Sunday, March 16, 2008

Pennies from. . .

It was a bit chillier today than it has been in a while and when I came back in after taking the dogs out, I stuffed my hands as deep into my coat as they would go, trying to pull out any warmth that might lurk in the depths of the pockets. What was lurking in the depths, I found, was rather cold. American change in my left-hand pocket and Canadian change in my right-hand pocket.

I took out the Canadian handful and rolled it around in my hand. I keep remembering on and off that it’s in there, and that I know several youngsters who would probably like it to add to their coin collections. I should remember to give it to—but I looked at the big, dull yellow wheels of loonies and didn’t want to give it to anybody. Four loonies, three toonies, and enough smaller change thrown in to make a generous pile. Four loonies and two toonies are useless here, except for deciding heads and tails, but in Vancouver they would buy you a Translink day pass. You could get on the train, go down to, say, Stadium station, and walk up the harbor. The waterfront houses are alarmingly stiff, manicured, and modern, but the air smells of the sea and the breeze tastes of it and there are boats of all descriptions out on the water. Maybe it would be raining. I looked at the change again. I didn’t quite remember what a water taxi cost, but I was fairly certain the remaining toonie and the small change would cover at least a one-way ticket to Granville Island. That would, of course, cut a bit out of the walk, but then again, what is walking to compare with watching the water churning white a hand’s length away, and feeling the boat roll over the swells that were thrown up by the tide, or by larger vessels? By boat or afoot (and preferably in the rain) you would come at last around a bend in the harbor that faced out to English Bay. There was the gray-green finger of Stanley Park and the mountains, almost black in the rain, beyond Burrard Inlet. Then, if you were on the boat, you might disembark at Granville Island and wander around the market, trying to find an unoccupied space (there were hundreds of people there, all looking very purposeful and moving very quickly) where you might stand and marvel at the variety of orchids that the flower shops offered. When this paled, you might follow the waterfront even further seaward, up to the Maritime Museum to look at the vessels tied up at their dock. There would be an astounding collection of wooden boats, and even more astoundingly, these would fade into the background, unremarkable and unremembered alongside the charming Munin, the Viking longboat with its trim overlapping strakes and mesmerizing figurehead.

If a toonie and some change would not buy you a water taxi ride, or if you followed Granville Island with a trip back to the mainland on the bus (using the day pass), there was always the sea wall on the downtown side of the harbor. Some slight excitement lay in remembering to keep out of the bike lane and trying not to become so enthralled by English Bay or the freighters, or the fireweed growing up through the rocks at the waterside that you caused a roller blading accident, but the main excitement came from the water itself. The water was alive, harbors breathed, rising and falling as the tides wore on, unveiling the glimmer of a starfish, the frenetic lives of tiny blue-green crabs, or the ballet of a jellyfish, a rose swaying in a windless world.

You would have to turn right when you came to Stanley Park. There would be nothing to prevent you from turning left except that it would bring you to the beach almost immediately. It would be preferable, no, mandatory, to walk the three-odd miles around the north side of the peninsula, watching the mountains across the inlet, until the road took you under the Lion’s Gate Bridge and you began to see glimmers of the open sea. It would never matter how many times you had seen English Bay that day, or in all your life; when you would come around the shoulder of Stanley Park and, with the inlet, meet the sea, you would be seeing it for the first time, a great grey plain, with the rain softening the far suggestions of islands that marked the edge of the world.

I put the change back in my pocket. Someday, I will lay out the toonies, find a set of smaller coins to go with each, and put each stack into a small fist that appreciates the intrigue of money from far places. But meanwhile, I'd like to spend it a few more times.


Anonymous said...

Comments to the very last sentence.

When are you coming to Vancouver? Hopefully, you'll visit here by 2009 Spring, so that we can have Greek dinner again.


Molly said...

Mmmmmmmm! Man, that's good stuff, isn't it? I don't think I said a word about food--how could I leave out all that Greek food!? I'll definitely have to try and make it to dinner at least one more time.