Friday, December 28, 2012

Have Wings, Will Fly...

In 1970, the group Five Man Electrical Band had a hit song on the Billboard music charts, ‘Signs.’ The song was a hit during times of social and political change, and carried themes of opposing intolerance and exclusion. Little did the songwriters know that 42 years later the song would still resonate with many – including those they would have never expected...

Near the beginning of December, I was out near the inner harbour in downtown Victoria, BC. As I admired the zillion dollar yachts moored along the docks, I wondered if the owners knew of the ‘debris-leaving’ seagulls resting on the yachts’ railing and decks. Someone was sure to be scrubbing the decks later that day....

The seagull’s cousins and siblings were also floating in the water nearby. Ducks paddled and bobbed in the waves among their sea-loving relatives, and Canada Geese honked overhead before landing in the cold water.

Just when a seal splashed back down beneath the surface, two shadows passed over the group of seafaring marine life. With wings wider than my couch, the birds glided effortlessly just above the water’s surface, almost skimming the heads of their fellow feathered friends. As the pair came to rest in the water alongside their friends, they paddled and bobbed is if they were one of the gang, completely oblivious to their enormous size, in comparison.

Although the birds were the same size as the commonly found herons, I was sure these weren’t herons. My eyes are getting bad, but not that bad.

As one stretched out its neck (boy or girl? I didn’t know), the huge beak was telling. A pelican!? But it couldn’t be! Not in these parts!

I watched them for a bit, unbelieving. I made a note to start carrying around binoculars (along with the rest of the stuff I tote around in my already heavy bag), maybe have my eyes checked, then went on my merry way, wondering and wondering...

Two weeks later on a colder and blustery day, I was back at the docks of the inner harbour, this time with my kids. The seaplanes strained against the ropes binding them to the docks, the wind gusts making flying a challenge that day. Our noses were running, but we were bundled up and were enjoying walking along the seawall admiring the boats.

Just when we rounded the corner of the seawall, two birds on a dock made their nearby seagull friends look like mice, and this time I had a closer view. My earlier suspicions were right – they were pelicans - specifically Brown Pelicans (aka Pelecanus occidentalis) as I would later learn.

Although pelicans are common up and down both coasts of North America, they are rarely found in British Columbia. They were first seen in the harbour at the beginning of December, and it is suspected they were here for the herring (not my taste, but heck, everyone has their ‘thing,’ I guess).

As I snapped some photos, my kids curious but with limited patience in the snot-inducing cold, the sign just under the huge webbed feet of the rare bird had us giggling. It said ‘Aircraft Only.’
Makes sense to me....

As for those guys with the Five Man Electrical Band and their song ‘Signs?’ Well, someone has been listening to the song, and not just humans. Even though the wild Brown Pelicans will go where they want, when they want, without anyone telling them otherwise, they were here first. Heck, the big birds date back to the Cretaceous period - I think they can do whatever the heck they want.

Engine or no engine, they technically could be considered aircraft – so what sign is gonna stop them?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Chrismas Tree Guy

In the early mornings I race through a strip mall by my house on the way to the bus stop, my mind on 4,000 things all at once. I am intent on getting to the bus stop on time, and oblivious to everything else. And this time of year it’s the Christmas season that has my brain in overdrive, and I know I have more than 4,000 things yet to do.

One morning as I passed by the 24-hour grocery store in the mall, I was almost around the corner when I smelled it; pine trees.

It was overpowering, but in a good way. The smell suited the season just right, and it immediately lightened my broodish mood. No, I wasn’t in a bad mood, but the smell evoked the excitement of the Christmas season and all that comes along with it, pushing all those “I have to do...” thoughts away.

On the outside of the store is an outdoor garden display, and with the seasons the plants for sale change. I knew there were live wreaths made from all-things pine tree, but their smell couldn’t be that potent, could they?

And just as I started crossing the parking lot heading toward my bus stop, I heard the deep grumbling diesel engine of a truck – and from the sounds it, it was big.

But it wasn’t one of the countless delivery trucks toting bread or milk.

It was the Christmas Tree truck!

With Christmas Trees stacked 6 deep, 14 wide on the flat bed, the truck sat idling beside the fenced-off Christmas tree area where shoppers can wade through the pine needles and branches to find just the right one. The driver was inside the truck, his cab light on, obviously finalizing some all-important Christmas Tree paper work.

I was so thrilled to be witness to the whole thing I knew I had to get a picture. But at 6:00 in the morning, I knew doing so was not normal, or maybe even legal. I figured it best to get the driver’s permission first, as I didn’t have time to risk being mauled for illegal Christmas Tree picture taking - I had a bus to catch. But a quick peek at my watch told me I had a few extra minutes before my sleepy driver pulled up at my stop. So willing the truck driver to hurry up with his paper work, I stood there like an idiot in the middle of the parking lot, waiting and sniffing the air like a dog in heat (yes, the smell of the Christmas trees was THAT intoxicating).

Finally the driver emerged, and walked up to me.

“Hi.” I said, waiting for him to say the police were on their way for me. “Cool truck.” I nodded to his still idling truck.

“Yup.” He admired his tree toting truck, and shoved his hands in his pockets. He never once looked at me like I was nuts (a look from many I have grown accustomed to).

We stood for a moment admiring the trees stacked high, then I said, “So you’re the Christmas Tree guy, huh?”

He paused a moment, realizing how cool of a title that was, grinned, then with a slight puff of his chest said “Yup.”

I had a bus to catch, so I cut to the chase. “So, um, can I take a picture of your truck?”

He never once looked at me like I was a weirdo. “Sure!” He cheerfully answered.

My camera was already in my hand, so hopeful I was.

As he moved to the side, either allowing me to do my ‘photographer’ thing or to ensure he wasn’t in the picture (and actually, I think he thought/hoped he would be), I snapped my picture.

I realized later that in my hurried excitement I didn’t use a flash, but at the time, time was of the essence. But at least I got a picture, and at least I didn’t get arrested.

As I hollered thanks before running to my bus stop, the driver turned and waved as he climbed up to the truck’s cab. Happy guy for so early in the morning.

I know this sounds cliché, trite, and beyond overdone, and I know many turn up their nose at this time of year at those of us who find joy in the cooking and eating, the music, the gift buying, and the over-the-top decorations, but in the end, Christmas is not only just not a day, it’s not just a season, but it’s a way of being that should be practiced year round.

We are all cogs in the wheel of life and everyone, even a sometimes grumpy bus driver, helps make our lives go round. The Christmas Tree guy plays a part in this yearly season, bringing joy to many. To him it might just be a job, but without him, folks might not have their Christmas Trees. Like so many of us, he is another cog in the wheel, and everyone plays a part it making it a happy time for everyone.

Yes, I happened to be there at the right time, but seeing and smelling the truck that early in the morning, witnessing a part of the magic of this time of year, and seeing him so proud of the title I gave him, made my race to the bus stop so worth it.

So as you rush through parking lots with your mind on 4,000 things, be sure to thank folks for even the smallest gestures, take time to sniff the air, and remember that we all play a part in each other’s lives – even the Christmas Tree guy.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Lighten Up!

You know how you finally do something you know you should have always done, and you think ‘I should have been doing this all along! My life would have been so much easier!’

For me that epiphany was in owning a book light. Finally! After years of straining my eyes, I finally broke down and got one.

Now, before you think I am completely nuts, and wonder where I had been all these years and why did I only just get one now? I thought I could manage without one – I thought I was invincible.

I love to read on the bus – no ‘bus buddies’ for me - and this year’s daylight savings time-change was the last straw. I knew I needed a booklight.

I ride the bus morning and night, and for half the year I do so in the dark. Some buses have minimal of interior lighting inside, turned on by the driver as we speed along, and some don’t. And those that do, you have to ensure you pick the seat with the faint lighting positioned perfectly above the best seat – if available, that is. And for me, the perfect seat is not only under lighting, but one that is not amongst a crowd of social gabbers, ‘bus buddies’ if you will. Fine for those who love to chat, but this is quiet zone everyone! Some of us are reading!

So very often the seat I want, away from the talking-non-stop ‘bus buddies,’ is in the dark. Although I love the seclusion of sitting in the dark after a long day, I need to read to escape. For me with my busy life, riding the bus is very often the only time I can read. But how does a dark corner seat work for a voracious reader?

I want it all, and can’t have it – a dark corner, but with light of course, and no people talking around me. Maybe I just need my own chauffeured limousine. (actually, come to think of it, that’s a great idea.....).

Sometimes when I haven’t been fortunate to get a seat in a dark corner, I just grab any seat. At least I HAVE a seat – I can’t stand and read. So I look at the positive side of sitting in amongst the non-stop-talkers – at least I can get a bit of lighting. I have mastered the art of blocking out voices, and I angle my book this way and that, trying to position the sparse overhead lighting ‘just so’ on my pages.

And then other times nothing I do works, it’s too dark. Which is fine, but sometimes when I can’t use that precious solitary time to get at the book I had been anxious to get to all day, I get a bit...grumpy.

So with too many times of tilting of my book this way and that, straining my eyes in dwindling afternoon winter light from outside the bus, and too many comments like “You should get a booklight, heh, heh, heh” from a person beside me (as I fought not to roll my eyes at their so-called ‘joke’ and respond with ‘duh, I know that!’), I finally got one. A booklight.

And I was excited, and thrilled, and carried it in my bag for three days without using it because, of course, just as I FINALLY got one, I have seats with good lighting (and non-stop-talking people) around me for a few days.

And then I got nervous. I realized it would be LIGHT – something BRIGHT – and would therefore draw attention to me. I realized that someone would likely make a comment about the book light, the book light becoming a conversation piece. All those non-stop-talkers I worked hard to avoid would likely try talking to ME. With the book light like a spotlight, my dark solitude would be ruined, and all eyes would be on me. I was suddenly shy, embarrassed, and wary of making a spectacle of myself. This was not going to turn out how I hoped at all.

So the day finally came, I had my perfect dark seat, away from the non-stop-talkers. I took a deep breath and, keeping my head down to avoid eye-contact with those who could still see me in the fast fading dusk light, I pulled out my book light.

And positioned it on my book.

And before I turned it on, I prepared for the bus load of people to laugh or hurl sarcastic comments, or maybe the regulars who I see at the same time every day calling out ‘it’s about time!’ Or what if it was too bright for the driver? Or what if....what if it’s not bright enough, or it falls off the book, or I can’t juggle both, or.....

So I finally had this light, was anxious to use it, and now I was getting all worked up about it. The stress was unbearable, and at that moment I considered strapping myself to the bike racks on the front grill of the bus.

Click. I turned it.

I didn’t read a word, didn’t move a muscle. I waited for reactions, for gasps, for unwanted comments and attention.


The non-stop-talkers kept talking, the babies kept crying, the stop-alert alarm kept dinging, and people kept getting on and off the bus. Everyone carried on as normal. No one cared about me and my booklight.

And so I started reading.

And stayed out of the spotlight.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

One Dizzy Christmas

“How much does a ferris wheel cost?” I was asked at a few dozen meters above ground. With tears in our eyes from the cold, the fall breeze chilling our exposed necks, it’s no wonder birds have feathers for flying around up there.

“Lots.” I said, grinning from cold ear to cold ear. “And if I could, I would buy you one.”

Content with my answer, my partner in ferris-wheel-riding grinned, and we held on dear life.

But for us that day, as well as the night before, our ferris wheel cost us $2 a ride.

The Greater Victoria Downtown Business Association hosted ferris wheel rides in Cenntenial Square, just outside City Hall. Although ferris wheels are a summer tradition, to ride one with Christmas lights twinkling on the surrounding trees and buildings was something we never thought we would be doing less than a month before Christmas.

Our fair weather made ferris wheel riding possible, but as rain had been pummelling the city the week before, I was determined to ride the wheel with my family, in the spirit of Christmas togetherness, rain or shine, sleet or snow. Luckily we had clear skies on both days we went.

The night before at almost freezing temperatures, my whole family of four waited an hour and twenty minutes to ride the 4-minute ride. I pointed out that line-ups at Disneyland (which they have been begging to visit) are over two-hours long. Their moaning stopped short. And I reminded them it’s not every day we ride a ferris wheel at Christmas, and what a neat opportunity this was, and ‘thank you for doing this for your dear sweet mother who does everything for you.’ Their moaning stopped short.

And finally, at 8:45pm, we handed over our twoonies. With me and the uber-teen in one car, and the husband and the tween in the other, snot and tears ran down our faces from the cold as we rose up, over and around for three spins forward, then up, over and around for three spins backward. I leaned forward to snap a picture of the Christmas lights below, scaring the you-know-what out of the uber-teen. “You’re gonna kill me for the sake of a stupid picture!” he bellowed as our car that had precariously tipped forward with my movement righted itself.


Both the uber-teen and tween AND the oldest of the men declared that they DID have a great time, and that it was (with smug smirks of resignation) really cool, indeed. “Pretty neat – thanks for forcing us to come here!” They exuberantly proclaimed as we walked away. Bless their hearts.

They all truly DID have a great time.

So, knowing that the ferris wheel would be in town only one more day, the tween and I headed back downtown the next day – the other two were out earning a living (so we could go on more rides).

This time, daylight made things a whole lot scarier – and MORE FUN. It’s one thing being in the dark, rising up and over, higher than the rooftops that you can barely see. But it’s another to be doing so in the daylight, where you can truly SEE how high you are.

And this time, we were first in line. And we screamed. And we hollered. And our cheeks were red from the cold. And it was as exhiliarating as the night before.

I will never forget riding the ferris wheel with my two teenage boys while Christmas music blasted from the speakers. The looks of sheer joy on their faces rivalled those of Christmas morning.

And when the tween asked me that sunny morning how much a ferris wheel cost (my research would later reveal anywhere from $275,000 to $310,000 if not MORE, depending on the size), and I promised him I would buy him one if I had the money, I realized – this darn well makes up for the all the kiddie rides in the mall I had to refuse my screaming sons of when they were toddlers.

And as we walked away, wobbly-legged and flushed from excitement and cold, he proclaimed words I whole-heartedly echoed and will never forget, “It was the best day EVER!”

Not bad for $2.