Solstice, one more time, and an FSJ Canada Day

I had flashbacks of all those many days and years commuting from Vancouver to Nanaimo while on the BC Ferry back to town. Luckily, it was a beautiful, blustery sunny day for the trip and I was able to take lots of photos of the beautiful mountains that I miss up here.

It is such a cliche to say that we take our everyday environment so much for granted, but, yes, it’s true in my case. I did not fully enough appreciate the beauty I was surrounded with each and every day.

Barb had invited me to join in a solstice cycle with the biking group she sometimes ride with and I was looking forward to seeing her and hopping in the saddle again.

On a gorgeous sunny warm evening a group of about 12 of us rode from 11th Avenue near Alma down to the beach and along to the altar at the western end of Spanish Banks just before the hill up to UBC.

Although I hadn’t gotten the dress memo, amazingly enough I was wearing just the right purple-pink attire for the ride.

Although you can’t really tell from these photos, it was a busy time down at the beach, everyone being starved for sun and sand with the very grey and damp Vancouver spring this year.

Also under the category of things not sufficiently appreciated … cycling in Vancouver! I had not been out on my bike since last September and it was wonderful to cycle on the bike paths and along the beach (although I was definitely saddle-sore the next day). Thanks so much to Pam for the loan of the bike!

Along with our cycling party, a group of three police on dune buggies were at the shrine, enjoying the late afternoon sun and slightly impeding what was going to be a slightly more bubbly toast to the solstice!

Just can’t resist those mountain photos! So much more snow on them this year than the last few years. I remember when we were at Sun Peaks two years ago and there was absolutely no snow to be seen on any mountain tops anywhere …

And freighters!

Charlie Lake is the only significant body of water in these northern parts and no freighters ply those waters, only small sailboats and kayaks …

Yet again more money is being spent on Cornwall Street; after having been turned into what is primarily a bike and pedestrian thoroughfare last year, it’s now being dug up again for a purpose that escapes me, to the ire of some of the residents.

I also took a spin around Kits and Spanish Banks and through Jericho Park on one more occasion, really enjoying the lushness of the greenery.

On my way to Beatrice’s place for lunch, I stopped in at Aberthau Community Centre, down by Jericho Beach, to look at their big empty rooms, contemplating a projection or two in their darkened space.

We enjoyed a scrumptious veggie repast in B’s beautiful garden oaisis.

Under the heading of wonderful views is the sunset from the Burrard Bridge.

Christine, Marsha, and I caught the opening day of the new Monet Secret Gardens show at the VAG; luckily, the lineup to get in was not too long.

Monet as an old man in his garden brought two thoughts to mind: Ty in the distant future and ZZ Top.

American photographer Stephen Shore did a series of Giverny garden photos in the 1980s, a set of 25 in different light conditions that are included with the Monet show. With my current mania for reflection images, I enjoyed taking close-ups of these photos with the reflection of the exhibition patrons seemingly in the background of the works.

We spent quite a bit of time looking at the enigmatic Jeff Wall image below, as you can see by our reflections in the photo.

I really love this Rodney Graham piece below, especially since it’s taken at the mouth of the Capilano River at Ambleside, a place that I spent many days at over the years. This was one of my Dad’s favourite places to walk. The photograph, although taken recently, has the colour palette of one of those old 60s postcards.

Here’s a close-up of the figure’s somewhat deranged look, as if he’s having a senior moment and can’t remember where he is or where he’s going.

Below are two samples of the work in Pictures from Here, images of this part of the world, many of them night scenes with theatrical lighting (which I love).

After a light lunch at the outdoor patio in the gallery cafe, enjoying some of the music from the jazz fest below wafting our way, we returned for the final two floors.

I really enjoyed the “alchemical lab” installation piece below, from Persistence. Here is info about the piece from the VAG website: “a collaborative installation by Vancouver-based artists Julia Feyrer and Tamara Henderson. Invoking theatre, play, myth and ritual, The Last Waves: Laboratory (2016) recycles and animates various found and fabricated objects in a capricious, sometimes disorienting response to materials. ”

While the exhibition text does not mention alchemy, that eccentric predecessor of chemistry, the piece certainly does call that up in my mind. Folks have been fascinated for a long time with the idea that worthless dross could be magically turned into gold  and alchemical labs were a staple of 15th & 16th century imagery, especially in printmaking, which it itself a kind artistic alchemy. The engraving below is by Breugel and called The Alchemist from 1558.

Here is some info about this piece: In Bruegel’s image, a dilapidated family kitchen doubles as a laboratory. The alchemist sitting at the hearth on the left appears to be placing the family’s last coin in a crucible to be melted in the alchemical process. This point is further underscored by his wife, who is seated in a hunched posture behind him and attempts to empty the contents of an already empty purse. While the alchemist’s shabby torn clothes and spine clearly revealed through his skin signifies their desperate poverty, his thick, wiry hair, also conveys an impression of vagueness and absurdity, not unlike the modern stereotype of the distracted and dishevelled mad scientist. Both the scene and figures imply that the alchemist neglects himself as much as his family in the single-minded pursuit of his occupation. The scholar on the right, in robes consulting alchemical texts, appears to be instructing the activities of the alchemist and his assistant. As if looking through a window to the future, a secondary scene unfolds in the background as the family walks to a poorhouse. This implies that they have squandered the last of their money in the hopes of achieving transmutation in the quest for the elusive Philosopher’s Stone. Furthermore, the scholarly figure and the assistant are no longer with the family, which possibly suggests that the scholar is the corrupter of those who are more foolish to work in the laboratory aspects of transmutation. In this regard, Bruegel’s print serves as a duel representation of the alchemist as both a fool and charlatan. (Dana Rehn, The Image and Identity of the Alchemist in Seventeenth-Century Netherlandish Art)

Out the front of the gallery, in the refurbished plaza, the jazz festival continued, with a large audience of people perched on the front steps eating hot dogs and sushi.

My final day of the visit saw me heading to our old stomping grounds in North Vancouver to have dinner with my family at Capilano Heights Chinese Restaurant across the street from Cleveland Dam. My nephew Aaron just graduated from the Police Academy and a very proud family saw the ceremony. Father Jess, just retired from the force, welcomed Aaron to the ranks.

Lonsdale Quay gets better and better, with new restaurants and an expanded Presentation House Gallery being built down on the docks.

The bus took me up to the dam where I spent a few moments reliving my youth as I appreciated Grouse Mountain and the greenery of the park surrounding the dam. The last time I had been here a couple of years ago during the terrible summer drought we had, the water was so low in the reservoir; not the case this year; you can still see snow on the Lions in the background.

While in Vancouver I had the pleasure of enoying Pam and Cec’s backyard, an oasis of flowers, with Pam hidden in the background sweeping up a few fallen flower heads. So nice to spend time with these folks and other good friends I was able to catch up with on this whirlwind visit and sorry to miss some of you good people this time!

And finally, I leave you with a beautiful sunset I photographed while walking back to Pam and Cec’s place that night.

See more photos here.

Back in FSJ and I’m gainfully employed once again, having accepted a position as Gallery Manager at the North Peace Gallery in the Cultural Centre here. It’s fulltime at the moment but I will be looking for an assistant soon to help out. Below is a photo of part of the main exhibition space, with changing exhibitions each month; it also has a nice gift shop carrying local arts and crafts.

Gallery 01

Working F/T is a bit of a shock to the system! After work this past week, Ty & I drove out to Sandra’s place and enjoyed dinner and a brew on her back deck, complete with grand kids, which Ty of course got all wound up.

For Canada Day we cycled over to 100th Avenue and took in the Parade; both of us agreed that it was pretty good. We had a great spot curb-side where we could see all the action.

Not surprisingly, there were lots of vehicles, big ones, small ones, old ones, new ones – lots of vintage tractors and cars,

small racing wagons, trick lawnmovers driven by excited riders, hot rods,

motorised toy cars – the Tin Lizzies below,

huge combine harvesters,

horses,

dogs,

and a convoy of first responder vehicles with lights flashing and horns blaring.

The lowrider below, with the snazzy paintjob, is for sale – could be yours.

I managed to score a red, pointed Canada Day party hat to go with my red cycling jacket.

After about an hour of roaring vehicles and flying candy, we rolled down 100th to Centennial Park to listen to music, consume smokies, and check out the plethora of vehicles – more than 140 came out for the day, some of which looked like they hadn’t seen daylight since the building of the Alaska Highway in 1942. Almost all were in fantastic shape, with their proud owners sitting nearby to bask in the glory of our admiration.

The Famers Market was in full swing, as were the food vendors, with long lineups snaking around the parking lot of the Aquatic Centre.

Here’s two overhead shots of the site at Centennial Park by Eagle Vision Video Productions:

Happy Canada Day to you all! See more pics here. Read more about the FSJ celebration here.

 

Walking, rolling and owling in Stanley Park

“APRIL is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain …”

Invoking the memory of TS Eliot, our April was a mix of torrential rain and glorious sunny blue-skyed cotton-cloudy days, all the better to stroll with Brubin along the seawall,

or skate with Barb and Christine.

Ty and I spent a sunny Saturday riding our bikes through the Flats Arts District, so-called, on the former Finning Tractors industrial lands between Great Northern Way and Terminal. The Capture Photography Festival is still on for the next weeks and we caught the last day of Colin Smith’s show at the Winsor,

I loved these camera obscura works in which the artist made the interior of his Boler trailer into a gigantic pinhole camera, recording  the external landscape projected upside down onto the walls of the trailer and rightside up through the windows. I also enjoyed the infrared images in the west gallery of Los Angeles’ canals (example below) by Jason Gowans.

and the photo shows at Monte Clark and the Equinox.

Our first Friday night roll of the season was a windy evening around the seawall, enjoying the bright yellow sulfur piles against the deep blue of the North Shore mountains.

This week is Bird Week in Vancouver and we took in the Night Owl Prowl sponsored by the Stanley Park Ecological Society.

After waiting for a bit at the Lost Lagoon Nature house, and intuiting that the event would not be taking place there, given the dearth of people, we hoofed it up past the Rose Garden to Pipeline Road, lost in space with a number of others who were looking for the owl venue.

We finally found it twenty minutes late upstairs at the Stanley Park Pavilion, where we joined about 70 others for an illustrated talk on the owls of the Park and a night walk down to Beaver Lake to try and locate some of the birds.

The bird specialist described the technique for the scientific study of owls currently being conducted: first one transcribes the weather, using a scale of 1 to 5, then the noise level, using the same scale. Then, one fires up the owl recordings and blasts the sound of virtual owls out into the forest, hoping to get an answering call and/or a visit from said bird.

On alternate evenings one calls in only the big birds, then only the small ones, since the small owls are prey for the big ones and one would not want to see a pygmy owl devoured by a barred owl.

This evening all 70 of us stood quietly in the dark and listened as the recorded call of a barred owl was wafted over the forest three times – no reply and no sign of any barred owls. Then we walked to a different part of the forest for one last kick at the owl-calling can. We waited while a birder held the recorder aloft and projected the call of a screech owl into the trees – amazingly, we received a call back.

A screech owl is alive and presumably well in Stanley Park! The bird experts were ecstatic because this was the first time since 2011 that a screech owl had been heard in these parts and only the third time in 20 years. Yippee!

See more photos here.

April in Vancouver

If it’s April in Vancouver, there must be blossoms, lots and lots of them. Our trees are blooming and the cherries are especially lovely.

Barb and I joined hundreds of other cyclists for the Vancouver Cherry Blossom/Velopalooza Bike the Blossoms ride through the flower-decked streets of East Vancouver.

Brubin the dog is enjoying spring, too; after getting over being plagued with a horrible skin rash, he has new life and energy.

The birthday boys Colin and Ty enjoying their moment in the sun at the Sandbar restaurant.

San Sebastian del Oeste, Jalisco, Mexico

Originally settled in 1605, San Sebastian del Oeste is a secluded 17th century mining town which reached its peak of prosperity in the 1700s, when over 30,000 people inhabited the area. Over the years, the town’s population fluctuated wildly as gold and silver were mined intermittently between the 1600’s and the 1930’s; it now has around 600 permanent residents. Located at the foot of the Western Sierra Madre in West Jalisco, San Sebastian del Oeste, designated one of Mexico’s Magical Towns, is an hour and a half drive into the hills along winding country roads from Puerto Vallarta. The town is located in a pine forest and the air is crisp and clear.

By 1785 there were 10 gold and silver reduction haciendas and almost 30 mines in the area; the town became a city in 1812 and reached its peak in 1830. The mines stopped working during the 1910 revolution and the foreign companies moved elsewhere. The last mine stopped working in 1921. (http://www.puertovallarta.net/what_to_do/san-sebastian-del-oeste-mexico.php)

“The mines were, in part, responsible for the start of Puerto Vallarta. Then know as Las Peñas and consisting of just a few huts at the mouth of the Rio Cuale, it was used to supply the mines with salt which was taken by mules up to San Sebastian and other mines in the High Sierras and used in the smelting process. The silver and gold from the mines was sent, again by mule train, through Guadalajara and Mexico City to Veracruz, where it was sent, once a year, to Spain” (from PV Insider website).

Our driver picked us up from our casa at 10 am for our trip up to San Sebastian, and, after passing many mountain bikers panting slowly up the hills,

we stopped for breakfast at a local family restaurant in tiny Estancia to sample home-made quesadillas cooked on a fire in front of us.

Our next stop, just outside the town, was the Hacienda Jalisco, “built 225 years ago by the Spanish to hold and guard the returns of the myriads of mines of San Sebastian, in preparation for shipments to Spain”, as their website explains.

Now a guesthouse, the hacienda has a small museum of artifacts from its mining days on the first floor, as well as old photos of Elizabeth Taylor and John Huston, the luminaries whose presence here in the 1960s really kicked off Puerto Vallarta and the surrounding area as a tourist haven.

We strolled around the premises, snuck a look at one of the guest bedrooms, a high-ceilinged room with wooden ceilings and a big stone fireplace, and saw the aquaduct system and the remains of smelting chimneys still standing on the edge of the property.

Avocado trees, bougainvillea, and coffee are all grown here. There is no electricity, evenings are lit by oil lamps and candles, and there’s no telephone, life as it was in the Colonial era.

From the hacienda we made our way into the small town, currently in the process of being modernised, much to the chagrin of the older inhabitants, who are not interested in change.

Innovations such as a new entrance gate, newly paved sidewalks, new brick walls, and an entirely renovated town square, are evidence of the money the Mexican government is putting into its Pueblos Magicos program, designed to encourage and capitalise on tourism.

We had a look at the Hotel del Puente, purchased some churros pastry at a local bakery, then drove up to a local raicilla distillery.

Raicilla, home-grown moonshine, sort of a cross between scotch and tequila, is made from the agave plant, which distillers harvest from the surrounding hills and then process in what is essentially a small home alcohol still, consisting of clay ovens, big blue plastic barrels, copper pipes, and hoses.

Nothing was being cooked this day but I could smell the remnants of previous batches in the air. Home distilleries such as these have to be careful to pour off the first litre of distilled alcohol, since it is pure ethanol and will blind the drinker. Provided that the distiller only makes a certain small amount, this home production is legal.

Back in town, we sampled a draught of raicilla at the only cantina in town, located at one corner of the town square and full of local guys quaffing shrimp micheladas who had ridden in on bicycles and motorcycles.

From there we checked out the town church, the Town Hall with its still-functioning jail and graffiti-scratched walls, a jewelry shop with work by local artisans, and then had some delicious fajitas at a Mexican restaurant around the corner.

Full of fajitas, we then drove to the Quinta Mary coffee plantation, another former hacienda restored to a shadow of its former glory,

with two beautiful African blue parrots in a gigantic metal cage snacking on sunflower seeds,

and finally to the local cemetery, where colourful graves and a gigantic bougainvillea bush rest quietly on a hillside to the accompaniment of cattle lowing in the shade.

The experience of being in this town was a strange one. In a way it felt more like Switzerland than Mexico, with the cool temperatures, the mountains and the white of the buildings against the green hills.

For a town of 600 permanent residents, it has an quite a few restaurants and hotels, testaments to the increasing number of tourists who make their way here on day trips and overnighters. Like that strange Greek island I went to off the coast of Turkey, Castellorizo, this place, too, feels like a stage set, on which people are wandering about waiting for something to happen, something that is just around the corner but that actually never seems to arrive.

See more photos here.

Summer in the City – July version

Gotta love Vancouver on a sunny summer day! We are having a fantastic July and I am out and about with the boys. Now that Brubin is a senior dog, he seems to have acclimatised to riding in the bike basket. Where before he used to shake and quiver whenever he saw us put on the helmets, now he has no problem hopping into his perch behind Ty on the bike.

One of the great places to cycle is along the paths through the trees in Stanley Park. Here Brubin is keeping a close eye on where we’re going.

The greens are incredible in the forest here.

The moss on some of the trees is thick and rich – long live the temperate rain forest! I’m sure there are many fascinating scents in the trees.

Another sunny day, another roll on the bike – here we are heading over on the seabus to the North Shore for a ride on the Spirit Trail along the shoreline.

Luckily, today the boat was not crowded – lots of room for the bikes.

The view of the Vancouver skyline from the water is beautiful.

After arriving at the Lonsdale Quay, we rode around the docks for a bit and tried to check out the Vancouver International Sculpture Biennial display. However, their “suggested donation” of seven dollars each was a bit steep for what we could see on display.

(Old Lady rant – I do not like suggested donations. Here’s a tip – a donation is a donation, whatever the donor wants to give. A suggested donation that is enforced is an entry fee and should be described as such.)

From the Quay, we rode west along the water, then up through a few blocks of the First Nations Reserve, past the beautiful old church, and back down to the trail along the water at the foot of Pemberton.

This is a really great ride, past a huge waterfront dog park, then over a railway bridge, through Norgate, past the Burrard First Nations Reservation, under the Lions Gate bridge, past Park Royal Shopping Centre and down to Ambleside Beach.

Using my camera’s zoom function, I could see several people fishing at the mouth of the Capilano River, and got a good picture of Siwash Rock in Stanley Park.

Below are a few more photos of freighters in the bay.

See more photos here.

Deadhead, Night Roll & Bike Rave 2014

This past Saturday was cloudy but not raining, a perfect day to visit Deadhead, an art installation aboard a barge moored near Heritage Harbour at the Maritime Museum. Ty, Brubin and I headed out on the False Creek ferry, were dropped off at the dock, and carried by another shuttle ferry out to the barge.

From a distance the Deadhead barge looks pretty much like any working barge on the water, full of wood, metal, and strange to me machinery.

Once on board, the complexity of the construction is evident; many different levels, stairways, small rooms, and skylights have been erected on the base of an industrial barge.

The central cylindrical tower has been covered with a photographic mural and inside hangs a large hunk of wood which would be perfect as a surface on which to project images.

We all loved Deadhead; I think it would be a fabulous surface to paint and gouge into with printmaking tools.

Back on the dock at Heritage Harbour we saw this skittish little tortoiseshell cat hiding next to a small rowboat.

Before heading back, we spent a bit of time at the dog beach so that Brubin could race around on the sand and dig holes like a sand alligator.

It was hard to tell what the weather was going to do but later that evening we met a group of friends as scheduled for a night roll around the city. While waiting for everyone to arrive at Science World, we were treated to the passing parade of the undercover walk for below the belt cancers.

Finally we were all assembled and off we rolled through the downtown eastside to our first stop, the Casa de Gelato on Venables, with its incredible array of ice cream flavours.

We had to skirt around the Union Street Block Party and head down the back alleys where Ty was kind enough to block the street traffic for us.

Ty was very pleased with his bright red and blue cone, the blue staining his lips and tongue for many hours after.

From the Casa we rolled through Strathcona, across Hastings, down along the docks and over the Main Street Viaduct. After zooming down the viaduct’s off-ramp, Ty chased Winson who had decided to sprint off head, catching up to him as they neared Canada Place.

Along the waterfront, under Canada Place, and up onto the Convention Centre plaza we went, stopping for photo ops at the Olympic cauldron and overlooking the seaplane harbour.

The last half of the roll saw us along the seawall through Coal Harbour and around Stanley Park.

Lots of wildlife was out as the sun started to set; obviously the feeding was good because herons were perching hunting and sea otters were munching on crabs.

We watched a family of three otters as they cruised around looking for food. One lucky critter snagged a crab which he did not share with his brothers.

We had head that the Annual Vancouver Bike rave was happening that evening but had not yet seen them. However, while we were sitting at the Pirate Pub having a bite after the roll, the Rave road right past us, with a stop under the Burrard Bridge.

Many high fives all round as thousands of cyclists passed by our front row seats, decked out in lights and costumes and playing tunes on speakers mounted on bikes.

It was a fantastic show and a great way to finish up the roll. See more photos here.

See Greg’s photo and video collage here.

Vancouver Spring

I love Vancouver in the Spring – all the beautiful blossoming trees, the big ships in the harbour,

the festivals … this post is for my sister Tracey in Dundurn, Saskatchewan, south of Saskatoon, where the snows have just begun to recede.

My bike commute to the bookstore, over the Burrard Bridge, still in the throes of earthquake remediation, and around Kits Point and down the new Cornwall bike lane in the process of being built, is wonderful. Although the pavement is constantly being torn up, and the route keeps changing, I still love it that I am able to get from our place downtown out to Banyen in twenty minutes, even with a stop at Kits Beach to take pictures.

The Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival a couple of weeks ago saw a crowd gathered at the Burrard Sky Train Station to watch the Taicho Drummers, a group of young Japanese “big drummers” pounding the skins beneath the beautiful white cherry blossoms of Bentall Centre.

After that workout we were treated to haiku by the aspiring young actors of the Bard on the Beach theatre school led by Christopher Gaze.

I was a bit disappointed when they used the occasion to promote Bard rather than simply write some elegant Japanese-style poetry.

After leaving that spectacle, I stopped in at the Christ Church Cathedral, where I walked their portable labyrinth, a classical Chartres path painted onto a huge piece of canvas easily unrolled and laid out in the nave. Along with me, several other visitors took turns plying the curves in their stocking feet, shoes being a sacrilegious no-no here.

While rolling down Cornwall to work the other night, I stopped at the corner of Collingwood where homeowners have installed sheets of construction paper bearing haiku for the cherry blossom festival – wonderful under their carpet of flowering trees.

Christine, Barb, and I took in the Verses Festival of words semi-final of slam poetry, starring poets from across Canada, all competing for a chance to go to France for the World Championship Slam Poetry Finals.

The three of us were called upon to be judges, a triple-headed hydra of poetry afficionadodom, for Bout 6 at the Havana Theatre, a fascinating experience. I really enjoyed savouring the diversity of the poetic offerings.

Other than that, I am digging my work with seniors here, inspired by the fantastic exploits of the Kits skaters, some of whom are in their 90s and still skating, and the Barclay Manor painters, where I have had the opportunity of interacting with senior artists still going strong into their 8th decade – rock on!

Below I am working on gessoeing a huge canvas for a new painting; although I had imagined a 9 x 12 foot piece, technical issues (I don’t have a big enough wall) mean that I will have to cut it in half – bummer!

At home on the Prairies

Ahhh Saskatoon – the prairies, big sky country. Four of us city gals headed to Central Canada for a long weekend of country fun at the farm. Around here the wheat and canola fields predominate; it’s easy to tell where the farm houses are because they’re the only places where there are small stands of trees in the vast expanse of waving grains. Around the perimeter of Tracey and Darrin’s farmyard they have mowed in the Taydar Trail, a grassy path encircling the homestead.

The fields here behind the Lumberman’s Curve are canola waiting to be gathered up by combine harvesters.

Along the trail are various bits of used and disused farm equipment, boat trailers, huge metal grain bins (I suggested that they be repurposed into above-ground swimming pools), a gigantic truck trailer, and hidden gopher holes.

The big red barn is over a hundred years old and used to store farm equipment and Darrin’s old 1970s Lincoln Continental, its smooth length a wee bit dusty from hibernation.

Of course, the first thing one thinks of when contemplating prairie life is water-skiing … not. But Tracey and Darrin are lucky enough to live only a few kilometeres away from Blackstrap Lake and the mighty Blackstrap Mountain (a tiny pimple on the landscape that formerly served as a ski hill where Darrin learned to zoom down the slopes as a child, whose facility is unfortunately now shuttered).

Darrin’s friend Phil, who lives at the lake, was kind enough to let us use his boat for the day to try water-skiing, an activity that I had tried precisely once previously in those long-ago days of youth up at Pender Harbour. I proved to be hopeless at it, not even able to get my water skis on. Tracey, on the other hand, was a natural; she gave an excellent display of superpower on the water – we were impressed.

After our collective attempt to walk, or ski, on water, we headed to the beachside concession stand to consume the famed onion rings for which this place is known.

Since we’re all about the outdoor activities here on the prairies, the next item on our weekend agenda was biking the Meewasin Trail along the river that flows through the city.

After having rented our bikes at the Bike Doctor we rolled along Broadway and down to the trail that runs riverside.

One of the must-see trail stops is the University of Saskatchewan Sculpture Park, a collection of peculiar cement and metal creations that called out for climbing and crawling along.

This cement dragon boat proved to be a hit with the gang, as we imagined ourselves running victorious over the finish line.

There are several bridges over the river; we picked the very high railway bridge that required pushing the bikes up and down wooden staircases. Luckily one such staircase provided a trough that ran along its length, allowing us to put the bike wheels in a runner that eased its passage upwards.

A surprising sight for me was the flocks of white pelicans cruised over the water. Right near this weir is the rusted hulk of the Varsity Ski Jump, built in 1931, enjoyed for 43 years and dismantled in 1978. From here people could zoom down the shoot onto the frozen river. A nice stop along the east side of the river trail is the Mendel Art Gallery; too bad it’s going to be relocated to a not particularly nice spot further down the river soon.

Back at the ranch, across the street from the farm are two abandoned houses slowing sinking towards the grass, an odd sight against the horizon.

On the farm, Tracey explained to me, nothing is ever discarded; old houses, equipment, metal parts, and the like are saved, just in case they might prove useful again someday. Some obsolete stuff is repurposed into art objects, as in this example made by Tracey.

We enjoyed a beautiful sunset over the canola fields with a nip of wine and a soupcon of bug spray.

Tracey took us for a spin around the neighbourhood, including a visit to the Mennonite cemetery where some of Darrin’s relatives are resting.

And the Dundurn Community Labyrinth, a surprising find that is now unfortunately somewhat overgrown.

We also paid a visit to the local glass blowing studio, the Hot Shop run by a retired teacher and nurse. Al Hiebert was kind enough to show us around this enormous space where they do cold, warm, and hot glass, and also have space for wood and metal working. I have to confess that I was jealous of the incredible studio.

Interestingly, upstairs we came upon a nice stash of mannequins …

On the farm there was a tree … an apple tree, laden with fruit crying out for picking and eating … we obliged.

The final item on the farm activity agenda was metalwork, welding a metal sculpture for the Tradar Trail from the vast collection of metal bits stacked for reclamation. Darrin was kind enough to show me how to use a metal grinder and acetylene torch; I may look like I know what I’m doing but this would be a false impression …

After piling up the metal that we thought we’d use, the next morning was spent creating Frankie, the elephant-man.

As far as welding goes, Barb was a natural … me, not so much.

The amazingly ever-patient Darrin showed us how to arc weld; we discarded the first base for being too flimsy to hold our emerging metal creation. First the crossed legs, the the pelvis and ribcage …

then the ear-arms

and finally the nose and eyes were crafted. Frankie had emerged from the heap of metal.

Supplied with the final touch, a metal chain, our sculpture was then rolled across the lawn for placement on the trail.

Even Tango approves … a great time had by all.

See more pictures of farm fun here.

Okanagan cycling and wine tasting – La Dolce Vita

All saddled up and ready to go wine tasting! Nothing like a beautiful weekend of bike wine tasting to put one in a good mood. Our home for the weekend in Oliver, the “Wine Capital of Canada”, was the Bel Air Cedar Motel and RV Campground, a sweet little facility on the highway just outside of town.

Barb, Christine, Ty, and I rolled along the 18 km riverside Hike and Bike on a hot, cloudless day – who needs Tuscany when you’ve got the Okanagan!

The trail is flat, with beautiful views of the rolling desert hills and river. Next to each of the pedestrian river crossings are signs warning of extreme drowning dangers due to submerged weirs. I wonder how many people have actually tried to swim in this area …

We started out fairly early, trying to avoid the mid 30s heat, but by 10:30 it was getting hot.

Someone had kindly left a couch riverside for anyone in need of a rest.

Periodically we had to stop in the shade to let poor Brubin cool down.

However, the best way to cool down is a dip in the river … which Ty proceeded to take, from a convenient rope swing, helmet and all.

He hit the water with such force that he lost the visor on his bike helmet … splash!

Ty at river Ty at river2

The views along the river were beautiful.

Our first wine tasting stop was the Church and State, a rather lavish outfit on the hillside; as it happened, this winery had received a Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Excellence in BC Wines and the LG was on site with her tour bus entourage presenting the winery with the award for their Coyote Bowl Syrah 2010.

After stationing Brubin in the shade of the grape vines, we sampled four of their vintages.

Next up on the wine route was Silver Sage, a smaller family-run operation that specialises in fruit wines.

As you can see, Ty was excited about the possibilities …

The folks at the Silver Sage have their patter down pat, a very amusing running commentary on the wines and their characteristics. After tasting our crew did pick up a case load of it.

Silver Sage has a lovely rose garden out front and a beautiful view out over the countryside.

Further down the trail was the Oliver Twist Estate Winery; here Christine contemplates the Sauvignon Blanc.

We loaded some of our wine catch into the wine-mobile trailer.

Although I do love my bike, I was tempted to score a new ride at the Oliver Twist, something a bit more colourful.

Back at the Bel Air ranch, Christine had fun with the doggies, Doug’s two Duck Tolling retrievers.

Next morning saw Ty, Brubin and I out again on the bikes, this time on the trail heading north towards Gallagher Lake.

Our destination this morning was Jackson-Triggs; below you can just see Ty and Brubin disappearing around the corner towards the winery.

Since we were early in the day, there were relatively few visitors at this facility; a very pleasant attendant helped us sample some of the varieties.

After wine tasting we had intended to spend the afternoon at Gallagher Lake but were disappointed to discover that there was no public beach access there, only a private campground which did not allow dogs.

Back on the road again, we headed south to check out Tuc-el-Nuit Lake right in Oliver Town; while it did have a small public beach area, it, too, did not allow dogs. Brubin had to remain in the trailer. We wondered about this apparent antipathy toward dogs in this area …

In amongst all the private property signs (never have we seen so many private property signs – Karl Marx would be spinning in his grave), we managed to find a small trailway taking us back onto the Hike and Bike Trail down past a housing development.

Saturday evening saw us hillside at the Tinhorn Creek winery’s amphitheatre for a show by Canadian band the Matinee.

Since, unbeknownst to us, we had arrived rather late, we had to walk up the hill to the theatre to get to the concert venue.

The band put on a great show, thoroughly enjoyed by all.

Our final day in the Okanagan was spent riding along the Kettle Valley Rail Trail that hugs the side of Skaha Lake, running from OK Falls to Penticton.

Since the trail follows the old railway bed, it’s flat and relatively wide, with interesting vegetation and rock formations, including a couple of lightning-blasted trees.

Just as in Turkey, where trails like the Lycian Way wind past ancient ruins, here, too, are ruins, these ones the hulk of the former Kaleden Hotel built in 1913.

Past Kaleden, a land dispute has made a small section of the biking trail private property, so we had to push our bikes up through some trees and around a fenced off area.

I got pretty tired of all the Private Property signs in this area … obviously, this seagull is trespassing.

Skaha Lake is beautiful and also has a really nice public beach area on its shoreline.

Being a fan of ancient cities, I did love the old hotel ruin; we decided that it would be a great venue for an art installation.

Back at the ol’ Bel Air, the pool was a refreshing end to the day.

Our final wine-testing was at the La Stella winery just outside Osoyoos on the way home.

They specialise in Northern Italian style wines; here Christine savours a nice Gewurztraminer.

See more photos here.

Here’s the link to our accommodations at the Bel Air.

Here’s some info about the 2013 BC Wine Awards.

Summer in May

It’s summer in May – global climate change, anyone? Seemingly overnight, the temperature here on the rain coast has gone from 9 degrees to 25, and the cloudless skies continue … We decided to hop on the aquabus and head over to Habitat Island for an afternoon exploration of the area around the Olympic Village.

Approaching the area along the south seawall, you can see the highrises of Main Street and Telus Science World in the distance. Habitat Island is the small peninsula directly in front of them.

The bushes and undergrowth along the shoreline here are home to more than one resident; along with a colony of crows whose rookery occupies the higher trees, folks sleep rough here.

The rotting remains of a public art project are still here; this was once a card- and particle-board replica of a caterpillar digger.

From the City of Vancouver website, here is a blurb about this area: “Habitat Island is an urban sanctuary along Southeast False Creek. Deep layers of soil have been added to the area to provide nourishment for new trees to grow. Boulders and logs commonly found along the coastlines in this region of British Columbia provide a home for plants, small animals, insects, crabs, starfish, barnacles and other creatures. Surrounded by water at high tide, the island is also a sanctuary for birds.

More than 200 native trees, as well as shrubs, flowers, and grasses that grow naturally in this region have been planted along the waterfront path and on the island. The island was created as part of the development at Southeast False Creek, site of the 2010 Winter Games Athletes Village. To build Habitat Island, shoreline and inlet, about 60,000 cubic metres of rock, cobble, gravel, sand and boulders were used. The ebb and flow of the tide on the rocky shoreline creates an ideal home for starfish, crabs, fish, shellfish and other creatures.”

The tall leave-less trees jutting up in front of the mountains provide resting places for birds, including bald eagles.

Habitat Island is interconnected with the adjoining wetlands which take in water from the storm drains in the area and rehabilitate it before it enters False Creek. This shoreline restoration has resulted in herring returning to spawn in False Creek; often you can see great blue herons fishing, too. Originally, this peninsula was to be an actual island but the powers that be were afraid that people would be stranded on it at high tide; the small causeway connecting the island with the seawall was raised to prevent that possibility.

These wetlands were also recently home to a young urban beaver; although we hoped to get a glimpse of it, the beast was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps he’s moved on to a larger watering hole.

Along with the mysterious beaver, another wild life visitor has captured the hearts of Vancouverites, the juvenile elephant seal currently molting on Ambleside Beach in West Vancouver. Barb and I rode our bikes over to take a look.

As you can see from this photo, the moss on the trees along the stream at Ambleside is incredible, a testament to this area’s status as temperate rain forest, not that you would know it from our current weather.

From the beach we watched as a Turkish freighter came into the port.

The elephant seal occupies a fenced off area on the west end of the beach. Looking decidedly unhappy, this day he was lying mute and stationary near the water, seemingly indifferent to all the curious spectators.

While over there, I took the opportunity to gather some drift wood for an art installation I’m preparing.

Farther down the waterfront a woman was feeding the seabirds and crows near John Lawson Park.

There are quite a few arts spaces along this stretch of water; we stopped in at the Silk Purse Gallery, formerly the home of an eccentric local who donated it to the West Van Arts Council some years ago.

See more photos here.