Annie Dillard wrote about Lummi Island in the slender book “Holy the Firm.” I read this in religion class in college and largely missed the point. At least that’s what my professor said. While he wanted me to get into the aspects of theology her work might uncover, I wanted to focus on the wondrous world she described; that of the Puget Sound. While my professor may have thought I got very little out of the course, it was in fact here that I alighted on the “moth to the flame” expression in a tangible way (and I lived it, several years later in my work life). Dillard writes about loss and life, salt and sea. And the place she inhabits feels very evanescent, maybe even slippery while still having the durability of human experience. We understand the world she describes even though it has already passed. Granted, the Puget Sound is south of Vancouver, the subject of this post. But it’s certainly “of” this area, this region. Somehow the seas mingle and the mountains share.
This is my experience of Vancouver and its environs. It’s a place that once you enter it you wonder what used to be here. Ancient mountains and sea envelop you. But all around you are glass towers, circa 1990. What’s that all about?
A while back I read “Passage to Juneau” by Jonathan Raban. It’s a book about the author’s voyage from Seattle to Alaska. In the book, he describes the origin of Vancouver (named after an English explorer) and how it was settled during a time in history when there was a great deal of romanticism about wild places (think Hudson River School for an analog). I can understand the romanticism. It is dreamy. Vancouver’s looks are sublime.
All this considered I still didn’t feel entirely like Vancouver and I were about to start a great love affair. In fact, the dreaminess of the natural landscape is quite compelling; however, the sheets of glass skyscrapers and condos and development feel too unreal and unequal. This doesn’t feel like a livable city. It feels like a giant crystal wine goblet that is daring you to stick it in the dishwasher.
Let’s be clear. I will eagerly return here. I want to see more. I haven’t even pierced the surface of Kitsilano or West Van, let alone get too deep into Gastown or even Victoria. I want to see more; know more. This is a city that boldly declared it would be the greenest in the world by 2020. The serene coolness of the water here reflects the cloudy sky and gives everything a silvery sheen… And the city sits on a fault line. I remember reading about this fault line in a hotel in Seattle. The essential instructions given in the usual hotel information booklet included a phrase about the whole city disintegrating if a bad earthquake should strike.
Tomorrow I visit the Okanagan Valley, briefly. A day trip to explore the “last frontier of winemaking.”