Vignettes From A Summer of Life (Part III)

The Starlit Garden

One evening we were together, my friends and I, trying to come up with another “Vancouver thing” to do. We chose Queen Elizabeth Park, at Cambie and 33rd. The sun was going down and the shadows were lengthening. The park was another of those places that I had been to when I was young, but never since. Nothing specifically important happened that night. There was no singular discovery or goal to achieve or quest to undertake. The magic of it was found in simply being there.

Another bridge. It was made of wood this time, overhanging a small waterfall. We stood in the shadows at the railing and looked down into the sunken garden, spread out below like a miniature Eden enclosed in God’s bowl and illuminated by a quarter-full moon and the stars. The flowers looked like they had been painted over in indigo, and I tried to piece together their usual array of colours from half-buried memories of summers past. James wanted to climb everything. The sculpture by Henry Moore standing beside the fountain, the rock wall beside the waterfall down in the garden, the dome of the Bloedel Conservatory. He never quite got to the last one; a shame, really. He did make it to the narrow edge of the outer wall before the plastic bubbles of the dome begins; Brandon followed him up that one, and up the rock face in the dead darkness, although he chose to come down when James kept going. Melissa, Kelsey, Brandon, and I took the long way up the stairs (with cellphones turned on so the screens could act as flashlights) and met him on the upper level.

At the entrance to the park’s heart was an enormous pool and in the centre of the pool, lit from below, were vertical spouts of water that rushed up and crashed down, up and down, in a cycling pattern of height and collapse that I never quite followed. Taking me back into childhood memories it truly became the mythical Fountain of Youth. A grassy spread jutted out into the pool on which stood that abstract sculpture of Moore’s; before we left, but after midnight, I found myself laid back on that grass looking up at the perfectly clear indigo night sky speckled with the diamond and sapphire stars. I wanted to go out and live on one of them. What would it be like to live on an alien world, I wondered? To walk on its shores and listen to its winds? What would the stars look like from there? But before long, I realized that I would simply be content with picking one of the gems out with my hand, turning it over while I gazed into its facets, and throw it back into place. That was all I wanted for that moment, just to stay where I was.

***

The Ending

I wouldn’t dare argue for the appropriateness of attaching a happy ending to such a tale. Happy endings should grow naturally—and they do, occasionally, whether people choose to acknowledge them or not—and not be artificially grafted onto the vine that springs up from life. And perhaps also it is wrong to twist it into shape when it doesn’t easily want to go into one. A series of episodes, that’s all, just vignettes. But sometimes life is like that, just one day after another, and other times it has structure and a form that can be uncovered if you live it long enough, or cast a wide enough net. This was just one summer of my life, much of it shaped only from day to day, but the days did accumulate into something resembling a climax.

I will never give up stories and the faraway places that live inside my head, nor, I hope, will they ever give up me. But reality itself is filled with pleasures, no matter how small or seemingly innocuous. They carry significance because of how we experience them and who we experience them with. In other words, we must choose the eyes with which to look at them if we ever expect them to nurture us.

Whether or not I leave Vancouver is something I’ll never know until it actually happens. But from now on, even when journeying out to the farthest galaxies or down the rabbit-hole under the hedge, I will always carry a little piece of this city with me. It was always where I lived, but this summer, somehow, it became home.

And the young man let the summer drift its way over him and through him and into him, soaking up its illuminating rays of sunlight, its heat burning away the shadows that had clouded his eyes and forced him to turn inward for his only adventures. He blinked in the dawning realization that the city, in the right places and in the right moments, held adventures and quests to equal any of those he had dreamed. The city held life with all its wonders, life with all its day-to-day eccentricities. He reached out his hands to grab onto it.

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