Hello, and welcome to The Stanley Park Project – the blog that explores nature in the Pacific Northwest from a beginner’s perspective! You can read more about Stanley Park and the project here.
Over the course of this project, I’d like to share some significant events that led me to pursue a self-directed education in nature. One such event occurred in June 2011, when my good friend and I decided to meet up at Finch coffee shop in downtown Vancouver, take the bus to Stanley Park, and go “foraging”. My friend knew a little about plants, and I almost nothing at all, but I was still excited about the idea of looking more closely at the plant growth in the forest and maybe having a few nibbles as we went along.
Our venture through the park that day was pleasant, but our “foraging” consisted of us knowing the names of a whopping two plants, sniffing at flowers, wishing we had a nature handbook, and snapping off a few leaves for take-home identification purposes. (I’m sad to admit that my share of the leaves eventually just rotted away, forgotten, in my shoulder bag!). Feeling a little overwhelmed by the mystery of the forest, we soon made our way onto the Seawall. After awhile, my friend wanted to go back amongst the trees and do more exploring, but I was content to circumnavigate the park and let my mind wander away into the sunshine and the blissful sounds of the ocean.
It was a fun day, and a significant one. I realized that even though I’d lived in Vancouver on and off for almost 10 years, I had spent almost no time in Stanley Park. Though a project involving plant identification was not yet on my radar, the feeling of strolling down the Seawall pathway, sandwiched between a shoreline and a wall of vegetation, was delightful. Why hadn’t I done this before? All of the things that people appreciate Vancouver for – the sight of the mountains, the feel of the ocean breeze, and the cool enclosure of old growth forest – were all present in this one place.
I also reflected on the slow pace that my friend and I took during our walk through the forest. We stopped, examined, and talked about all the micro-elements that comprised our surroundings; we gave a well-deserved nod to the little things that work to keep the forest functioning smoothly. My prior dealings with the forest had been much more rushed. While I’ve long appreciated North Vancouver mountain trails for the feel of mulch under my feet and the huge quantities of oxygen that fill my lungs when I’m amongst their trees, I’ve always seen these trails as a conduit for hiking and exercising – essentially, moving at a good pace from one point to another. Stanley Park felt different to me. It seemed like the Seawall (which stretches around the outer edge of the park) was the place to do running and speedwalking, and that the curved and branching park trails, which challenged my sense of direction, invited me to move at a more measured pace toward the inner chambers of the forest.
Though my friend and I didn’t have much luck with our “foraging” during that day in the park, I was happy to have an experience that was new, slow, and local. In a time when we can easily jump on a train or plane to get out of town and see other parts of the world, it is nice to think that there is still a sense of mystery in our local surroundings, and that if we make a little time to slow down and explore, we can train ourselves to see local places in surprising and appreciative ways. As I embark upon this new project, I will try to move through nature slowly, and to approach my findings with the mind of a beginner.