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  • Bill Arnott


The crows are in flight, reminders of omens and overcast skies. But this day is different, a

horizon layered in gold as the birds start their day, crossing Vancouver from rookery homes in

cottonwood trees, flying to parkland and seashore. I can gauge the day, I believe, in their flight.

With a glance out a window, at sunrise. Are the crows flying high? Flying low? Flapping and

tacking or gliding in ruler-straight lines? And no, I won’t say “as the crow flies.” Too obvious.

Plus, I’ve seen them weave in meandering updrafts emitted by blacktop, curving roadway the

same as their flight path.

Along with the corvids, their presence a measure of space and of time, I’m travelling once

more, now close to home, around the city of Vancouver. A place that I love. Because, and in spite

of, its makeup. Visual beauty and grit, history as multilayered as anywhere, all of it nestled in

mountains, cuddled by sea. A highrise pincushion of steel and glass needles, tucked between

bodies of water. Or rather, a single saltwater body with a great many arms, a kraken embracing

the metropolis, giving an extra good squeeze. The city motto? By sea land and air we prosper.

Although needing improved punctuation the message is clear: a blend of optimism and

aspiration. This is indeed a prosperous centre, abundant yet rife with lack. In other words, a city.

Thriving, striving, surviving, a conglomerate of culture and hope.

I suss out a few facts, groundwork for my new exploration. Vancouver is one of North

America’s most diverse cities, English not being the first language of half the population. Most

of its residents are what the government of Canada label “visible minorities.” Which is

laughable, at best ethnocentric. When a majority is deemed in minority. In other words, not

white. While this sprawl of humanity continues to rank as one of the world’s most livable cities,

as well as being one of the most expensive.

Search the city, online or in person, and what you find tends to loop, descriptors repeating in

soundbites and slogans: scenic views, mild climate, unparalleled natural beauty, ocean and

mountains and living outdoors. An online snippet I read poses the seemingly simple question, “Is

Vancouver a good or bad city?” One reply makes me smile. “Yes it is.” While another answer

offers much more. “It’s a lovely city, one of the world’s most beautiful, provided you can afford

to enjoy it.” And there in lies a rub. The rub, perhaps. One of an endless array of puzzles and

queries surrounding the city of Vancouver.

I’ve lived here for almost four decades. It’s my home, here on Musqueam, Squamish, and

Tsleil-Waututh land. And while I’ve lived in many of its neighbourhoods, much of it will forever

feel new. Not merely new buildings, but a recurring burble of the unfamiliar, fuelling a sense of

discovery each time I step out the front door, as though I’m a tourist, explorer, adventurer. Here,

where I live and I work.

Exploration and discovery, however, unveil further questions. What exactly am I seeing out

there? Who made it like this? Why is it this way? And what will it be like tomorrow? Questions

that drive me to examine this city, needing to better comprehend its “sea land and air,” scenic

views and natural beauty. Something I’m doing on foot.

I could share quotes about the imperativeness of walking to truly experience a place, but that’s

neither fair nor accurate. A bus or a train may accomplish the very same thing. Mobility might

vary. But for me, feet and legs are a preferred mode of transport. Rousseau stated he could only

think when he walked. A part of me feels the same way. While novelist Flann O’Brien claimed

every step we take actually infuses some of the path that we travel, an ingestion of places we

wander. And so I keep walking, the crows my companions, slowing my pace to better absorb this

city. As another quote comes to mind, one from Robert Macfarlane. Referring to the inherent

nature of storytelling that accompanies walking. An exploratory walk not only solidifies stories

but makes them, tracing trails left by others, overlapped with our own. Tales formed in the

hourglass shape of a sole. “Following footsteps, we are reading the earliest stories, told not in

print but in footprint.” Modern stories as well, with those still waiting to be written.


Bill Arnott is the bestselling author of A Perfect Day for a WalkA Season on Vancouver

Island, and the award-winning Gone Viking travelogues. For his expeditions he’s received a

fellowship at London’s Royal Geographical Society. When not trekking with a small pack and

journal, Bill can be found on Canada’s west coast, where he lives near the mountains and sea.

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Apr 24
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Cheers to Sojournal, with thanks for the share!

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