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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.

Solitude

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the winter I spent in Paris. Although I was on my own, ironically for being in a city so far from home, I had way more face-to-face contact with friends and family than I’ve had this winter. That is not something I ever thought I would say.

Pandemics, eh?

Not everyone enjoys travelling on their own. I really enjoy the trips I take with other people, even when they require a lot of compromise. On the other hand, if I limited my travel to the trips that suit the interests and schedules of my friends or family — well, I’d be giving up a lot of opportunities.

And so, I do a lot of solo travel. I’ve learned a few tricks over the years to help me be comfortable (and safe) when on my own in a foreign country.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned this year, it is this: if you can handle the solitude of living alone during a pandemic, you will thrive at solo travel.

Jardin des Tuileries

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.

Through My Lens: Windward Oahu

In a parallel universe, my sister and I would be getting on a plane today, headed for two weeks of sun and surf. But alas, no winter beach time for us this year.

Because it’s 2020.

Not to worry. I will instead wallow in my memories of the last time I was in the Aloha State. I took the above photo somewhere along the Windward side of Oahu, which is where my sister and I had planned to stay.

If all goes well, maybe next year.

If all goes well.

Welcome World

Whoosh.

And there goes another decade.

Ten years ago today, the Vancouver 2010 Olympics got underway. It’s difficult to explain to people who weren’t here the feelings of anticipation we all had going into the Games, and the euphoria we experienced throughout.

We were nervous at the beginning, to be sure. The weather did not seem to be cooperating. A mild, rainy winter meant there was very little snow on the local mountains and the cherry blossoms were starting to bloom weeks earlier than usual. A key moment of the opening ceremonies, the lighting of the Olympic cauldron, was goofed up by technical difficulties. And earlier that same day, a Georgian athlete died while on a luge training run. It really felt like everything that could go wrong would.

I believe that many of the nerves we were feeling were simply related to the insecurities we Canadians tend to have about holding our own on the world stage.

But then things started going right. The events got underway, a small army of volunteers in blue jackets (affectionately known as the Smurfs) made sure everyone got to where they needed to be, and Canadian athletes started to win. And they kept winning. I remembered lamenting that I didn’t have enough red in my wardrobe (although I did have a coveted pair of red mittens — an impulse purchase made many months earlier — that you couldn’t get for love or money during the Games themselves).

I was happy to get to a couple of hockey games, but you know what was the most fun about the Vancouver 2010 Olympics? Taking in all of the excitement in the streets, and at the various pavilions and celebration houses around town. The atmosphere was electric. By the end of the Games, the world media was calling them the most successful Winter Games ever.

The photo above, taken in early February 2010, pretty much captures my feelings about Vancouver 2010. Several weeks before the Games started, the international media began arriving in droves. Next came the athletes and their coaches. And then, in the last week before the start of the Games, it was as if the flood gates had been opened and the tourists arrived en masse. They were everywhere.

Welcome world, indeed.

Through My Lens: Lost Lake Trail

Whoosh!

And there goes another month.

I took this photo on what turned out to be the highlight of my month: a weekend in Whistler. It snowed pretty much the entire time we were there, and my friend and I pretty much walked out our door with our snowshoes on and were upon this scene within minutes.

Magical.

You Know It’s Cold When …

I know, I know. Here I go again, talking about the weather.

For the benefit of my non-Canadian readers (in case you haven’t figured this out yet), talking about the weather is a bit of a national obsession.

The western part of Canada is in the middle of a polar vortex. I got outside today to tramp through the deep snow that arrived overnight in Vancouver, but in this post, I’m going to talk about the next province over. That would be Alberta, where a lot of my family lives.

They’re cold, to put it mildly. My sister in Calgary was faced with a commute this morning in temperatures of –40° C.

Ouch!

In fact, it’s been too cold all week for the Penguin Walk at the Calgary Zoo. That’s right. The zoo’s king penguins, native to the sub-Antarctic, had a Snow Day. And Calgary today was colder than Antarctica.

Double ouch!

I took these photos of the Calgary Zoo penguins almost a year ago, when I visited the zoo on a much balmier day than today.

San Francisco in July

It’s the last day of February and Canadians are getting a little cranky.

Winter is going on … and on … and on.

Those of us who can have fled south to warmer climes like Arizona and Hawaii. Or Florida.

Sigh.

And people like me — who have little to complain about with respect to cold and snow and ice — tend to just wait it out.

I went south last July instead. Which, I learned, was a mistake.

San Francisco in July, it turns out, is much cooler than Vancouver in July. In fact, I have since learned that it’s entirely possible for San Francisco to remain enshrouded in fog for the entire summer. They call it June Gloom, No Sky July, and Fogust.

When I was there, we saw lots of the sun, but without fail the fog rolled in every evening. Despite my lovely home exchange condo with a lovely view over the Bay, it was far too chilly for this Canadian to sit outside on the balcony for any length of time to enjoy that lovely view.

So. Lesson learned. Go to San Francisco in the spring or fall. Or here’s an idea … in the middle of a Canadian winter!

Here’s a photo of the iconic bridge that San Francisco is known for: the Golden Gate Bridge. This is the best view I had of it the entire week.

Because fog.

Whistler Train Wreck

And … as quickly as it arrived, the snow is gone (although there is talk of more to come).

But enough about our wacky winter weather. Let me tell you about my first ever winter day hike. A bunch of weekends ago, I was hanging out in Whistler with a bunch of friends. Our plan was to do some snowshoeing, but we had just one problem.

There wasn’t nearly enough snow. (I told you it’s been a wacky winter.)

So the showshoes got left in the car, and we proceeded to trek through the woods in our winter boots.

The hike we chose was a relatively flat and short (3 km) walk to the Whistler Train Wreck. I had heard about this hike only a year or two ago, and had put it on my list of hikes to do, but hadn’t yet had the chance.

The Whistler Train Wreck consists of a bunch of boxcars scattered through the forest by the Cheakamus River. Not that long ago, the only way you could get to the site was by walking illegally along the railway tracks. But train conductors don’t much like that and would report you if they saw you so that the police were waiting for you as you exited the woods.

In 2016, a suspension bridge was built over the Cheakamus River and what used to be an unlawful ramble along the tracks is now a quick and easy hike connecting to the much longer Sea to Sky Trail. The trailhead is on the road to Cheakamus Crossing, a new subdivision of Whistler that served as the Athlete’s Village during the 2010 Olympics.

And how did a train wreck end up in the middle of a forest, you ask? A lumber train heading south from Lillooet derailed here in 1956. The seven damaged boxcars were dragged clear of the tracks by local loggers hired by the train’s owner, the Pacific Great Eastern Railway. Left scattered among the trees in the forest, they’ve remained there ever since.

The sight of mangled boxcars in the forest is a little surreal, to say the least. In winter, even more so.

Here, take a look.

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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.