Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Smelling the Roses

     What took me so long? I knew 40 years ago that I would be moving to Vancouver from Alberta but I have lived here for only 20 years. The clock moved faster than I anticipated as I was raising a family, paying off a mortgage and gaining more experience to obtain a higher position with my employer.
     While visiting relatives in Vancouver four decades ago during the winter months, I stood on the shores of Spanish Banks, looked out over the water and noticed that English Bay wasn’t frozen over. Under trees with branches full of leaves, people strolled without wearing heavy parkas, snow boots and knitted nose-protectors. I even saw sailboats on the water and I immediately thought of my canoe, stored up in the rafters within my garage back home.
     Yes, the warm winter months were one feature that drew me to Lotus Land, but it was also the serenity and openness of the City. The ocean and mountains were there to walk in peace, surrounded in nature’s wonders. Strolling in China Town with its markets, food and a potpourri of dialects and clothing – it was a great way to believe you were on vacation in the Far East.
     I moved here a few years after attending Expo ‘86 and I, along with the rest of the city saw the influence of people emigrating from far-away lands and bringing with them their unique cultures.
     Perhaps this new world community is one reason I started to travel. My last trip involved cycling and camping for six months from the bottom of Greece to the top of the United Kingdom. However, the time was too short to intricately discover Europe as I experienced only a small portion of each country’s highlights. Reflecting on my trip by reviewing photos and reading my journal, I realized that I looked but I didn’t see the details.
     In his book, The Art of Travel, Alain de Botton quotes John Ruskin’s thoughts that people seldom notice details and “drawing could teach us to see: to notice rather than to look.” I took Ruskin's advice and participated in a drawing class at a local college. One of my exercises was to draw a photo that I took while on my cycling trip - a bicycle had been retrieved from a canal in the Netherlands; covered in mud, forlorn and left leaning against a fence.
     After studying the photo in preparation for sketching, I realized when I first saw the bicycle that I had neglected to observe the surrounding nuances – the waves and ripples on the canal, the trees, the sky and the amount of mud stuck to this lonely bicycle. I didn’t give it a thought as to what possible reason why or how it made its way into the canal; I just took a quick photo and continued on with my cycling.
     I have committed myself on future trips to stop and “smell the roses” – to see objects before my eyes, be it man-made or natural, to take in the beauty and symmetry of the scene. If time permits, I shall sketch the object; otherwise, I’ll take a photo with my camera, jot a few notes in my notepad and then in the evening, transcribe the details to my daily journal. Upon arriving home, I shall review my photos and notes and relive the special, odd, beautiful and even the unpleasant scenes of my trips.
     I have now started this practice at home. When walking through Vancouver’s neighbourhoods or driving through adjacent cities and communities, I now take notice of items that I have seen many times but paid little attention. I now look at architectural building details, the shape and colour of the skyline against the mountains, the unique shape of wind-blown trees adjacent to the ocean and even that small plaque in a park commemorating an historical figure.
     In doing so, I sense that I have the same feelings that I felt forty years ago when viewing Vancouver’s beauty and serenity from Spanish Banks.

This post originally appeared in The Source, May 17, 2011  ©  Copyright (c) The Source 

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