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Winter Comes to the West End

Remember when I said I was going to stop writing about the weather? And the pandemic?

Yeah, that.

This was a tough weekend for some folks. Today is Family Day, a statutory holiday celebrated in about half of the country. This year it came right on the heels of Valentine’s Day and the Lunar New Year. Which means those of us who are inclined to get together with loved ones on any of these occasions have been three times tested in our resolve to follow the provincial health orders. Here in BC, we are now into our fourth month of in-person social gatherings being limited to the people we live with.

Also, come mid-February, most Canadians are utterly sick of winter. This is the time when those of us who can start escaping to the sun. But, with current travel restrictions, trips south just are not happening this winter.

So, yeah, that.

I, on the other hand, had so much to celebrate this weekend. Yes, my long-awaited snowfall finally showed up, thanks to the polar vortex. I woke up to a winter wonderland on Saturday morning and spent much of the day in Narnia (aka Stanley Park).

The snow is already gone, alas, washed away by last night’s rainfall. But for this Canadian, who loves snow but lives in a place where it is a novelty, it was a good weekend.

Here, take a look.

Through My Lens: Golden Hour on Beach Avenue

Golden hour. Magic hour.

No matter what you call it, end-of-day light is enchanting.

Through My Lens: Four Trees

Something shifted for me last week. It started on Thursday when the provincial health orders announced on November 7 for Metro Vancouver were extended to the entire province and until December 7. (And I have no illusions they won’t be extended again.)

And then, on Friday morning, our prime minister reverted to work-at-home and did his media appearance from the stoop of his home in Ottawa.

It feels like we’re right back where we were last March.

The second wave (or, as I like to call it, the Long Winter) that we’ve been talking about since last summer is starting to feel very, very real.

What does this mean for me personally? Pretty much the same as the last eight months: I will hunker down and do everything I can to stay healthy, both physically and mentally.

I’ll start by posting a series of photos from my recent daily walks. Because they make me happy. Maybe they’ll cheer you up too.

Here, then, are four trees I took notice of one Saturday afternoon about a month ago. I think they’re Douglas fir, but I could be wrong.

Enjoy.

Third Beach

My favourite Vancouver beach is Third Beach. Like Second Beach, it’s part of Stanley Park, but it is enough of a walk from my home that it feels like a destination beach. And with its small parking lot, it’s never as crowded as some of the more popular beaches on the other side of English Bay.

Much of the forest behind Third Beach was cleared by the military during World War II to make room for an army barracks. The soldiers were there to command a gun battery at Ferguson Point and a lookout point opposite Siwash Rock, both of which overlook Third Beach. The gun installation is no longer there, but the lookout still is.

It’s odd, some 80 years later, to think of Stanley Park as a strategic military site, but because of its location at the entrance to Burrard Inlet and the Port of Vancouver, it most definitely was.

Second Beach

Second Beach is the smallest of Vancouver’s beaches. It’s located alongside the Stanley Park Seawall, next to Second Beach Pool and Ceperley Meadow.

The beach is a popular picnic site, especially for large, multi-generational families, because of all the amenities available. The meadow provides lots of room for kicking around a ball, and in addition to the beach and the pool, there are two playgrounds and a concession stand.

English Bay Beach

English Bay Beach is the most urban-looking of Vancouver’s beaches, thanks to its close proximity to the residential towers of the West End.

Also known as First Beach (although no one calls it that), English Bay Beach has been popular with the residents of Vancouver since the 1890s, which is when they first began building summer cottages along the bay. Two of those cottages were still standing when I moved to the neighbourhood some 20 years ago, but they’ve since been down torn down and replaced with a boutique condo.

Typically at the end of July, more than half a million people descend on English Bay Beach for three nights of fireworks competition during the annual Celebration of Light. Not this year, of course — and who would have thought I would miss all that chaos?

Instead, this year, English Bay Beach became infamous for its beach log jail when our iconic beach logs were locked up behind metal cages for the first ten weeks of the pandemic. The reason? To avoid large groups congregating on the logs.

English Bay Beach is popular with swimmers and although the lifeguards are back during this summer of Covid, the floating slide is not.

Maybe next year.

Sunset Beach

Here we go again. Sigh.

Who knew beaches would turn out to be such a lightning rod during this pandemic?

Beach-shaming has become the thing to do whenever Vancouverites take advantage of a sunny weekend and flock to the beaches. People who are not at the beach get upset at those who are, and, well, words are said.

The thing is, the people doing the shaming all seem to live in large suburban homes with large suburban backyards, while the people who are spending time on the beach live in tiny condos with little or no outdoor access.

The other issue is that those who are doing the shaming base their indignation on photos that, intentionally or not, are quite misleading. Camera angles and lens sizes can distort reality, I’ve learned. And when you walk past one of Vancouver’s beaches on a sunny weekend, it is clear that people are, for the most part, staying apart.

Vancouver has not been alone in its beach-shaming. There have been similar incidents of crowded parks and over-the-top reactions in Montreal and Toronto as well. The latest uproar — which is what prompted me to write this post — concerns the crowds seen at Sylvan Lake, Alberta, last weekend. I spent many childhood summers swimming in Alberta lakes — I know how lovely they can be on a hot summer’s day. I’ll reserve judgement on what the Albertans were up to last weekend, but I will say this: Central Alberta isn’t exactly known for its high-density neighbourhoods.

Some of the smartest talk I’ve heard about the pandemic relates to these kinds of incidents. We can’t see the virus, but a large group of people gathered together outdoors is visible in all kinds of ways. We know that yelling at a virus is pretty futile, but somehow yelling at a group of people who aren’t behaving as we think they should makes us feel better. Or morally superior? I dunno.

There’s also the novel idea that we — all of us — should focus not on what behaviours we are entitled to, but on what impact our actions have on others. Pandemic ethics in a nutshell, I call it. Meaning, those of us who do have access to a backyard, or perhaps a smallish, but perfectly adequate park in our immediate neighbourhood, should stay close to home instead of heading out to a popular park or beach where there might be a crowd. Leave room at the park or beach for those who don’t have a backyard — you know, the family who’s been cooped up indoors all day, or the group of people who live alone and have limited options for socializing in a physically distant way.

And that is why when reporters asked a few months ago why Vancouver wasn’t closing its parks and beaches, our provincial health officer responded by first reminding everyone that we need to stay apart, but then urging everyone to get outdoors for the sake of their mental health.

I’ve been meaning for some years to do a summer series on Vancouver’s beaches, but time got away from me, as time tends to do. Now I’m thinking my procrastination has been rather fortuitous in that there has never been a better time to talk about Vancouver’s beaches than during this summer of staycations. I have several within walking distance of my home — you can’t get much more staycation than that.

To start us off, here’s a photo of my closest beach. Located along the appropriately named Beach Avenue, Sunset Beach is not wildly popular for swimming, likely due to its proximity to False Creek and rather a lot of boat traffic. But it is a great spot for picnics, and for watching the sun set. I took this photo from Burrard Bridge a couple of summers ago.

Through My Lens: Summer Rose

Here’s something pretty for you all to look at. The roses in Stanley Park are in full bloom right now, as they are every summer from June until September.

This year feels a little more special since the Stanley Park Rose Garden is celebrating its 100th birthday. It is the largest public rose garden in Western Canada and has a total of 3500 rose bushes spread over 60 beds. The Rose Garden is situated between Stanley Park’s rainforest and a small grove of Akebono cherry trees that bloom every April.

If there ever was an opportune time to stop and smell the roses, it is right now.

Steller’s Jay

I was beyond thrilled to see my first ever Steller’s Jay a couple of weeks ago while on a long walk through Stanley Park.

About six of them darted back and forth from the trees to the seeds put out by a fellow birder and back to the trees again.

With migration season upon us, you never know who you might bump into while out for a walk in the woods.

Through My Lens: Snowy Woods

As you can tell by this photo, it finally happened. Winter is here.

After a couple of false alarms last week, snow has come to Vancouver. The polar vortex everyone is talking about? It’s here too. (Although, truth be told, what we call “cold” is considered positively balmy in the rest of Canada.)

The thing is, we’ve been crowing for weeks already about our super early spring. The daffodils were in full bloom more than four weeks ago — that’s two months earlier than usual — and our smugness was enough to make the rest of the country want to push us off the continent and set us adrift.

Those poor daffodils? With last night’s dump of snow, they’re goners.

I took the above photo late this afternoon on my walk through some snowy woods.