Monday, November 28, 2016

The house story

Oh, what I would give to know the real story about this house! It replaced a modest little bungalow five or six years ago, and it's been reworked, relandscaped and as far as I can tell -- unoccupied -- for most of the years since. This photo was taken this summer, when the house appeared to be deserted.

Just recently, a row of apple, plum and pear trees was planted on the boulevard outside the house. 

Every house develops a story when you walk past it every day, and I've been making up stories about this house -- with its spectacular mountain and ocean views at the top of the Dunbar hill -- for many years. In its original incarnation, it was a modest white clapboard bungalow with an ordinary garden, so my story was that an aging couple were living out their lives there, enjoying the view together.

About five or six years ago, it went up for sale, so my story was that one or both of the couple had died. When it sold, the little white house became a gigantic hole in the ground for a long time. The boxy modern one that emerged was occupied for a year -- exactly the length of time it takes to avoid the goods and services tax. As far as I can tell, it's been vacant ever since.

Last winter, somebody started reworking the fencing, redoing the driveway, built an elaborate new gate, and planted -- much to my curiosity -- four apple trees on the north side of the property. The exterior work continued for awhile, then stopped. In the summer, the place took on a deserted look, with construction partly finished, the lawn ragged with weeds and the apple trees struggling. I decided the owner had sold it again, and the new owner was having second thoughts about the renovations.

Then suddenly in late summer, the fancy new gate vanished, and more construction work and landscaping began. One day I passed to see the boulevard grass torn out, and workers planting new sod. By fall, everything was shipshape and shining: Surely the new owner would be settling in soon.

So far, not. But recently, somebody planted a whole row of apple, plum and pear trees on the west side of the house; a little linear orchard marching down the hill. My story is that whoever owns this house -- whether they ever live there or not -- really likes fruit.

This photo, taken during the summer, shows the overgrown grass and ragged shrubs on the boulevard. 

This photo shows the unfinished construction that sat awaiting completion for months.
Another view of the newly planted little fruit orchard. I hope somebody tends these trees!

Sunday, November 27, 2016


Oh what a fun idea it seemed when the professor said we'd be writing journals for this fall's course on Paradigm Shifts in Western Civilization. Journals -- the word conjured up those old five-year diaries I used to keep. Passing thoughts tossed lightly off; for an avid reader/writer like me, what could be easier?

Many things, it turns out. The word journal turned into "mini-essay" with all that entails. Three to four pages, with thesis, arguments and conclusion on nine texts and one film. The thing about essays is that you actually have to absorb the material to write one, no matter how short. Very clever on the part of the professor. Very gruelling for the students.

I will never confess how long these things are taking me, but let's just say I don't know how classmates who are still working full time are doing it all. As for me, friends know my efforts expand to fill the allotted time. So the journals -- plus the main 15-20-page essay -- will be done by deadline. But not a second sooner.

My latest so-called journal is a nine-page essay on violence and colonialism. It combines the works of 1700s writer/philosopher Denis Diderot, 1960s revolutionary writer Frantz Fanon and Gillo Pontecorvo's 1966 film, The Battle of Algiers. I'm not saying how many journals/essays are still on the drawing board.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

November garden

Every once in a while, the rain stops for long enough that I can take my iPad out into the garden to see what's happening. Here are some recent photos:

Mr. Darcy, the birdbath and a volunteer nasturtium.  I usually throw some nasturtium seeds in the ground in the spring, but this year didn't get around to it. Predictably, I had no blossoms all summer, but a few days ago, I noticed a spot of orange. And there it was -- a self-seeded nasturtium!

A closer look at the nasturtium. They're tough and often bloom far into the fall.

The star magnolia buds in the front garden, getting ready for the spring show.

The Pink Dawn Viburnum in the front is blooming now, and actually has some scent. 

These primroses were planted in the spring, survived the summer, and are doing their best to add some colour in the front rockery  now.

An avenue between the laurel hedge and a hydrangea bush in front. The little kids from next door like to play in this area. 

The weeping birch has lost its leaves, but still overhangs the hydrangea in front, which needs to be cut back soon. If  we had snow, it would be crushed.

These tree fungi aren't in my garden, but they made such a pretty pattern, I had to photograph them. 

A closer look at the fungi, which look like little umbrellas, up and down the tree trunk.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Gold letters on marble pages

I'm spending a lot of time with Virginia Woolf lately, as I'm writing an essay on her 1927 book, To the Lighthouse. For those -- like me up until now -- who haven't cracked it yet, it's about the big Ramsay family (eight kids), their friends and relationships, and their shabby summer house in the Hebrides. I'm focusing on other sections for my essay, so had forgotten the pure poetry of the middle section, "Time Passes," which describes what happens to the house, deserted during the war, as the seasons come and go. My friend Andre, a Woolf aficionado, brought it to my attention yesterday. I thought others might enjoy it too:

"But what after all is one night? A short space, especially when the darkness dims so soon, and so soon a bird sings, a cock crows, or a faint green quickens, like a turning leaf, in the hollow of the wave. Night, however, succeeds to night. The winter holds a pack of them in store and deals them equally, evenly, with indefatigable fingers. They lengthen; they darken. Some of them hold aloft clear planets, plates of brightness. The autumn trees, ravaged as they are, take on the flash of tattered flags kindling in the gloom of cool cathedral caves where gold letters on marble pages describe death in battle and how bones bleach and burn far away in Indian sands. The autumn trees gleam in the yellow moonlight, in the light of harvest moons, the light which mellows the energy of labour, and smooths the stubble, and brings the wave lapping blue to the shore."

Thursday, November 24, 2016

More greenery please

My friend Andre and I lucked into a couple of rain-free hours to walk in Pacific Spirit Park on Thursday. I asked him to pose by this rootball -- an upended tree -- in honour of John's "rootball series." John is constantly on the lookout for big and interesting rootballs to add to a series of photographs he has done on them.

This is the newly gravelled and fenced road that got Andre and I  wondering why the parks people can't leave good enough alone. Our fear is that anything this wide, smooth and level is up for paving next. 

My friend Andre and I practised being grumpy old people when we took a walk Thursday in Pacific Spirit Park, the forested area between Dunbar and the University of B.C. It's 874 hectares and criss-crossed with trails that are constantly being smoothed, gravelled, cut off, closed, reopened and lined with all kinds of fencing.

What got us going was the sight of a huge wide central trail, obviously newly gravelled, with an infinity of fresh split-rail fencing running its entire length. A second high wire fence ran behind it. Why, we asked, can't the park just be left alone?

Andre was especially sensitive to the issue because he'd just experienced the city's treatment of the Arbutus line, the former railway corridor that is now supposed to be a pedestrian/bike "greenway." He and a friend regularly ran it before the railway tracks were removed this summer, and it was a treed, green experience past garden plots and people's back yards. Now it is paved and barren, just like, Andre says, running on a freeway.

The city is already full of roads and concrete sidewalks. Why don't we use our few remaining open spaces for natural greenery?

Wednesday, November 23, 2016


Linda measures the new hat she's knitting for me. She made the sweater and the cowl she's wearing. The painting behind us is by Kathy Robertson, our good friend  from Saltspring Island who died in 2014. And my partner John took this photograph. Such a good idea to surround yourself with talented people!

Over the years, my knitter friend Linda has made me many hats, but the one I remember best was a wonderful burgundy in the softest angora. It was light and warm, and I wore it every day when I walked to Vancouver General Hospital to visit mom in November of 2013. She was there for 17 days with pneumonia, and on my return trip one night, the hat vanished from my pocket. I retraced my steps for many blocks, looking under hedges and in overgrown patches, but it was thoroughly gone. It was a sad time, and the disappearance of that hat seemed somehow appropriate.

When mom died a year later, I appropriated the matching grey hat that Linda had knit for her when she made my burgundy one. It was a comfort and a pleasure to pull on something mom had worn so often. But this spring it somehow ended up in the washing machine and emerged half-size, felted down to a tea-cozy.

Linda is a forgiving person, and is giving me another chance. This week she was at my place measuring the new burgundy hat she's almost finished for me. I hope to wear it for years and years.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016


Georgeann (left) and Wendy, who brightened our pre-class pizza nights with humour and a surprise.
My classmates Georgeann, with hot water, and Elizabeth-Anne, with iced tea. 

It's hard to feel a warm glow when you think of Pender and Seymour in downtown Vancouver. It's not the Downtown Eastside, where the drug addicts struggle, but it's an unlovely place of frequent construction, heavy traffic and the same-same hard-edged buildings that turn much of the city into glass-and-steel monotony.

In the middle of all this, there's Goldie's Pizza. And Wendy.

Now Goldie's, at the corner of Pender and Seymour,  is not an unusual pizza joint -- it has plasticized menus, pre-wrapped utensil bundles, a takeout window. But the food is fine, and three of us have been meeting there for a pre-class dinner every Monday since our university course began in September.

Things changed a few weeks into the semester, when I realized the server on duty was the one who had pulled off a miracle the previous Monday. She had found a way to get my classmate Georgeann not just water without ice cubes, not just lukewarm water, but water that -- ecstatically for her -- was actually hot! This may sound strange, but earlier waiters had sadly shaken their heads when asked for hot water. "Don't you have a hot water tap?" Georgeann pleaded. "Couldn't you just turn it on?" But no, no, impossible. Then Wendy showed up. Hot water? She was back in 30 seconds with a steaming glass!

"Surprise my friend," I suggested, when I arrived early the next week and found Wendy on the job. Georgeann likes a surprise even better than she likes hot water, so when Wendy greeted her with her favourite drink, her laugh ricocheted around the restaurant. Ever since, Wendy has been part of our Monday nights. And ever since, the corner of Pender and Seymour has seemed like a warmer part of the city altogether.

November sunshine

Late afternoon sunshine turns the Vancouver skyline into gold, and the clouds are positively Turneresque. Not much by way of winter here!

My favourite house along the Point Grey waterfront has lost its ivy but gained a coat of sunshine. 

This is one of the views you would see from the balcony of that house.

I photographed this house earlier in the year, with the ivy over the upper floors and the hedge bursting with greenery. It's in fall mode now. 

The trees that hid a window in the brick garden wall outside the house are leafless now, so you can see the opening  if you look carefully. 

At the foot of a flight of stairs on my way downtown, there was this view of the water, ships and mountains beyond.

A few days ago, I brought up an extra duvet from downstairs because temperatures were starting to plunge to -- well, almost zero. There was great excitement on the ski hills because there was actually snow -- early snow -- on the mountains. After a mild, wet fall, winter at last!

But within a day, temperatures were up, and the rain was back. By Monday afternoon, when I walked downtown to my class at Simon Fraser University, the sun was shining, the mountains were bare, and tennis players at Kitsilano Beach were out in shorts. Across the water, the city turned to gold, and I think Joseph William Turner had a hand in arranging the clouds. Looks like that duvet will be going back downstairs again for awhile!

Another look at Monday's sunshine from the seawall at Kitsilano Beach. 

I took the same route when I went to class the previous Monday, and this is how it looked that day. The tide was so high that it was sloshing in through holes in the seawall created for that purpose. A different scene altogether!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Calendar world

Wall calendars are harder to find these days, but I still like a big new picture every month, and lots of  space to write reminders in. A calendar featuring scenes from England was the best I could do for 2017. 

This is what I'm looking at this month from my 2016 calendar. It was the last one to be had  at the Vancouver Art Gallery when I bought it last year.  Fortunately, it features Raphael's paintings.

Is it still okay to buy wall calendars? Those 12-month jobbies with a different picture every month, with open squares around the dates where you can scrawl "lunch with Linda" or "library book due"? I ask because the world is changing so fast that I don't know anymore what you have to be sneaky about and what you can still do in broad daylight.

The big hint that this particular aspect of my old-fashioned life was collapsing was the failure of Oscar's Art Books, a fabulous emporium of discount art books and racks and tables of calendars. You could find anything that anybody could make a calendar of there -- particular breeds of dogs, for example, or cars, or movie stars or exotic places you'd never heard of. I found one about farm animals there for mom, and one on foreign countries for her friend Gerry that was the hit gift of that year's Christmas.

Mom was the main reason I paid attention to calendars -- she liked to give them as Christmas gifts, and I was her shopper. Since 2014 -- when she died and Oscar's closed -- calendars have been on my backburner. But I got a shock last year when I looked for calendars at the Vancouver Art Gallery after Christmas and found exactly one (1)!

I decided to shape up this year and shop early, but let's just say there's no equivalent of Oscar's anymore. Shuffling through the meagre display, vastly reduced from previous years, at a card store (yes) that I frequent, I thought back to Oscar's brimming smorgasbord and wondered how much longer these will be on offer at all.

A BBC News magazine piece from 2011 (the latest I could find on the topic) was somewhat reassuring, saying that in the U.K. anyway, wall calendars' "ubiquity within the home appears remarkably impervious to the digital age." People still like something hands-on, decorative, and reflecting their personal interests -- apparently meerkats are big. But in the U.S., wall calendar sales were down 28 per cent from 2005 to 2009, the story said. Since that was 2011, who knows what's happened since?

I can almost hear Peggy Duncan snort in answer to that question. According to her entry on ("Improve productivity with technology," so you know where this is going), she researched calendars when someone gave her a paper one and she wondered who used the things. Her conclusion?

"If you're not in the business world and never go anywhere, a paper calendar could work for you. Otherwise, come into this century and go electronic."

Harsh. She gave the calendar to her technologically inept handyman. Under cover of darkness, I suspect.

This is what I'll be looking at in February, 2017. It's taken from the grounds of Bodiam Castle, East Sussex.

A great big rock for  March: Avebury stone circle, Wiltshire.

A pastoral scene, but a tongue-twister of a location for April, 2017: Middle Duntisbourne, Cirencester, Gloucestershire.

For June, rocks and water in what always sounds like a romantic part of the U.K.: Land's End, Cornwall.

For December, 2017, a fancy bridge in the Quarry park, Shrewsbury, Shropshire. Oh so England!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Heat, rain

Every out-of-town visitor to my place eventually ends up touring the Camosun Bog, which is being carefully turned back into a place for native plants. The recent downpours have created quite a little pond out of this area, which is often almost dry at the height of summer. 
These pond areas usually don't even exist. We can thank the fall rains for this calm and lovely view.

Another normally dry spot; the water is coming up through the moss. 

Kids are playing outside in T-shirts these days as Vancouver's temperatures feel more like spring than fall. Or maybe even summer -- with the thermometer breaking records at 19.4 C on Nov. 8. (Perhaps that was heat drifting north from the U.S. election.) But it wasn't a one-off: apparently our average daily high so far this month is 15, six degrees above average. And we're not the only ones. My niece Katherine from Kitchener, Ont. wrote today that she was planting spring bulbs in 15-degree weather.

In B.C. at least, the warmth has come with a lot of rain, with flooding in some parts of the province. The west coast of Vancouver Island has already had more rain -- 400 millimetres -- than it usually gets all month.

All that heat and rain made me wonder what would happen if I threw some grass seed on a bare patch of lawn created by my recent clean-up efforts. I would be quite excited -- and a little alarmed -- if it turned green.

When I was on this boardwalk, I heard  a great "who-who" noise from the trees. I think it was owls having an extensive conversation. There are enough trees and good habitat that the owls and other birds hang out here. 

Another view of the pond with the boardwalk running through it.

The bog is within about a 20-minute walk of my place, at the edge of Pacific Spirit Park. I try to hit it often.

Outside the bog area, a wonderful green ocean of what we could probably call weeds, but I think they are native plants.

I had to shoot this because it shows the sky is actually blue in November here sometimes. 

 I passed this hedge with an arm stuck through it. A last wave goodbye to Halloween.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Stong's again

I've written several times about the closure of my local Stong's grocery store this spring, and how anxiously I'm awaiting the opening of the new one near me. The apartment building that will house it is coming along nicely, and my hopes soared today when I saw a "Now Hiring" sign outside. Surely a signal that the store will be opening soon?
A closer look at the sign, picturesquely backed by a line of port-a-potties for the construction workers. 

Only the car-less could appreciate how excited I was today to see a sign outside the new Stong's grocery store being built a block up the street from me. "Now hiring," it said in big beautiful letters just outside a bank of blue port-a-potties that perform their useful duties nearly out in the middle of Dunbar Street. The old Stong's a few blocks farther along closed in the spring, and ever since, I have been schlepping groceries from wherever I end up on my walks. All summer I have been watching the new store, topped by three storeys of apartments, take shape.

Now that it's getting close, does the sign mean a precise opening day has been set? Alas, the Stong's website says the hope is for "early December," but warns that with construction, it's never a sure thing. Judging from the inquiries on the website, I'm not the only Dunbarite just waiting to plunge back into a full-scale grocery store in my neighbourhood. Here's hoping all goes well, and I won't be hauling the Christmas turkey home in my backpack.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

What I'm doing

In a month, I will have finished the fifth course of my eight-course Graduate Liberal Studies program at Simon Fraser University. That's four journal/essays, one term paper and two books to go. Much of my life these days is either at my computer downstairs, surrounded by books, or upstairs on the couch, also surrounded by books, and, preferably, the cat.

Here's what my life looks like these days, photos courtesy of John:

Hard at work. Right now I'm writing papers on Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse and Frantz Fanon's The Wretched of The Earth, about French colonialism in Algeria.

The other end. You have to read before you can write, and  I make it as comfortable as possible with books and slippers to hand, and lots of blankets.

The best is when Mr. Darcy is involved. Here he is, four paws up, sound asleep while I look for some serious course materials on my iPad.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Around the seasons

John's cousin Janice and her husband Jim will soon be heading to Palm Springs for the winter, but in the meantime, they're enjoying the better view they're getting of Lost Lagoon now that the leaves are falling. 

Here's what they see from the balcony of their West End apartment. There's still a lot of leaves to come down, but the colours are beautiful.

John's cousin Janice and her husband Jim are double winners when the trees around their West End apartment start losing their leaves at this time of year. Not only do they gain a water view of Lost Lagoon across the way, but other people have to deal with the fallen leaves -- Janice and Jim don't have to lift a finger.

I was thinking of that when we got home after having lunch with them this week. Remember all the trees in my garden that I was so proudly showing off this summer? Now is the time I pay the price. Raking, scraping, hauling and piling are all part of the deal when your garden is full of trees and shrubs, and perennials that wilt and yellow at summer's end.

A couple of afternoons of work later, my sidewalks are cleared of leaves, the withered hostas and forest of pale yellow Solomon's Seal are in the compost, and my tumbling tower of drying sweet pea vines is cleared and down. The wall of Shasta daisy stalks, the blackened peonies and the invading forces of Ladies Mantel have all been conquered for the year.

I still haven't put in my spring bulbs, but as I passed the Pink Dawn Viburnum today, I noticed a fragrance, and pale pink flowers opening. The next round in the garden has already begun.

Before the big cleanup: a sad-looking patch of withered Solomon's Seal.

After the Solomon's Seal is gone to the compost, the bare earth isn't pretty, but at least it's neat.

Before the cleanup; lots of leaves and falling-over plants on the walkway from the back gate to the house. 

After the cleanup, a barer -- but tidier -- look. The blue tarp on the right covers compost that will be spread in the spring.

Primroses barely visible among the fallen leaves.

All --well nearly all--cleaned up. I think I like the messy version better.

A pre-cleanup view of the back garden. The bed to the left has a green clump of overgrown Ladies Mantle. The higher green thing in the middle is the tower of sweet peas. To the right is a bank of Shasta daisy stalks.

Similar view, but showing the Solomon's Seal in the centre left.

And here it is, barely recognizable after cleanup. The tower in the middle is gone, but I left the fuchsia there-- it's a perennial and still blooming. 

Before the cleanup, the steps in the front garden are barely visible. 

All neatened up!

The compost pile: where all that foliage ends up. I'm hoping the worms will have a good winter digesting all this stuff.