Cycling the Arbutus Greenway

I had seen others doing it and it looked like fun. So today was the day I finally hopped on the Arbutus Greenway for myself.

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This former railway track was recently converted into a paved pathway, connecting Marpole to Granville Island. It provides a designated north-south route for cyclists and walkers to get from one end of the City to another, something sorely lacking up until now.

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I loved it. It was so convenient to hop on 70th Avenue in Marpole and ride to 41st and onto Southwest Marine Drive to meet up with some friends at UBC. On my way home, I took 16th Avenue back to the Greenway so I could cover most of the path. It’s 8.5 km long—here’s a map.

These vibrant poppies and purple wildflowers near 70th were a delight to see as I started out.

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Community gardens line the right side of the path as you’re heading north. Someone had fun with these scarecrows.

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I loved seeing parts of the City I hadn’t seen before. I was riding slowly up Vancouver’s spine, admiring houses that belong in a fairy tale, smiling at strangers standing in gardens with a hose in hand, and breathing in the scent of wildflowers spilling onto the pavement.

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It was a leisurely ride devoid of traffic and steep hills! Most of the intersections had helpful signage that indicated to cross with pedestrians at the light, like you can see these cyclists doing at Arbutus and 16th.

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Benches and portable toilets were available along the way. The biggest hill from this point riding south was winding through the Quilchena neighbourhood. But it provided some fabulous new lookout points, including slices of ocean.

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Something to note is that there aren’t many trees along the trail so shade isn’t an option, which you really notice on hot days like today.

Between Nanton Road and Quilchena Park, these colourful rocks stopped me in my tracks. Their messages and the conversations they inspired were my favourite experiences along the route.

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Painted all colours of the rainbow, they are as diverse as the people I saw using the path: cyclists, walkers, joggers, seniors, kids, families, rollerbladers, people in wheelchairs, skateboarders, you name it.

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“Pretty cool, eh?” An oldish man spoke to me from the walking side of the path and I said, “Totally cool.” He pointed a little further down where a plaque explained this public artwork done by York House Grade 2 students, a Vancouver Biennale project.

I told him this was my first time on the path and he said he walks parts of it almost every day. “So it’s well used?” I asked. “Oh yeah,” he replied. He said it’s packed on the weekends and he’s particularly encouraged to see a lot of seniors walking with canes on it. He said many seniors don’t feel safe navigating heavy intersections, so this designated route gets more people out enjoying nature and the city who wouldn’t otherwise. I completely get that as a cyclist who doesn’t love riding on busy streets!

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Near the sign, I spoke with another man who was admiring the rocks. He said this Greenway really was a case of “build it, and they will come.” Apparently it’s just a temporary path though with plans to make it into “a destination that fosters both movement and rich social interaction – inspired by nature and the stories of the places it connects” (from the City website). I kind of like it just as it is though, with the exception of adding more public art and trees.

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I ended up having a third conversation with someone along the Greenway when I stopped at 57th Avenue to pick up a few things from Choices Markets. One of the Rainbow Rocks said “Make community” and these friendly encounters with strangers seemed to affirm the spirit of that message already, an experience I don’t take for granted in Vancouver.

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Marpole’s Golden Tree

A piece of Stanley Park has uprooted to my neighbourhood of Marpole. With a bit of a colour change.

The newest public art in Vancouver is Golden Tree by Douglas Coupland, installed this past August at the corner of Marine Drive and Cambie Street, in front of Intracorp’s MC2 development.

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This artwork sure adds colour to a cloudy day. View from Marine Gateway.

It stands out alright, not just for its size (13 metres tall, the exact replica of Stanley Park’s Hollow Tree), but it also stands out for its colour—gold.

In an interview with the CBC, Coupland says, “I think its more a head-turner, a, ‘what the heck was that?’ That’s my favourite reaction.”

Just to clarify, Stanley Park’s famous 700 to 800 year-old Hollow Tree is still standing in Stanley Park. After the heavy windstorm in 2006, the tree was scheduled for removal due to safety concerns, but thanks to the efforts of the Hollow Tree Conservation Society and private donations, it is still standing (albeit with cables and steel).

Coupland’s replica is made out of steel-reinforced resin and fiberglass, encased in a gold finish.

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The gold looks a little garish to me. I tend to think I would like it better if it looked natural but then it would be like having a real tree there except you know it wouldn’t normally grow there so then it would just be weird. At least the gold makes it distinct. And better than highlighter purple or blue or pink. There’s something regal and magical about gold. Maybe it’s already “growing” on me (see what I did there?).

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But why replicating this tree in Marpole is significant, I do not know. All the CBC article mentions is that Coupland said there are a lot of memories attached to the tree, which is why he chose to imitate it: “I think it takes us from one century to the next.”

Maybe so, but what is the relationship between Stanley Park, the northernmost point of the city, and Marpole, Vancouver’s southernmost? Obviously the artist is trying to make some sort of connection here with the large image of Stanley Park in the background of the artwork.

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Does the tree reference something in Marpole’s history that not many know about? Or is it trying to say something about old and new? Nature and city? Nature and art/imitation?

I love that Marpole is getting more and impressive public art but I wish this piece spoke better to its context.

Have you seen Golden Tree yet? What are your thoughts?

Hello, Marine Gateway

Part of my rationale in choosing Marpole when I moved to Vancouver in 2013 was not just the cheaper rents, but the access to downtown and Richmond via the new Canada Line SkyTrain station at Marine Drive and Cambie Street.

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Where there’s a SkyTrain station, development always follows, and now when I walk to that SkyTrain station, I see soaring residential towers and a whole new shopping hub that has been named “High Street” (I don’t know if I’d go that far since it’s not offering anything out of the chain store norm, but you know marketers…)

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I have to say I am happy Marine Gateway has arrived in my neighbourhood— a neighbourhood that I love yet is sorely lacking retail shops and more variety of restaurants.

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No longer will the Artist and I have to go downtown to see a movie in theatres—we can walk fifteen minutes from our apartment! I am particularly excited about the Winners and Shoppers Drug Mart for the convenience factor.

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I walked around there the other day, checking out which stores have opened so far. Tim Hortons and Dublin Crossing are still in the works (shown above), but Starbucks, Shoppers, CIBC, BMO, T&T Supermarket, and A&W are up and running. (A&W is my favourite fast food joint so this addition really thrills me).

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There’s even some public art in the plaza! Here’s a statue of Simon Fraser by Ken Lum, the explorer after which the university is named.

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And on the pavement, some writing about the history of the surrounding places.

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On the stairs leading down to the bus loop, I discovered some more public art that looks like it might be back lit at night. I couldn’t find a plaque so not sure what it’s about, though I’m guessing it’s an homage to the Musqueam people and their tools/ways of life who lived in this area first.

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Here’s a complete list of the calls for public art at Marine Gateway.

Marpole is certainly getting more attractive features, and it will be interesting to see how this affects traffic and housing and rent prices that I hope can remain affordable for this neighbourhood I call home on the edge of the city.

Ode to Vancouver: A One-Year Anniversary

from May 9, 2013

I’m writing this with the only pencil I brought with me to my new place

in Marpole, in Vancouver

VANCOUVER!

IMG_7030been here a week

hardly had time to think, write, create

been doing all the other writing that makes money but doesn’t make soul

I’m in need of some soul time

and I just barfed

I think I’m eating too many greens

all this healthiness

all this aloneness

all this independence

again

what I wanted I guess

I still want it

I moved here for the place

but where are all the people?

IMG_6546Still get excited

to say my address to strangers

(like at the bank today)

to walk my neighbourhood

and find “Charlene Apartments”

It’s as if Marpole was calling my name

before I even knew it

IMG_4860 I love sitting at my desk

in a stream of morning light

or else 8:00 at night, when the sun shines a spotlight on my hardwood floors

this place, with all its creaky age

is home—I knew it as soon as I saw it

IMG_4713from first look to set of keys—it happened fast, within a week

a dream building in me for years

the closest city to my roots

yet far enough to feel different

IMG_5150 - Version 2Here I am, Vancouver. HERE I AM!

What will you do with me?

What will I do with you?

You’ve had my heart for so long

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Of Petals and Poems

The city is at its loveliest right now. The cherry blossom trees have bloomed and the city is awash in pink and white petals that paint Vancouver like a fairy tale. I walk under a canopy of trees and hold my breath as if I can’t swallow all this beauty around me.

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The Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival is on right now until April 28. The website shows you the various locations you can find these trees, as well as other events: a bike the blossoms day, a plein-air painting day, a photo contest, Sakura illumination, and more.

My neighbourhood of Marpole is a jackpot in terms of cherry blossom sightings if you’re curious where to find them. Or you can just stumble upon them as you’re out and about since they’re pretty much everywhere.

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In honour of spring and the Cherry Blossom Festival, I’m posting some photos matched with haikus I wrote. The cherry blossom is of Japanese origin, as well as the haiku, so I thought it was a good pairing. Even more so because the cherry blossom tree symbolizes the ephemeral nature of life with its season of intense beauty and then quick death. Here today, gone tomorrow. Likewise, the haiku, a Japanese poem of 17 syllables in three lines of 5, 7, and 5, forces an economy of words. It’s over before you even begin. Haikus also tend to evoke images of the natural world. What better marriage of form and content than writing haikus of the cherry blossom tree.

Queen Elizabeth Park

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 pink beauty falling
like rain on my eyelashes
wakened from a dream

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mother brings son close
under a japanese tree
smile, click, and leave

Vancouver Art Gallery

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petal against stone
a sweet pulse and then silence
everything turns grey

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IMG_7369Marpole

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a sidewalk greeting
here today, gone tomorrow
revolving house guests

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all these family trees
the comings and the goings
the one that points home

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