It's Spring now, and in Vancouver, it feels like it:
In part to celebrate, Air and I went to a party last night, where everyone dressed up. We also got some of my favourite photos ever of us. Here's one with a cat, a young princess (who left early), me (in fedora), Air (pink hair), and our pal Catherine, who had the evening's best hat:
And didn't my wife look fabulously hot?
Especially with the martini and the bubble chair. It was like 1968, baby! Except with iPhones.
After many a joke during the Winter Olympics about how there was no snow here in Vancouver in February, we actually got our first proper dump of snow—less than two weeks before the start of spring. My daughter Marina photographed it.
P.S. Marina and her sister set up a fashion design blog yesterday. It's pretty cool—especially since they required no grown-up assistance at all, as far as I know.
By mid-September, Vancouver weather has usually shifted to the grey and dreary stereotype we live with much of the year. While we've had a bit of that, this month has exhibited an unusual share of full-on hot summer sunshine, with more looking to come next week. Yesterday, with the kids at school and my wife at work, I found a pleasant spot in a park atop Capitol Hill in Burnaby and watched the clouds go by:
The movie is yet another time-lapse video I assembled using my Nikon D90 and Apple's iMovie software. I was in Harbour View Park, but the foliage is thick enough right now that you can't really see the harbour. It is visible from a couple of nearby streets, however.
I've lived in Vancouver all my life, and anyone who has knows about Splashdown Park, the most famous of our local waterslide parks, in Tsawwassen (and surely named after the heyday of the space race). I've driven by the place dozens of times on the way to the ferry terminal to Vancouver Island, which is a couple of minutes further down the road. Yet somehow, I'd never been to Splashdown until today.
While it's not quite the heatwave it was last week, today was sunny and warm. My wife Air said she last went as a teenager, but I suspect little has changed about the experience: I'm sure Rock 101 radio was blasting pretty much exactly the same songs (Rush, Ted Nugent, The Doors, Steppenwolf, more Rush) and the seagulls were just as marauding in the 1980s.
It was great, and different from waterslide parks I've been to in Chilliwack, Kelowna (where Alistair got a terrible sunburn a couple of decades ago), and elsewhere. I do regret never visiting the water park that sat behind Coquitlam Centre when I was a kid. It's been gone for years.
You know what's weird about Splashdown Park? The washrooms have water-saving dual flush toilets. Of all places. Is that sort of like a carbon offset?
The past two days were the hottest ever recorded in Vancouver: over 34°C (94 Fahrenheit) at the airport at sea level, and at least 40°C (104 F) at our house a little bit inland. Since that kind of weather is so unusual in Vancouver, very few people have air conditioning (we don't), and our home was becoming unbearably hot, except for some of the basement. We chose what turned into a wise alternative:
That was the view from the pool deck at the Pan Pacific Hotel in downtown Vancouver, where my wife and I stayed with our two daughters—with full air conditioning—for the past two nights. We returned home (by public transit) this afternoon, after the worst of the heatwave broke, to a house that is now a much more tolerable temperature.
Our tropical fish in the aquarium at home seem to have survived just fine.
We had a bit of a lightning storm in Vancouver tonight, which is unusual around here.
My photo was featured on the website for The Province newspaper this evening too. Thanks to my wife Air for suggesting I send it to them.
UPDATE JULY 26: While my photo above was one of the first posted on Flickr (and on a newspaper website), many other more spectacular shots appeared once people got home from the Celebration of Light fireworks and so on, especially with pictures taken as sunset cast the sky a Martian red. Check out some of the lightning images I found from happygilmore_s_d, drlube, gordzilla68, danfairchildphotography, weaktight, andy6white, another from andy6white, shiftybatter, one more from shiftybatter, cisley, and an extra from cisley, bobbybobbydigi, An Eagle in Your Mind, c-a, lenlangevin, n8brophy, Fleeting Light, uncle_buddha, melodiedawn, treygeiger, cazasco, chrissyshome, mystify, vitrain, kingtoast, and realaworld.
This is Vancouver. In March. In contrast, here's what we were doing in your yard in February last year:
Or, for that matter, three weeks ago at the schoolyard:
Even my kids looked out at the snow today and said, "Not again!"
I mean, WTF?
The two images were made at almost the same time, in almost exactly the same location off the Cypress Bowl road above Vancouver. But they are two different photos—the clouds have moved, and the tree in the corner shows a very slightly different perspective.
So, to Scott and Blair both: great pictures. I can't say which is better.
Thanks to Buzz Bishop for posting this astonishing photo of our lovely city of Vancouver from Cypress Mountain, taken on the morning of Sunday, January 18 from above the fog that has enshrouded us for a couple of weeks now:
This picture was taken with a brand new Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, taking full advantage of its remarkable resolution and detail in an amazing composition. Check out the large version. Wow. Who took the photo is an interesting question, with an interesting answer I talk about in my next blog post.
The distant peaks are probably Stewart Mountain near Bellingham (left, about 925 m tall) and Mount Constitution on Orcas Island (right, about 730 m) in Georgia Strait, both across the border in the United States.
P.S. Here's a whole set of photos from another photographer.
I've lived in this small section of town, near Metrotown in Burnaby, B.C., for the last 37 years, since I was two years old. I've never seen snow accumulations like this, not even in the record-setting 1996-97 season. Maybe it was like this in 1964, or in the early '70s when I was young, but I don't recall it.
The shovel pile on the left side of the bottom of our driveway is nearly as tall as me. I minimally dug out the driveway before going for groceries at 7 p.m. today. I got back at 8 p.m. and could not drive up, even in snow tires, so I shoveled again, because 3 or 4 cm had accumulated. I managed to finesse the car in.
Trees are coated. Houses look like marshmallow sundaes. Power and telephone lines are unpredictably dropping thick ropes of snow to the ground, then swaying from the release.
This is after regular snowfall since mid-December, little of which has melted. Around here (some altitude above sea level), we had very low temperatures (–15°C) in early December, then snow in the middle of the month, continued cold, more snow before Christmas, a bit of melt after, then a freeze, then more snow, and more, and more.
Up the street where people have bigger driveways, the snow piles are considerably taller than me. Street signs are becoming obscured, and sidewalks have disappeared—people must walk in the wheel ruts on the street:
Since Greater Vancouver has little history of lasting snow, most people around here don't have proper snow tires, which makes it worse for driving. My wife and I do have them on one of our cars, but even with those I had trouble on the steep driveway this evening.
Some people have abandoned their cars tonight in our neighbourhood. Others are putting on tire chains even on major bus routes that have been plowed. Still other vehicles have been so buried since before Christmas that you can't see them at all, just big lumps in the snow. People with 4WD but not snow tires are getting stuck now.
Today's bout is taking things over the edge. Forecasts have called for rain several times in the past week, and in some parts of Vancouver it came, but here it has been snow every time. The roof added above a sundeck on a house a few blocks away collapsed, and our neighbours lost a large cherry blossom tree after Christmas for the same reason:
Tonight the whole region is in a blizzard, and police are recommending no one drive unless they really have to—and then chains or snow tires are necessary.
Some of the streets are getting hemmed in from shoveling, buried cars, and the occasional plow heaping stuff up, plus the ruts are getting so deep that the snow in the middle is scraping the bottom of our car when we drive there:
I should say that the City of Burnaby crews do plow side streets when the clearing of major roads is sufficient and time permits. One of the streets on our corner was plowed several times in December; the less-used street out front, once.
But neither has been done in some time since the snow kept coming up here on the north brow of the hill. The trucks need to keep the highways and main streets open. It's beautiful, but pretty soon walking (or snowmobiles, or dogsleds) will be the only option on our street.
I never thought I'd say this in winter in this city, but I sure hope for rain, and lots of it. Not all at once, mind you—for a gradual melt, a nice steady drizzle for a week or two would do. You know, normal Vancouver weather?
It's been a busy Christmas, made busier by enough snow to nearly paralyze a usually not-very-snowy city like Vancouver. Yet my wife, daughters, and I were able to pilot our snow-tire-equipped Toyota Echo through the wilds of East Vancouver to my aunt and uncle's house for our traditional family Christmas Eve event. We did have to bunk out there overnight, though.
Today, Christmas Day, we made it home, cleaned up, changed, unpacked, and then ventured out to Maple Ridge for a quiet dinner with my wife's parents. The roads by then were better. Besides eating, I performed some of the usual in-laws' tech support to help my father-in-law configure their new Internet Wi-Fi radio set, and my mother-in-law create her first blog. (No content yet, so a link must wait.) With more snow forecast, we made an early night of it and returned to Burnaby again, and Christmas was complete.
Now, as the day ends, I think back not only on Christmas and my happiness at being relatively healthy again this year (tumours in my lungs are still growing, but very slowly, and maybe my new holistic health approach is assisting the cediranib in keeping them somewhat at bay), but also about the deaths of two people. They were my friend Martin Sikes, who died suddenly a year ago on the morning of Christmas Eve, after sending me what turned out to be a spooky email; and James Brown, who appropriately, somehow chose the most bombastic of days, December 25, to make his last fleet-footed shuffle off the stage.
From now on, to me, December 24 will also be Martin Day, and December 25 is JB Day. In their honour, I'm drinking my first glass of The Balvenie 15-year-old scotch whisky tonight, from a bottle given to me on my birthday in 2007 by Alistair—but which I have only now opened.
I hear the plow truck finally making a pass through our street outside, near midnight. I am exhausted, and content. Slàinte to MS and JB, and Merry Christmas to you.
CBC's Weather Centre says "it's guaranteed that all the country will see a white Christmas. We have snow on the ground everywhere and it's going to stay into Christmas Day." That's less common right across Canada than you might think.
Usually we'll have had some before now, but today is the first snowfall in Greater Vancouver this year. It's just started to stick on the ground in the past 20 minutes or so:
We may get some decent accumulation at higher elevations, such as where we live here in Burnaby, but I don't think it's yet sticking downtown or at the airport. If the usual Vancouver pattern holds, the stuff will all melt before the weekend is over.
It's miserable, sloppy, rainy November day here in Vancouver. It often is on Remembrance Day, and that's appropriate. Soldiers die on all sorts of days—sunny, rainy, snowy, windy, or calm—but this weather fits the mood.
We used to know it as Armistice Day, to commemorate the end of World War I, which we used to know as the Great War. But the holiday has once more come to have greater meaning in recent years, as our soldiers die in distant wars again. It's no longer a remembrance of history alone—the veterans and their families are no longer exclusively old. Sure, I fight my own battle with cancer, and with death, but when I see the names and faces of Canadians killed in Afghanistan, and think of Afghans dying there too, I consider how young many of them are, just as their predecessors were overwhelmingly young.
Most are much younger than me, never having had a chance to age or get ill. Just gone early, from bullets or bombs, gas or grenades.
Today isn't a glorious day, but a sombre one. Our yards and cemeteries are puddled and muddy, like those battlefields so regularly were—and are. That helps me remember.
A few weeks ago I was contemplating skipping my next clinical trial of cancer treatments, but after talking to my doctors it seems that the drug under examination, cediranib, has a better potential for being effective, and is less likely to cause nasty side effects, than I thought. So today I took my first dose, in the form of a tiny pill no bigger than a small vitamin tablet. I only down one a day, quite a contrast to the several hours of IV dosing from my previous chemo treatments.
It almost seems like too little to do anything, but I've learned over the past couple of years that little things can have big effects in cancer treatment. So here's hoping. It will be a couple of months until my next CT scan indicates any activity (slowing, stopping, or shrinking my lung tumours) from the drug, but I'll also be having numerous blood tests and other evaluations, mostly in the next couple of weeks, as part of the scientific study. So I'll feel like something is happening.
I've felt no side effects at all so far—I wouldn't necessarily expect to, on the first day—so today I dealt with another problem. Or at least I hope I did. After this weekend we discovered that our roof appears to be leaking into our upstairs bathroom, bubbling up the paint all down one of the corners of the room. Last night I ventured up into our narrow attic crawlspace with one of our small digital cameras, where I confirmed the leak through from the roof. We last had the roof re-done in 1994, so it's no surprise it might be aging.
Luckily, today was a rare sunny autumn day in Vancouver. So this afternoon I schlepped down to Home Depot for a can of patching tar, then my daughters and I climbed up on the roof of the house after school (they'd never been up there before). The tar-paper roof tiles actually look to be in good shape, but the seams are indeed dried and cracking. The girls watched while I troweled the noxious black goop onto and around the most likely leak zone. The rain is supposed to return tonight, so we'll find out soon enough whether I did a good job.
We're going to have to repaint the bathroom no matter what. And next time there's a spell of good weather, it might be wise to re-tar all the seams on the roof, just in case.
Most of the trees up here in the Pacific Northwest of North America are conifers, so we don't get the full richness of autumn colours from changing leaves. But sometimes the deciduous trees we do have are still pretty awesome:
The air was clear after much rain earlier, so the colours were particularly vibrant. My HDR treatment on the image helps too—but it's still pretty close to how it looked out our front window this afternoon.
We lucked out again this year: the pouring rain stopped just before the kids headed out in their Halloween costumes. It's been a busy night. Oop! There's the door again...
I've just come from sitting in the yard, reading, for more than an hour, with the kids passing around a volleyball and swinging on the swings. This long Victoria Day holiday weekend, Vancouver is having an early heat-wave blast of summer, with temperatures reaching 30° C here in the suburbs, so we're taking advantage of it. It certainly feels—if only temporarily—like a full summer day, since the sun set around 8 p.m., the same time it will in July.
When the wind is westerly, as it is today, airplanes coming in from the Pacific to Vancouver Airport fly a slow U shape, east across the city, turning south, and then coming in to land flying westward over Richmond to the south. This evening, several massive 747s went almost directly over our house in Burnaby, as they often do, high enough not to be disturbing but low enough that we can read their tail insignia, then watch them bank slightly and make their wide turns over the suburbs further east.
Jumbo jets, like all aircraft, continue to astound me, and it's a pity so many of us spend most of our time complaining when we talk about air travel. Journeys that used to take weeks or months now take hours. They have changed the world, and I get to watch them begin and end in the sky over my house every day.
When it's raining like this outside...
...there's only one thing to do:
Oh yeah, baby!
With all my cancer treatments and so on, I have, remarkably, not been to Vancouver's famous Stanley Park since the vicious windstorm that hit Greater Vancouver near the end of 2006, a year and a half ago.
Having been born and raised in this city, I think that's the longest time I've ever been away from the park in my entire life, until today. I was downtown for an errand, and decided to take a side trip in the car to drive through the park and see how things were going.
I was astonished. Toppled trees are still everywhere, and the stretch of Park Drive from Prospect Point to Third Beach is unrecognizable. What I always knew as a dense rainforest overhanging the road now comprises steep, open vistas across hundreds of broken trunks down to the ocean.
Rebecca at Miss604.com has been documenting the changes since the storm hit, so I had some idea what to expect—but not really. I'd like to take my bike down there sometime in the next few months and explore the trails again. In many ways, it's a whole different place now.
That's because today I started my ninth chemo treatment (out of twelve total) in this cycle, which began in October and will finish at the end of March. I'll spend most of tonight in bed watching Iron Chef America and MythBusters. I'll probably also be lying down most of tomorrow.
But right now I feel just gross. Bleah.
Oh, how I love the view from our front window on a sunny winter day:
For kids who live in Vancouver, snow is a bigger treat than in much of the rest of Canada. While it does snow here every year, it tends to arrive when cold outflow winds from the B.C. Interior get overwhelmed by a warm wet front from the Pacific—so it may very well dump down and then melt almost immediately.
Several times over the past few weeks, therefore, I've planned to take the kids out sledding in the fresh snow, only to have the sky turn to rain and the ground become unpleasantly sloppy before we get the chance. But not today. It was just around freezing, but the snow was pounding down, so we packed up and went.
We were the first sledders today at our local park, which has slopes as steep as any ski hill. So my daughters were able to get a bunch of good runs in before they were wet and cold and we went home for hot chocolate and peanut butter sandwiches. Unfortunately, because of my current cancer treatment, blood thinners, ileostomy bag, and all that, I don't think sliding and bumping down the hill is a good idea for me, so I just watched and took photos.
Today's weather was as unpleasant as Vancouver winter gets: just above freezing, windy, with driving rain. Water sluiced down the gutters, and even brief jaunts outside, from the house to the car, or standing at the gas pump, felt bitter. Having something of a chemotherapy hangover from last week didn't help. I slept for four hours this afternoon in a grey funk.
The kids had trouble getting to sleep, in part because the house was creaking in the wind. I imagined what it must have been like to live in this climate in a Salish or Haida village 150 or 200 years ago—despite the richness of our landscape, surely even those First Nations people would have huddled inside their homes in weather like this too.
Then, tonight, around 11:30, I was getting ready for bed and looked out our front window. The wind had died down, the streets were dry, and the sky was clear; I could see stars and, in the klieg lights of the ski slopes, fresh snow on the North Shore mountains. It was quiet, and beautiful.
Here, this afternoon, is what Kingsway in Vancouver looked like just as we were driving up the long, slow hill into Burnaby—notice there is no snow at all:
Mere minutes later we near the crest of the hill near our house in Burnaby, and it looked this way:
We needed the extra grip from the snow tires to get up our steep driveway. In Greater Vancouver, a few metres of extra elevation make all the difference.