Tuesday, March 30, 2010

IN PRAISE of PARKS -- Essay / Memoir

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Words and Images © Copyright 2017
by Neall Calvert

Evergreen Topiary
 Minter Gardens, Agassiz, BC, Canada

I MUST ACKNOWLEDGE THE PEOPLE who design, build and maintain the parks in Metro Vancouver, where I have spent many hours learning to relax. These play grounds form an irreplaceable part of the community. Join me on a tour . . .

At the northwest corner of Richmond at the dyke trails I sit on a bench facing the ocean as the earth spins toward the east and the sun starts its imaginary final descent. Vivid orange hues begin to fade from the clustered clouds on the horizon, and red-winged blackbirds grasping the tops of cattails in the great fields of bulrushes trill their tuneful song. Where the reeds meet the water blue herons earnestly hunt, and when they are done they take flight in a manner wonderfully awkward, ancient and elegant. Gulls winging overhead—strangely silent—partake of an evening ritual journey westward across Georgia Strait to some mysterious place where seagulls spend the night. The sky slowly changes from apricot to dark blue to violet, then to black. To the north, jets continue angling into and out of Vancouver International. Further north, distant twinkling lights at Cypress Bowl, Grouse Mountain and Mount Seymour ski slopes shine like a trio of earthbound star clusters. Another night has begun . . .

Walking the Richmond dykes east of Steveston Village along the south arm of the Fraser I feel grateful for the nourishment I receive at this wild wide waterway and the adjoining fertile farmlands. Eagles roost in tall beech trees by the sport-fishing pier, and occasionally they chase each other. Once, to a great rushing sound, one eagle suddenly dove and knocked another out of the air onto the ground. (The downed one rose to soar again.) . . . As a gesture of that gratitude, as I walk the dyke I fill several grocery bags with the accumulated trash along several kilometres of path—an action that connects me, a cloud watcher, to the earth here. . . .

At Wreck Beach on the far western edge of Vancouver, every summer evening as the sun’s arc first touches the horizon, about three hundred tanned, naked celebrants, their day al fresco nearly over, face the west and begin cheering, shouting, dancing, raising wooden staffs high in the air. This ritual at the city’s only clothing-optional outdoor rec centre continues precisely until the upper arc of the sun has passed out of sight. How long till the rest of us acknowledge with such unfettered joy the source of daily light on our planet? . . . (Poets also love the sun. Consider “To The Sun God” by the German writer Friedrich H├Âlderlin: http://oldpoetry.com/opoem/show/62087-Friedrich-Holderlin-To-The-Sun-God) . . .

One rainy day at Minnekhada in Coquitlam I seem to be the only one in the giant park, whose forest trails are lined by drooping, moss-decorated trees and shrubs that could be hiding the homes of trolls. Walking east by the lagoon I imagine the whole place is mine, and I feel like a rich man. Standing at Addington Lookout gazing over the vast marshes along the Pitt River, to cheer myself up I sing the hymn “How Great Thou Art.” When I finish the line “I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder” a rumble unexpectedly emanates out of the northern sky. I am awake, alive and connected once again. . . .

At Reifel Bird Sanctuary’s peaceful 340 hectares on Westham Island in Delta there is inexpensive entertainment to be had feeding ducks, geese and the pair of ornery, tall, red-topped sandhill cranes that quickly gather around anyone distributing grain (50 cents a packet or bring your own; no bread, please). One summer day I am there in shorts and sandals, and during the feeding frenzy that follows the scattering of my gifts before me, for the first time in my life wet webbed mallard feet squish across my bare toes—unexpected bliss. Next there comes a painfully sharp peck-peck, peck-peck on the bare skin behind my left knee. It’s a large Canada goose brazenly insisting on its share of the goodies. Two minutes later it’s pecking at me for more . . .

. . . Another day, at one of Reifel's wooden viewing platforms a confident male mallard in full green-headed regalia plops up the three stairs, then flies up onto the railing and waddles to within a metre of me, plunks himself down and allows me to appreciate from close up his magnificent colouring and the thick, soft covering of downy breast feathers that, incredibly, will keep him warm no matter how frigid lagoon waters get this winter. . . .

On a sizzling mid-August afternoon I approach Vancouver's Fraser River Park on the north arm of the Fraser from the east, passing the modern office building there. The grassy fields, dried up and smelling like hay, glow pale yellow beneath fluttering emerald leaves on the high cottonwoods. The river, bringing coolness, its surface reflecting the hot blue of the summer sky, journeys gently toward the ocean. Wild roses in a riverbank hedge diffuse a timeless fragrance. The airport control tower standing just south of the river symbolizes the technological world, but today the whining and swooshing of landing and departing jets dissolves, time after time, into the warm afternoon air, the parched grass, the waving tree boughs, the turquoise river and the park benches.

I missed you.

The thought bursts forth uncensored in my mind in sudden celebration of what is before me. The strength of emotion catches me by surprise. Seven days have passed since my last visit, which is unusual; for three years I have been enjoying this park several times a week.

I missed you too.

I had hardly expected a reply. The voice seems to have radiated simultaneously from the grass, the trees, the water and the air. I notice a bench by the river’s edge and sit down, my eyes filling with tears. I turn and notice the engraved memorial plaque fastened to the seat back:

       I will go to where a river quiet flows
       And sail to where life immortal grows.

On another morning in the glowing blue light of dawn, powerful stubby tugboats leave a silent wake spreading in a sensuous V-shape behind them. These waves as they approach the shores speak to me, reminding me that life itself is a wave, a constantly forward-moving wave. . . . I am that wave. 

Animals are waves too. . . . The tug’s wake, as a set of eight or so crests, angles toward the shore. (I need a video camera rather than a still camera for this scene; the view from up on the pier is best.) . . . As if propelled from within, with foaming tops the waves beautifully curl and then crash endlessly along the river in rapid-fire progression as the boat travels on.

One clear morning a large, handsome Bernese Mountain Dog, somehow attracted to this pattern of moving water, in a fit of spontaneous creature energy, a moment of seeming carefree happiness, tears full-tilt through the shallows until it reaches the first wave and there it snatches a bite of water out of the oncoming crest. Without hesitation, at top speed it reaches the next wave and does the same thing—and so on with the next and the next and the next—until it has tasted all eight waves in the sequence. . . . Then, head held high, it proudly marches off. “Dear slow-footed humans—” it seems to be saying, “this is a talent I have waited far too long to show off . . .

You come across such things if you park yourself in a park.

Sunset at Fraser River Park: 
With equanimity, ducks and geese 
ride the swells of a tug’s wake.
 For more Southwestern BC 
water images check out Albums at:

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