It was the eve of a long holiday weekend and I was looking for things to do that fulfilled my 30 day challenge - to do things as a tourist in my own city, that did not have a cost, involve some physical exercise and that would bring me closer to nature. Well, research brought me to a walking tour that was taking place in Stanley Park during low tide. It was supposed to be a lovely warm and sunny spring day so having this as my goal in mind, I packed up some light supplies in my backpack and I was off! I decided to add another dimension to my journey and see how long it would take me to walk from my home in Yaletown. Remember, I like making deals with myself so I further decided that if it took me longer than I anticipated (oh look, squirrel!!!) and I missed the meet up time, then I would go with the flow and proverbially shift with the tide. Sounded like a good deal to me!
It was the start of the first long weekend after a long winter. The sun was shining and people seemed determined to replenish their Vitamin D deficiency all at once. It didn’t seem possible that there was anyone left inside any of the downtown buildings as the streets flooded with faces eager for sunshine.
One of the most beautiful things about being on your own and being mindfully present is that stories will start to be told to you. I’m not just talking about the strangers that approach you on the street and just start up conversations, although those can be fun too. I’m referring to the stories that were already there but now because of a quieting of the “noise”, they could be “heard”.
As I walked along - first getting to the seawall and then even more so once I got there – so many stories were coming fast and furious. To start my journey, there was the mallard taking a luxurious bath in the fountain in front of a corporate tower…. Relishing in the clean water and the relative lack of interference, he splashed and preened and splashed some more. Then sitting proud on the warm cement, he let the rays of sunshine dry him and you could almost hear his cluck (or his quack!) of satisfaction.
As I walked, snippets of conversation would waft around me as I met or passed people along the path. Even those on their own seemed to tell their own tale – all of them emanating different energies – sad to happy - focused to preoccupied.
And the stories weren’t just told so I could hear them with my ears; some were visual that I could drink in with my eyes; some were smells – pleasant or unpleasant, it didn’t matter. First the tantalizing scent of cedars; then the fecundity of the earth as it nurtured all of the plant life springing upward towards the sky, including all that wonderful exposed seaweed during low tide. Even the sunlight seemed to have a smell that entered my nostrils and moved straight into my soul.
Add to this richness the sight of the barnacles and sea creatures out sunning themselves, along with the lyrical sounds of birds of all shapes and sizes, including the Canada goose who sounded so forlorn calling out to an unseen partner.
Mix in the tinkle of voices from around the world and the outpouring of the stories combined together. Each one beautiful and unique in its own right but combined together to create a symphony of singularity. Virtually a chorus of visceral storytellers - All complimenting each other - yet resonating and finding its own voice.
It was particularly heart warming to notice the variety of the stories and their interplay with others. Along the way there was a toddler, generating bubbles with a machine and it was interesting to watch the dawning of smiles as people realized what they were seeing. It was as if the edge of the bubbles were connecting with the edge of the audience and sparkling as they burst.
I sat for a moment to drink in all that was happening around me and sitting next to me was a young father who had stopped to feed his new baby. The sound of the gurgling and cooing as he or she received nourishment, both in food and in love, while warmed by the afternoon sun reminded me of the gurgle of the little brooks and streams that seemed to spring out of nowhere.
The sound of the bubbling and burbling water, with thin trails of waterfalls appeared like an army of ants marching down the side of the granite wall – impervious to the obstacles that seemingly presented themselves, only to find another way to reach their ultimate goal.
Needless to say, I arrived late to the start of the walk but took a few moments to eavesdrop on these stories. Children playing on the exposed rocks and splashing in the mud; parents and grandparents grabbing the opportunity to regress and enjoy; squeals of delight and feigned horror at finding crabs, sea urchins, starfish, oysters and clams. People with metal detectors that were searching for sunken sea treasures. I was glad that I got to catch a glimpse into this series of stories but began to be eager to hear the next refrain in the orchestral accounting of the day; to enjoy each moment as it presented itself.
Even the change in the shoreline and effects of the low tide told different stories – one from the other – just as south differs from north – and currents shift and flow.
Amazingly, I saw very little garbage on my journey this day. Clear beaches (mostly!) but even the garbage that I saw seemed to have a story to tell. Strange pieces of Styrofoam, that seemed to be charred and marked by travails of another life; discarded liquor bottles, propped against the driftwood as if exhausted by the story of their fuller self.
It was an awe-inspiring afternoon. But I want to leave you with a particular irony laden story. As I was making my journey around the sea wall and taking in all of the stories being related to me, I was struck by multiples. The numbers of birds; the amounts of sailboats out on the water - mixing and mingling with the tankers and speedboats - all adding rich details of interest and strokes of depth to the tapestry of the day. The sheer number of floatplanes that seemed to perpetually taking off carrying faceless passengers with their own stories on charted courses unknown. One thing in particular seemed to stand out for me – not just the numbers of bikes and rollerbladers but tandem bikes. I started to notice the frequency and numbers of the tandem bikes - as they are still an out of the ordinary thing for me to see. I also probably started to notice them as it was interesting to me how many conversations were being carried on with the wind carrying the sound to the back rider - with not much hope of the front rider hearing much of anything.
Anyway, once I started noticing them, I started to count them. On this day I saw 32 tandem bikes. Now, going around Stanley Park is a fun thing to do but I think it is fair to say that not too many would venture multiple rounds on the park in one day. It is a little less than 9 km to navigate the sea wall at Stanley Park. So, it is fairly safe to say that those were 32 unique and distinct tandem bikes. That would be a pretty fun and novel story by itself but I returned at the end of my day to find that during this weekend there is a little known recognized “Day” called Bicycle Day.
Bicycle Day is April 19, commemorating April 19, 1943, when Dr. Albert Hofmann first took LSD intentionally. Three days earlier, he had absorbed a small amount of the drug either through his fingertips or by accidentally ingesting it. On Bicycle Day, he took 250 µg of LSD intentionally and, fearing he had made himself ill, cycled home from his lab. During his bicycle ride, he experienced the effects of LSD, making this the date of the first ever acid trip. He wrote about his experiments and experience on April 22, which was later put into his book LSD: My Problem Child.
I was not on LSD during this afternoon of receiving stories and loving every one of them, but I sure did have a trip.