Tag Archives: British Columbia

Arts and Sciences

Last week was the end of DOXA fest here in Vancouver and, while I’d planned on putting up a little post about it while it was still on, I happily spent all my spare time casting shadows in the flickering light of the projectors at the Cinematheque and the Vancity Theatre watching intensely beautiful and, sometimes scientifically themed documentaries.

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In the well-planned variety of films chosen this year, I saw men driven mad by probable government agents feeding them stories of aliens so as to distract them from the stealth bomber testing they’d observed, a wordless scenes of a life and death in a rural Brazilian village, doom metal from the apocalyptic landscape of post-financial-crisis Las Vegas, and astronomers peering up from the Atacama desert in to the past life of stars while old ladies searched the sand with small shovels for the bones of their loved ones taken from them during the ‘disappearances’ common under Pinochet’s rule.

The theme of the festival – secrets and lies – ran through all these films. But something else surfaced from within the stories of the people and the places on screen. Something linking science to art. Through the science most of us are exposed to today, we know so much about the way the world works. Whether it be tourism, astrophotography, animal husbandry, or government atrocities, there’s a reality that can be studied and documented.

What I felt was being captured in the festival – the art of it – was the showcase of how individual’s emotions fit into the documentable reality, and, more importantly, how they sometimes don’t. The resulting pictures are of sorrow, longing, and misplaced happiness and how people fit their own emotional lives into the reality of the world.

Not too long ago I saw another kind of artistic capture of something from the world of science in the photography of Rose-Lynn Fisher and especially in her studies of human tears. I won’t copy the images here, but her site has a series of pictures which capture the differences of tears between persons and between feelings. I was especially struck by an image called “Tears of change” where a large, squared rather solid-looking crystal is surrounded by a sea of shattered wavy ripples. Each image is unique and I’m sure connected to the person’s thoughts and feelings at the time the tears were shed.

So now I wonder if this is the role of the artist – to capture the emotional life of a being’s living reality. How much of this reality is based in our surroundings, our situation? How much of that situation does the artist need to show in order to help the viewer understand the emotion? The documentary format is, of course, the ideal platform for the kind of presentation that provides that context.

In the images of tears, we have to wonder about the person’s situation based on the title of each image. This is powerful too – in order to identify the situation that could have caused the tears, we look inward to an experience of our own we could conjure. Something our reality has included that made us cry similar tears.

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Spring Breaks

If summer is for vacation, then spring is for weekend trips.  Longer days are here and I’ve got the urge for going, but the weather isn’t right for long day in the sun just yet. Luckily, there’s lots of neat little places to explore nearby and we’ve been making the most of the weekends lately. It’s still a bit gloomy out, but a few recent excursions have made taking on the last  of Vancouver’s days of rain more of a pleasure than a burden.

Washington, the Evergreen State, the place who’s unofficial motto – Alki , or “Bye and Bye” – has been especially good at taking some of the sting from my summer yearnings. Recently we visited Blaine – a town where you can ride in historically significant ferry boat and then get coffee from a building shaped like a boat. A little further south, a nice little rainy Sunday found us in Edison – a little town named after an inventor and the former home of Edward R. Murrow – eating some delicious Irish soda bread from the bakery and watching ducks in the sloughs. A little later, we thought about out friends in Ireland as we talked the cliffs at Deception Pass.

Blaine Harbor's The Plover

Blaine Harbor’s The Plover

Coffee from a building shaped like a boat

Coffee from a building shaped like a boat

A drive over Deception Pass

A drive over Deception Pass

From the cliffs near Deception Pass

From the cliffs near Deception Pass

But all travel hasn’t been southerly. In fact, one of the nicest spring days yet was spent east in the Chiliwack Valley where we trekked along the Trans-Canada Trail. Further up the elevation rise outside the Fraser Valley, we got pretty significantly snowed upon for (what I assume will be) the last time this winter.

Snow over the Chiliwack

Snow over the Chiliwack

River in early spring

River in early spring

There have also been some neat in-town events lately too that are occupying the weekends. At the Museum of Anthropology I was happy to visit the dream world of Mexican artist in a dramatic show called The Marvelous Real. Paintings, sculpture, music and more all pointed to observations of this world by some of the most culturally creative artists I’ve seen in a while.

I always feel gross taking cell phone shots in the museum...

I always feel gross taking cell phone shots in the museum…

I also stocked up on all things animal hair at Fibers West which always makes for a nice way to spend a spring Saturday. Here we heard all about skinning goats and combing fleece and even took home some to spin. Best of all, we got the news of a sheep festival of sorts complete with shearing demos and info on farming coming up in September. My fantasy farm-living self can’t wait.

A display only a knitter could love.

A display only a knitter could love.

So much yarn I'm spinning!

So much yarn I’m spinning!

As the weather warms, I’m still hoping to visit the Gulf Islands and maybe even head out into the Washington rainforest. Does that mean I’m finally coming to like the rain? I’d have said so except for this lovely little Sunday sun shower we got this afternoon. Don’t worry, sunshine. I still like you best.

soon, sunshine.

Soon, sunshine.

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The Differences

Dear Readers. I have ventured far from home and have neglected this space in favor of Florida. This holiday, I sunk into a deep relaxation unlike any I’ve known. I went home. The other home and, for the first time in a long time, settled in.

The holidays are always a bit emotional, especially for those of us who live far from those we love, but this year all of that was hidden under the extended time we had to be there. The weeks wrapped me in the contentment of an old quilt and was strong enough to give me time meditating on the differences.

Things are different down in America, down South, and in Florida. People talk differently, dress differently, spend their time differently. As far as I can tell, it’s these differences that make us like or not like something. ‘I’m glad to be here because here people do this or that thing. I like this or that thing better that that other thing from over there.’ Does that make ‘here’ better? More ‘my speed’? I was on this idea so much that I made a list.

Junebugs, pick up trucks, state roads, and styrofoam. Lizards, restaurant inside gas stations, spanish moss, trailers, sandy feet. Screen doors, coolers, creeks, cypress knees, and sensor lights. Saying ‘hi’ to everyone you pass. Waving with your first to fingers to people you pass while driving a car. Vegetables cooked in salt water. Drive through liquor stores. Parking lots. Sweet tea in a to-go cup. Wind chimes. Sand dunes. Woods with floors lined in pine straw.

Then I thought that is this very desire – the need to classify differences – that should be avoided. These things, the strange things, or, in my case, familiar things, are not all there is.  Can we not turn our sensitivities, our perceptions, to what we have in common instead? Would we even want to?

Today, back in Vancouver in the rain and the grey, I’ll make a little promise to look instead  for commonality. The noise of the water on the shore, flip flops, people who like boats. Sea gulls and sunburns to come. My list so far is short, but I’m working on it. Perhaps this will ease the sickness for the homes I have and, if I’m lucky, maybe those I’ll have in the future.

 

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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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30 Cakes (22/30)

Of all the phrases we hear (and use) too often, and I think ‘pleasant surprise’ is one of the ones I like least. This is only because when I actually do encounter one, the phrase kicks in and I immediately stop considering what makes the surprise pleasant. Like the other day when I ordered apple pie and coffee at a sandwich shop as part of my endeavor to eat 30 Cakes in this, my 30th year. It’s a deli so, low expectations, right? Wrong.

Apple pie and sweet surprises.

Apple pie and sweet surprises.

Turns out this sandwich shop (it’s called PHAT, you know, like pretty, hot and tasty) has an apple pie good enough to be tagged as a pleasant surprise. ‘Pleasant’ in that it’s nice to be presented with a something the maker of which cared about, took their time with, and wanted you to like. ‘Surprise’ because we spend so much time noting the petty problems and annoyances of a day, so when something nice comes at you, it’s probably better to drop the over-used phrases and just enjoy it.

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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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Impending Gloom

So, at the risk of sounding like one of those people who creates a problem and then complains about it, the time has arrived where things outside turn, as my favorite Irish buddy would say, ‘a bit grim’.

This will be, I think, our third winter here in Vancouver. I say ‘I think’ because it might actually be our fourth. At this point, Vancouver and I are in that steady phase of a relationship, not yet five years in but longer than two, where time has started to pass in unrecognizable ways. The kind where, when the time is actually counted up, you don’t feel like what’s happened in your life matches the resulting number. It feels a bit like when you are dating someone for longer than you normally do. On most days it’s nice – things have gotten comfortable, you know each other pretty well and can hang around happily without doing much. Then there’s the days when you see that lingering weird thing about the person that you don’t much like. Maybe they have an anger problem. Maybe they have smelly feet.

With me and Vancouver, it’s this:

Impending gloom.

Impending gloom.

Last week you were so nice with your warm sun and views of a mountain. Today you are grey. And I mean one-hundred percent grey. Grey skies, grey buildings, grey piles of soaked leaves all over the sidewalk. Grey.

Here’s the part where I’m complaining about something I caused myself. Who doesn’t understand that this is stuff of which the Pacific Southwest (or Northwest, depending on your perspective) is made? Who doubts the power of a literal rainforest to produce days and days and days of clouds and light rain? Who moves to British Columbia without a rain coat? That’s right, an idiot. From Florida.

This year, I’m determined not to fall victim to the gloomy bubble that is the sky above me and not to spend months complaining about it. How then will a sunbathing, flip-flop wearing, jean-shorts making girl like me combat impending gloom blues? Well, after some number of years, I can tell you it starts with a sunny breakfast.

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Thank goodness for my local grocery store owner who maintains a perpetual supply of grapefruits.

It also takes lots of candles, evenings with cool tunes on CITR or the turntable, puzzles, coffee at any hour, rain boots, fresh flowers, breaking up dark hours after diner with a walk up the street at Delany’s for hot chocolate, knitting, hockey, poutine, a sketchbook.

These will be the core strategies of my plan, but I’m open to additional research, suggestions, and, above all, not complaining. Happy grey days, Vancouver. Happy winter to us all.

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Falling leaves, falling temperatures

For a person who grew up in a place where driving 400 miles north to “see the leaves change” was something we considered tourism, being in a city full of deciduous trees is a sort of treat every October.

The skinny pines of north Florida don’t offer much of  a show any time of year – steadily they live in needle-floored forests usually towering over palmettos that don’t turn for fall either. We did have a single Turkey Oak tree in my yard as a kid with leaves that reddened and then crisped up to to make one little corner of our yard a hard place to sneak around in for the noise of crunching leaves. Other than that, things were pretty green most of the year.

Here in Vancouver, the leaves are turning all around us. Orange, green, and golden showers of leaves pulled down in the wind litter the streets. Bags of yard leaves line the streets during what the city calls and “unlimited leaf collection period.” While others rake, I look up for color, deeper into my closet for  warmth, and on the ground for the found fruits of Autumn.

Green turns to red.

Green turns to red.

Blazes of orange.

Blazes of orange.

Golden and blue.

Golden and blue.

Other fruits of Autumn.

Other fruits of Autumn.

 

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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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Looking up

One of the best things about fall in Vancouver is the weird little sunny days that creep up out of the rain. On these days, the grey blanket of October’s sky gets pulled back like a cover too thick for a early fall sleep and we get thin, wisps of clouds that remind us the sky is still blue. Here’s to looking up!

In the day.

In the day.

In the evening.

In the evening.

At sunset.

At sunset.

And, to carry in the night.

And, to carry us into the night.

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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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Sunsets, Rainbows and Islands in Lakes

Sunset on the Fraser River

Sunset on the Fraser River

September is a weird time in the Pacific South(North)west because it’s still warm and mostly sunny, but the Fall weather is upon us. It’s creeping in at night and in the occasional rain. There will be more, says each drop, many more.

But there’s still time for Summer adventure as we discovered on a recent drive East toward a place called Harrison. It’s a lake resort and is home to lots of family-oriented motels and playgrounds for kids attending family reunions. There are also hot springs, but we’ll save that for when the winter arrives.

The whole area to the east of Vancouver is shaped by the Fraser River. It starts up in the mountains to the northeast and continues down in a hook shape until it pours out into the Strait near the city. The river valley is incredibly fertile and in the towns around the farms there are corn and berry stands to be found, antiquated gas stations and great little place to eat or take in the scenery.

One of the attractions we’d never yet seen is Mitner Gardens. Started by a family who recognized the hilly spot as a great place for a garden, it’s now in it’s final season as the owners are selling and closing it down next month. We’d wanted to see it for a while so were glad of the reminder in a recent news story about the closing. I assume it’s pretty hard to keep a 30+ acre planted garden in shape, so I assume retirement from it at some point is expected. It is a bit sad to wonder what will happen to the place and I hope someone takes it over.

A garden lady waits.

A garden lady waits.

Flowers in the sun.

Flowers in the sun.

There’s also some interesting lakes and, within those lakes, little islands ripe for exploring after a short swim or paddle on a canoe. Lake visits are a pastime I have yet to understand fully. Growing up near a warm, sandy beach makes me leery of dark water and mushy, rocky bottoms. Harrison Lake is beautiful but it’s cold and I’ve so far been a little too afraid of unfathomable monsters to dive in. The way the mountains rise up out of the water does make for nice scenery though.

A lake with an island.

A lake with an island.

We also hiked the little ways up to Bridal Veil Falls that’s in the same area. Waterfalls are another obviously new-to-me landscape feature. Everything in Florida is flat. The creeks we do have are slow-moving and swampy and trees are able to grow up within the water without being disturbed. Here, the elevation and the melting snow are forces with which you cannot reckon. Bridal Veil comes down over the height of the slope and washes wide down through the forest. It has knocked down huge trees and made pebbles from what I imagine were once boulders. On dry days like this, traces of other nearby falls can be seen even though the water isn’t moving. Bridal Veil continues most of the year and it’s easy to impressive to picture how much more powerful this will become in the spring snowmelt.

A look up at Bridal Veil Falls.

A look up at Bridal Veil Falls.

The end of the day caught us looking for a place to climb down to the river. A rainbow had distracted us from our original path – as we drove around we realized it was a full arc worth stopping to gaze at for a bit. Up it went from one side in the mountains down and into the growing corn.

Pink and purple mountains in a rainbow-glazed sunset.

Pink and purple mountains in a rainbow-glazed sunset.

A few turns later and we arrived at a little beach. The Fraser is a chalky thing of a grey-brown color like potter’s clay. It’s quiet away from towns or boat ramps. Occasionally a fish jumps or a piece of log floats by which makes the strength of the current visible. Carrying  nutrients from the mountains that makes the surrounding farms so productive, it continues sweeping past little islands and lakes that surround this area as it picks up fallen branches and calls shore birds inland following along a wandering path.

The last of a blue sky as river winds dance through the grass.

The last of a blue sky as river winds dance through the grass.

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Bowl of Sunshine

Here we sit at the height of summer.

Here we sit at the height of summer.

In the last few weeks, Okanagan Valley peaches have been making their way into grocery stores here in Vancouver and I couldn’t be happier or more impressed. When we lived in Tallahassee, we were never far from famous Georgia peaches. Spotting one of those makeshift farm stands under a tailgating-style tent on the side of some dusty road almost always warranted a stop for berries, watermelons, and peaches.

Up here, the peaches are adorned with ‘organic’ and ‘local’ stickers, which wouldn’t have seemed appropriate at all back home. They also lack the warmth of the ones you’d bite into under 90 degree blazing sunshine who’s orange color seemed to hold onto the sun itself. They did grow under a similar sun, though, and they are so incredibly delicious.

This morning’s bowl of peaches, just as sweet as you could imagine, brings me thoughts of those hot summers even under today’s cloudy skies. Thanks for that, peaches. And please do stay a while.

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Insta-bog

For plenty of reasons, Vancouver is a pretty green city: composting, greenways, community gardens, and Stanley Park (which is the subject of one of a couple of 2013 pet projects) to name a few. A green place that people don’t talk about so much is Camosun Bog located off, you guessed it, Camosun Drive in Point Grey.

It’s one of those places that was meant to disappear like the rest of the undevelop-able parts of the city. A piece of what was once a much larger bog habitat, it remains because a group of people stood up, volunteered to care for the place, and made sure (in work that still goes on every weekend and in writing on this bog blog) that at least this one little part wouldn’t be drained or disturbed.

Bogs are neat because they feel old. Ice age old. Remember that guy they found from thousands of years ago who pretty well looked as is if he’d just gone to sleep in freezer? That was the work of Sphagnum Moss, which has amazing qualities of preservation. It’s thick across the ground, but is easily disturbed. Like almost all little systems in nature, once the moss is uprooted, trees and shrubs move in and the place changes.

There’s also bog blueberries and huckleberries growing within the undulating carpet of green that rolls over rotting log and leftover stump. If you arrive in the morning or the evening thrushes, towhees and warblers can be seen flitting around in the nearby pines. They were mostly asleep in the heat of the July afternoon when I was there last. That emptiness worked to enhance the sort of eerie quality of the place. I’d (once again) forgotten my camera, but I did snap a few  photos on the phone and managed to find a few Instagram settings that seemed to give the appropriate sense of drama.

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The Vegetables of my Labo(u)r

June this year has been kinder than last. I’ve only had to wear rain boots two or three times so far and have switched to my lighter jackets successfully. That said, there’s still a chill in the air and we’ve been spooked out of camping twice so far with temperatures dropping to the single digits (Celsius, people… I’m trying!) still.

That said, one part of summer has already arrived – the happy results of early spring planting.

Bucket of greens fresh from the farm, er, I mean balcony.

Bucket of greens fresh from the farm, er, I mean balcony.

This wonderful little concoction of greens includes some kind of choy vegetable I forgot the specifics of, red and green leaf lettuces and a few pieces of arugula. Having grown up successfully (in spite of a north-facing lack of sun and squirrel who ate quite a few of their seedling brethren) these little greens will keep me from having to buy lettuces for a while.

But not everyone is an enemy!

Garden's friend.

Garden’s friend.

I still have sugar snap peas on the way and fingers crossed for red tomatoes (last year’s were mostly green).  I also have some wonderful flowers starting to come up so come on Summer and bring my little green balcony some sunny days, warmer nights!

Greening.

Greening.

Vegetables of my labo(u)r.

Vegetables of my labo(u)r.

 

 

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Explore(r)

This afternoon the weather is perfect; a cool breeze, blue sky, and warm sun are wrapped around the city and it feels like the forecast might just have enough teeth for it to stay like this a while. I walked a while this afternoon and contemplated how it’s been a while since I’ve been anywhere else.  In the early spring I had a excellent trip up the West Coast but since then we’ve been city bound.

In thinking about where I haven’t gone lately, I return to the notion that travel defines us. A trip can shape our outlook on the year and keeps us looking forward to something in the months leading up to the departure. We decorate our spaces ‘here’ with our best pictures from ‘there’ and we repeat stories from places other than home because those are the stories that become our favorites.

I also thought about how it’s almost our third anniversary with Canada. I certainly define myself as a person “who travels” and hope to see more and do more with each passing year. But what does it mean to stay put? To move and stay and live in a place that’s foreign? How long do you have to be there before you stop being a tourist? Is it when you know how to get around? When you accumulate all the spices you’ll ever need in your new house? When you can know that this is going to be one of the best days of summer because you’ve seen a few now and you can tell?

What I landed is the idea that maybe the thing I want to be isn’t ‘traveler’ so much as it is ‘explorer’. Not so much about racking up miles or ticking off lists, but to come to know a place through time, through experiences. To choose your path home by finding the one last street you haven’t yet walked. To learn the names of native trees and the animals who live in the woods. To get to know the guy who runs the market and how to find a quiet place even downtown.

This is a different type of travel. It’s slower. It happens more in your head than in your feet or on your passport. It’s not the kind of thing that works really well for stories. You can’t really get by telling an acquaintance about that time you learned which color slug was the native species without making a weirdo of yourself. A few years gone, I know the slug and I have a few sunny days to remember. I can tell Canada that I know it a little. I think it will listen to me in a way it couldn’t if I were only here a week or even a month. I’m an explorer, I will say, and I will come to know at least this one little peninsula here at the edge of the world.

Little roads, close to home.

Little roads, close to home.

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Museum of Anthropology

On a recent trip to the UBC area we made a little stop at the Museum of Anthropology to check out the visiting installation of art from Arabic artists. This is Vancouver’s first major exhibit of modern work from places like Iran and Turkey and we were curious to have a look. The exhibit, called Safar/Voyage (“voyage” being the word safar translated from Persian) and encompasses views on the world as seen through the eyes of modern middle easterners.

The exhibit is on now through mid September.

The exhibit is on now through mid September.

The works display an interaction with themes of tradition, border crossing, a sense of belonging, living with violence, and a search for identity. The pieces have clear messages hidden both within the physical forms of the art and also within the context of the visual elements.

What I found perhaps most interesting about the exhibit is that it includes so many different kinds of media. There are paintings, brass sculpture, video installations, photography, neon, and even a hand-woven carpet. I found the dramatic clash of media helped to tell the story of people seeking, journeying, finding, or, perhaps, not finding. I saw strength as well as sadness in most of the pieces – pride despite victimization, courage despite hopelessness.

Photos weren’t permitted but you can see some of the exhibit’s pieces online. A neat feature, but there’s reason enough to visit MOA just to interact with and appreciate the scale of the large instalation pieces or to spend a few moments with the photography and paintings.

MOA also offers access to an amazing collection of cultural relics from all over the world. The central rooms display thousands of artifacts from clothing to tools to visual art and furniture in glass cases (allowing you to see the front, back and sides of the pieces). There are also drawers full of additional pieces in cabinets throughout these Multiversity Galleries. It feels a bit like you have been granted access to the museum’s behind-the-scenes catalog — a browsing system available there steers you to specific interests or you can just wander through shelves of masks, pottery, hair adornments and other objects by region or time period.

I always like looking into the restoration rooms that are restricted but offer a nice view into the world of preservation anyway.

Restoration, preservation.

Restoration, preservation.

A healthy collection of art and objects collected from in and around British Columbia is always on display as well as an incredible goruping of European ceramics. I am always intrigued to visit the totems in the Great Hall and, especially in the lovely May weather we’ve been having, sit outside near the Hida houses.

Tour guides will talk about the history of original settelers here and a little about the ethical issues that arise in the display of First Nations carvings and ceremonial artifacts. Not knowing very much of the cultural history of this area myself, I always try to tag along a tour for at least part of my visit and hear what I can. To see the impressive size and skill of the carvings begs for an understanding of where they once stood and what they were meant for. The glass and concrete of their current museum home seems at odds with the naturalness of the shapes. It also seems, for all it’s modern stregnth, unable to contain the spirit of the works even now.

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Maybe just a visitor in the museum’s Great Hall.

 

 

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Filtered Victoria

On last weekend’s spontaneous trip to Victoria I forgot to pack the camera. Luckily, the 21st century leaves us with options.

A snapshot of BC’s capital from the viewfinder on my cell phone (with the help of Instagram… not that such a lovely place even needs it!) will have to do as a recap for this trip. Super easy to get to from Vancouver, Victoria is a nice little plae to spend a few days; it’s a little like England with tea and gardens and a little like beach destinations back home littered with postcard and tee shirt shops. This place is growing on me every time we go.

We weren't the only couple enjoying the double-decker bus ride.

We weren’t the only couple enjoying the double-decker bus ride.

Tea.

Tea.

Vancouver has a serious lack of meadows.

Vancouver has a serious lack of meadows.

Ms. V herself at The James Bay Tea Room (one of my favorite places ever).

Ms. V herself at The James Bay Tea Room (one of my favorite places ever).

Who needs wings when you can catch a ride?

Who needs wings when you can catch a ride?

Now here's an idea I can get behind.

Now here’s an idea I can get behind.

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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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A Sunny Day in Delta and a Rant about Bird Photography

With spring migrations on the way and the promise of Saw Whet owls residing at the bird sanctuary, a trip to south was in order for yesterday’s amazingly sunny weather. Delta and Ladner are smaller towns built around vibrant farming communities and proximity to the river. In the summer, you can pick or purchase the best berries I’ve ever eaten. In the late winter, you can track Arctic waterfowl and pick up some seeds for a garden soon to grow on your big city balcony.

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Delta, complete with a seagrass T.

At Riefel, a bird sanctuary you arrive at only after crossing a charming, one-hundred-year-old bridge to Westham Island, we looked for regular residents and some stunning visitors that make their flight over this area. I was happy to get a glimpse of the Saw Whet, the smallest of North American owls, that have been living at the sanctuary recently. Unfortunately, the moment was tainted by my disappointment in fellow bird watchers who thought it acceptable to hoot and whistle at sleeping owls. I hate to sound critical, but I think those of us who think ourselves “Nature Photographers” should to take a moment to realize sticking camera lenses in the faces of nocturnal birds might not be worth your capturing of an image that, frankly, is already all over the internet.

I stood behind ten or so people who were testing the limits of the sawhorse fence newly built to keep bird watchers away from the tree where the Saw Whets have been roosting. On this particular afternoon, one of the owls picked a pretty low branch to sleep. Since it was so close, I figured people would look at the bird, maybe take a snapshot and then be on their way. Instead, they all squished together, talked to each other rather loudly, and reached closer and closer to the bird. As if that weren’t enough, several “photographers” then started making noises directly at the bird I assume in the hope it would opened its eyes. That’s the way you do nature photography, right? Following the huddle of people with fancy lenses who appear at popular city nature parks with free parking lots on busy Saturday afternoons? Get a tip from the lady in the office or an email rather than happening on an animal naturally or by your own tracking instincts?

Needless to say, I didn’t feel right photographing the Saw Whets this particular afternoon. They are the cutest little things and I would have loved a photo, but last time I checked, nocturnal animals need to rest during the day so they can hunt all night. We took a good look at him with binoculars from about twenty feet away and found that to be enough for us. I will say that the Saw Whet is worth a trip to see, even if you have to rely on a tip from someone else. You, however, just do an image search for them and get the idea and perhaps that’s preferable to some of what I saw going on today. I’m going to trust that at least some of these photos weren’t taken by people harassing wild birds while they slept.

Thankfully there was plenty else to see including a visit to West Coast Seeds and lunch at Sharkeys back in Ladner. We also happened  upon a flock of snow geese making the most tremendous racket. As we watched, a single Tundra Swan flew over us thinking he’d found his friends. Circling over the noisy group for a hesitant moment, he discovered his mistake and quickly turned away to the south. A few Douglas Squirrels took advantage of little piles of seeds left along the path. A guy in plastic boots and long white hair took advantage of a Vancouver riot to add some depth to his truck bed.

The green gates to Westham Island.

The green gates to Westham Island.

My future garden - complete with free "thank you" seeds and a pair of complimentary gloves.

My future garden – complete with free “thank you” seeds and a pair of complimentary gloves.

All the potential of West Coast Seeds.

All the potential of West Coast Seeds.

So there was this riot and people came to write apologetic notes on the plywood that covered broken shop windows... and then this guy did *this* with the plywood.

So there was this riot and people came to write apologetic notes on the plywood that covered broken shop windows… and then this guy did *this* with the plywood.

Nothing like a little Local Color. What's that on the dash? Oh, right. A Beluga Whale stuffed toy.

Nothing like a little Local Color. What’s that on the dash? Oh, right. A Beluga Whale stuffed toy.

We didn't get the Poutine because I love the fish and chips too much, but Sharkey's is in the contest. Lunch here is always a treat.

We didn’t get the Poutine because I love the fish and chips too much, but Sharkey’s is in the contest. Lunch here is always a treat.

Farm Life.

Farm Life.

A swan flew over to check out the group of snow geese but quickly turned back to find his own kind.

A swan flew over to check out the group of snow geese but quickly turned back to find his own kind.

A flock of Snow Geese making use of a winter field.

A flock of Snow Geese making use of a winter field.

Douglas Squirrel.

Douglas Squirrel.

Winter woods.

Winter woods.

 

 

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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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Hope

So the interior is mostly yet unexplored, but we did make it as far as Hope, B.C. and Manning Park recently. The hills mountains take off out there and it’s home to the remains of a huge landslide which moved something like 55 meters of rocks down into what was a valley. Seeing it makes this song sound totally different.

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There’s also a much chances for appreciating fog out there. Image

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We also met Clark’s Nutcracker, Cascade Golden-MantledGround Squirrel, and Gray Jay (who is called a by several names including a variation of the name of a mythical Boreal forest trickster. In English you’d say Whiskey Jack).

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The park also has some incredible lakes blue like the sea tucked away between the mountains.

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At one point we had driven up to a view point quite high and were looking down on the valley all coated in deep green fir trees and talking about being small.  Within a few minutes, the echo-y clucks of ravens were heard bouncing off the trees and two turned and landed to check us out. Ravens, also new to me, are smarter than us. They look you up and down can tell things about you like a sage or a grandmother. We’d be tolerated for a bit it seemed when their arrival was followed by the appearance of two nutcrackers who had clearly learned where to get treats up here in the woods. The six of us stood together there and looked around at the world of sky we were lucky enough to join them in for a time.

This was too nice a moment for the camera.

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