The fifteen days of Asian New Year have come and gone. Already. Where has February gone? It’s the Year of the Pig and, in West Vancouver where we have come to escape the worst of eastern Canada’s winter, the celebration was bright, cheery and more extensive than I remember it being ever before. I missed the big Asian New Year’s parade held in Vancouver on February 3rd. Next year. But I did catch the festivities held on the north shore.
On January 31st, at the Osaka Supermarket (originally bought by T & T and then by Loblaws), I was struck by the colourful decorations which greeted shoppers on arrival. Ah yes, it is Chinese New Year I thought. I wandered over to the multiple high piles of large boxes, bags, and packages full of cookies, candies, rice cakes, decorations, and other goodies that the Chinese buy in great quantities to share with family and friends during the holiday. There were so many, all so enticing, so mouth-watering, all seriously not recommended for my diet.
Then I found a variety of boxes full of kinds of oranges from all over the world. Among them was a pile of large red plastic baskets, each filled with mandarin oranges, all individually wrapped in paper and cellophane. Here was a Chinese New Years delicacy that I could indulge in. At $8.80 for a basket of 24 oranges, I thought them a bargain and bought a basket for myself. These proved to be the largest, sweetest, most delicious mandarin oranges I had eaten since I was a kid. I learned that oranges were a lucky food for the Asian new year, and that these oranges were especially imported from Japan. Later I bought two more baskets to take to my friends.
On the first weekend of February, just before the first day of the lunar New Year on Monday February 4th, West Vancouver sponsored two full days of festivities to celebrate Asian Lunar New Year. I was struck that the festival was not limited to the Chinese but extended to all Asian nationalities who celebrate the lunar new year. That gave my head a shake; so many cultures in the world take part. Bright red and gold balls, and placards full of facts about lunar new year traditions decorated the atrium of the West Vancouver Community Centre. People were everywhere, many dressed in red, eager to take part in the action.
I was fascinated. Young men did Kung Fu, others beat on drums, young girls and boys played on a grand piano, troupes of children dressed in lavish costumes performed intricate dances, and several young women played traditional instruments. Almost everyone present picked up an activity “passport” which led us to different stations where we could learn more about new year activities. We learned the names of the twelve revolving years of the lunar calendar, and about the qualities of The Year of the Pig. We learned what foods are traditional for the season, and why red packets are given as gifts. Two young girls designed and distributed elaborate sugar treats which we tasted with delight. Altogether, a totally delightful event.
On the first day of the Lunar New Year, the cashier at the Fresh Market, our local supermarket, handed a red packet containing a chocolate coin to each customer at the register. Yet another New Year tradition extended into the broader community. We are indeed lucky to live in a multicultural community where we can celebrate New Years many times of the year in many ways. Happy Lunar New Year.
It’s July and time to visit the blueberry patch. My father and mother started these visits as a family tradition years ago. They would go down the hill from East Burnaby, travel the highway across the Coquitlam flats, take the Mary Hill cut-off beside the Fraser River, cross over the Pitt River bridge and then turn left off the Lougheed Highway onto what is now called the Old Dewdney Trunk Road in Pitt Meadows. It’s an area of rich flat farm lands protected from flooding by dikes built along the Pitt River, the Fraser River and the Alouette River, all running beneath the peaks of the Golden Ears Mountains to the east. My parents met in nearby Hammond, a mill town by the Fraser River now incorporated into Ridge Meadows. In those days, this historical road through the farmlands was known as just the Dewdney Trunk Road.
Once my parents found the farm which they considered the best local blueberry producer, they’d buy forty pounds of freshly picked blueberries at a ridiculously low price, and take them home. Some they gave to their friends, the bulk they flash froze in their freezer for the winter. On my next visit to the west coast, I would load a camp freezer full of their frozen BC blueberries and haul them back to Toronto as my checked baggage on the airplane. All winter, my BC blueberries reminded me of home.
The tradition continues. On Thursday of last week, I made my annual pilgrimage to Pitt Meadows to get some blueberries, now for our Vancouver cottage. I googled “blueberry farms in Pitt Meadows, BC” and went with a list of local producers. I chose a couple that sounded great and set out to find them.
The first was the Middelveen Farms. When Old Dewdney Trunk turned at Harris Road, I knew that I should turn left. Then I drove along Harris, straining to read the street numbers on the farms I passed. But I was driving too fast, the road was narrow, there were too many cars, and I soon realized that I had missed the address I was looking for. When I saw a makeshift sign offering “local blueberries here,” I drove into another farm and bought twenty pounds of berries from the couple I found there in the barn. I knew nothing about the berries except that they were freshly picked and at $2.50 a pound, they seemed like a bargain. I decided that I would buy some from them and more from the others when I found them.
Then I turned around and very slowly retraced my steps looking for Middelveen. This time, I pulled the car over as close as I dared to the deep drainage ditch beside the road and put on my lights to warn others that I was travelling slowly and likely to turn.
After several stops and starts, I finally found the correct address and turned into the spiffy expanse of the parking lot in front of the well-kept home at Middelveen farm. Kerry Sully and Tom Middelveen, the son of the original owners who came to Canada from Holland, greeted me warmly but said that their family farm was primarily a “pick your own” operation.
They have seven varieties of blueberries which ripen at different times during the blueberry season. Sparkling clean white buckets are available for pickers. Tom drives pickers into the fields on his little green ATV, a Kawasaki Mule. When he tells newcomers that they would be going for “a mule ride,” children expect to ride on a donkey and parents enjoy the joke. The charge for blueberries is $2.00 a pound if you pick your own and $3.00 a pound if Kerry picks them. But they’d just sold their last picked berries for the day and had none left. Tom sampled the berries I’d already bought and thought that they were Spartans. He also used his smart phone to help me find the location of the second farm I’d chosen.
It’s a good thing he did. The second was Meadow Berry Farms on Wooldridge Road which was apparently on the south side of the Lougheed Highway, quite some distance away. When I finally found it, I drove into the front yard of what seemed to be a huge operation. There was a modern house at the front, greenhouses at the side, two huge buildings at the back and several parking lots all around. A sign on a door indicated that all visitors and drivers were to “use the front door” to report to the office upstairs. The only door I saw was the door to the house, so I knocked several times but there was no answer. The second building was much larger, and had several loading docks with a large transport truck parked in front. That building was in the midst of construction, with a row of would-be doors or windows framed into what looked like a second storey expansion.
A woman appeared in one of the openings and shouted at me that I was not to take photographs on the property. “This is a closed farm,” she said. I had no idea what “a closed farm” was. There was no sign barring entry at the gate. I explained that Meadow Berry Farms was listed on the internet and I was looking to buy some berries. She replied, “that’s Google, not us,” and Meadow Berry doesn’t sell to people like me, “we sell to the Superstore.” I beat a hasty retreat and left.
I still needed another twenty pounds of berries. So I returned to Old Dewdney Trunk Road and turned into the first farm I saw that had a sign for “fresh farm blue berries” and presented as welcoming to drive in customers.
I drove down a dirt road beside the field at back and found owner Davinder Thiara busy wrapping five-pound baskets of blueberries for repeat customers. He sold his berries at $2.00 a pound and was more than happy to sell me what I wanted. He told me that he has three varieties of blueberries: Dukes which ripen early, Blue Crop which are ready mid-season, and Elliotts which ripen later, are less sweet but have better anti-oxidant qualities. When I told him about my experience at Meadow Berry, he explained that they were a large wholesaler which sold blueberries all across Canada and that I would probably find the “Meadow Berry” label in stores in Toronto. Apparently, the local wholesalers also flash freeze blueberries for export to Asia.
Who would have guessed that a trip to the blueberry patch would open such a window into the blueberry industry? Clearly, the production and sale of blueberries is big business. No wonder. I think blueberries are the best fruit around. All who avidly ate all the blueberries I didn’t freeze agreed. Apparently there are several varieties of blueberries and the season extends to September. Enjoy.
- Middelveen Farms: 13472 Harris Road, Pitt Meadows, BC, V3Y2T3, (604) 459-8764, www.middelveenblueberry.com, email@example.com.
- Hinda Farms: 18947 Old Dewdney Trunk Road, Pitt Meadows, BC, V3Y2R8, (604) 465-2310, firstname.lastname@example.org
Never have I crossed the Lions Gate bridge so quickly. It was 6:30 a.m. yesterday morning, and I was on my way to drop off a parcel to cousins in upper Kitsilano. As I approached the north end of the bridge, traffic was going so fast that the cars did not even stop as they merged into the single lane with the green signal to cross the bridge. Merging four lanes into one at top speed was a unique experience which made me nervous. But once I was on the bridge, I marvelled at the wisdom of commuters going into the city so early. I turned off the Stanley Park causeway at Prospect Point, took the excursion around the park, past English Bay and over the Burrard Street bridge to my destination near Broadway and Vine. It took only twenty minutes, a record in my experience.
That was the trip there. The trip back was another story. As I left my cousins’ home at 8:30, I called my husband to tell him where I was and my plans for the morning. I assumed that I would be back at Park Royal by 9:00, would do several errands and be home shortly. It was a lovely drive east on Broadway, back over the Burrard Street Bridge and around English Bay, then north on Denman. Three blocks south of Robson, I came to halt behind a line of cars. I thought that it was the normal backup for the left turn lane from Denman onto West Georgia to go back over the Lions Gate Bridge. But the lights kept turning green and not a single car moved.
Finally, I decided to pull into the empty lane on Denman which required a right hand turn onto Robson. My idea was to get onto West Georgia at the next major light to the east, at Cardero. There, heading down the hill, I was the fifth car in line to turn left and I congratulated myself on my brilliant advance closer to Georgia. Alas, I soon realized that even a green light only allowed a single car to get through the intersection. Not only that, the one car was required to position itself in one of the two lanes of traffic apparently backed up on Georgia going west. Finally, it was my turn. I pulled into the far lane and joined the queue of vehicles. I was so preoccupied with the news on the car radio about the American indictments against the twelve Russian military officers that I scarcely paid any attention to the passing of time as I crawled west on Georgia.
By this time, I learned on CKNW that there was a “police incident” on the Lions Gate Bridge. Commuters to and from the North Shore were warned to use the Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows bridge over the harbour. All very well and good to know when I was stopped on Georgia heading west.
It was an hour by the time I reached the head of my lane on Georgia and Denman. There, I found a police car straddled across the road behind the traffic ahead, orange pylons blocking my own lane, and a police officer directing traffic to go south on Denman or north the short distance towards the water. As I hesitated turning right, the officer yelled at me to “move along, you can’t stop there.” I yelled back, “How are we supposed to get back on the bridge eventually?” He replied, this time somewhat more politely, that “it would be faster to go over the Ironworkers Second Narrows Bridge.” OK, I could do that, so I continued my turn.
I had never been on this street before but knew that there was a road going east along the downtown waterfront and hoped that I could find it. Sure enough, I followed a couple of other cars as we turned right, and then left, and then right, and then left again through the maze of condos, hotels and office towers near Coal Harbour leading back to Cardero and onto the Convention Centre. This was not the street I was looking for, but I soon found myself on Hastings Street heading east. It was clear sailing across the city. Past Granville Street and Seymour, skirting Gastown, past Victory Square at Cambie and into Vancouver’s famous East Side, across Main Street, and into the port lands. As there were few cars on the street, I could notice the landmarks as I passed, and the colourful characters on the sidewalks.
Until I hit Powell Street. There my flight of fantasy came to an abrupt end and I found myself joining a single lane of traffic heading east bumper to bumper.
By this time, CKNW reported that traffic was backed up on the freeway leading to the Second Narrows Bridge, all the way to Capilano on the north shore, Sprotte Street in Burnaby, and Powell Street in Vancouver. Tell me about it. I was on Powell Street, a long way from the freeway. Apparently, the four North Shore bus routes that normally go over the Lions Gate Bridge were diverted to the foot of Lonsdale in North Vancouver where there was a four-ferry wait for pedestrians to cross the harbour on the seabus. As I sat, hardly moving at all, I saw huge transport trucks moving back and forth on an elevated roadway beside the port installations beyond the railroad tracks. Too bad that road was closed to the public.
Inching my way east on Powell, I saw two cars pull off on a quiet street that angled to the left. There was a sign saying, “No left turn 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. Monday to Friday,” and another saying, “Local traffic area.” I also noticed a group of four or five adult cyclists emerging from the same street heading west. It occurred to me that they may have come on a bicycle path over the bridge from the North Shore, and that this might well be a short-cut to the freeway. What the heck? I had nothing to lose and made the turn.
I found myself on a pleasant street lined with nice houses built to enjoy a spectacular view of the port facilities, the harbour and the North Shore. As I travelled east on the street, I revelled at how quiet it was, how few cars there were, and how I could slow down to take in the view. Eventually, I found a park where I could stop and take photos of the Second Narrows bridge and the mountains across the water. What a glorious spot which I never before knew existed. I spoke to a couple of locals and asked if the road did lead to the freeway further on. “Yes, it does,” they replied, but, “it dipsy-doodles around corners and you have to pay attention.” Great, I got back into my car and headed east. Just think of all the cars I was passing.
A few blocks further east, the road turned right and appeared to climb the hill. But a sign for the Portside Bicycle Path pointed to a road going east and I decided to follow it instead. Alas, it soon ended in a cul de sac with a “private road” leading off down the hill on the left, an empty roadway curving past below, and what I assumed was McGill Street with the cars lined up bumper to bumper above. What to do? Surprisingly, I never thought to turn around and take the road mounting the hill.
Instead, I descended down the private road and found myself outside the front gate of a huge Self Service Storage facility with a big sign warning about the perimeter security system and cameras in use in the area. I pulled up and again considered my options. Coming down the “private road” may have been a mistake.
I looked at the empty roadway curving right beside me but had no idea if the road went both directions. One car came along the curved road heading west. Eventually, another came up behind me, went over the curb and headed east. So I followed him, drove east, past the storage yards and into the parking lot of yet another park. I saw the Portside Bicycle Path leading off to the east and other trails as well. A woman in the park told me how to get onto McGill. If I wanted to go east, she said that I had to take a left at the first light, turn around and then come back onto McGill.
I did as she instructed and soon found myself heading south on North Renfrew street beside the Pacific Coliseum Racecourse and Slots. This was a Vancouver landmark which I had heard about all my life but never before seen. I realized that had I taken this road up the hill, I could have made a direct left-turn onto McGill going east. Where I was now, I saw only a long line of cars stretching south as far as the eye could see. All were going north, waiting to make to make the right hand turn onto McGill. I turned around in the Pacific Coliseum parking lot, and waited to see if some kind soul would let me in. Someone did. Grateful for the generosity of this driver, I joined yet another queue heading for the Second Narrows Bridge. This time, the line was moving at least, and within what seemed like a relatively short time, I was over the freeway, onto the bridge, and back onto the North Shore heading home at full speed.
It took me two hours and fifty minutes to make the trip which had taken twenty minutes only a few hours before. But what I had discovered about the city in that time was worth every minute.
When I got home, Lions Gate Bridge was still closed in both directions as the “police incident” continued. Apparently, the bridge was closed both ways for over four hours and hundreds of thousands of morning commuters were affected. In the Vancouver Sun this morning, there was no mention of the incident. The local policy is not to encourage copycats.
Squawking gulls and cranky crows are a sure sign of trouble. Moving briskly west on the seawalk below my Vancouver cottage, I was focused on using my Nordic poles to pick up the pace of my early morning walk. The idea was to extend the stride of my step and the length of my arm pull to enhance the benefits of the walk. But the noise of the seagulls and the crows diverted all my good intentions and I stopped to see what was the matter.
Sure enough, at the water’s edge where the tide was retreating from the rocks coated with kelp and rich green algae, a bald-headed eagle was standing on the biggest stone around. Not as large as others I’ve seen, his shiny black feathers and snow-white head still stood as a beacon to the eyes. He stood there as if glaring at the hoards of smaller birds advancing towards him.
At least three large well-fed gulls and three more black crows took up positions around him, all squawking madly as if in a fit of frenzy. A couple of gulls approached, flapped their wings and swooped just above him. Then two cocky crows dive-bombed him from two different directions at the same time. They repeated these actions over and over. It all appeared as a well-choreographed attack, perhaps to protect the favoured feeding grounds of the smaller birds. Eventually, the eagle lifted his large wings and flew away across the bay and high in the sky, the crows and one seagull in hot pursuit.
It occurred to me that this may be an example of allied interspecies coöperation against a common enemy. I would have to ask a naturalist about that. As a friend and I had seen a similar incident about the same time yesterday morning, it probably is a daily ritual at a particularly rich feeding site on the shore.
Still later on the seawall, I narrowly avoided being hit by a snail-shell dropped by a crow descending over the sidewalk onto the rocks. As there was a live snail inside, we threw the snail onto the seashore for the crow to recover. Alas he was two slow. Another crow which I had not seen must have been watching and waiting. Just as soon as the snail hit the sand, the second crow was on it for his breakfast.
Later on this same walk, I spied a tall heron fishing in a shallow pool between the rocks. He was standing silently and stately, moving slowly and stealthily in search of his food. A bevy of gulls and Canada geese grazed nearby, and a squadron of crows sat on a log watching over the scene. Obviously, these birds coexist peacefully. I guess only the bald-headed eagle is considered a threat.
Update on the litigation between CN Rail and the District of West Vancouver.
In February 2017, I published a post describing CN Rail’s efforts to have the public using the seawalk declared “trespassers.” Their aim is to monetize to the maximum whatever leasehold interest they can enforce against the District. Diane Powers, spokesperson for the District, advised me last week that the Canadian Transportation Agency held a two-day oral hearing in October 2017 on the District’s application for a declaration that it has a “right of way” on whatever the interest held by the railroad. The CTA agreed that they had jurisdiction to deal with the issue but adjourned their decision until the British Columbia Supreme Court ruled on the earlier lawsuit started by CN alleging that the public were “trespassers.”
Ms. Powers told me that it may take another three to five years for the matter to be concluded. In the meantime, the District has refreshed notices to the public indicating that so long as the litigation is ongoing, the District can only do maintenance on the seawalk that affects health and safety. They can change lightbulbs that affect lighting, remove trip hazards, and engage in any storm cleanup. “Cosmetic maintenance” is suspended for the duration. The gardens at 19th Street and 24th Street that mark the boundaries of the seawalk, and the narrow green areas at 21st and 22nd streets, are designated park areas at the foot of District streets. The District will still tend to them. Like most North Shore residents, I have a visceral personal interest in this dispute, and will monitor what happens.
I spent several weeks in Vancouver this January. Average rainfall at YVR in January is 168 millimetres. This year, there were 249 millimetres, making it the fourth wettest January since records were first kept in 1937.
I can handle the light rain, what my mother called “the Scottish mist,” intermittent showers, and the fog. I can even deal with the occasional tropical deluge or pineapple express which blows the rain horizontally. In these circumstances, locals generally don a Gore-Tex, grab a handy umbrella and carry on doing whatever they planned anyway. I can do that, too. We all know the local secret. So long as it rains for any period of time at any time of the day, the news will report “rain in Vancouver,” and easterners who hear the weather reports will chortle and stay away.
But when the rainfall becomes relentless, so that it goes on for forty days and forty nights of soaking rain, even locals become depressed. So I learned in January. I never thought I would ever say that, but I found it to be true.
The challenge was that we had a visitor from Toronto coming for several days. Originally from Colombia, he came west to help a friend move to Victoria. Since he was coming anyway, we encouraged him to come to Vancouver and stay in our Vancouver cottage. Why not? He had never been to the west coast before and nothing gives me greater pleasure than to show the sights of Vancouver to a newcomer. But what sights do you show a newcomer when you can’t see the sea or the mountains, and walking outside leaves you drenched and miserable?
The first day, he came from Victoria by ferry through the Gulf Islands, and by public transit on the bus and Canada Line to our apartment. That’s an adventure in itself. On his arrival, he joined a small dinner party which my husband had prepared for a few guests. That’s easy, and fun, and a warm welcome to the local scene. The next day, two mutual friends en route to New Zealand had a long stopover in Vancouver. They had rented a car and, as the sun actually came out for a few hours, we toured the North Shore to see the beaches at Whytecliff Park, the fresh snow on the mountains above Horseshoe Bay, and the view of the city and beyond from the lookout up the Cypress Mountain Parkway. But the clouds were coming in, the winds were blowing, and the view was so unsharp that I failed to identify the new Port Mann bridge on the horizon.
The next day, the dreaded deluge returned. That’s okay. We drove through the west end, around Kitsilano and along the shoreline out to the Museum of Anthropology at UBC. There, in addition to the usual treasures, we saw a special exhibit of indigenous woven carpets from the 19th Century. Our tour around UBC by car was a washout, but we headed to Granville Island for lunch. Parking was easy and we had no problem finding a comfortable table beside the windows in the Farmers Market food court. Protected from the rain, we could watch the birds and the boats on False Creek and enjoy the buskers while we ate. The ambiance gave the illusion of a bright day and we loved it. We then drove back over the Burrard Street Bridge, along English Bay and home. A good first day.
The second day, we took the bus very early and got off at the first stop after Lost Lagoon on Georgia Street. In a light rain, we set out to walk the Vancouver harbour to the Convention Centre and Canada Place. Before we even reached Jack Poole Plaza, the rain was pelting down, and we took to looking for any kind of shelter along the way; an occasional glass overhang, an inset doorway, a glassed-in staircase, an outdoor café (closed of course) beneath a building above, anything to protect us. Ultimately, near the Convention Centre, we spied a waterfall leading down into a food court in an underground plaza. Over a hot cocoa, we considered our course of action. What to do?
We learned that underground tunnels connected the food court to the SkyTrain at the downtown Waterfront Station. The reconstructed historical concourse of that station is worth a visit. I then decided that I wanted to see the new Evergreen extension of the Vancouver’s SkyTrain system which goes all the way out to Lafarge Lake in Coquitlam. If I can ride the new extension of the Toronto subway, I can ride the Vancouver addition as well. And I thought that our friend could get a view of my old stomping grounds in Burnaby, New Westminster, and along the Fraser River. So we got on the original Expo Line and did the circuit, transferred to the extension that passes through a long tunnel to the new stations in Port Moody and Coquitlam, and then took the newly configured Millennium Line back downtown. The views were disappointing, but I was impressed by the potential of the new extension. It took us one hour to travel the entire route and cost me only $2.80.
The highlight of our trip was meeting the falcon. As we transferred onto the Expo Line at Commercial Drive and found a seat in a crowded car (thank goodness we are seniors), we noticed that we were surrounded by a crew of young people carrying fancy cameras and a big box which they carefully put down on the floor beside me. When I asked what was in the box, they said that it was a falcon. A falcon? Yes, they had a six-week contract with the city to document how the mere presence of their falcon on the SkyTrain platforms would scare away the pesky pigeons. They told us that in the six station span of their project, it worked every time, except for one station where the pigeons roosted too far away to pick up on the falcon’s presence. We were amused and wished them well.
By the time we returned to Waterfront, the rain had abated enough to allow us to visit the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden and to walk the streets of Gastown. We then took the SeaBus to the Lonsdale Quay and a bus back to West Vancouver. Altogether, not a bad day.
Day three was a challenge. I decided that, depending on the state of the weather once we got outside, we would take the Skyride up Grouse Mountain, or drive the Sea to Sky Highway to Squamish. Since the local mountain was invisible, we took to Highway 99 up the east side of Howe Sound, past Lions Bay, Porteau Cove Provincial Park, Britannia with its Mine Museum, Shannon Falls, and the world-famous mountain face known as the Stawamus Chief. The new Sea to Sky Gondola nearby was open, but who wants to hike trails at the top of a mountain in the rain? At Squamish, there was no rain. We proceeded up the highway to Brackendale where the signs advertise “bald-headed eagles.” Oh yes. That’s right. I suddenly recalled that, every January, volunteer naturalists come to Brackendale to count the eagles feeding at local rivers. I’d heard of that before but never been there.
So, we turned west and drove the streets of tiny Brackendale until we came upon Eagle Run Park on Government Road. There we found numerous interpretive displays, an Eagle Watch Interpreter Program, and a well-maintained dyke viewing area which is accessible via a ramp at the south end. We learned that the spawning of chum salmon runs in the Squamish, Cheakamus and Mamquam rivers provides an ideal habitat for feeding bald eagles. In 1994, the Brackendale-Squamish area set the world record count with 3,769 eagles counted in a single day. We saw our share of eagles: big adult birds, black with white heads, and the motley brown youngsters, sitting on the logs and rocks at the river’s edge, roosting in the trees, and sweeping across the skies. We were ecstatic. It was the totally serendipitous highlight of our week.
If any readers have suggestions for rainy day activities in Vancouver, please use the Comment section below to enlighten the rest of us. My cousin suggested we could have hiked in Lighthouse Park where we would have experienced an old growth forest as it really is. Or we could have hiked in Pacific Spirit Regional Park on the UBC campus as I described in an earlier post. Good suggestions. Are there any more?
It’s amazing what a late afternoon walk will bring. Although it is getting close to Christmas, the leaves of some trees are still autumnal scarlet and have not yet fallen to the ground. Even as a muted sunset settles over Kitsilano, there is enough light to see wildlife that inhabit the local area.
There are many people on the Seawalk, even so late in the afternoon. Most seem determined to get their constitutional finished before it gets dark. When a group is stopped on the sidewalk peering into the water, I know that there is something to be seen. Sure enough. Three seals or otters are swimming back and forth off shore. Then they disappear. The head of one pops up out in the deep water, first in one place; then in another. It then stops, turns, and heads back to shore, squeaking with a strange peeping sound over and over as if calling to the others. Eventually, all three of them are cavorting near the rocks only yards from where we are watching. One eats a fish, two slither ashore and climb onto the rocks, totally oblivious to the curious onlookers. Who would have guessed that they are so big? That their legs are so long? And that white markings are on their coat? A woman who seems knowledgeable tells us that these are river otters who are known to steal salmon from the fisherman on the nearby Capilano River. Now that would be something to see.
When I got home, I decided to play with the otters on my new photography program. In the past, I’ve taken courses from several very skilled photographers who have recommended using Adobe’s Lightroom for post-production. I’ve finally taken the plunge. A couple of weeks ago, Peter Levey, at the Advanced Digital Training School in North Vancouver, helped me download Lightroom and gave me a couple of lessons on how to use it. I can see the advantages that Lightroom offers over the Apple Photos program that I have used for years but which seems increasingly inflexible and of decreasing quality. But Lightroom, among other things, presupposes that my picture files are properly organized and readily findable. Organization of my digital files (for documents and for photographs) has not been my strong suit. Clearly that must change. Equally obviously, to learn the full extent of Lightroom’s capabilities and how to export the improved photos to other platforms correctly will require much practice. That’s the point. I want to learn new publishing programs (such as Blurb or Shutterfly) to make the photography books that my grand-kids love. And it wouldn’t hurt to upgrade the photos on my blog, as well. Any suggestions would be much appreciated.
Last Friday, I spent the entire day exploring the Circle Craft Christmas Market at the Vancouver Convention Centre. When the doors opened at 10:00 a.m., already there was a lineup of shoppers like me, eager to see the wares without the crowds. Circle Craft is a self-sustaining cooperative of BC artists, formed in 1972, to promote “direct from the artist” quality crafts at the Market and at their gallery on Granville Island. Circle Craft is more intimate than the gigantic One of a Kind show, which runs in Toronto at the end of November but, with three hundred exhibitors, this offering is no less engaging.
One of the delights of these shows is the chance to speak with the artisans who produce such creative treasures. The X-tails couple from Prince George with their colourful line of children’s books started out by accident and are now in great demand for stories in schools. The Out of Ruins couple from Ottawa offered to come to my home in Toronto and propose a glass insert for my foyer window fashioned from their recycled glass. The Abeego Designs folks from Victoria promise that their beeswax paper will lengthen the freshness of left-over food. The Lemon Square bakers from Vancouver offer samples to die for. The 4 Paws Pure people from Prince George have an array of dried treats for animals too exotic for my cats but which the dog-lovers in the crowd were buying up with gusto. Don Pell of Wingnut Enterprises, Bellevue, Saskatchewan, told me that the brightly coloured whirligigs that I admired were for outdoor use and would withstand even the coldest prairie winter. The young man at Gift-a-Green had a range of inventive greeting cards that grow. An intriguing idea worth a try, I thought. The bamboo sleepwear on display at This is J, was colourful and soft, but I was in no mood to try on clothing, so took their Fall/Winter 2017 catalogue and may well buy online.
And so it goes. Back and forth along the rows, with too many wonderful treasures to explore. In the interests of expediency, I skipped the jewellery shops, and generally avoided the pottery, ceramics and wood. I declined the free samples offered by various distilleries, wineries and breweries; drinking so early in the day would undoubtedly deter me from the serious power shopping ahead.
For anything too heavy or cumbersome to carry back to Toronto, I decided to rely on webpages. Almost all the artisans seem to have an internet presence, and collecting cards for future reference online is useful. They also have those new-fangled little gadgets for taking credit cards and issuing receipts by email at the same time. Finding my email address already embedded in some machines was somewhat disconcerting; my email address preceded my attendance at the Market! I later thought that perhaps this occurred because I made purchases at the Harmony Festival in West Vancouver before, although not from these particular artisans. Even more shocking was to return home and find so many receipts clogging up my email. Did I really buy all that?
As at the One of a Kind, I made good use of the Parcel Check to store my purchases as I went along. The only downside of the practice is that I forgot how much I’d acquired until it was time to go home. Then I had to arrange all the bags on my arms and in my backpack, and then pack all the parcels myself up the escalator, across the foyer, and down the escalator again to get outside. Fortunately, I didn’t have to stand long until a cab came and whisked me over the bridge just as the setting sun lit up all of North Vancouver.
In the vast expanse of the One of a Kind in Toronto, I typically meet no one I know. At the Circle Craft Market, by contrast, shortly before noon I heard my name called, turned, and found my cousin Diane standing right behind me. Over a lemonade together, we caught up on all our news. Later, the same thing happened again; this time with the two new friends who had met me and my DOH companion at the airport last week. I may be in Vancouver for only a short time, but such encounters make me feel at home.
I invite you to join our early morning photo shoot at Jack Poole Plaza on the Vancouver harbour last week, and see how photographer Rick Hulbert works. Using The Photographer’s Ephemeris, a free online program which shows the quality of light at particular places and times of day (including sunrise, sunset, moonrise and moon set), Rick knew exactly when morning light would be best at the Plaza. When I arrived at 6:10 a.m., he was already there, with his tripod set up at the extreme architectural point of the plaza. He’d already begun shooting material for use in future photography classes.
Last week, he sent me two images which he had ‘recorded’ (notice the lingo) during a five-minute period early that morning. Using the Ephemeris, he was able to find the exact angle of the sunlight and the best place to stand. He explained in an email that his intention was “to portray Harbour Green Neighbourhood in colour. It is early morning first light, and because the sun is shining through the greatest amount of the earth’s atmosphere, the quality of the light is soft and warm. I employed a wide-angle lens and kept my camera level and on a tripod to support a horizontal horizon along with ‘vertical verticals.’
“The image of the downtown core of Vancouver surrounding Jack Poole Plaza is conveyed in black and white. B&W images portray pure luminance which has the potential of conveying an enhanced sense of depth. By stopping down my Tilt/Shift lens to f/22, I was able to achieve a starburst effect with the sun bouncing off one of the building windows in the distance.
“The challenge in both images was to display the enormous dynamic range of light in a single capture. I did this by reducing the original tone curve to a ‘linear curve,’ which also reduces the contrast, allowing me to have more flexibility in ‘re-visualizing’ the image in software. While it could be said that simplicity of subject is a noble goal, I chose to attempt to embrace a complexity of edges in an ordered composition.” He wanted “the images to read as large as possible with no cropping. The subject of each image is the entire field of view… edge to edge of each photo.”
Learning by doing means getting up early in the morning to experience in our bones the quality of the light at that hour of the day. While the master produced his prototypes for future use in class, the rest of us were free to see all the splendid scene had to offer.
My photos have not yet been re-visualized in Lightroom. They were shot as RAW files in Aperture mode. Rick did say that I could have moved the chairs. I never thought of that at the time. My focus on the greenery visible through the iconic Olympic Cauldron led to a discussion of how green pops out in any setting. In the last photo, I tried to highlight the Lions Gate Bridge in the background on my Apple Photos edit program but was not particularly successful. Next purchase? A download of Lightroom.
***** Thank you to Rick Hulbert for sharing his photos and his comments.
Billed as the “Ultimate Urban Travel Photography Workshop with International Award Winning Architect, Urban Designer and Photographer, Rick Hulbert,” this four-day workshop held in Vancouver last week was one of the most intense and engaging learning experiences of my life.
I’d taken a workshop with Rick years ago, while he was still working as an architect. It had been very useful and relatively laid-back. I jumped at the chance for a repeat, with a focus on my hometown. After all, blogging about Vancouver is one of my favourite themes, and improving my pictures would make future posts all the better.
Retired from architecture for more than a year, Rick now teaches photography all over the world. From his professional background, knowledge of art history, and interest in the rapidly changing neurosciences, he articulates his (perhaps revolutionary?) philosophy of photography with unbridled passion. His lectures are amazing. His own photographs used to illustrate his points, awesome. He answers all questions with equal grace, no matter how technical, controversial, or simple (as many of mine certainly were). Post-course, students receive a copy of his key point visuals, which relieves the pressure of taking notes and focuses student attention on what he says and does. Conscious of what each student wants and needs, he ensures everyone equal “one on one” time. It seems that Rick has become the platonic ideal of a photography teacher: rigorous, thoughtful, constantly learning himself, and downright funny to boot. No wonder he is in such demand.
The ten participants in the workshop were photography enthusiasts: devotees of camera clubs, journalists who use photos to illustrate their stories, a hip sound man who is a sports photographer wannabe, a busy father of four who somehow fits serious photography into his work/life balance, some who have already sold their pictures, at least one a computer tech. I was by far the least photo-experienced of the group. The workshop promo said to come and “share your skills with others.” Everyone did, most generously. One, with a camera similar to mine, helped me with my settings. A second showed me how to set up and manipulate my new tripod. Another told me that I could press the button in the corner of my iPhone screen and take pictures without even opening the phone. (I blush to admit, I’d never used that feature before. How could I have missed it?) He also showed me how to download photos onto a USB stick, an essential task in sharing photography (and much else) which I had never quite mastered. Even before the workshop began, I’d learned these two new skills which will undoubtedly change my life.
The promo material promised that the course was “all about taking your photography to the next level.” It warned, however, that “you need a camera that you know how to use” and that you should “read the manual that came with your camera so you will be familiar with its features.” Easier said than done. Since creating my blog, my handy-dandy iPhone has been my camera of choice. But I knew that showing up at a Rick Hulbert workshop with only an iPhone was not on. I bought a light-weight, mirrorless camera two years ago but, out of sheer laziness, I’d used it only in Intelligent Auto mode. “Read the manual.” Are you kidding? Manuals are for techies. It takes a long time to become familiar with all the features on the contemporary camera computers we can now buy, and I hadn’t used my “new” camera for at least a year.
Fully aware that Rick doesn’t teach “Camera Operation 101,” I scheduled some lessons before the workshop to learn how my “new” camera worked. I also started to use my early morning walks for photo shoots. I thought I was ready to go. But, to go “to the next level,” in my case, was a really big leap. Rick recommends shooting in Manual and Aperture modes, and primarily in RAW file format. That’s a totally different thing. Manual mode I had forgotten. Shooting RAW files, I had never done before. I had no idea what impact this would have on how I used my camera. On Day One, I floundered big time.
That day Rick lectured in the morning. After a late lunch, we did a “hands on” walk-about over the Georgia Street Viaduct, down Main Street, and then along the waterfront to the Science Centre and the Olympic Village at the east of False Creek. It was less than a two kilometre walk, a glorious sunny day, and we stopped often to practice what Rick had taught us, and for him to make suggestions. His promo had said that we would learn what to wear on a photo shoot. I did! And it was definitely not what I had on: a black Icebreaker sweater, a wool sweater-coat and a new camera bag too small to hold all my gear. The next day, I jettisoned this attire and came more properly outfitted. That aside, around 4:00 p.m., in the shade of a patio near a bakery, Rick talked cameras and lenses with the more experienced photographers. They were on a short break while awaiting the change of light to continue the photo shoot into the evening.
Into the evening? How do they do it? I realized that I had to pace myself. Feeling a bit of a wimp, I took my leave, rode the Aquabus to the Plaza of Nations, and found my way home. I don’t know when I have ever felt so tired. I was utterly exhausted. Why was I so sore all over? What happened to my much-vaunted energy and the fruits of my physical training? Who knew that photographers worked so hard?
Day Two was another intensive session when Rick explained his principles for successful photography and we applied them to our pictures. In “Image Review” with Rick Hulbert, we saw a master manipulating Adobe Lightroom to improve the RAW data files we’d taken. Apart from teaching us about light, how to see, what to look for, and how to get what we want, “re-visualization,” as he calls his post-production editing, is an essential tool of the modern digital photographer. He made sure we knew how Lightroom works and why we would use its many features. Day Three was a lecture on street photography, a film, and an afternoon photo shoot on Granville Island, including another walk-about to unusual sites only a photographer like Rick would notice. Day Four was an early morning (6:30 a.m.) photo shoot at Jack Poole Plaza on the harbour, with another full day of “Image Review” to further embed our skills.
After four days, others in the group were fading and even Rick admitted that he too was tired. No wonder. He gives out 100% all the time, and then some. It’s true that many of the activities he offered on the last two days were optional. But who wants to opt out when Rick is at hand to share his expertise? I may not yet be able to apply all I have learned, but I now understand the lingo and have the basic concepts firmly embedded in my brain. There is no doubt that I am many levels higher than when I started. Everyone rises to expectations, right?
So, how to rate Rick Hulbert as a teacher of photography? A+++ He more than delivers on what he promises, with the caveat to potential students that he deliberately pitches his program to make the best possible photos. “Learning by doing” is the name of the game. Nothing is more effective. Rick teaches a theory of photography which will stay with us forever. And the attention he pays each student makes it like a master class in photography. Listening to more experienced photographers teaches much, by osmosis. Just remember to get lots of sleep and exercise before the workshop begins, bring a water bottle and some trail snacks to keep you going. And tell your family in advance that you will be late getting home for dinner.
***** The uncaptioned photos are my RAW files of data, “re-visualized” with the help of Rick and the group.
Today when we renewed our ICBC government-owned car insurance on the two old cars we keep out west, I was reminded of the only claim I have ever made on my car insurance. The time I hit the Bentley.
It was a baby blue Bentley convertible which I had seen one bright sunny day being driven along Marine Drive in Ambleside. Probably one of the most distinctive and expensive cars I have ever seen in my whole life. I noticed it at the time and promptly forgot about it.
Many months later, I returned to Vancouver and was driving my 2000 teal blue four-door Toyota Corolla, with the stick shift which always takes me a while to get used to, over the Lions Gate Bridge. It was mid-afternoon. My companion and I waited patiently in one of the five or six lanes of vehicles inching forward, bumper to bumper, where the traffic notoriously converges down to the one lane where the signal would be green and we could cross southbound over the bridge.
It was a dark and dreary day but the rain wasn’t so heavy that I really noticed it. I’m not even sure that I had my windshield wipers on. I was talking with my companion in my usual style, and driving my usual moderate speed, when I reached the apex of the span. As I passed over the height of the bridge and started down the decline to the Stanley Park causeway, I was shocked to see a long line of cars stopped ahead of me, backed way up the bridge. They were stopped dead, with their tail-lights red, and no one moving. I hit my brakes and pumped them as hard as I could, but the surface of the bridge must have been damp and I slid forward into the back of the car ahead of me. It was the baby blue Bentley convertible.
There was nothing to do but to bring my car to a stop, turn off the ignition and talk with the tall, silver-haired driver of the Bentley who approached my window. I got out of my car and went with him to inspect the damage. There were no marks on the paint job but he said that the tail pipe seemed to be bent. I looked and had no idea what I was supposed to be seeing.
There was no time, however, to discuss it. Never having been in any kind of accident before, I had no idea what to do. He was not happy. More precisely, he was visibly embarrassed. Being involved in an accident on the Lions Gate Bridge at any time close to rush hour is a civic disaster which can tie up traffic for hours. We have a friend who happened to be in a taxi on Georgia Street in downtown Vancouver at precisely that hour. He later told me that there was a news bulletin over the radio in his taxi reporting a car accident on the Lions Gate Bridge. That would have been Mr. Silver Hair and me. Mr. Silver Hair thrust his card at me, told me to call him later, and hastened back to his car.
By now, the traffic was moving smoothly, and we followed the Bentley through the park, around Lost Lagoon, and up Denman Street going towards English Bay. My companion took a couple of photos of the rear of the Bentley on his smart phone, so at least we had a record of what we regarded as the minimal damage I caused.
That night, a friend recommended that whatever discussions I might have with Mr. Silver Hair, the best practice was to report the accident to ICBC. At least, I would be covered if he should make a claim. I called the number on the card he’d given me and a man identifying himself as his son told me that his father had left for a vacation and had asked him to “deal with it.” He also told me that their company had many cars and that “one of their mechanics” would look over the blue Bentley and he would get back to me with an estimate of the cost of repairing the tail pipe. I looked up on my computer the name on the card and discovered that Mr. Silver Hair was a well-known “motivation speaker.” There were several sample podcasts of his lectures on his webpage and, just to check him out, I watched one for a while, but soon fell asleep. Two weeks later, I finally heard from his son. He told me that the mechanic had confirmed that the tail pipe was indeed bent and that it would cost $2400 to fix it. If I paid him the $2400, that would be the end of it. I said I would call him back.
$2400! Forget it! That was much more than my car was worth. I phoned up ICBC and learned that if Mr. Silver Hair actually made a claim, I might have to pay an extra couple hundred dollars of insurance for a couple of years, but that would be it. If he didn’t make a claim, there would be no cost to me. I never called him back. I’m not sure that he ever made a claim.
I now always drive over the Lions Gate Bridge on the greatest possible alert. I am also mindful that Bentleys and other expensive cars are to be avoided at all costs. Better to follow a truck than a Bentley.