Liz Stringer

BLOG – Vancouver’s in The Race

I hiked every morning in the mountains north of Vancouver last week with my friend and fellow songwriter Larissa Tandy. A Canadian permanent resident for some time now, Larissa has taken to driving the half hour up into North Vancouver every morning from her place downtown to explore the infinite system of trails. She told me how good it’s been for her body and for her head. And I was more than enthusiastic to join her. The air is cold at the moment. There’s something other-worldly about walking along a mountain trail under towering cedars, the thundering river a sharp drop away, while the snowflakes drift down and settle on the Hemlocks and ferns. If fairies existed, this is where they would hang out.

Although a cold winter by southern BC standards, the Pacific north west is a much more forgiving climate than those of her eastern cousins and it felt like shorts and tee-shirt weather in Vancouver after coming from Toronto where it was twenty below and howling a damp, icy wind that tore at any exposed flesh like the fangs of a crazed dog, leaving my eyes and nose streaming before I collapsed stinging-faced and grateful into the life-saving heat of the subway station. Dramatic? Fuck yes. This Australian is struggling HARD. Needless to say that I revelled in the serenely green wonderland of Vancouver, buds already visible and waiting open armed for the spring, while Toronto continued to savage its freezing bite through the second half of January.

Vancouver was my introduction to Canada. My manager at the time Cat and I drove up from Portland, Oregon where I’d been making All The Bridges in July 2015. We stopped in Seattle to play a house concert and then drove the last two hours through the silt country over the border to British Columbia. My first experience with Canadian customs officers was a stereotypically friendly one.
“What are you doing here in Canada?”
“Playing gigs.”
“Ok, have a great time then!”

I remember not wanting to like Vancouver. Not wanting to like Canada. I was being wrenched, begrudgingly, from the recording bubble and I had fallen deeply in love with Portland. For me it was serious – I was already picturing our future together. I was lovesick and distracted and Vancouver kind of got in the way. Little did I know how formative my love affair with this inconvenient stranger would become.

My friends Jane and Jody, still my number one connection to western Canada and two of my closest people, were living near Commercial Drive, pretty much the Sydney Road of Vancouver, in the summer of 2015. The Drive is the centre of East Vancouver, the city’s creative community, which means what it always means – it’s vibrant, thriving and alive. In summer everyone is out, gorging on every last crumb of the sunshine. The trails of sweet weed smoke hang in the air on all the corners as the afternoons drift on and on, warm and dusty and fragrant. From Venables to 12th the Drive is crammed with cheap sushi joints (Vancouver has some of the best and most generously priced sashimi I’ve ever eaten – not surprising considering the access to the abundant fruits of the Pacific), dollar stores, organic food markets and vendors selling everything from vintage clothes to handmade furniture. Like in most cities I’ve been in recently, housing affordability is an often passionately discussed topic here and from everything I’ve been told it’s brutally clear that East Vancouver has not been immune to gentrification. However, while prices for the tiny, porch-fronted weatherboard houses that pack the Drive’s arterial streets are now way out of anyone’s reach who has called the area home forever, the heart of the community around there seems to have mostly weathered the farcical, cruel and onward-raging storm of the property market. Commercial Drive runs north south and when facing north, the mountains loom up in front like ancient, smoke-blue behemoths, snowy, in varying patches, all year round. Not only are they breathtakingly beautiful but the mountains also make Vancouver one of the easiest cities to navigate geographically that I’ve spent any time in. Where’s north? Where the mountains are.

My first hangs in Vancouver were during that hot summer of 2015. There were several trips north into parts of interior BC, country so sacred and ancient that it’s difficult to write about. When I think of those places and experiences I drift off in a reverie to a place in my psyche that I’m convinced was woken for the first time there, a birth of consciousness I could only liken to the shift I felt during the first stretch I ever spent in the Kimberley. The festivals that we played, tucked away in the folds of British Columbia, framed with freezing melt rivers, have claimed a place in my memory disproportionate to the actual time that was spent there. Maybe one day I’ll write about them in a more focussed way but for now I am content to be able to viscerally feel them and remain deeply grateful to their influence. Healing, welcoming, abundant country.

It’s interesting for me to observe, objectively, the relationship that I’m forming with Canada in all of its diversity. Places are powerful. They have spirit and character. And, just like between people, relationships with these places can be complicated and not always harmonious. Sometimes a place can come into your life for a short time and is not meant to be part of the greater arc of your story. I don’t know where I’ll ‘end up’. I seem to live one month at a time at the moment, in Toronto, Melbourne, NYC, PEI, Vancouver, I’ll be spending more time in Chicago soon… And I like all of those places for very different reasons, although I feel a deeper soul connection to some than to others. I think that’s how things are going to look for me for a while. I’ll be moving around until another deep shift occurs which will guide my instinct towards stopping and planting roots. The wheel of fortune is spinning. But I tell ya what, Vancouver is making a pretty compelling case right now to be my solid squeeze. Who knows, eh. Who the fuck knows.

Larissa Tandy, Jody Peck and me. North of Vancouver, BC. Feb 2019

February 10, 2019

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