A historic building

This tower with its balcony sits atop the tiled roof of St. Paul's Hospital on Burrard Street in downtown Vancouver. This research and teaching hospital was founded in the 1890s by the Sisters of Providence, a Roman Catholic women's religious order, and grew with the city into a comprehensive health centre.

I sat at a coffee shop across the road and looked up at the roof of the multi-storey building and for some reason the little tower appealed to me.

In a city that is largely dominated by modern glass and steel architecture, the hospital stands out as an example of a previous era.

Night strolls

"At night they would go walking ‘till the breaking of the day," Coldplay, Viva La Vida

Some random thoughts about exploring cities in the dark...

When you're walking you really get a feeling for a place; its rhythms, sounds, its aromas, its nooks and crannies. In many ways, walking is a better way to see a city than driving. One of my favourite things to do is to roam at night. I've been fortunate to have walked under the light of the moon in many famous places: Paris, Rome, Venice, and Toronto, to list a few. Walking at night is a different experience. In many ways you're seeing a city after its work mask has come off and the city has put on its comfortable clothes and getting into relaxation mode.

After the sun goes down, the sun's reflections disappear off windows and for a visitor the focus of attention moves naturally from outdoors to indoors: lights are turned on inside buildings, and suddenly you can see through the glass barriers and see people in their private spaces: working in offices, preparing dinner, watching television, having people over or getting ready for a night out on the town.

Like Charles Dickens, that incessant walker who used his nightly strolls around London to assemble great stories in his head, exploring a city at night provides a different perspective. It's more intimate, but also more anonymous; in the dark, details are lost, people move in the shadows and only become recognizable when they come under the light.

The night brings its own character. Lights create pools of colour and shadow. Couples huddle close, groups of people laugh and line-up at restaurants and night clubs, freed temporarily of their schedules and deadines, everyone putting their best foot forward.

Streets are uniformly black, dirt and stains not visible. If it has rained, then everything takes on a reflective sheen; a freshly-washed tableau.

In Vancouver bridges have their own special allure. The lamps over the darkened water create reflections, and the lights from buildings and boats move like brush strokes of colour on the water.

"I often think that the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day." ~Vincent Van Gogh
Sharing a moment: I'm sitting in a coffee shop. It's late at night. I'm going through e-mail on my laptop computer. It's been a long day. Normally, this place would be quiet and subdued. But tonight it's restoring my energy. Some of the best music from the 1970s and 80s is playing on the speakers and it's almost impossible to sit still. The rhythms bring back memories.

People come and go. Some sit in groups of twos and threes and talk. Others, like me, sit alone and read or tap on their phones.

These islands of warmth and light in the darkness are a welcome haven after a long day. We're smiling over here.

Pyramids of canvas

I apologize for maintaining a bit of a nautical theme, but after today I promise to leave it for a while.

Few sights are so majestic as the view of a sailing ship moving through the water on the strength of the wind. The so-called tall ships belong to another era, but they are still fascinating. With sails fully spread and lines taught, they inspired many paintings and photographs, like this one of an American clipper.

The vessels of the age of sail required constant attention by captain and crew. Sailors risked their lives daily to furl and unfurl the heavy sails hanging many metres above the heaving decks of ships. The constant action required to keep a wooden ship safe and afloat are often forgotten in our time.

I've been reading Two Years Before the Mast (1840) by Richard Henry Dana, Jr. The author left Harvard and spent two years aboard merchant ships in the Pacific and the Atlantic. On the voyage home on the Alert, he reflects on the appearance of these sailing ships, and I would like to share his description of a special moment, because I found it striking:
Notwithstanding all that has been said about the beauty of a ship under full sail, there are few who have ever seen a ship, literally, under all her sail. A ship coming in or going out of port, with her ordinary sails, and perhaps two or three studding-sails, is commonly said to be under full sail; but a ship never has all her sail upon her, except when she has a light, steady breeze, very nearly, but not quite, dead aft, and so regular that it can be trusted, and is likely to last for some time. Then, with all her sails, light and heavy, and studding-sails, on each side, alow and aloft, she is the most glorious moving object in the world. Such a sight, very few, even some who have been at sea a good deal, have ever beheld; for from the deck of your own vessel you cannot see her, as you would a separate object.

One night, while we were in these tropics, I went out to the end of the flying-jib-boom, upon some duty, and, having finished it, turned round, and lay over the boom for a long time, admiring the beauty of the sight before me. Being so far out from the deck, I could look at the ship, as at a separate vessel; -- and, there, rose up from the water, supported only by the small black hull, a pyramid of canvas, spreading out far beyond the hull, and towering up almost, as it seemed in the indistinct night air, to the clouds. The sea was as still as an inland lake; the light trade-wind was gently and steadily breathing from astern; the dark blue sky was studded with tropical stars; there was no sound but the rippling of the water under the stem; and the sails were spread out, wide and high; -- the two lower studding-sails stretching, on each side, far beyond the deck; the top-mast studding-sails, like wings to the topsails; the top-gallant studding-sails spreading fearlessly out above them; still higher, the two royal studding-sails, looking like two kites flying from the same string; and highest of all, the little skysail, the apex of the pyramid, seeming actually to touch the stars, and to be out of reach of human hand. So quiet, too, was the sea, and so steady the breeze, that if these sails had been sculpted marble, they could not have been more motionless. Not a ripple upon the surface of the canvas; not even a quivering of the extreme edges of the sail -- so perfectly were they distended by the breeze. I was so lost in in the sight, that I forgot the presence of man who came out with me, until he said (for he, too, rough old man-of-war's-man as he was, had been gazing at the show), half to himself, still looking at the marble sails -- "How quietly they do their work!"
When we see these ships today, they are usually moored at a dock or are turned into floating museums. I suspect that their real character, however, is only known at sea, under the canopy of sails and ropes.

About studding-sails: as a reference, here's a photograph of a ship from around that time, the USS Monongahela, with studding-sails protruding over the sides of the ship.
The photos used in this post are copyright-cleared as historic records now in the public domain

A gentle giant

This post is a short photo essay. Last weekend I had the pleasure of watching this ship, the Diamond Princess, depart from Vancouver harbour for its seven-day run up the North American coast to Alaska.
It's a really big ship, as you can see. This picture was taken from the roof of Canada Place, which is already about 10 storeys above the water line. Launched in 2004, the Diamond Princess can accommodate 2,670 passengers, and a staggering 748 cabins have private balconies. Built in Japan, it is one of the two largest ships in the Princess fleet.
During the height of the cruise season, weekends are busy in the harbour as ships prepare to leave. This summer, the Diamond Princess departed from Vancouver and arrived in Whittier (Anchorage). It then followed the reverse path with new passengers.
The bridge features the extensions pictured here, which provide excellent sight lines of the sides of the ship.
To facilitate docking procedures and preparations for getting underway, the ship is designed with these side doors that allow the crew to coordinate the release of mooring lines with workers on the dock. The ropes are whisked inside by a winch mechanism. The thick lines are guided by large rolling pins on the outside of the hull to keep the side of the ship clean.
Side-mounted engines provide the needed lateral force to maneuver the massive ship away from the dock.
116, ooo tons of steel and thousands of passengers begin a leisurely voyage out of Burrard Inlet and up the Pacific Coast. Along the way, passengers will see glaciers and mountains, fiords and forests.
Bon voyage!

Roz Savage succeeds again, making landfall after a solo journey of thousands of kilometres.

An update on Roz Savage, the adventurer who is trying to become the first woman to row solo across the Pacific Ocean: she's arrived at Tarawa, a small island in the Republic of Kiribati, successfully completing the second stage of her journey.

(For some background info, see my earlier post here.)

She was alone at sea for 203 days, having started this stage on May 24 from Hawaii. She rowed almost 4,000 kilometres. (Hard for us on land to image such distances and the physical and mental strain.)

Her overall voyage is planned in three stages. The 41-year-old British woman is also campaigning on behalf of the environment and each stage carries a special message. She began her adventure last summer, when she rowed from California to Hawaii. Her aim then was to draw attention to the damage caused by disposable plastics. This summer's section of the crossing carried the message about our need to take action against climate change.

Next year, Roz hopes to complete the final leg of her amazing trip, taking her all the way to Australia. I'm not sure she's announced the focus of her campaign for the last stage.

But back to her landfall: upon her arrival at Tarawa, she was greeted by hundreds of people and community elders. She was treated to performances of traditional songs and dances in her honour. It looks like it was quite the celebration.

The photos are
provided by her team and are copyright Roz Savage. They are used with permission.

Congratulations, Roz!

Living roofs

If you like green design, you may find these examples of "living roofs" interesting. Architects today are increasingly looking for ways to improve the ecology of cityscapes.

These photos were featured at www.ecosalon.com, and give us an idea of how more buildings will look in the future. The photo above is of Singapore's Nanyang Technological University.

This is a building in Darmstadt, Germany. It's a residential complex called the Waldspirale, built in the 1990s. It features a unique curving roof with landscaping.

Here's a familiar shot for all my friends in Toronto. This is the roof of the Mountain Equipment Co-op store on King Street West. The company is committed to sustainability and in greening its operations.

And this is the roof of California's Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano.

Green roofs reduce energy consumption, reduce our carbon footprint and aid in the beautification of city spaces. They also open opportunities for food production in downtown areas. For more on that topic, I pointed to a link in an earlier post on vertical farms. It was this item from the New York Times.

Normally green British Columbia looking browner because of insects, drought and forest fires.

The four-hour drive from Vancouver to Kelowna takes one through rugged country and mountains, across rivers and over high pastures.

I recently returned after a round trip to the resort area and found the drive to be somewhat disturbing this time. The geography is still wonderful; but compared to a year ago, I was surprised by the number of trees that are dying as a result of mountain pine beetle infestation. The normally green trees appear discoloured at first, turning brown in groups here and there; then they turn into a rust colour before dying altogether. In some valleys, the brown tinge is all-consuming.

In 2008, almost 15 million hectares of forest were affected. This year, the number is undoubtedly higher.

The beetles kill a tree gradually. The danger begins when they lay their eggs under the bark. The larvae then mine the interior of the tree trunk and cut off the supply of water and minerals from the ground. To make matters worse, the beetles carry a fungus that further dehydrates the tree and discolours it.

Mountain pine beetle infestations have been part of the landscape for many decades, but they get worse when drought-like summers and mild winters fail to control their populations. This has been the case in British Columbia in recent years.

The dried timber and warm weather conditions also increase the risk of forest fires, and this year has been another bad one for fires in the province. Kelowna was again threatened when fires broke out near Westbank, on the outskirts of town. My wife and I saw the charred remains of this year's burn on the drive down Highway 97.

The photo above was taken in 2003, when fires threatened the town and burned many homes.

Many are hoping for a very cold, snowy winter this year.

Despite the challenge to the area's ecosystem, Kelowna remains a popular destination for people. Lake Okanagan's breathtaking beauty, summer boating, the local wineries, golf courses and winter sports are just a few of the attractions that will keep the area vibrant for many years to come.

Photo of the August 2003 fire is courtesy of Jeremy Bohn, who made it available on the image sharing site, the stock.xchng.

Another scene from Grouse. A very quick sketch from the terrace. I was enjoying a beer and wanted to jot down the feeling of the terrace. Great views from up there, looking southward toward English Bay and the Island, with the city of Vancouver spreading out to the left of the treetops. The cable car rises from below and to the right.