Wednesday, November 23, 2011

on the move

I've moved my writing home; you can find me at shirleyrudolph.ca.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

not such a grind

I have been trying to 'do' the Grouse Grind twice a week, which is somewhat ironic, because while my behaviour seems kind of driven, when I get in among the trees (Douglas Fir and Western Cedar, most common on the North Shore mountains) it becomes very meditative, in a physical, sweaty sort of way. I do feel tremendously alive on the trail.

Step after step, my awareness of what keeps my body moving becomes very clear. My heart starts to pound (when I feel my pulse move up into my neck, I take a break) my breathing comes harder, I feel the muscles in my legs start to work. My head gets hot, sweat drips down my face. I finally got some spray for my glasses, so they don't fog up anymore. (This wasn't a problem when I was still wearing contact lenses, though dust was.) I do find that seeing where my feet are stepping is helpful, as there are a lot of stretches of the trail where the steps are made up of rocks and tree roots. (I sometimes thank the trees, when their exposed, bark-protected roots snake over the trail; I know, getting weird.)

chipmunk
Very rarely, I see wild creatures. Squirrels, smaller than the fat sassy ones in the city. Chipmunks. Only twice, deer stepping softly by. The odd raven calling out (ravens are odd by nature). There are occasionally signs posted that bears have been seen in the area, and once or twice, cougar warnings. I've never seen any, though they saunter the streets around North and West Vancouver often enough. I expect both the bears and the cougars have the sense to stay away from this particularly trail, as there are times when it is a constant parade of gasping, panting people, slogging up the slope, not exactly quiet, and not always pretty. I would never go alone on any other trail. On this one I am almost never alone. At the most, maybe five minutes, before I either catch up, or more likely, get overtaken by some speed demon, trying to best their time. It's a rare treat, silence.

my niece saw this one
watching her, far from
the Grind, but a bit close
for comfort
There is constant maintenance on the trail, because of the constant erosion, caused by rain, snow, and us hordes of hikers. In recent years there have been a surprising number of staircases added into the mix. Some are built with wooden beams, which make nice easy steps, and some with huge boulders dug into the trail. The stretches where the steps are made up of the network of tree roots are somehow more satisfying. I haven't seen the guys working so much this year, but last year it was common to come upon them. They had dogs with them (normally not allowed on the trail), a couple of big shepherdy beasts that lounged around while their owner worked. They likely kept down the likelihood of the appearance of those bears and cougars we keep hearing about.

It's a weird kind of trail. I think any other of the North Shore trails, you'll find people actually out hiking, dressed appropriately for the outdoors, carrying packs. The Grind is a workout trail, an extension of the gym for many. People fly past me, dressed quite minimally (sometimes that's good, sometimes not) carrying only a plastic water bottle, wired up with music pumping in their ears. I see plenty of goose flesh on the ride down. (On the cusp of the seasons, spring and fall, there will be overlap of hikers and skiers/snowboarders. An only-in-Vancouver sight, gym gear rubbing up against snow.) Then there are the people who have read about it, but didn't read far enough, and start out in street shoes, or flip-flops, dressed nicely for a saunter around the resort. They tend to turn back early on, though I've seen bare feet on the trail, and near the top too.

hanging out in my brother's
backyard
I'm old enough to ignore fashion (somewhat) so am allowed to carry a (small) pack, and thus have a fleece to put on when I get on top. But I wear my own older-person version of workout gear: shorts, t-shirt, that's it. Soon I may have to put on gloves as the air chills, and I may have to give up the shorts, and put on light pants, or at least take them with me as a change, but my body pumps out so much heat that anything more is torture (it's funny to be sweating and hot and have your fingers freezing, but it happens; it was balmy yesterday). Once I come out on top and stop moving though, brrr. All that sweat gets cold pretty fast.

I don't carry a player of any sort; I turn off my phone (though I bring it, just in case I need to call for help from some gully). I like to hear the ravens laughing at me. I like to hear the wind in the trees (though not too much; once I got stuck on top, waiting for the gondolas to be safe once the wind died down. Brrr, indeed.) I will turn back for hail, I'm not crazy. But if the gate is open, I'm in.

quite the slope
And I do try to shorten my time, I admit it, challenge myself. I'm at about an hour and a quarter now, which isn't at all brag-worthy (brag, brag) but getting there.Yesterday I passed a (young) guy in the last quarter, who had answered his phone. "I'm on..gasp..a hike that is...pant, gasp...brutal," he said. I saw him a few more times, but he didn't finish last, he ended just ahead of me. Gotta maintain some pride, eh? I credit myself with motivating a fair number of grinders, who see me coming, and stop resting. Not that I'm that old, but old enough to make them think of their mother (or grandmother) leaving them in the dust.

I succumb to the same thing, I blush to admit. I passed a guy the other day, who I'm sure was at least ten years older than me, and felt very smug. Later, he caught up and passed me. Lesson learned. Set your own pace well, and you'll get there. What other people are doing doesn't really matter. I'm thinking it's an idea that's applicable to life in general.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

drifting on summer time

It often feels that time is slipping away, but maybe that's because I'm not always clear on where I'm going. I do have a general plan, but currents get me. I sometimes wash up in unexpected places, but with a little thought and introspection, perhaps a slight change of perspective, I work these digressions into my own plot. We all get there, in time. Where there is, well that's up to us.

Canada geese, also headed somewhere.
Time got away from me this summer. I try to fit myself into a timetable (I do have a bit of an addiction to spreadsheets) with very little success. Maybe I should learn something from this. Flux is not necessarily bad.

My writing slipped away this summer, causing me angst, until I thought that maybe writing, like any occupation, needs an occasional holiday. It gave way to visitors and holidays and bits of travel. In actual distance traveled, not much, but then when you move the scale down to the ground (or sea) and move slowly enough to see the ocean drift by, or the road spin under your tires, it gives you a different perspective. (And it doesn't rattle your brain quite the way levitating through the air does.)

swallowed into the woods
Although the summer seems to have flown by, when I think about it, time was leisurely. Part of the time anyway. The week I spent on Galiano Island at the end of July slipped by, but in that week, I remembered I could live without electronic communications. No phone, no computer, no cell reception. (No running water either, though the rain barrels pumped out enough to keep the dishes clean.) No sounds except the wind in the trees, ravens laughing in the distance.
Coon Bay, Galiano Island
August though. August flew by. And now it's half-way through September. I worry this is a phenomenon of getting older; you blink, and the season has changed.

On the weekend my love and I took his kayak out for an all too infrequent paddle. We launched into False Creek, and paddled along the shoreline, marvelling at the contrasts, glittering glass towers, a seal poking his nose out of the water.

We had such a peaceful time there within the hum of the city, that we took it out again on Sunday. This time out to Deep Cove, and paddled up Indian Arm. It was an interesting contrast to our city paddle. Instead of tall buildings, steep hillsides, sometimes cliff drop down into the water. Scattered in the trees, clinging to what there is of shoreline, lush and exhorbitant houses sit basking in the semi solitude. Saw several seals. We paddled for almost three hours, away then back again.

summer colour, alas
The whole time, there was the roar of motorboats, echoing off the sides of this little fjord. It was a constant and relentless sound, never stopping for the whole three hours. Sunday on the water. Choppy water too, all those people stirring it up with their outboards. It made me yearn for the peace of False Creek, which in truth was quieter, even in the middle of the city. Galiano, a distant dream.

Today there are clouds everywhere, back to the usual colour of Vancouver's sky. There's a definite feel of fall out there. So I'm going hiking. Quick, before the snow falls on Grouse mountain, the one I can't see anymore, hidden in the fog. It'll be peaceful on the trail.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

not so lazy, a bit hazy

Being a tourist in my own town: Visiting
the orphan grizzlies on Grouse Mountain.

So where have I been? Or what have I been doing? Looking back through my calendar, I see that I've been busy with relationships. Friends, family, life sliding by.

Since the hockey riot, which was back in June, I've had an influx of visitors. It started with an old friend, here because her mother needed help. Her visit extended when her mother died, initiating a whole bunch of stuff that just has to be dealt with. My awareness of mortality looms every time someone's mother goes and dies. When my mother died, 23 years ago, it felt like the protective ceiling just disappeared. I'm not sure that's any different no matter what your age. (Forgive me for extrapolating a generality from my own experience. It occurs to me that some people heave a great sigh of relief when their mom checks out.)

I spent a week hanging out, and briefly housing, several of my American cousins, which caused a reunion of Canadian cousins too. During that week my firstborn rolled over to 31, which illustrates the passage of time better than perhaps anything, no matter how much my hair manages to resist grey.

Spent a week in a language class, trying to re-establish some of my brain's memory of the French it was supposed to have learned, almost half a century ago, yikes, time again. I had a great deal of fun, but was so overlapped with summertime visits that I couldn't give it the time it deserved. C'est la vie, mais c'etait amusement (and I intend to find time to continue).

Spent a weekend back-and-forthing to Saltspring Island, for a gathering of my bf's cousins, whose company I like. This is hardly work, but came at the beginning of my away daughter's visit, so I had to stomp out guilt. Leaving town when the away-child is in town! I've never done that before. To do something I might enjoy. Such selfishness. I had to flog myself into it.

I saw two plays at Bard on the Beach with my eldest, a pleasure we've shared since I first took her to see Midsummer Night's Dream when she was 11, an appropriately magical production, as I remember it.

I finally got some time with my visiting daughter, who was in town for a friend's wedding, and stretched out her visit so she could see all her Vancouver connections. She brought the news that I'm going to be a grandmother next year. Er, I mean, that she is going to be a mother. I remind myself, this is all about her. But people will congratulate me, though I've not done anything to make this happen.

There's lots of emotion in this kind of news, mixed in with that awareness of time passing, evidence that I'm well into the senior generation (I'm that ceiling!). I'm probably a bit jealous too; I did love having babies (excepting the pain part). So this is very exciting. A big change, don't I know it, and I feel this trepidation for her, until I knock myself on the head and remember how capable a person she is. And then I think how profoundly better my life is that I know these three children of mine, and I'm glad indeed for one of them to enter the club (not that it's a requirement.). It is something she's wanted for some time, so grand news. Grand.

Among the mundane things of the last weeks, a strata meeting at my complex, lots of little details. (I'm the President, so seem to be the recipient of a lot of emails.) Progress on some repairs, hurray.

Got vaccinated against shingles (at my own cost, saving the medical system potential future costs. Aren't I a good citizen?).

This takes me up to mid-July, when my bf's vacation began, and after a mad scramble to pack for some camping, and some cabining, and some posh housing, we were off to the ferry, again leaving while my daughter was in town, which took another effort of will, believe me. It's not that I see her much when she is here, as I'm not the only person wanting her time, but it's my inclination to be available. Ah well, sometimes schedules don't match. I console my (unreasonable) guilt with the thought that she/they hardly need a (s)mother hovering over them at this age, if she/they ever did.

(to be continued...)


Thursday, June 23, 2011

on taxing matters

When the mail starts to move again, we'll get to vote on whether to keep the HST here in BC, or go back to the old convoluted system of GST & PST. Yes, that's a biased statement. I don't like paying taxes any more than anyone else (I'm as selfish as anyone else) but I do like being able to go to the hospital, to drive on the roads, to hop on a bus, so I expect to pay them. I think it's simpler and there's less waste in paying one set of civil servants instead of two. I don't believe in job creation when it just involves job duplication, which is what I think going back would be.

Saw law student Chris Thompson
on Global News the other night.
His is an independent view:
FightFightHST.com (And yes, I suffer
from confirmation bias, too.)
The argument against the HST vs the old GST & PST is an emotional one. And I'll be the first to admit that my initial response to the Stop HST folks was a very strong feeling that something was fishy, because Bill Vander Zalm was involved. I remember when he was Premier of this province and I remember how he left office. (I didn't vote for him then, and no, I won't vote for him now.)

The main gist of the Fight HST folks, or so it seems to me, is class war, which is funny coming from a not-unwealthy capitalist like Vander Zalm, but explains why the left has jumped on his bandwagon. Poor people against the rich. Who is poor and who is rich is of course very subjective, and it shifts depending on the topic. Labour, for instance, is downtrodden normally, but when demanding higher wages, it slips over to fat cat side. Especially if it's tax money that pays.

Anarchist or opportunist?
Definitely not a tax payer.
Last week's looters were initially pegged as anarchists, which would explain why they thought it was okay to help themselves after the glass was smashed. Someone else can pay! Then it turns out they may be the coddled youngsters of the middle class, therefore just opportunists, with a confused sense of entitlement. Someone else will pay! The anti-HST discussion seems kind of similar to me. Don't expect me to pay! (Fight the Man! Burn the police car!)

It's this self-interest, every person for themselves, that the anti-HST folks are pandering to. Every time people clamour against taxes, they are saying someone else should pay. The success in this kind of thinking is evident in the not-so-admirable side of us that lets us walk away from our garbage after any public event, leaving city workers to sweep up the rubble. (And listen to us squawk when they want an increase themselves. It'll raise our taxes! Who do these fat cats think they are!)

And speaking of fat cats: While there is always nonsense about 'big business' as somehow inherently evil, and not the source of most people's paycheques, google Jimmy Pattison donations, and then say thank you to his public spirit. I did when I visited my father during his stay on the 14th floor of the tower at VGH.

Personally, I think there is no economy without big (and small) business ( small business, good; big business bad: when does one morph into the other? I digress.) I think going backwards to the old tax regime is potentially destructive to that economy. In fact, it's cost us a bundle already, with the time given over to dealing with the anti-HST fight. It's not like we're going to stop paying taxes, after the dust settles. Likely we'll pay more, to clean up the damage, whatever result we get from the referendum.

Here's a different idea. Paying taxes is actually a socialist act. An act for the greater good. There are things we all need, and taxes pay for them collectively. If you are poor, you are better looked after in such a system.

Here's another idea. If you think that 'rich' people are feeling the HST less than the poor, remember that they pay a lot more HST on their Mercedes or BMW than you do on your Kia or Hyundai. And if you can't afford a car, guess what? You don't pay any. Yet you still get to buy bus tickets (which are subsidized one way or another through taxes, though we complain bitterly).

We all pay income tax if we have an income. It doesn't matter whether we have lots left over after paying our mortgage in Prince George, or none because we pay our mortgage in Vancouver. Income tax doesn't care. But if we live here in Vancouver, then we make the choice to do without some things in order to afford to live here. And we don't pay any HST on those things we don't buy.

Our system is based on a lot of trust. Trust that there are more good people out there than bad. That the good people will come out the morning after and sweep up the broken glass. And they do.

The fight against HST is based on distrust. The belief that no matter what someone says, once they are in government they are lying and tricking us. So we shoot ourselves, to spite them. That's what I think.

Friday, June 17, 2011

party crashers

They rise up out of their parents' basements, tank up on booze, and look for a fight. The word goes out that some hapless kid is having a party because the folks are out, and they swarm the place, destroy and steal things, and fight. The police are called. People end up traumatized, people end up in hospital. It happens all the time. It's a micro example of the macro event that happened to Vancouver the night that Boston won the Stanley Cup.

The scene outside my window.
It was not about the hockey. Hockey's a game. It was not about the Canucks losing. Every team lost, except Boston. The Canucks just got to play longer. They were fabulous this season, and gave the city a tremendous lift in spirit, and it was great, but it wasn't the end of the world that they lost to a better team. They'll be playing again next year, working hard to be the best team. And we'll all be cheering them on next year. But get real; the team may play in Vancouver, but the players are hired to do a job. That's why the only 'real' Vancouver player, Killarney boy Lucic, was playing for Boston. We can cheer that. The Stanley Cup will come to Vancouver! Brought by an actual Vancouverite! But it's fun to pretend, and it's fun to cheer for 'our team' to win. Face it. You win some, you lose some, but it doesn't necessarily make you losers.

No, the losers are the poor saps who decided, in a strangely twisted way of (not) thinking, that they would crash the party.

In behind those building? The scenes of the crimes.
Hard to believe.
They rode into town on ferries, skytrains, buses (no concept that a lot of hard work and expense went into those systems, whatever, who cares). Maybe they even drove, parking well away from the 'fan zone.' They were excited to use the excuse of a hockey game to attack the city that somehow offends them. A lot of guys brought tools for the job. They certainly weren't coming for the hockey game. Lots of them, I'm sure, will be 'known to police.' More troubling are the huge numbers swept up in the excitement, part of a hyena pack, clueless to the harm they were causing, or worse, not caring, just glad to be able to join in smashing and stealing things. Empathy sadly lacking. It's almost like the mob (non)brain is a force of nature; there's no stopping the flood. It's mindless and it's extremely dangerous.

I felt the same despair watching as one young woman I saw on the news. She was trying to stop people from destroying a car on Seymour Street. "What's wrong with you people?" There is no answer to that. Nothing. Everything.

It's a common story in Wild West stories, the thin veneer of civilization on the frontier. The mild-mannered townspeople are always totally gobsmacked by the gang of thugs riding into town to destroy things, and there are never enough sheriffs or enough citizens brave enough to get in the way, though there are always some, as there were here. What we did see here was young people behaving incredibly badly, with some kind of utterly lame-brained sense of entitlement to just help themselves to other peoples' things. And the taunting/hatred of the police as if they are the enemy? Earth to the rioters: you are the enemy. You are why we have a police force.

The route out of Dodge. The
game has just ended, and smart
fans are crossing the bridge.
This is an expensive city. I don't think we actually have enough young people living here to get that many drunken louts downtown. No, we invited the neighbours to a party, and the word got out. Then the crashers assaulted us. The fault doesn't lie with the people who held the party, it lies with those who wrecked it. Unfortunately though, even if we manage to toss them all into jail, it's us that gets to pay to keep them there.

I've heard them called idiots, bullies, hooligans, yahoos, fools, scum, psychopaths, thugs, and it's hard to disagree. A lot of the faces I've seen in images are very young. Some of them might even be bright, who knows? But they seem to have missed that we're all in this together, that their stupid and completely criminal actions will cost our city an unimaginable amount of money, in repairs, in tourism, in insurance, in court costs, in the inevitable studies and reports. I hope they will be ashamed of themselves. I also hope they enjoy the crowded remand centres when they get arrested, as the money is now a bit more stretched.

I came upon a "pity party"
 (their phrase), laughing on
the street.
I could hear the helicopters buzzing over downtown, never a good sign. So I thought I'd go for a walk, and see how my part of the city felt, while the mob slouched through our downtown. There was a sense of letdown out here in normal-land, but it was in perspective; we lost the game, oh well, isn't it a beautiful night?

So yeah, the trash trashed us, and we're all feeling the bafflement and pain, and yes, wariness, after falling victim to an utterly senseless assault. It'll take some time to get over, but it won't keep us out of the downtown, and we may still have parties. Carefully.

Just please don't tell me I'm responsible for my black eye. I didn't punch myself in the face.
False Creek, looking northwest, as the sun goes down.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

traffic mayhem

city skyline: ain't it pretty?
I was going to talk about the Canucks, but on Friday before the game, I went on a day-long journey that took my mind off hockey for awhile. I had offered to make a few deliveries for the Writers' Festival. I've done this before, taken stuff out to the various school boards in the Fraser Valley, as enticement for their teachers to plan field trips come the next October. I had five packages to deliver, and I entertained myself mapping out a route. I like road trips, and think of this one as a simulated road trip, that ends up at home.

I like to find new roads, rubberneck routes I haven't been on, not just follow major highways. I might call them the routes less traveled, but that's not precisely correct. They are the routes less traveled by me. And may stay that way now.

When I read Neuromancer, by William Gibson, many years back now, one of the things that struck me (out of many) was his term for the place his character lived: the Sprawl. The name conjured up an image of endless city, lots of smoke, dust and mayhem. I never pictured it as being anything like our lovely city by the sea.

I started out aiming for New Westminster, headed out along Marine Way, actually knowing the route I was following. It changes though, every time I go. Originally kind of a bypass to the city it's grown into a major route, full of traffic and trucks, with all kinds of construction and a massive mall along the way. This used to be a nice drive through the country, past myriad market gardens. You can read about it in the Swamp Angel by Ethel Wilson, as Marine Drive is the route the main character takes to get out of town, on her escape from her marriage. Out of the soulless city, into a lush, green verdant landscape stretching south to the river.

not this bad...yet
Well, part of Marine Drive still exists, and still has a few farms on it. But just south of it is the roar of Marine Way blocking that stretch to the river. Now most of this fantastic delta land, rich river deposit, is covering over with development, hidden under the cacophony of truck engines.

Coming into New Westminster this way it gets particularly hectic, as the sedate route that was (oh, my, I'm getting old) has given over to impressive interchanges and caravans of rumbling trucks and cars, a major route to Surrey. There are so many people constantly on the move, it boggles.

I know New Westminster well enough that I picked the fewer-trucks route to get past the Trans Canada and through to Coquitlam to find that school board office. It wasn't that bad a journey; there are long stretches of pleasant-valley kind of suburban housing, and still, lots of trees. From Coquitlam's school board I figured out how to cross over to the Barnett Highway and out to Maple Ridge. The route my mind keeps remembering as farmland stretching from Coquitlam/Port Moody all the way to Haney, where my mother grew up. Alas, no one even knows where Haney is anymore, as it's been long absorbed into Maple Ridge. Maybe they notice the Haney bypass, that doesn't bypass much, anymore.

seen from Mission, Abbotsford
is hidden behind the greenery
My memories proved trustworthy though as I took the further drive out to Mission, a drive that I absolutely love, the valley is so lush this time of year. I took the bridge across to Abbotsford, one more delivery to make. The route into Abbotsford is still farmland, a peaceful reminder of the Fraser Valley that was. Then I thought I would swoop through to Langley, make my last drop-off, and head home, following the old highway one, Fraser Highway, which to my mind should meander through farmland before it ran into the suburban sprawl of Surrey.

What was I thinking? First of all, there is no longer a country break on that drive from Abbotsford to Langley. There are a gazillion people have moved out into the valley, to get away from the city, ironic as that is, or quite likely because they can't afford the absurd price of living in Vancouver. But what a penalty they are charged! There are still plenty of trees out there, but it's hard to spot them through the dust of road construction, and the glaze your eyes take on, as you inch forward in first gear. The Fraser Highway is being widened, because it is a constant bottleneck. The Trans Canada is also being widened through Langley and Surrey, to connect with the new larger bridge crossing the river. The old one is hopeless, there is so much traffic.

going west towards the city
the Fraser highway actually
narrows into one lane
I lost my desire for the scenic route and headed for that major highway, but found that it too requires first gear, occasionally second. Once in a while I put the car in neutral and just rolled. It took me about an hour and a half longer than I figured it would, delayed as I was, and now sucked into traveling in "rush" hour. And I was traveling into the city, the direction that is supposed to be against the traffic. Hah. What's it like for the majority heading out?

I just kept wondering, how do people do this every day? I was a wreck when I finally got out of my car. And how can our government think that after all the years of subjecting all these people who live east of the "most liveable city," that the bridge that is supposed to alleviate some of this nonsense, should be a toll bridge? And don't suggest people use transit. There is no transit worth mentioning out there; Sky Train barely makes it across the river, and there's certainly no overabundance of buses either. I did see some kids in Canucks jerseys hitch-hiking at a bus stop on the Fraser Highway, with some feeble hope of getting somewhere before the game started. Lots of people waiting. But the buses can't get out of first gear either, so it hardly helps to get on one. Anyway, I saw maybe two buses in the couple hours it took me to get back onto Vancouver city streets.

Ah well, at the end of the day, I got to watch the Canucks redeem themselves, and win one more hockey game, which went to easing the pain a bit. It at least gives people something to cheer about, as they are stuck in their cars, trying to get somewhere to watch the game, at a time of day that is set for the convenience of other places. But I guess people get used to that.

Monday, May 30, 2011

infrastructure

click on any of the pictures
for a better view
We all take a lot for granted. Turn on the taps, flick on the lights, turn up the heat, toss food in the fridge. I certainly don't often think much about the 'magic' that goes into supporting the rather easy life I live. It hasn't escaped my notice though, that getting anywhere is made a lot easier by the fact that there are a lot of people involved in creating all this magic (applied science). It's kind of funny really, because I'm one of those Arts grads (from long ago) who was dismissive of anything outside my tiny world view. I will only say, that in my older age, I've grown up a bit, and appreciate it greatly when I step out to walk across a bridge, or get on a bus, or turn on my car, that there are Science grads too.

some of the tools
This past week it's become a little bit more visible how that magic is created. My little neighbourhood has been turned  temporarily upside down by an extremely complicated hydro project, one that is intended to increase capacity for power in nearby areas. It's not surprising, when you stop to think about it, which we don't often, that there would have to be some new wiring put in here and there to support the myriad new buildings that keep appearing on our landscape. Each time a new tower goes up, it's like a new village is added, sometimes a small town, except it goes up, rather than out. It has to plug in somewhere.

strange beast
Project management is visible everywhere, made concrete by the appearance of bulldozers, flag-people, hardhats, heavy equipment operators (lots of 12 hour shifts) email updates, traffic diversions, shuttle buses, and the inevitable delays of any renovation project. It's also made visible by the appearance of seven 850 metre long pipes stretched in a bundle along West 8th Avenue, looking for all the world like some exo skeleton, or a sea serpent (on a solid sea), stretching some five or six blocks. It was dragged up here during the night, after being assembled alongside the oh-so-briefly-used streetcar tracks stretching between Granville Island and the Olympic Village station.

The pipe bundle was pulled along West 6th Avenue (blocking traffic completely, and snarling up Broadway for miles) up Willow Street, and then laid out along West 8th, where I found it when I was trying to walk up to Broadway a few days ago.

the pipe bundle was capped, to pull it to the holding area
It made for a much longer walk than I'd planned (I didn't bother hopping on the shuttle) but also a lot more interesting one than I usually find around here.

the bundle diving into
the ground
Yesterday the bundle started to move. It makes a turn now down Laurel Street, and then at West 7th slides into a bore hole. It is being pulled through (not pushed) across False Creek into David Lam Park. Lots of machinery and hardhats over there too. It might be finished today. Maybe tomorrow. I've had renovations done, so I know it'll be done when it's done.
the crane, just visible at the
centre of this photo, is where the
pipe bundle is diving underground

The pipe bundle will be encased with concrete, which will insulate and protect it. The drilling mud gets sucked out the other end by vacuum trucks. Eventually the pipes will house cable, connected to a new substation to keep our city chugging along, while we inevitably complain about rising rates.

The tranquil view to the right doesn't show it, but the pipe bundle is there, inching it's way under False Creek. The crane where the pipe bundle goes underground is just visible right in the centre of the picture.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

oasis

the view from the balcony
blissful in any weather
We spent the weekend in Osoyoos, BC. It likes to call itself desert country, but I find that Wikipedia says it's actually shrub-steppe. That seems like quibbling though, because it's usually dry and this time of year, hot, which is what draws us escapees from the rain. It's a beautiful drive from Vancouver, if the weather behaves, which it did on our trip out. We followed the road less travelled, Highway 3 from Hope, following the Similkameen River through Manning Park to Princeton, then on to Keremeos and Osoyoos. (I love even the names.)

The first time my sweetheart and I stopped in Osoyoos was at the start of a road trip that had no plan. We meant to spend just the one night there, but realized we'd found a treasure; off season rates for a motel room with the balcony hanging over a sandy beach. So we stayed all weekend, straying out of our room to walk along the beach, and then to take drives around to some of the wineries that absolutely litter the Okanagan Valley.

We've been back several times. One year we took the kayak, but it stayed out of the water, because even though it was hot and sunny, the wind was fierce, and the waves crashed all weekend. Last year I got a sunburn the day we took the kayak out on a beautiful calm day, I was so unprepared for the leap into summer.

This year, we listened to the waves, and we saw some rain. Rain! And it wasn't warm! Well, it wasn't warm in Osoyoos terms, but still, my Vancouver self was happy to wear flip flops all weekend. And the rain was pretty inconsequential. Not what we call rain. Still, wet enough to keep us in, and I did sit outside with a blanket, even though it was warmer than Vancouver; both places are suffering unseasonably cold temperatures. People did tell us that it was hot last week. Ah well, it'll be hot next week too, but we'll be back in Vancouver. Timing is everything I guess.

So what did we do? Read. Slept. Listened to the quiet lapping of the lake outside our window which was fairly constant except for that period in the evening when lakes fall still. Sat on the balcony, drank tea and gazed at the view.

there are marmots lined up on 
the doorstep; you can see
them, if you click on the pic

We went to the pub to watch the Canucks win the first game in the latest round on their road to the Stanley Cup (whoo hoo!). Listened to the place erupt with joy (shouted along) each time a Canuck scored. Had breakfast a couple times at a local cafe, and talked with the owner about her sleepy town. Watched a colony of yellow-bellied (I looked them up, to see what kind) marmots hanging out in an empty lot. Walked along the lakeside. It was hardly hardship.

Driving home, we retraced our path through different climate zones, as the trees gradually grow thicker as you head west. We spotted lots of deer, missed hitting another little marmot. We stopped in Keremeos to visit an elderly cousin, then carried on through Hedley, where we have yet to stop to visit the now tourist site of an old gold mine. We did stop there one year to wander through a fantastic jumble of stuff in a second hand store. Hedley has about 350 people, so it's not exactly a large town. There are a lot of places it's size, too, scattered throughout the province. Osoyoos itself is hardly a metropolis, with a population apparently around 5000, though I'm not convinced of that. For the months of July and August it of course swells.

Driving outside of Vancouver always reminds me how few we are in this part of the world. It feels so crowded and busy here (it is crowded and busy here) that your perspective gets a bit warped. But outside the city, people are spread out, life is slower, and different things matter. I was thinking about this, as we wound our way home. That the recent election saw, as usual, a clean sweep of Conservatives in the interior of BC. Traveling through you realize that people have very different things on their minds, scraping a living out of rural landscapes. The concerns of city folk are different.

In Manning Park, we pulled over to admire a black bear, who considered us, and then faded back into the trees, perhaps recognizing our city dweller-ness, basically irrelevant to the bear's existence. Through the park the rain came down, drifting toward sleet as the temperature also came down, but in the end it only hinted at winter, likely just a last gasp.

The last stretch of road, before you get back to Hope, is truly awe inspiring, the tree clad mountains rising up almost vertically from the river, with the road snaking along beside it. The clouds clung in wisps adding a sense of mystery and remoteness. And the downpour reminded me that sometimes these mountains are not as permanent as they look. We drove past the Hope slide, disinclined to get out of the car in all the rain, but one year we stopped to marvel at the sight of rubble stretched through the valley, where the side of a mountain slid down in 1965.

This year we beat it out of the mountains, and raced our car down the lush green Fraser Valley where, oddly enough, the sky looked brighter out west, over Vancouver.

And there you have it. The sun is shining here, today, and it's supposed to last all week. Last week's hailstorm, history.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

moms the word for this epoch

my grandmother with my mother
I stumbled over the word epochal yesterday and thought that's the word to use for the arrival of myself into motherhood. I used to say it was an apocalypse in my life when I became a mother, apocalyptic in the sense that my old life was absolutely, completely, over. The word has too many religious senses to it, however, and anyway, people always seem to think I mean something bad.

What I really mean is that the person I was, before my first child was born, had no idea what she was stepping into. I found that the change from not-mother to mother was profound, and I couldn't go back. And I was not prepared. There I was, an innocent walking down the street, and then blam, I was blown into this other existence, a different dimension, where what I did mattered. I think that's the key. What I did before didn't matter, and then it did. It wasn't all about me anymore. New epoch.

my mother with me
And I don't want to go back. That's the astonishing thing, but much as I might whine about how hard it was, learning how to care for infants, then children, then adolescents, now young adults, learning how to back off and respect their ability to get it right, while I was still doubting my own ability to manoeuvre through my life. Endless peanut butter sandwiches, constantly looking for the (sticky) floor under all the rubble. No, I don't mind that the sticky floor days are gone, but I wouldn't go back to pre-motherhood. Nope.  It defies logic, because of course it's about heart. And anyway, they've made me a better person.

Of course it's different now. It's still not all about me, but in a different sense. They're launched into their lives, and now when I hear from them, I feel simply and truly glad that I'm some kind of touchstone (and not an albatross). And I think that's fair enough for me to say.

and then it was my turn
And that doesn't take anything away from me as individual, still working at stuff, still engaged, working on this epoch, the so-called empty nest time. I'm still alive, and intend to be for a very long time. There's lots I still want to do. It's just that now I do things with always the knowledge that I'm somebody's mom. It's never not there. It's not that I'm living through them. It's just that they are alive. It's a gift I didn't realize I was getting, when I thought "I want to have a baby", which was an all-about-me thought. It gets hazier with the next two "I want another" times. I knew what I was doing. Sort of.

So that's one of the marvelous things, is that they taught me about myself (and continue to do so!). I apologize for the slow learning, and any damage I may (probably) have inflicted along the way, but my world is vastly improved by the existence of my children.

So yes, epochal, that's a much better word. No connotations hanging from it, but it certainly carries all the import of becoming mother. It's not a switching over to the dark side (though they will treat you as though that's where you're coming from, for some really brief teen years) but it certainly switches you over to another side. Even more astonishing, you find yourself feeling some sympathy for your own mother, and what she was up against.

To borrow, and repurpose, some words from Elton John, a little message to my kids:
I hope you don't mind that I put down in words
How wonderful life is while you're [all] in the world
And even though she's gone from the world, thanks to my own mother for bringing me into the mix. I miss her.

Friday, May 6, 2011

what do I know

I went to listen to Elizabeth Hay and Miriam Toews at a Writers Fest event last night. They make a good team on stage. They told stories about how their current novels came into being. They each read from the beginnings of their novels, and then answered questions. Oh, and they made us laugh, which I'd been forgetting to do lately.

At these sorts of events, the questions often range around How do you do it? and Where do you get your ideas? How autobiographical is it? (I guess when people write memoir, we should start asking how fictional is it?)

Apparently it's not easy to drag a completed novel out of yourself. Both women are funny, which makes for an entertaining evening. They also seem remarkably human, which is encouraging for an aspiring, currently blocked, novelist.

I've had one of those periods where I doubt myself constantly. Can't make decisions (well, I did when I voted, but I'm still questioning my decision). Start things but don't finish them. I've gotten caught up in worry about my future (delayed birthday effect?). I'm certain I've sorely offended several people. I remember a whole bunch of incidents where I've been very much a not-nice girl. These stretch back over years, and my memories are probably fiction.

Anxiety is a condition that soaks my family, so I'm not alone in the circular thoughts and self doubts.

The odd thing is that, even when I'm in the midst of it, I know that it's not reality based. I mean, there's something going on that's triggered it, and I might indeed have said the wrong thing here and there, but my reaction is always way over and beyond. I'm not really that significant. Basically, I recognize that I'm a bit of a nutcase.

Alcohol used to defuse the feeling, temporarily, but I've stopped using the stuff except for extremely rare occasions. Because of course alcohol opens up it's own can of worms, if you're susceptible, which I think I am. Come to think of it, alcohol was always only temporary, because I'd wake up next day remembering whatever I'd done, and then add in embarrassment and repentance. Circular thoughts and self doubt can easily pick up steam in a hangover.

It's kind of like the gallbladder attacks I used to get (that was reality, so I got to cut it out). They would, interestingly, start in about the same location as my anxiety does, and pretty much take over for a period of time. Sometime rolling on the floor helped, sometimes pacing. Long walks were actually helpful. That works with anxiety too, rolling on the floor less so. But after a time the attack would pass. But I can't surgically cut out the anxiety, because, though it feels like its situated in my stomach, it's actually emanating from my brain. On other days I feel like a very worthwhile person, and I never make mistakes. Always right. Peaks and valleys.

I'm somewhere in between today, which is the best place. Normal, eh? I'll be able to get some things done. I started reading a book called The War of Art: break through the blocks and win your inner creative battles. Creative battles aren't just the big projects, but all the little ones, so that at the end of each day, you go to bed thinking/feeling you are on the right path. I managed that yesterday, oddly enough, even though the day began with the roiling in my gut. Laughing before bed, maybe that's the trick.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

on not choosing

That was an interesting election night. I can't say I'm happy with the results, but certainly intrigued. We have a majority Conservative government, which I'm not happy about, but I accept the result. That's how the system works.

I'm glad to see Elizabeth May got elected. I'm glad to see we now have a nationalist party representing Quebec, that they voted for working withing the system (for now). I'm happy to see the NDP as the official Opposition. I hope they are effective. I thought Harper gave a nice speech.

But we can only guess at the message sent by those who didn't vote. My first impulse on watching the returns was to think, oh, no, the centre/left vote is being split by the anti-conservatives!

The country went Conservative, and the vote split suggests most Canadians will be a bit disgruntled this morning, as many more of them voted against the Conservatives than for.

Across the country, just under 40% of the population didn't vote, which might mean that whatever happens is just fine with them. That puts the popular (?) vote for the blue party a lot higher, if indifference can be said to be a vote. (The Elections Canada site has the turnout at 61.4%, the last time I checked, but not all the numbers are up.)

We know the Conservative party doesn't like census data that gives accurate results, so this amorphous reasoning may be as good as any for them.

Now you might say that people didn't vote because our system allows people with a minority of the popular vote to win a majority. The deck is stacked, you can't win. Which is how it feels when there is a three-way split, and the two losers have policies that are pretty darn close, but neither wins.

But when you don't vote, it's only guesswork what your reasons were. If the non-voters actually have a preference, it's as clear as smoke. Which means the new government can assume everything is fine with those non-voters, and so their majority has added meaning.

If everyone voted (what a fantasy, eh?) then the Conservatives, even with a win based on all the vote-splitting, would at least know there was a large base of people out there unhappy with them. Or they'd have a clear majority, which would it easier for me, for one, to accept our fate.  As it stands, they can take whatever meaning they like from the poll of non-voters.

My point is, apathy hands over power. Whether it's the actual choice of the non-voting public, is anyone's guess.

Whatever.

What a week, eh? Wedding of the Century, Obama takes out Osama, Harpo gets his majority, and now, we can get back to what Vancouver really cares about. The Canucks. Third game of the series, in Nashville tonight, and how that ends is very important. Anyway, at least with a two party event like this, there'll be no confusion about how the goals are ranked.

Monday, May 2, 2011

If you are Canadian, and aren't voting, what's stopping you?

easy enough
Seriously, what's your problem? Vote today because you can. This is a point that has meaning. It's pretty simple to do, but it wasn't simple getting to this point. Some history (remember it or repeat it!):

The British North America Act, uniting New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and the Province of Canada in a single political entity, was given royal assent on March 31, 1867, and came into force the following July 1.
but!
only a small fraction of the voters in the founding colonies had been given an opportunity to decide their political future; the others were presented deliberately with a fait accompli. Since then, as subsequent events have shown, the relative influence of voters in Canadian parliamentary institutions has grown appreciably – to the point where today, politicians would not likely venture to act as the Fathers of Confederation did without consulting the electorate.
---(From the section, Voters and Confederation, in "A History of the Vote in Canada" on Elections Canada's site.) 

Did you notice the use of the term "not likely"? Nothing is set in stone. (Can you spell prorogue?)

Federally, the 'privilege' to vote varied depending on tinkering from the provinces. The "ethnic factor" in different regions was a factor, as was gender, property and income. Class, in other words.

Canada's first federal election was in 1867. Some people had the privilege to decide on their electoral fate. There was no UN overseeing the validity of any votes. Still, we were on the way. It's a complicated story, but the slow trickle from a privilege to a right had begun.

Then, imagine:
  • in 1918 'all' women can vote federally (1919: women can run for federal office)
  • 1947: Chinese and Indo-Canadians including even the female ones
  • 1948: Japanese Canadians, male, female, what's the dif
  • 1960: Aboriginals (they could vote earlier if they gave up their status! What a choice!)
  • 1982: Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms enshrines the right to vote for all Canadians.
Turnout for the 2008 election was an abysmal 58.8%. Are we back to leaving it to our betters to decide?

I don't understand why people voluntarily give this up. It seems to be worth dying for in some countries.

The polls close on the west coast at 7 pm. Not much time left.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

cell phone rant

If Canadians are having trouble with debt, perhaps our politicians should look at the way the wireless world gouges its customers, because I'll bet there are an awful lot of people out there who weep when they get their phone bill.

Cell phones are an addiction that is almost impossible to recover from. I speak as someone who hasn't recovered, but is working on keeping it to a manageable evil. Whenever I think of tossing my phone (against a wall) I remember dark nights with flat tires, and am grateful for the convenience. That's how they get you; they're so bloody convenient. But it's not easy. The dealers know how to hook you, and they don't want you to be sensible.

In case you haven't already guessed it: I absolutely hate cell phone plans. I detest cell phone plans. I abhor the devious way that the phone companies work to obscure and confuse (bait and switch?) so that no matter how you try to set up your usage, they will get your money. I say this, even though I have just switched to a new company, and think I've set it up to work (better) for me this time. But I'm sure the new guys will get extra dollars out of me even though I'm wary now. And I might have tried to work out a new arrangement with my last dealer, but you can only be abused so many times, and then you have to break up. You just have to.

It is incredibly difficult to figure out any kind of phone 'plan' that will actually provide what you need in a way that doesn't cost you more money than it should. In other words, the wireless companies, all of them, work really hard to make up these 'plans' so that you'll trip. And the plans change constantly, and what you might be quoted in a store won't be the same as what you find online, and the next store will have different 'deals' too. And when you think you've thought of everything the extras will hamstring you. Though my experience until just now has been with Rogers, when I read through the choices on other company's websites, I can see that they all play the same games.

  • Watch out for activation fees. This is a fee for the privilege of setting up to pay them monthly for years.
  • Watch out for roaming charges and long distance. Either pay for a plan (insurance) for something you don't need, or pay for it at five times the price when you occasionally do. Pick the cheek you want them to hit.
  • Expect incoming wrong numbers to use up your time.
  • Make sure you have texting included. It costs them nothing, but they want you to pay for it.

I have no idea how people survive with 'smart' phones, and the added complexity of  'data' plans; it makes me shudder. Oh, they're smart, the telecoms. Get people hooked on instant email and Internet as well, and all this nonsense about the Internet being free will be forgotten. Who wants to access a free web site when you can pay for it on your phone? (I know, the free web site isn't free either, because you pay for Internet access too. Just like the "free" channels on your cable come at a price. You'll notice the telecoms and cable companies are mining the same soil.)

My addiction to cell phones began around fifteen years ago when, in an unwary moment, I signed on. I was instantly addicted. As an overwhelmed single mother, I found I could check that my adolescent children were still alive whenever they failed to return home by three or four in the morning. (I could count on them not turning off the phones, because that would cut them off instant access to their friends.) It seemed reasonable at the time, but my oh my did Rogers punish me for assuaging my anxiety.

And so, for all these years I have paid and paid, for god-knows-how-much airtime I haven't actually needed or used. None of the companies have any memory, so unused minutes do not carry over to the next month. But run over your time in any one month, nevermind that you've not used hours and hours of minutes since you began, and whammo, extra, generally brutal, charges pile up.

As my children became adults I transferred their numbers over to their own control, feeling both relief and guilt, as I fear the expense may cripple each of them.

You've heard that your number is portable now, right? Well, as soon as that law came into being, the companies all changed their contract wording so that they could gouge you extra if you cancelled a contract. When I migrated the last extra number I was maintaining, into the control of my youngest, I thought I was safely into the month-to-month zone. Rogers charged me the $400 anyway. On my protest they reduced it to $200, because my contract was from before the time of the new extortionate fee. But I couldn't get the other $200 out of them. Apparently I'd reset the contract's end date by changing the plan. My attempts to pay for what I use at a reasonable level backfired on me.

The moral is, anyway you arrange it, they will squeeze extra money out of you. Customer service my eye.

So I realized I was stuck. I had one more phone, my own, with a three-year contract at a price level that I could not adjust without resetting my contract. (I still regularly got dinged with extra fees even though my usage was way down). I should have just handed them the $400 for my own plan, but it was a close call which way was going to be the worse penalty, so I just coughed up monthly until the time ran out. Then I thought I could escape. Because I do not want to give any more money to Rogers. They have burned me too many times.

I bailed out to a no-contract plan with another company, at less than half of what I was paying to Rogers. It more closely resembles what I actually use my phone for, which is almost not at all. If they annoy me, I can quit, though their hook is that then I'll have to pay for the phone, but that seems fair enough. It's a pay-over-time deal, so the phone will get paid off if I stay with them. Do you suppose there's a one-month clause in their contract? I'll check if I decide to move on.

I keep the phone for insurance, I tell myself, taking the next hit. But I also still have my land line, as it doesn't have a meter, and I'm not bankrupted there when I make long distance calls.

Rogers still got one extra kick in, one last stab at my unsuspecting self, by charging me for one more month, in lieu of proper notice. Another $65 for nothing! Just like old times!

It will be somewhere on their website in very small print. I used the phone therefore I agreed to the penalty. You know how that works. It's the same as agreeing to use software. Say no, and you can't use it. Some choice.

But be warned: When a new company tells you, no problem, we can migrate your number, you don't need to even talk to your current dealer, er, I mean provider, er I mean telecom, remember that the old company still has its hand in your pocket.

I could have sent another child to university on the money I've poured into Rogers coffers, and it makes me mad at myself, that I've taken so long to sort this out, to get the habit under control, to cut off the waste.

The telecoms (and cable companies) are great as investments though. They're rolling in cash, and pay nice dividends. Think about it.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

weathered

shoulders to the rain
Last night a thunderstorm rolled over my home. A flash of light came through my curtains, and a rousing rumble and bang followed. I could hear the rain start up after that. I like the way we do thunderstorms here, the way there's a silence, a hush, before the rain comes. I sat out a thunderstorm on a camping trip at Nicola Lake once, and it was completely different. The same spectacular light show, and all the crashing and banging you could ask for, but instead of the dousing, there was a hot wind that threatened to lift up our tent, and then a slight spattering of fat drops of rain, and that was it. Very different.

But it's still raining almost 24 hours later, and it's cold too, around 3°C. I think I could go for a hot wind about now. It's raining big fat drops that occasionally look whitish, like sleet. I don't know where our spring went. My sister phoned me a half-hour ago to ask if it was snowing where I am. She's in a neighbourhood at a slightly higher elevation, and was looking out at big fat flakes, which I'm glad to say she reports have reverted to rain. Rain! What a surprise here on the soggy west coast.

their day will come again
It's amazing, really, how much the weather affects my moods, and how little I've managed to get used to it, after all my years knowing that this is what it does in Vancouver. Rain. I'm right back to my February-mood, gazing out at solidly grey and gloomy skies, dreaming about blue skies. But it's true, the dafs give me hope, even though some are sagging under the downpour. It will happen, I will get to toss my socks, and wear flipflops again. I know I will. Just not this week.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

the alma mater

I spent a lot of my years at UBC, both working on staff, and picking up a BA. It's a lovely place.

My brother (also an alum) sent me the link to this video.

I think it's very clever, but them I'm biased about the place.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

the filing life

not much fun for the uninitiated
I spent the last couple of days with files and paperwork and tax forms, figuring out my income from last year. The deadline is not until the end of the month, so I'm feeling very virtuous, as I mailed off my completed form yesterday, the earliest I think I've ever pulled it together.

I've never been late filing, but I remember one year dropping my stamped envelope off at the Post Office at 10:30 pm on the last day. I was intending to drop it in the drive-by slot that (I think) falls straight through to the sorting area but instead there was a fellow sitting with a mail truck accepting forms. Apparently it's not at all unusual to leave things to the very last minute, as he was sitting there receiving, and date stamping, each not-quite-late envelope. There was a long line of cars, but I got my envelope delivered before the glass slipper fell.

This image will slowly drift into the realm of fairy tales, as more and more people file online, but I'm old school in this. I do my taxes myself, and I do them on paper. I do just about everything else online, but this is one of those things that somehow feels better with my hands in the process (go figure).

One of the things I do when I fill out my forms is re-sort my files (yes, I keep files, on paper!). This makes the whole tax chore longer, but it also leaves me feeling as if I actually know where I stand, when I'm done. (This behaviour is maybe an admirable trait, or a sign of mental illness, but I actually enjoy this process.) I heap up mountains of paper, wondering why I saved it so long, and create new folders to make my situation clearer to me.

I'm a little disturbed when I realize how much of what I have filed away has now moved into the ephemeral arena, my computer. So much harder to keep tidy, though you wouldn't know it from the outside. It's even more insidious, the confusion you can create on your hard drive. It's far too easy to hit the save button, and if you haven't given some thought to it, it's much like tossing paper into a big room (as opposed to a shoebox) and then expecting to be able to find that important piece of information that you need, right now. And far too easy to keep stuff you absolutely don't need. At least in the physical realm you occasionally have to deal with the stuff, at the very least so that you can get in your door.

And there's little satisfaction when you look up from your computer, having worked all day cleaning and tidying, and completing tasks, and there  is absolutely nothing physical to show for it. Unless you've printed a few things out.

I won't tell you how long I looked for just the right one, but I have a lovely filing cabinet and it's stuffed with paper. I'm looking forward to spending another quiet day soon, sifting out more paper, the non-financial stuff. It's very odd the stuff that can get in there, and even I will admit there can be too much of a good thing.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

what this day began

Time passes so quickly, and nothing marks it like birthdays, especially those of one's own children. Today is a double one; two of my kids share this date, though not the same birth year. It wasn't from any planning on my(our) part. It was more of a remove-the-barriers-and-wait kind of thing, and each time, along came another child. It's just that the third one decided to pop out on his sister's second birthday.

I did go shopping in the morning of my last labour (the things you do). My son wasn't born till evening, so there was time to get quite a bit in. I remember making a stop at a toy store, lots of pauses to breathe through contractions, to get things for the second one's birthday party, which was of course postponed. I must already have got her birthday present, that I don't remember. But I do remember the urgency (oh yeah) to make sure I was ready for her day, too, before I was swamped by the new member of our family. I was going to get to spend a couple days with him all to myself, but I knew full well, I wouldn't be straight back to normal when I got home. Fortunately, she didn't know the significance, so having her birthday party a week late was perfectly fine with her. Last time we fooled her about anything, too.

as they once were
There were a few years there when I think the two of them were really quite irritated by the coincidence of their birthdays being the same (and their older sister worked hard to tolerate all the attention they got on this date too) but they all mellowed out about it and celebrate the day quite well now. (It's not like they're a bunch of kids anymore.) I know the two b-dayers have a contest to see who gets in the first happy birthday call. In recent years my daughter wins, but she has time zones working for her. It's not a fair contest.

My middle child is in another city, so a card in the mail and a phone call have to do for now, though I'm going to go visit (pester?) her soon. We had the official family dinner with the youngest several days ago (I was supposed to be away this weekend, but hey, got a cold instead). It seemed right to me, to leave him room to celebrate with friends on the weekend. Because this day isn't about me, not anymore anyway, not since those first ones, but I sure do remember when we met. Eventful days, I must say. And I am so glad they are here (this is what is known as understatement).

I joke about it sometimes, about the decisions that led to having three children, that it wasn't rational, that I didn't know what I was doing. And actually that's true, I didn't. But for some reason my whole being wanted them, completely. Biology? Soul? Does it matter? Once here, what could I do but love them. I've never wanted to give them back. The cat maybe. Not the kids.

So, nothing rational about it, and isn't that just fine? I love my children to pieces, and now sit admiringly at their sidelines seeing what they'll do next.

Monday, March 7, 2011

just rubber-necking

At first we started out to go for a walk, a time-honoured kind of activity for a Saturday. I think we both wanted to go somewhere different; the paths around here are too familiar. It isn't easy to do that, when you've lived in a city forever, to find somewhere different to go walking, without actually leaving town, which is what we did. The terrain is limited here this time of year, as there's still an awful lot of winter sitting close by, in the mountains, so flat land is the choice we made.

it's always about stuff
When I was a kid my father used to bundle all of us kids into the car on Sundays, and take us wandering. He would let the car "follow it's nose." We wound up in all kinds of interesting spots, although most every road ends either in the mountains or up against the US border. We crossed over often enough, and so also explored Pt. Roberts, and northern Washington.

I used to do this with my own kids once in a while, but they're of a different era, and were somehow less interested when we stumbled on surprises in the woods (you can find yourself in the woods pretty quickly, even though we're quite the metropolis now). They mock me for a fish ladder we ended up at once, though the place filled me with wonder (we did have a good trip once to an outlet mall across the border -- no, no, I jest; they all like hiking, don't just sit around texting). But I blame the Simpson's actually, for making them all too cynical too early. Or just the fact that TV and internet had already opened the world up too wide. Not much is left to surprise anyone now.

Except us, because we're old school (or old). We ruled out a trip to Bellingham, not carrying passports. Some things about the 'old days' can stay in the past, but I miss the days when our border was friendly and welcoming, both ways. These days it's not so much fun to head south across the border, because you have to give up so many hours to sitting in a lineup waiting. It's boring, annoying, and unnerving at the same time. Such a shame too, because there's a great bookstore in Fairhaven, in Bellingham. If you chance to be flying by on the I5 one day, or better, have the sense to take the Chuckanut Drive into Bellingham, do stop in there. I'll go there again one day, but on a longer trip; it's no longer worth the aggravation just for a day trip. Too bad.

aliens have landed...
My partner and I settled on going out to Ladner, which isn't quite as exciting as crossing borders, but it's a pretty much unexplored part of the Fraser River delta (for us) so fit the bill. We pulled into a park in Ladner Harbour, but it was a very small park. Short walk. We also instantly got cold. (I know, not very hardy for Canadians, but this is the west coast after all. We expect warmth, if not sunshine, sigh; it's got to be the reason why it's so ridiculously expensive to live here, the climate.)

So we hopped back in the car and it became a driving day instead of a walking day. I was rooting for letting the car take us across to Boundary Bay (though again careful not to get into the lineup at Pt. Roberts). When I was young, you hardly needed to slow your car down to cross the border there; just a friendly wave after you declared your citizenship. No proof required. Not any more. Result? I haven't bothered to go there in years and years. Borderland Security has been effective in keeping my dangerous self out. It's one of the myriad little cuts to "our way of life" that the bad guys weren't supposed to be able to affect. Hope y'all are feeling safer.

Cutting through soggy fields, we got stuck at a crossing waiting for a train that had stopped moving, and so decided to take the road into Roberts Bank (coal terminal and container dock) instead of just sitting watching a stationary train. I could see from my map (haven't gone GPS yet) that there was an overpass which would put us on the other side of the train. But then we just kept driving in, to see what we could see, which is proper behaviour for rubber-necking.

...out at Robert's Bank
I've looked across at Roberts Bank, where it sticks out into the Strait of Georgia (the Salish Sea!) parallel to the ferry terminal many times. It's one of those sights visible to everyone racing for the ferry. No one goes there, except the worker bees. It's another world, a little microcosm of what keeps our world ticking. There's a lot of stuff. Literally, though hidden in multi-coloured containers, being moved around by all kinds of interesting machinery. It's not the only container dock in the area: there's of course the huge one in Vancouver, and more of those great cranes up the river in Surrey. But I know, most of us never think about them.

We drove in between two lines of railroad tracks. One brings in/takes out containers and the other brings in coal and chugs back empty. The coal train is completely dark and dusty, except for the brilliantly polished silver shine just where the wheels meet the track.

It's a strange juxtaposition, illustrative of the whole structure of our human world I guess. A grand expanse of agricultural land, the river and the sea, beautiful landscape, and then an eruption of industry. Looking the other way, there's the fine stretch of mountains forming a backdrop to the north, and an eruption of tall buildings (as shows in the picture in my masthead). Definitely separate worlds.

I'm not sure that any of this is particularly profound. It's just that on Saturday, I noticed.

on the way home - I love the Alex Fraser Bridge