An Expat in Vancouver: Spring

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I took a walk around the neighborhood this afternoon. Everything is popping, including the cherry blossoms which remind me of Washington, D.C., Japan and Zen painting.

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An Expat in Vancouver: The Wild Lands/Reifel Bird Sanctuary

Sandhill Crane at the Reifel Bird Sanctuary

Sandhill Crane at the Reifel Bird Sanctuary

Oh, happy day! The sun came out to play.

I’ve been waiting for the perfect weekend day to visit, for the first time, the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary on Westham Island, in the Delta area south of Vancouver. This was finally just the day to do it: bright sun, low wind, pleasant late winter temperature.

What a treasure. The flocks of nearly tame mallards and Canada geese on the paths are nothing compared to the Bald Eagles in the tree branches, the Sandhill Cranes swooping overhead to land a few yards from your feet, catching sight of two species of Herons (Black Crowned Night and Great Blue) and the glimpses of many species of small wintering birds. I felt lucky to witness a protracted fight between two pairs of geese, all puffed up chests and open wing spans with lots of hissing and mad flights towards each other.

Reifel landscape with Great Blue Heron

Reifel landscape with Great Blue Heron

The best times of year to visit are during the spring (mid-March through April) and fall (September through October) migrations, so I’ll definitely return.

Of course, it is not only a sanctuary for birds, but for us. The Riefel Sanctuary is another one of those many natural places outside Vancouver to get a comforting break from the sterile forest of glass condo towers and the incivility of honking drivers. As always when an urbanite connects to wild nature, you leave feeling an internal balance. Replacing city cacophany with a sound track of wind rustling through the dry wheat grass and gloriously unrestrained bird calls put me in a blissful mood for the whole day long.

Lesser Scaup and Mallard at Riefel Bird Sanctuary

Lesser Scaup and Mallard at Riefel Bird Sanctuary

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An Expat in Vancouver: Fading Winter

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On a late winter day heavy with cloud cover, you can still have a glorious day at Kitsilano beach. The definition of “glorious” simply changes with the season.

Moments before I took this photo, a man in a wet suit had been swimming a few yards from the man on the rock. The moment after, the little girl fell splat on the muddy sand and began to cry sharply and urgently. Their outing was over, but mine had just begun.

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An expat in Vancouver: February Fake-out

IMG_0566_2It’s here! The annually hoped-for spring teaser! Over the past week we’ve had several days of it, and, with a few days to go in the month, perhaps there will be a few more.

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An expat in Vancouver: Neighborhood trees

Ah, a lovely winter day. That means “game on” on the neighborhood sports field.

IMG_0100It means the dog gets an extra long walk. Thoughts turn to a scenic turn along the water. We walk with heads up to the sun and notice the treetops.

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After Vancouver’s mountains and bays, I love its old trees best. I am charmed that many streets in my neighborhood of Kitsilano are named after tree species. (I live between Arbutus and Yew.) I can easily identify the old cedars, oversized holly bush, and cherry blossoms, but some of the gnarled, tall and ancient specimens are subspecies and just different enough from what I’ve been used to that I am not confident of my ability to identify them. Or, they’ve been trimmed or pollarded beyond common recognition.

So it was to my delight that I discovered, through a local friend, that the city cares enough about the contribution trees make to the character and liveability of its neighborhoods — and in its investment in planting them decades ago — that it tracks their health and identifies them per street. This discovery will put an end to my curiosity and guesswork.

In Kitsilano, we walk under canopies of leaves or thick branches from the familiar American Elms, English Oaks, Willows and Douglas Firs, but tucked here in there in between are the less obvious Sycamore Maples, Crimean Lindens and Hornbeam.

Yew St. Red Oaks

Yew St. Red Oaks

In Point Grey’s Jericho Beach, the landscaping includes trees that to my eye look best in their autumn color, even as I’ve yet to certify their identities. I think that’s a Paul’s Scarlet Hawthorn in the background here:

Jericho Beach park, autumn

Jericho Beach park, autumn

Japanese Flowering Crabapple, Jericho Beach park

Japanese Flowering Crabapple, Jericho Beach park

This might be a Weeping Cutleaf Birch:

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Have a look at the list. Know your neighborhood trees.

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An expat in Vancouver: Snowy Owls at Boundary Bay

At Boundary Bay

At Boundary Bay

It is uncharacteristically cold, with temperatures in the low single digits (Celsius), but that didn’t stop me and a couple of friends from making the drive to Boundary Bay to see the 2nd year of snowy owls wintering in the area. They appear in the south mainland because hunger drives them further south than they typically go.

I love how they are called “snowy” instead of “snow.” First of all, it is grammatically correct to describe them so — after all they are not made of snow — and then it sounds cuter, kind of like the owls themselves.

Farmland adjacent to Boundary Bay

Farmland adjacent to Boundary Bay

There were a lot fewer people than last year on the dike viewing the birds perched on logs in the large open marsh, I guess because of the freezing weather. Or, because the spectacle was not as grand as before. We only saw five owls, fewer than the dozen or so I’d seen last year. Nevertheless, it was worth the trip and the extra layering of clothing. Besides the owls on logs, we saw two owls close up in flight, one screeching, lots of bald eagles and herons, and winter views of the Cascades, Mt. Baker and the water towards Washington that were mesmerizing.

Boundary Bay

Boundary Bay

The Boundary Bay park is adjacent to farmland and horse country, with ditches lining both sides of 64th Street leading to the dike walkway. On our way in, we spotted several herons standing up straight in the fields. On our way out, as dusk turned into dark, we caught sight of them in the watery ditches plucking vittles.

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Happily there were no assholes present like the one last year who defied signs instructing watchers to stay on the dike and not approach the owls.

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An Expat in Vancouver: expatriating from my expat home

Nice, France, December 15

Nice, France, December 15

Vancouverites love to travel, and the end of year holidays are as good a time for that as any. In December the province of B.C. offers a lot of options — stormwatching in Tofino, skiing in Whistler or the Kootenays, relaxation at Harrison Hot Springs, or one of the many rugged options in the wild country which makes up most of the territory.

Looking beyond, there are those with time shares in Mexico (although that number might decline in the near future) or second homes in Arizona and Texas. We have friends who pack up every December for Baja in Mexico and don’t return until February.

We opt for summer travel, and love to explore the province when it is warm and dry. But like everyone in the bioregion of Cascadia (Western Canada and coastal Washington and Oregon), we yearn for brighter days than we are offered by our geography this time of year. For the 2012 holidays, we took up a friend’s offer to stay a few weeks in her apartment in Nice, France.

There are no direct flights from Vancouver to Nice. There is a very expensive flight to Paris with a connection to Nice. It was less expensive for us to fly out of the US, as it is for virtually every flight out of Canada. What locals do is take the shuttle bus to the Seattle airport, a four hour trip that still ends up saving hundreds of dollars on air travel.

While in Nice, I thought about its similarities to Vancouver. No, there is NO similarity in weather. But both cities are on the water, surrounded by mountains, environmentally progressive, dog-friendly, and known for good dining. Fantasy: dividing my time between the two.

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