We reached peak Vancouver this week. I was in Stanley Park the other day, on the prowl for cherry blossoms to photograph, when the sun drew my eyes to the fresh snow atop the North Shore mountains.
Doesn’t get more Vancouver than that.
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.
When Canada’s lockdown began almost overnight about eight weeks ago, I found myself reflecting on how adaptable the human spirit can be. I also found myself wondering whether what we are going through in these pandemic times has any similarity to what life was like for my mother’s family during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. Not that a pandemic is anything comparable to a war, but what pandemics and wars do have in common is they require us all to live with constant uncertainty.
I’m not the only one who is thinking back to World War II. In her speech to the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth last month, Queen Elizabeth made reference to the challenges faced during that war as well as the family separations that were endured. She finished by expressing her confidence that, one day, “we will meet again.”
One of the sad consequences of this pandemic is that all of the celebrations to acknowledge the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II have been cancelled. No world leaders are congregating in the Netherlands or France or Britain, and no veterans are gathering on what was likely to have been the last significant anniversary for which they might have been able to attend.
Today is Liberation Day in the Netherlands, the day when the Dutch remember and celebrate their liberation from Nazi occupation. The links between Canada and the Netherlands are strong; the Dutch Royal family found refuge in Ottawa during World War II and most of the soldiers who liberated Holland in 1945 were Canadian. All of the activities that were to have taken place in Vancouver to celebrate the liberation of the Netherlands have also been cancelled.
One thing a pandemic could not stop, however, is the blooming of the Liberation Tulips. The goal established last fall was to plant 1.1 million tulips across Canada, one for every Canadian who served in World War II.
Here then is a photo I took last week of one of those tulip patches. These 800 bright red “Canadian Liberator” tulips are blooming in front of the Seaforth Armoury in Kitsilano, home to the Seaforth Highlanders. The regiment was involved in liberating Amsterdam in 1945 and about 40 of its members were planning to travel to Holland this month. Although the march into Amsterdam they intended to recreate on May 8 will not be happening, Canadians still appreciate the service those veterans gave our country and are thankful on behalf of the Dutch citizens they liberated.
I wasn’t planning on writing a post to celebrate the birthday of the English poet William Wordsworth, but somewhere on the Interwebs today, I came across the last verse of his most famous poem. That would be “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” — or, as many people call it, “that daffodil poem.”
Here’s the verse I’m talking about:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
What hit home for me about this particular verse today is the realization that the one-time Poet Laureate of England was doing exactly what we are all being asked to do right now: living a virtual life. Long after he wandered through those daffodil fields, Wordsworth wrote about the feelings he experienced as he did so, and how those memories sustained him.
As our memories are sustaining all of us during this pandemic.
Here then, as a nod to Mr. Wordsworth and on the happy occasion of his 250th birthday, is a photo taken back in the time of before, when we could walk side-by-side without a care along a seawall adorned with daffodils.
What a year this week has been.
Typically, the first week of spring is when Canadians celebrate the end of a long winter and begin to celebrate our great outdoors. This year, not so much. Social distancing is our new normal.
I’ve been pondering two things this past week as all travel around the world has been cut short, cancelled, or put on hold.
The first is that it’s humanity’s love of travel and exploration and wanting to connect with other cultures that has allowed the Covid-19 virus to travel the globe as quickly as it has.
And the second is that over the past eight or so days, our personal worlds have shrunk. Mine at present is about as small as it has even been: the inside of my apartment.
What helps me accept all the restrictions placed on our daily routines is not worrying so much about what I can’t control (whether I will get sick), but to focus on what I can control by thinking of myself as a carrier of the virus and acting accordingly. Knowing that everything I do going forward may prevent others from getting sick makes it pretty easy to stay home.
Everyone is joking about how introverts are living their best lives right now. Seriously, though, after so many years of working alone at home, as I do, I’ve often felt like a freak. Now … I just feel ready. That’s because I already have a lot of coping mechanisms to help me deal with isolation.
One change to my daily routine, however, is that I now start the day by listening to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as he addresses the country. One reporter referred to him as the nation’s “Prime Comforter.” What I find remarkable is he’s been leading Canadians through these extraordinary times while in self-isolation and while solo parenting his three young children. (His wife is currently in quarantine at home after testing positive for Covid-19 and there is no other adult in their home at present.)
The other difference to my daily routine is that I time my afternoon tea break to coincide with the daily news conference offered by Adrian Dix, British Columbia’s Minister of Health, and Dr. Bonnie Henry, the Provincial Health Officer. BC’s top doctor has such a comforting voice, and when she introduces each new restriction, she does so by saying, “This is not forever. This is for now.” Her other mantra is this: “We need to be kind. We need to be calm. We need to be safe.”
The traffic reporter on the radio show I listen to each morning has been working from home this past week. There’s not a lot of traffic to talk about, so she’s taken to reporting on how many dogs pass her living room window during the course of the show. I think it’s important that we all look for whatever makes us laugh right now.
It’s also important that we look for joy wherever we can find it. To that end, here is a photo I took exactly a month ago today, when our world was a much different place.
Is this not the wettest, coldest spring ever?
I know, I know. I have no right to complain considering how many parts of the country are experiencing their longest winter in decades. Southern Ontario is in the grips of an ice storm as we speak, Edmonton has broken a 44-year record with 167 consecutive overnight lows below 0 °C, and Calgary’s forecast is for 10 to 20 centimetres of snow.
I have absolutely no right to complain.
And yet, I am. See the dark clouds in this photo? That’s what the skies in Vancouver have looked like for the better part of this winter and our oh-so-cold spring.
I’m posting this photo because these daffodils have been the one bright spot for me this spring. They appeared about a month ago along the seawall in English Bay, a new addition courtesy the Vancouver Parks Board. I love that they were planted in the middle of the grass, rather than set off in some flower bed somewhere.
Nothing says April like a crowd of daffodils.
Except in Canada, I suppose, where nothing says April like one last blast of winter.
Here is one last photo from North of 60. This is fireweed, the official flower of Yukon. It takes its name from the fact that it is one of the first plants to grow after a forest fire.
I took this photo at Tr’ochëk, a former settlement of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation. It’s also known as Moosehide. Located about 5 km down the Yukon River from Dawson City, the settlement was abandoned in the 1960s after its only school was closed. Today, it is an important gathering place and a seasonal fishing camp for the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation.
It’s the last day of the most miserable month of the year! When I woke up this morning to yet another torrent of rain, all I could think was, “It’s the last day of November. Tomorrow, I will feel so much better.”
And so, to celebrate, here is one last photo from Provence. This is the Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque. It’s a Cistercian abbey not far from Gordes and was founded in the twelfth century.
It’s quite possible you’ve seen a photo or two of this abbey before as it’s one of those scenes of Provence that is on all the postcards, except that the photos in the postcards are all taken when the lavender is in full bloom. (That’s what those long rows of plants are in front of the abbey.) The monks sell that lavender and raise honey bees to support themselves.
We didn’t get to see the inside of this abbey or its cloisters (and you all know how much I love cloisters) because it’s a working abbey. Admittance is only with a tour and we showed up at the wrong time. No matter, as I always like to leave something to do for a return visit. And so, this abbey will be top of my list on my return visit to Provence.
Which will be when the lavender is in full bloom.
I took this photo of a water lily last weekend while walking around Stanley Park’s Beaver Lake with some friends.
As beautiful as they are, water lilies are threatening the lake’s biodiversity. Beaver Lake is slowing filling in with sediment, thanks in no small part to the fast-growing invasive species. Plans to dredge the lake are in the works.
I feel a bit cruel posting this photo, but, well, it does reflect the reality of what it’s like to live in Vancouver.
Vancouver in February = crocuses.
I feel cruel because my friends in Halifax and Boston are struggling to keep up with all the snow shovelling and my friends in Toronto and New York are facing endless days of sub-Arctic temperatures ― all while Vancouver is experiencing a non-winter.
And now, on top of all that, we get an early spring.
I saw daffodils in bloom in Stanley Park on New Year’s Day. The snow drops made their first appearance about ten days later. The crocuses have been up for weeks, and I saw the first cherry blossoms on February 11 ― about two weeks earlier than most years ― and they’re now in full bloom. Last weekend I even saw a flowering rhododendron.
And all this past week I’ve noticed the magnolia trees are starting to blossom. I have never seen magnolia flowers appear so early ― the trees typically bloom in April.
It doesn’t seem fair, given the winter the rest of the continent is having (and it definitely doesn’t seem Canadian).
But, hey, whoever said life is fair?
Someone has to live in Vancouver. Might as well be me.