Wednesday, November 22, 2017

November scenes

While some of my friends are enjoying summer-time heat in Mexico and Palm Springs, my brother Brian in Alberta is waiting for the ice on the lake near his home to get thick enough for skating. In Vancouver, meanwhile, a happy medium, with temperatures at 16 C on Thursday, leaves still falling, and a healthy dose of rain to keep our greenery green. Here are a few scenes taken near my home on Thursday afternoon:

In Palm Springs, this lawn bowling green would be green. In Alberta, it would be white. In Dunbar, it's gold from the fallen leaves. 

And, here is the groundskeeper shovelling -- not raking -- the leaves to keep the grass underneath healthy. It's beautiful grass, fine as a carpet, so maybe a rake would be too hard on it.
I'm sure the park people hate this little depression that results in a lake whenever we've had a lot of rain (45 millimetres since Tuesday, another 70 on the way!), but the kid in me thinks it's wonderful. When it freezes, it is a sweet little skating rink, so shallow it can't possibly be dangerous. In the foreground is the zipline for kids, where I once saw a child in a winged fairy costume flying along.

The red berries on this fence-line cotoneaster make a beautiful fall display.

Somebody's garden-plot dream gone to flower and seed, providing a splash of colour among the empty boxes. This is in one of two empty lots almost kitty-corner from each other along Dunbar. The owner/developer gets a tax break for offering the public gardening space while awaiting permits for development. Eventually both sites will be condo buildings. 

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Polygon Gallery

For years, the go-to photo-exhibit space in Metro Vancouver has been Presentation House, a ramshackle 1902 building on a hillside in North Vancouver. This weekend, it was replaced by this ultra-modern ridge-backed gallery on the North Vancouver waterfront. We visited the new space on Saturday; here's John looking at the catalogue.
You can't beat the location, which is steps away from the SeaBus terminal, so it will be handy for Vancouverites to get to from downtown. And it has an outdoor area with this view across the water to Vancouver -- gorgeous even on a cloudy day.

The exhibition area is up a substantial flight of stairs, on the second floor. This is what you see when you walk in the door.

Another photo of the main area; your eye is drawn to the light-box photo of a North Vancouver scene far down at the end of the room. John was concerned about how much actual wall space there is in this new gallery; to him there seemed less than in the old one.

This exhibit included a number of sculptural pieces. Not exactly photos if this is supposed to be a photo exhibit space, but perhaps they decided to do something different for the first show.

This photo of the Kinder Morgan Sulfur Terminal in North Vancouver, by Greg Girard, is more like what we were expecting to see. The dramatic yellow and purple colours were very eye-catching.

The entrance area of the main exhibit space included this piece of fragmented art. I'm not sure if it involves actual photos.

This tree, water, and woman-in-red-coat photo drew lots of admirers. I liked the woman in yellow pondering the woman in red.

The exhibit included many pieces of Indigenous art. . .

. .  and things like this. I'm not sure what it is, but for those prone to tripping (ahem), it was a bit of floor-level hazard.

The big Rodney Graham photo at the end of the room was a natural stopping point.

Another example of the gorgeous textile art on display.

A computer-generated creation of a  night scene at Cates Park in North Vancouver, with lights from little cottages reflecting on the water. 

The bottom floor of the Polygon Gallery -- named after the development company of a major donor -- is transparent, providing gorgeous ocean views. As you can see, signs of construction linger. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Diane and John's retirement project

After a year of hard labour, a second property my sister Diane and her husband John bought when they retired to Winlaw in the Kootenay area of B.C. is beginning to shine. 

The double-wide mobile home, just down the road from their own house, has been gutted and redone.

Some people relax in the sunshine when they retire; my sister Diane and her husband John moved to Winlaw and took on a house renovation.

Not the house they bought to live in, fortunately, which was in good shape. But down the road was a beautiful treed acreage with a double-wide mobile that drew their eye. For a couple who had raised their Surrey house to add a bottom floor, installed a floor milled from their very own lumber and shingled the entire exterior themselves, how hard could it be to whip a mobile home into shape?

A year later, they know. The home's previous owner was a bit of a hoarder, they discovered. Over the years, pets had made their presence known deep down into the flooring. Seed for the birds kept in a glassed-in area of the house had attracted mice.  And knotweed -- dreaded by householders everywhere because it's so hard to kill -- was poking up in the back yard.

 And so they cleaned and cleared, they ripped out smelly flooring, they tore apart the interior, and had the furnace and plumbing and electrical systems replaced. In the summer, they used the backhoe to dig up the knotweed. They sifted the soil through fine mesh to remove every vestige of suspicious plant material (no Roundup for Diane and John!) But when they put back the soil, thoroughly dried after a summer's baking in the sun, it looked so dead that it seemed unlikely it would ever grow anything again. So they covered it with a big load of horse manure, threw down handfuls of grass seed and started watering.

As of this fall, their retirement project is nearing completion. The exterior of the house is newly repainted; the drywalling is done, the stage is set for cabinet-building and interior finishing this winter. Diane is happy about how the house is shaping up, but to her, the biggest miracle is the back yard. Out of that hopeless dry soil sprang a field of lush green. "It is," she says, "like a golf course."

A look at the interior, with the drywaller at work. Diane has done lots of "mudding" drywall herself, but this time, there was help. 

Another view of the interior.

This winter's project will be to finish up the interior.

A view of the glassed-in area where birds were once kept.

The back area of the house.

And, that beautiful green lawn. Knotweed free!

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Signs of change

All fall I've been noticing what seems like an unusually brilliant display of leaf colours. I took this photo in Vancouver, but a story in Saltspring's Driftwood newspaper confirms the colours are unusually intense this year. A tree expert attributes it to  plant stress caused by summer drought.

The ice in the birdbath on Saturday illustrates the abrupt change in Vancouver temperatures  in the last few days. Last week, I wasn't even wearing a jacket for gardening; on Saturday I was wearing a couple of layers of wool.
After a long, hot summer and an autumn of spectacular fall foliage, a few white flakes began drifting down on Mount Dunbar on Saturday. Not a good sign for West Coasters, who like to think our winter precipitation comes only in liquid form. The snow didn't stick, and predictions are for warmer weather ahead, but it was a chilling warning. Like this summer's drought instead of our usual abundant rainfall, we may be facing another snow-filled winter like last year's. Our own West Coast climate change.

Even John couldn't resist photographing this carpet of red leaves we saw on a walk recently.

Red leaves with rock; I couldn't pass it by.

Sunlight plus golden leaves made everything glow on streets like this last week.

A golden vine along a garage wall gives one last show of glory before fading out.

A street of red and gold feels like an invitation to walk that way.

A few days later, the leaves are a little less brilliant, but still putting on a show.

The end of the sweetpea tower; it's finally time to admit there will be no more flowers this year.

Mr. Darcy explores the dying stand of Solomon's seal; ever since the spring, it's been a solid wall of green.

Hydrangeas with the yellow Solomon's seal in the background. The hydrangea blossoms would hang on, but wouldn't fare well in winter rain and snow. Time to cut them back. 

The purple hydrangea bloom is a nice contrast against the fading yellow foliage in the background.

The last rose of summer, against the fence on our Saltspring property during our recent visit.

The maple tree and what's supposed to be the picnic table at the end of the season on Saltspring.

The end of at least one of several wasps' nests John has been battling on Saltspring all summer.

And Mr. Darcy touring past the yellow foliage on Saltspring. The tree in the middle is a weeping pear that has turned an odd shade of yellow this fall, probably because of the drought. I hope it is still alive come spring.

Nobody could have been more surprised than me to see this little stand of cyclamens poking up from the dry brown grass of our Saltspring yard. I've never noticed them before and certainly didn't plant them. Maybe cyclamens make a comeback in years of intense drought.

The day after Halloween, I stopped by VanDusen Garden and found another sign of the end of the season -- a dumpster brimming with pumpkins.

That must have been one spectacular Halloween display; now I hope it all goes to making a fine pile of compost. 

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Paying it back

For years, I've avoided the trick-or-treat brigade on Halloween night, and felt vaguely guilty about it. On Tuesday I decided to do the right thing and hand out treats at the door.

I don't have skeletons, pumpkins or any other signals of Halloween to put on display. But I found this little lamp that looked suitably mysterious when lit with a flickering candle and placed in the front window.

It was a miracle, when I was a kid, that you could knock on a stranger's door one night of the year and they would open it into the brightness beyond, and give you candy. Sometimes they tried to guess who you were (it was small-town Alberta) before they brought out the goodie dish, and in a few horrible instances they demanded a song or a recitation in return for their largesse. But mostly they just smiled at our home-made costumes and generously doled out the treats.

I haven't returned the favour. Because I never had my own kids, because I usually worked nights, because I know candy isn't good for anyone anyway, I never made a practice of handing out treats at my own door. For many years, I had the airtight excuse that I was working. Then one year I tried it and was appalled at how quickly the first run of cute kids in costumes turned into large teenagers in street clothes on the prowl for free sugar. Usually on Halloween, I turn out the upstairs lights and go downstairs to read.

But it always feels. . . just a little not right. Adults had opened their doors to me; in the scheme of things, I should be returning the favour. So on Tuesday I bought a box of mini-chocolate treats (the kind I would have wanted as a kid; none of those hard sugar candies or gummy fruity things), raked the leaves off the walk and turned on the porch light.

 About 12 kids in our child-starved neighbourhood showed up -- mostly smaller ones, mostly in costume. They were all delightful, with their fresh faces and polite thank-yous and greater or lesser attempts at costumes. But for me, the greatest charge was their excitement. It was a reminder of how it felt all those years ago to approach a stranger's door in the dark of night and do the forbidden: knock and ask for candy.

What kids would have seen as they climbed the steps to demand their treats. Unfortunately, there are so few families in the neighbourhood now that there aren't many children to make the rounds. Which meant lots of leftover treats . . . 

. .  .which I've bagged up for the freezer. It will be my emergency supply of sugar hits for the winter.