Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Spring, interrupted

We thought we were done with all this, but on Tuesday, the snow was back. When I went out early to take a picture in the back yard, John couldn't resist photographing me coming back in with snow on my bathrobe.
The view from the front steps on Tuesday morning. Fortunately, the snow didn't stick around long. Photo by John.

Mr. Darcy on the back steps, looking out at the snow. He seems to disapprove.

What I was photographing in the back yard. This scene is starting to look familiar.

On Monday, I dismantled the makeshift birdfeeder I'd set up to see the birds through this most unusual of Vancouver winters. The gardeners came and aerated, limed and fertilized the lawn. On my walk, I photographed a pink rhododendron in bloom, and a drift of yellow crocuses under a big boulevard tree.

In other words, after two prolonged spells of snow, ice and cold this winter, we were settling nicely into Vancouver's typical early spring.

But on Tuesday morning, we awoke to fat white flakes drifting down. The grass and trees were white again; the birdbaths were frozen and covered in snow. For the third time this winter, in a city that sometimes has no snow at all, we were back in a Christmas card.

According to The Vancouver Sun, this has been the city's fifth snowiest February on record, with 36 centimetres compared to the month's average snowfall of 6.3 cm. (The record year for February snowfall was 1949, with just over 60 cm.)

Unlike our previous snowfalls this winter, which have stuck around for weeks, we were back to green by noon. Temperatures are rising, and spring quickly resumed after this little interruption. But after a winter like this, we should expect surprises. The Sun story noted the latest date Vancouver has ever had snow was April 19, 2008.

On Monday, it was a different world altogether. This rhododendron was blooming on a boulevard, with plenty more buds to open.

The sunshine made these crocuses glow against the green moss at the base of a big tree. 

More crocuses, looking happy in the sunshine. 

On Tuesday, after the snow melted, I photographed these hellebores blooming against a backdrop of snowdrops. In the foreground, last year's brown leaves. 

Monday, February 27, 2017

A tale of two socks

Comfortable, cozy, fun to make -- knitting socks is addictive, says my friend Linda, who has made 14 pairs for herself and more than that number for friends and relatives. Now she's come up with a novel solution for trying out as many sock patterns as she can.

I was puzzled when my knitting friend Linda sent me an email about her latest project. The attached picture showed a pair of red socks; nothing extraordinary for someone who's been knitting socks for 20 years.

But a closer look revealed something strange: the socks are the same colour, but the patterns are completely different. Why would anyone deliberately knit mismatched socks?

The red socks; same colour, different pattern.

How they look on Linda's feet.

The answer lies deep within the knitting world, specifically the subsection that is nuts about socks. These are the people unafraid of knitting in a circle, creating something all in one piece and "turning" a heel. It's a challenge not everyone wants to take on, says Linda, but once you get the hang of it, it's addictive. Socks are small, portable projects that can be made from an infinite variety of designs -- and therein lies both the fun and the rub.

With thousands of new and interesting sock patterns out there, and more being created every day, why restrict yourself to one pattern for two whole socks? Knitting the second sock can be a bit of a bore, says Linda; with two patterns, the second can be just as exciting as the first!

This is not my friend's first foray in this direction. Once, when a sale offered two different balls of striped wool with similar colours, she made a pair of socks from them, this time using the same pattern. "They are definitely 'odd' socks, but I love them," writes Linda, who tends toward loyalty.

Same pattern, different balls of wool. Linda felt the wool had enough similar colours to make the socks a pair..

They're definitely odd socks, says Linda, "but I love them."

Overall, it's better to use the same yarn for both socks and vary the pattern, she says in her email to me, calling it a lesson learned. "But to quote another Edith [Piaf, with whom I share my middle name], non, je ne regrette rien."

Linda's mismatched socks seem eminently practical to me -- the perfect answer to the perennial question of the missing sock. Whenever you lose one, mate it up with another and say it is quite deliberate.

Linda's colourful sock drawer. One reason she wants to use different patterns for pairs of socks is that she has limited space; she wants to try as many patterns as she can while staying within it.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Ready. Set. Go!

 John at the podium after his relay team won the 4 X 220 senior boys' relay at the Vancouver and District Inter-High School track meet in May of 1962, at Empire Stadium. Our visit to John's old high school on Friday brought back memories of his teenage track career.

Track and field was a big deal when John was in West Vancouver high school in the early 1960s. Students throughout the region battled to qualify for the high point of the year -- the annual Vancouver and District Inter-High School track meet. Held in Vancouver's Empire Stadium, it drew crowds of 20,000 people and was front-page breaking news in The Vancouver Sun.

John, who ran 100 and 220-yard sprints as well as team relays in those days, qualified for the big track meets in 1961 and 1962. His mementoes include first-, second-, third- and fourth-place ribbons, mainly for relays, as well as a photo of himself on the podium at Empire Stadium.

No wonder the school track was the place John wanted to revisit when we were at West Vancouver secondary to see a film on Friday. While most of the school has been redone beyond the point of recognition since his student days, John says the track remains virtually the same. When we were there, he looked out over the empty field and walked to the track's starting point. Then he got down into his old position to await the beginning of a race.

The track at West Vancouver secondary school was cinder when John practised on it in the early 1960s. It has been resurfaced  and the spectator seats have turned from wood into concrete, but otherwise, it's the same track he remembers.

John takes a familiar position. On your mark.. .

Get set...


John  checks his camera. With the sun setting and the school's field behind him, the scene reminds me of  Kinsella's field of dreams.

The Brian Upson story

The story of how dying basketball coach Brian Upson (right) coached the West Vancouver Highlanders to their first B.C. High School Basketball Championship  in 1982 is part of West Vancouver lore. John was working as a photographer at the Province newspaper when he was assigned to cover the game, which happened to involve the team from his old high school. Here, he caught Upson congratulating player Paul Kitchener.

The crowd assembles to watch a documentary, Longshot, about Upson made by film students at Rockridge secondary, a West Vancouver high school.

John (right) reconnects with Pam Croll, who attended West Vancouver secondary at the same time as he did, in front of a montage of his photographs of the 1982 championship game. 
Mementoes from the legendary game displayed outside the theatre, located at West Vancouver secondary school.

As the well-dressed crowds poured into a theatre at West Vancouver secondary school on Friday, I thought of how stories connect communities, and how everyone in that crowd was linked in some way to the tale we were about to hear. Through family, geography, or more likely, school, all those people who had spiffed up for the evening and were mounting the theatre steps had some connection to the bittersweet tale of Brian Upson's last hurrah.

Brian Upson was a top-notch basketball coach who taught at West Vancouver secondary school as far back as when John was a student there in the early 1960s. John didn't know him well, as his focus was soccer and track rather than basketball, but he was pulled into the Upson story long after he graduated.

He was a photographer for the Province newspaper in 1982 when he was assigned to cover the B.C. High School Basketball Championships. The final game just happened to involve the West Vancouver Highlanders, the team from John's old high school, playing the Argyles, from North Vancouver.

The Highlanders had never won the championship, and the drama was enhanced by the fact that longtime coach Upson was dying of cancer. Due to his illness, he was co-coach by that time, but throughout the season, he'd pulled himself up from his sickbed to attend the team's games and practices. Now he was making his one final effort, and John made sure he photographed the gaunt Upson throughout. The drama exploded when the team performed the miracle of winning its first provincial championship before Upson's eyes. Two weeks after the game, he died.

The story of the dying coach and the Highlanders' 1982 win is a touchstone among old-time West Vancouverites, so when film students at Rockridge secondary (also in West Vancouver) decided to make a documentary about it, they had lots of cooperation and support. They interviewed Upson's family, friends, colleagues and team members; they reached out to John for his photographs.

So many people wanted to attend the film that two showings had to be scheduled. Many in the crowd were middle-aged and older -- the age of Upson's former students and colleagues. But the young were there too. This was their night, their film, and one of their number stood on stage and introduced it. As we watched, another generation of West Vancouverites was linking into the community story.

John in front of the theatre where the documentary was shown. It's at his old high school, West Vancouver secondary, but the theatre didn't exist when he attended in the 1960s.

Inside the theatre, the crowd gathers before the film.

A collection of John's photos from the game displayed outside the theatre. 

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Fools Who Dream

Musicals are not my favourite genre, but in the midst of the froth and romance of La La Land, there is this:

The struggling actress/protagonist Mia, auditioning for the role of a lifetime, gets real. In her song "The Fools Who Dream," she recalls the unconventional aunt who triggered her desire to act and remembers her story about jumping into the Seine in Paris. From the freezing water, her aunt saw the world differently, sings Mia:  "She captured a feeling/Sky with no ceiling/The sunset inside a frame."

Her aunt told her, Mia continues:

"A bit of madness is key
To give us new colours to see
Who knows where it will lead us?
And that's why they need us

"So bring on the rebels
The ripples from pebbles
The painters, and poets, and plays"

This nod to the importance of art and the "rebels" who create it is ironically the centrepiece of a quite conventional Hollywood movie. Two struggling young artists fall in love while pursuing their dreams, and after overcoming the full gamut of setbacks and humiliations, achieve success. But perhaps in a nod to the "fools" of the song's title, the lovers split up. The implication is that sacrificing the love of one's life for art -- especially this fabulously successful art -- is a reasonable compromise, if perhaps a bit sad.

I saw La La Land soon after Paterson, a low-key movie about a week in the life of a small-town bus driver (named Paterson) who also happens to write poetry. Paterson's world is full of ordinary sights and people and his love for his wife, all of which he incorporates into a constant stream of poems. He has no dreams of fame or fortune; indeed, his wife has trouble persuading him to even photocopy his battered notebook of poems. But when that notebook is destroyed, he is every bit as devastated as Mia when her humiliations become too much, and she (temporarily) abandons her dream of acting.

To me, both films speak to people's fundamental drive to create, whether their efforts end up on a big screen or in a battered notebook. But the space at the top is small; there's only room for a few Mias. Paterson is a shout-out to all the rest -- the knitters and painters, writers and music-makers -- whose only applause will ever come from friends and relatives. They too are illuminating the world.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Winter trees

Downed trees have been a common sight this winter, thanks to all our heavy snow. In this front garden, a tree slants almost into the home's front porch.

A laurel tree snapped partway off by our second bout of snow this winter, in early February.

Evergreen magnolias have had a rough time of it, as the heavy wet snow collects on their broad green leaves. Here a broken branch of magnolia leans against a fence.

This has been a hard winter on trees, with two bouts of heavy snow finishing off what a severe drought two years ago began. On my walks, I've been noticing an unusual amount of tree detritus on the boulevards, and sometimes whole trees toppled to the ground. During a recent trip to VanDusen Botanical Garden, I saw the wood-chipper hard at work chopping up branches and trees finished off by the last snowfall.

But along with all the damage, I am still struck by the beauty of the many majestic trees that have survived. And recently, I've noticed a couple of "fairy doors" -- fanciful little doors added to the base of trees -- something I'd only seen before on Saltspring Island. A whimsical touch highlighting one of the best things about Vancouver -- our trees.

I spotted this fairy door on the base of a tree in Kitsilano on Tuesday. The snowdrops add a nice touch to the "entrance."

Another fairy door I noticed a couple of weeks ago, with the addition of a window.

I don't know what this tree is, but it stands in a residential yard in the Point Grey area, and its size and dignity amaze me every time I pass it.

The sun shining on this tree in Dunbar turned it into a thing of beauty, even without its leaves.

The same tree in closeup. Ominously, it's in the front yard of a house that is to be torn down. I don't know whether the tree will survive or not.
The outline of this beautiful tree against the snow of VanDusen Garden required a photograph.

But, along a pathway in the garden, a chipping machine is hard at work, getting rid of all the trees and branches felled by the harsh winter.

At VanDusen, a fallen tree blocks a pathway.

A substantial tree branch lies along the sidewalk in Point Grey. 

Nearby is the tree it appears to have fallen from, judging from the broken spots in the branches.

And, one of the most common sights this winter -- a snapped-off evergreen branch on a snowy boulevard.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Everywhere a sign

John and I saw a couple of unusual signs during a trip to Britannia Beach and Squamish on Monday. They got me thinking about how we're constantly surrounded by signs -- some direct, some indirect -- giving us messages about the world around us. Sometimes the unwritten ones are more meaningful than those that are spelled out. Here are some signs I noticed during the day's travels:

This is the sign on the stained-glass window of the Galileo Coffee Company in Britannia Beach, our favourite coffee stop. The words may be ordinary, but the multiple hearts, in different colours and materials, endow them with playfulness, good cheer, and maybe even . . .  love!  What a message to customers!

The sign in the Squamish public library says everyone is welcome, but you must be "awake, sober and not disturbing others" or you'll be asked to leave. Visitors not au courant with local affairs are naturally curious about what transgressions would have prompted such a sign. 

This sign reads: "Trail continues, private property, trespassers welcome." In a world full of "no trespassing" signs, how unusual is this?  The trail led to the Squamish estuary reserve on the periphery of the city.
Not only did the "trail continue" as promised, but there was a friendly blue bench along the way. A sign that the private owner, whoever it is, meant "welcome."

Further along, another bench, this one making imaginative use of driftwood. Located at a viewpoint overlooking the nature reserve, the message this bench was sending was both of welcome and creativity.

A front view of the driftwood bench, which is clearly well-used.

This boat anchored along a waterway we passed is embellished with elaborate woodworking, including roofs front and back shingled so as to evoke the gills of a fish. The boat has a clear hippie vibe in a non-hippie era. The message: it's okay to work hard at being really, really different.
On the boundaries of the estuary, the inevitable condominium has been built and another is on the way. The message: Even this far from expensive Vancouver, condos are going up everywhere.  In downtown Squamish  I noticed a sign advertising three-bedroom townhouses for $499,000. 

Across from the road from the condo development, water and bush signals the start of wilderness. It's a sign that people understand some areas just need to be saved for plants and animals. And that people, especially those packed into condominiums, need access to nature themselves.

Waterways crisscross the estuary.

Sometimes a bit of water is more important than a straight path: John stands on the rocks that make up a detour.
Still in the estuary, this sign says the area is bird habitat and not to disturb it. 

Bulrushes, backed by mountains, provide a peaceful view.

Snow signals that winter is still around, at least in the Squamish estuary.

Meanwhile, in Britannia Beach, an opposite signal: A pink viburnum blooming outside Galileo Coffee announces spring is here.

Inside the coffee shop, the tops of the tables are covered with bills and coins from all over the world -- protected by Plexiglas. The currencies from places like Ghana, Malaysia, India and China are a sign of the international travellers who stop here for coffee, probably on their way to Whistler. 

A scrap of paper under the glass includes an unknown script along with the words in English: "We are from Regina." There are two names linked by a heart, so probably a couple on their way to Whistler left this. Let's imagine it was a sign they were on their honeymoon.

Another view of the bills and coins on the table top.

At the top of the coffee shop's steps, a water bowl for a dog and two leashes, so you can just clip your dogs in. The message: Dogs are welcome here!

Squamish is thriving, full of young families driven out of Vancouver by high housing prices and attracted by the availability of outdoor recreation there. But its streetscape sends a clear signal that town planning isn't its strong point and that cars are still king. 
Vehicles, parking lots, mountain backdrops: That pretty much says downtown Squamish.

Coming back to our car after our walk, John noticed the wind deflector underneath dangling, likely because of the snowdrifts the car has bumped over in the last while. We spotted a Lordco sign in a mall in downtown Squamish, and after buying some zip ties there, John took care of the problem in the parking lot. A sign of somebody who knows something about cars!