Friday, September 23, 2016


My sister Diane tries on one of two pairs of Sorel boots I needed to clear out of the house. Now that she's moved to the Kootenays, she'll find them useful.

John took this photo of me in the boots in January of 2009. We haven't had snow like this for years.

Sorel boots have thick felt linings and roomy toes. Put your feet in, and it's like plunging into warm carpeting from knee to toe. Once I walked home from work in a blizzard in my Sorel boots -- a three-hour journey in the dark on slippery, slushy streets, with wet snow still falling. By the end, the only part of me still dry was where the boots began.

I loved those boots, but things have changed since I took that walk in the snow. Winters are milder -- we're lucky to get rain these years, let alone snow. I'm retired, so I don't have to walk in miserable weather. And the boots -- I actually ended up with two pairs -- took up a lot of space.

Ever since a house-cleaning more than a year ago, they've loomed outside my basement office. How to get rid of them? There's not much call in climate-warming Vancouver for two nearly-new pairs of gigantic boots guaranteed to keep your feet toasty when it's down to minus 40.

My sister Diane has just moved to the Kootenays, which actually has a winter. When she was in town this week, she too fell for the cozy felt linings. She took the whole boot pile; whatever she doesn't use, guests might.

I like to think my boots will keep someone else's feet warm on cold winter nights. And the clear space outside my office door is wonderful.

Boots this big take up lots of space. Along with the Sorels are a pair of hiking boots I wanted to get rid of too. 

A well-booted sister.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Harvest moon

Now is the time of the harvest moon, and on the farm it really was a moon you harvested by. Provided the humidity wasn't too high, farmers could keep combining into the night, and it was something to see those big dark machines working their way up and down the fields in the moonlight. For kids, the moon created ghostly playgrounds out in the newly cut fields. Rectangular straw bales, upended and leaned against each other to shed moisture, were our own Stonehenge, and the whole world was just the moon, the field and each other.

In the city, the moon is still beautiful, a big silvery ball floating overhead, often partly hidden by tall trees. But here there are no siblings to play hide and seek with, and no hay bales to hide among.

The harvest moon looks huge to the eye, but my iPad camera sees it as a little dot over the houses. John says I don't have the right kind of lens.
That little dot through the leaves. It looked beautiful combined with the jester face plate on a neighbour's gate.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Back to reality

The books from this fall's course on "Paradigm Shifts in Western Civilization," which covers the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, colonialism, feminism and environmentalism.

Autumn always feels like returning to real life after the fantasy of summer. It's a leftover from childhood, when summer was a paradise of freedom from school, homework and the routine of seemingly endless winters. But for all its dread, autumn also had its thrills -- seeing classmates again, a different teacher, a different classroom. There were untouched new scribblers, pencils and pink erasers. Mom would order new clothes for us from the Sears or Eaton's catalogues, and what came out of those exciting brown parcels was the feeling of new.

I missed that "new-beginning" feeling in my working life, when all seasons were the same. But now that I'm taking university courses, I get to experience it all over again -- the new textbooks, new classmates, a new professor. I'm more interested in the content of the courses (no math!) than I ever was in childhood, but I still tie myself up in knots over the assignments. After my first class, I'm already reworking a paper for the third time. But it feels right somehow. Real life has resumed.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Ready for their close-ups

I have a prejudice against close-up photographs -- those artsy pictures of wavy lines of rust on a piece of metal, say, or the veins of a flower petal. How much talent does it take to shove a camera close to something and push the button? And since the pictures show so little, they lack context. They could have been taken anywhere, anytime by anyone -- maybe even a stock-photo agency.

But when I was set loose with my iPad camera this summer, there were times I couldn't help myself. Sometimes I saw things that didn't look like much from a distance, but were interesting close up. Evil forces made me get my lens as close as possible and go click. So here are some of my summer close-ups. Forgive me.

This is a flower at the end of a monkey-puzzle tree plant. I had never seen one before. The white stuff looks like snow, but it's part of the plant.

And here's some context. This is how the flower looked on the tree.

The interior of the monkey-puzzle tree. I liked the pattern of its cascade of monkey "tails."

Berries of a mountain ash are usually orange, but these were quite red. They made a very Christmasy sight in August.

A hump of moss in the Camosun bog. A whole area of the bog floor is made up of sweeping curves of moss.

Moss and leaves on a tree in Duck Creek Park on Saltspring Island.  Many trees are covered in this moss, which gives the park a ghostly air.

 Yes, I know it's a cliche, but I couldn't help it. The blue of the flower, the yellow of the bee were irrestible. At least you can see the bee.. Earlier this year I tried to photograph a dragonfly, which I learned is essentially invisible. 

Hedges of bean plants were all over the city this summer. If you get close enough into the greenery, there are fine long green beans waiting to be picked.

Not quite a close-up, but a day lily combined with the blue and grey of  autumn-exhausted borage plants at False Creek needed to be recorded.

Another of those mossy tree trunks in Duck Creek Park. 

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Harvest time in Dunbar

Sometimes it feels like the Dunbar shopping area is a ghost town, but on Saturday, it was packed with people celebrating the Dunbar Harvest Festival. Many businesses had tables out front, the Shoppers parking lot was turned into an entertainment centre, and a woman on stilts strode the streets. There were bands, and for the kids, sumo wrestling and a chance to climb a 24-foot wall. As for the harvest, well, there were boxes of apples that had fallen off people's trees. They were out on the curb. Free.

Here are some photos from the festival:

Children loved the 24-foot portable climbing wall from the Edge Climbing Centre.

When kids got to the top of the wall, they just had to let go and their rope would zip them down to the bottom.

There were lineups all day to get on the wall. Parents waited patiently below.

Sumo wrestling: Put on a helmet and a blue suit of giant bubble-wrap and see if you can topple your opponent.

There's not much danger of injury when the inevitable happens.

A woman on stilts walks through the crowds, adding, I guess, a touch of the bizarre. 
The Shoppers Drug Mart parking lot was turned into an entertainment centre, with a band and kiosks.

Here's the harvest part: free windfall apples.

Many access roads to Dunbar were blocked off for the festival. In the background is the portable climbing wall.

Friday, September 9, 2016


Southlands is full of horses, stables and horse-lovers, but I have other reasons for going there.

One of my reasons is right here -- a favourite gravel pathway lined with trees. It's across the road from a golf course.

Many properties, like this one, capitalize on the old English theme. Notice the brickwork, the sign and the red mailbox.

The sign at the entrance to Vancouver's Southlands area describes it as an "equestrian neighbourhood" -- and yes, horses and stables abound. But for me, the charm of Southlands lies in other directions.

First, it feels like country. Whenever I need to hear roosters crow, see open spaces or smell farm manure, I walk due south from my house for 40 minutes, and I am back to the sights and sounds of my childhood. There are big vegetable gardens, tree-shaded paths, barns and even water-filled open ditches: Walk close enough and you can hear frogs plopping into the water.

One day, one spring -- and I've never been able to replicate the experience -- I came upon a patch of "fluttering and dancing" (as Wordsworth would have it) daffodils on a wild-looking field in Southlands. With the golden blossoms, the uncut green grass, the unpruned surrounding trees and bushes, it was like a sudden vision of Eden.

The second thing that draws me to Southlands is its love affair with old England. It's being eroded now, but the English influence is obvious in some of the older houses, the horse-friendly footpaths, the gardens and use of trees and hedges. There are English-looking brickwork, mailboxes and signs, and I recall an old riding-supply shop with a definite whiff of the old country.

One of my favourite "English" experiences in Southlands is walking the gravel path across the road from a golf course. Along the path are hedges and wooden fences, some of which have the unusual feature of old-fashioned  lighting fixtures. That quiet green-shaded path -- hedge and fence one side, golf course the other -- is beautiful at any time. But at twilight, or in the mist, when the lights glow dimly into the greenery, it's like being in a Dickens novel.

Southlands is changing, as is everywhere in Vancouver. Extravagant modern mansions are replacing the old working-class houses with their adjacent stables and riding rings. When I passed one huge new house during a walk this week, two excavators were busily at work -- building who knows what? Elsewhere, a tall stand of trees was being cut down. But until all vestiges of country and old England are gone, Southlands will remain one of my favourite places in Vancouver.

This is an open ditch by the side of the road. I could hear frogs jumping into the water when I got too close.

Beautiful horses like this are what Southlands has always been about.

Piles of horse manure happen everywhere. You just learn to watch your feet.

A barn, two horses, a horse trailer -- regular sights in this area. 

This little bench is a mounting stand for riders. I thought the accompanying flower-filled planters were a nice touch.

One of the tree-lined pathways along the Fraser River used by horses (and pedestrians).

The light fixtures along a gravel pathway that turn it magical at twilight.

This fairly elaborate structure, with its window boxes, fancy windows and doors, is actually a garage.

This is a view through the gateway of one of the older houses across from the golf course.

Some properties have gardens so huge they could feed an entire city block.

An inviting looking entrance to well-treed property.

These trees looked healthy to me, and there are rules about cutting trees in Vancouver. I hope the cutters had permits to do this.

One of the big new houses that have been  built in Southlands. 

Another of the big mansions built in this area. It seems to be trying for a bit of English flair. The horse on the expansive lawn in front (if you can see it) is a statue.

Another of the big houses under construction in Southlands.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

A lifelong gift

Birthday books are nice, but even better is the feeling that the day is a special one.

Mr. Darcy, at my feet, wonders what the fuss is about. He's special every single day.

Dark chocolate for me, hazelnut for John -- a treat has always been an essential part of my birthday.

It was a birthday wish born of a fairy tale -- a story about a king who challenged his subjects to come up with a food that was "hot as summer, cold as winter." The solution -- ice dessert smothered in hot chocolate sauce -- left me only one answer when mom asked what dessert I wanted for my birthday.

It was 1950s rural Alberta, and mom had never made such a thing before. But her unquestioning willingness to try a confection dreamed up in a fairy tale was an indication of how my parents treated their children's birthdays.

For that one day of the year -- and that day only -- we were special. In the months, weeks and days leading up to it, we all experienced that secret rising excitement that the big day was coming; our own red-letter day where we were marked out from the rest.

From today's prosperous perspective, it was all very modest. We had our choice of birthday cake -- or ice cream and hot chocolate sauce, in my case. My parents would always give us a gift, even in their direst financial straits. And our siblings were each expected to give us a gift out of our 25-cents-a-week allowance (you could get a lot more for 25 cents in those days).

It was a lesson in giving and receiving. About accepting that each of us in turn would have one special day. But most important, it told us that our parents thought our entrance into the world was a big enough event to make a fuss over. It made us feel like we mattered.

Today was my 66th birthday. There were gifts, phone calls and messages from friends and relatives. But the best thing was that I still had that "special" feeling my parents planted so long ago. It seems to be a lifelong gift: Even if I end up an old, old lady without anyone who remembers my birthday, I think I will still feel a quiet celebration coming on when Sept. 7 rolls around.

John at the Beach House restaurant in West Vancouver, where he took me to lunch.

The big discovery: It was fun to mark my birthday by exploring a new place I don't remember seeing before. These are the stairs leading from the seawall to the Navvy Jack community garden across the railway tracks.

Roses are still out in full force along the brick walkways leading to the garden.

Some fine Swiss chard and flowers in the garden plots. They're private, and non-members can't get into the garden proper.

More of the beautifully done brick-like walkway leading to the garden plots.

There are a couple of  outdoor spaces set up like  meeting areas around the garden; this one is remarkable for its floor.