well.

Here are some of my favorite views of the sea from our trip.

Highway 1 in Big Sur

Highway 1 in Big Sur

Water in the air, water in the sea.

Water in the air, water in the sea.

Purple mountains of another sort.

Purple mountains of another sort.

A giant's reflection.

A giant’s reflection.

View from the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

View from the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

For a moment this one felt a lot like home.

For a moment this one felt a lot like home.

A sea of glass.

A sea of glass.

At dusk.

At dusk.

The lazy lives of Harbor Seals.

The lazy lives of Harbor Seals.

Best animal ever?

Best animal ever?

Pinky the Humpback whale near Ucluelet.

Pinky the Humpback whale near Ucluelet.

Calm water surrounding rocky cliffs and a grey sunset.

Calm water surrounding rocky cliffs and a grey sunset.

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The Desert. California. Oregon. A Train. My Sister.

A recent quiet around this place is due entirely to the most awesome thing that will probably happen all year: my sister is here! After a nutty trip up that started with me meeting her in the desert and picking up a rented Honda Civic, we drove up the coast of California and landed on a train ride in from Portland. She is staying here for a while in a land where it’s still forty degrees so we’ve put away our flip flops once again. For a brief moment, we wore tee shirts and our toes were free to feel the sun. Back in Vancouver, we are making the most of snowy mountains and the sunny days that are here this week.

More to come from here, but I thought I’d share a few photos from our drive. California is as beautiful as people say. The rocky coasts and hugeness of the landscape took us both by surprise mostly because we didn’t think much on what to expect beforehand. The wine is better than we thought (both of us pretty dedicated to all things French in that area). The oranges and the tacos, the lovely people and the incredible wildlife left us wanting to return soon.

Holy Sheep!

Holy Sheep!

Farm roads

Farm roads in the Central Valley. 

Like little sun globes

Like little sun globes. 

We had a beautiful day here. Snow still on the ground at the Sequoia groves and the place almost entirely to ourselves.

We had a beautiful day here. Snow still on the ground at the Sequoia groves and the place almost entirely to ourselves.

Sunny and warm at the bottom, snowy majesty at the top.

Sunny and warm at the bottom, snowy majesty at the top.

Nothing so pretty as wildflowers at the beach.

Nothing so pretty as wildflowers at the beach.

One of several natural bridges we stumbled upon. This one is inside Big Sur.

One of several natural bridges we stumbled upon. This one is inside Big Sur.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium had an amazing Jellyfish exhibit including this little spotted guy.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium had an amazing Jellyfish exhibit including this little spotted guy.

If you ever can't find me you should check to see if I'm here.

If you ever can’t find me you should check to see if I’m here.

Why is California so pretty? In part, stunning blue seas and the beauty of hills colored in color.

Why is California so pretty? In part, stunning blue seas and the beauty of hills colored in color.

Here we saw Elephant Seal pups and big males both waiting for the right time to head to the ocean.

Here we saw Elephant Seal pups and big males both waiting for the right time to head to the ocean.

Golden Gate as viewed from the Red and White tour boat.

Golden Gate as viewed from the Red and White tour boat.

Happy cows do live in California.

Happy cows do live in California.

Wine country.

Wine country.

Sea Glass Beach at Ft. Bragg, CA.

Sea Glass Beach at Ft. Bragg, CA.

Giants in the Redwood forest.

Giants in the Redwood forest.

Portland, my dear, I hope to see you again soon.

Portland, my dear, I hope to see you again soon.

First real train ride ever was a success.

First real train ride ever was a success.

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Snowy River

February has opened with hectic switching between warm sun, bleak rain, cold air and thick fog. Last week we rode up to Squamish to try and take advantage of one of the sunny days but were met with a thick blanket cloud that set over most of Howe Sound like some kind of magic carpet linked to the water. The air gets cold pretty quickly after heading north. The elevation change seems slight from the car, but when we turned up the valley to visit one of our favorite spots, Anderson Beach, the difference was clear.

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Snow on the banks at Anderson Beach. Judging by how far my leg fell in (wrong shoes entirely) it must have been at least two-feet thick in some places.

The last time we were here it was warm and we sat next to the river examining and trying to stack pebbles and rocks rounded down by the water. The little island just in front of this park access makes for interesting patterns in water currents. We’ve seen salmon coming up to spawn here and decided it would be a great place to camp once we have our bear-aware knowledge and gear ready. On this visit we barely made it to the river’s edge on account of deep snow and were surprised to find a strange irony residue left on an almost empty river bed. The naked trees lining the river’s edge created a ghostly feeling heightened by trying to step into the footprints of the last person who passed here before us. Also we discovered the tracks of a large and mysterious beast.

Look at the size of that hoof!

Look at the size of that hoof!

Being Florida kids, at first we tried to justify there being abnormally massive deer in the area, but we later read that there had been a heard of elk released here not too long ago that are known for cruising around this area. Good luck to them this winter. Their feet are much better than mine at navigating this kind of landscape.

There’s a neat look at a glacier (the name of which I don’t know) on the ride down the valley. It’s majestic and arresting even in a whitened world. We got nice views of it just as the sun settled behind the mountain. Something like Rembrandt lighting shone from behind the snow and cast a lovely little glowing haze (unfortunately that effect doesn’t show up so well in drive-by photos).

Glacier.

The majestic peak of a sunlight glacier. 

As much as I try to pretend otherwise, it is still winter and the sun went down behind the mountains on us quickly. REluctantly we headed back out through the maze of mossy trees and banked snow and then through the thick forest back to the highway. A sometimes-forgotten element of beauty here, the drive home along Howe Sound was beautiful bathed in a winter sunset. The changing light reflected on the water, some still hidden by fog, and the islands’ moving shadows made for stunning glimpses of rocky coasts and a winter-leaning sun.

Sunset over the Sound.

Sunset over the Sound.

 

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beach comb

West End living is best cause there’s a beach just down the block and walks there keep me feeling close to home. I actually live closer to the water now than I ever did in Florida so I’ve gotten to be pretty good friends with the little gray bay we’ve got here. The sand is gritty and dark and brown. The wind is usually cold and not once in two years have I been in the water barefooted. There is a sense of beauty to the gray and, especially on a winter’s day, the calmness of the water is striking next to the mountains in the background and the sleepy trees.

In travels to nearby and less populated places, I’ve been impressed by the sea creatures here… anemones, sea stars with arms numbering in the double digits, giant oysters, reddish purple crabs… but here downtown it’s mostly just pieces of kelp and the apparently quite hardy, little slate-colored mussels. I guess that’s the best you can get for a historically polluted part of the sea (again, no swimming for me, kids).

What we do have is a littering of sea glass which keeps finding its way into my pockets. I sat down last year to take some images of the collection I’ve gathered and just stumbled on them tonight. Here’s a few favorites.

Image

Image

Image

Image

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