Falling Giants or After the windstorms

Of all the windstorms we suffered this past winter, I always think of the last one as the most ferocious.

Mother’s friend, Doctor Gee, asked Otto and me to dinner at Easter time, some months after Mother passed away. He’s such a lovely man. At ninety five, he is still living in his own home with the assistance of a part time care helper who makes his meals, does his housework, takes him for walks and to his doctor and dental appointments. Mother and Doctor Gee were university contemporaries and these two nonegenarians were the last of a coterie of grads from the University of Winnipeg class of 1931. It was a treasured relationship for the friendship itself. Even more, though, one of the lonelinest things about aging is that one has no more contemporaries, and in this friendship, they understood each other, what their era had been about, its mores, manners and ethics as well as the historical events and pressures that had molded them. They loved each other profoundly in a platonic relationship of mutual admiration. They understood each other in a deep and quiet way. Doctor Gee was saddened terribly by Mother’s passing.

He and his wife had lived in the capital city of Ottawa for many years. He was a director in some government department and his wife was a lawyer with the Department of Justice. When they retired, they came out to Vancouver and the friendship between these three continued to prosper.

Doctor Gee’s wife passed on a few years ago. When she left this earthly coil after a long illness where he cared for her all the while at home, he read out the most beautiful, loving eulogy about her that you could imagine. Here was a marriage that was made in heaven. Two gentle loving people, both encouraging the other to excel in the pursuits of designing the common good for mankind and being successful in carrying forward their ideals. To the end, they adored each other, and he is still carrying a flame for her, though she has gone on ahead.

Doctor Gee is a true believer in correct  form. He knows his manners inside and out, but would never embarrass someone if they do not know the rules. I’ve caught him with an ever so slight lifting of an eyebrow, an almost imperceptible wince, from time to time, but he says nothing; would not point out an error to a young one or a guest whilst dining, for instance.

Nephew Hugh has fallen in love with this diplomatic gentleman. Hugh is in awe that Doctor Gee has the latest in electronic gizmos, buys the best of computers in a yearly update to have “the latest” and never has to ask how anything operates. His mind is sharp and clear. When Doctor Gee leaves our company after a family dinner, he pulls out his Blackberry, rings up the taxi company he deals with regularly, asks for his hat and coat and goes his merry way.

Hugh has a dread that he will go to dinner with Doctor Gee (and Doctor Gee’s pleasure is to invite people out to dinner at the fanciest of places) and make some gaff in etiquette. Where our efforts at training Hugh in the simple version of the Queen’s rules of dinner eating failed miserably at home, here, on a night out with Doctor Gee, he is attentive to the point of desperation, trying to ensure that he copies Doctor Gee’s manners and that he understands his logic in placing people around the table. Hugh has aspirations of rubbing shoulders with the diplomatic corps in his future. He’s going to Ottawa this fall to continue his studies in Political Science. He’s more interested in analysis of political situations than in being a diplomat, but he wants to shine brilliantly in his field, wants to be the star of all analysts, and it would not do to show himself the least bit uncouthly in dealing with his colleagues. Where there is a purpose for learning, it magnifies the attention the learner lends it.
Doctor Gee and his wife never had children, and being from the Depression Generation, they were avid savers. At the end of his life, Dr. Gee has an accumulation of wealth that he has no difficulty now in spending on what he loves to do. After all, with no children, what is he saving it for? It’s time to spend.

Until last year in his ninety third year, he had no problem in jumping on a plane and going off to some socialist convention, as a card carrying member, to express his opinions and be counted in the vote for this policy or that. While he was at it, he would go up to see friends in the middle of Ontario, then go back to Winnipeg to visit his nephew, then come home. He is failing slowly and he now takes his care aide with him. She’s been the same one for many years, was his wife’s care giver, and continues on with Doctor Gee. She’s become like one of the family and now comes to the many of the dinners Doctor Gee organizes.

So, I started to say, Otto and I were invited to meet Doctor Gee and his company at the Stanley Park Ferguson Point Tea Room. It’s changed it’s name in the past few years, so I don’t know if I’ve got the name right. It’s the one that looks out over the ocean in the area of Second and Third Beach, very near the poet, Pauline Johnson’s memorial.

Otto thought he could access the restaurant by  Third Beach so we drove through the narrow streets of the West End to that entrance, then found ourselves in a one way situation where we could no longer get near the restaurant and had to turn around in a parking lot and come back along the Lost Lagoon access road to find another way. There was nothing for it. We had to go half way around the park via the cut off at the Georgia Street entrance.

In our meanderings around the West End entrance, the forest seemed almost normal, just a little thinned out, an occasional tree downed , roots uplifted like a giant tutu-ed dancer bent over with her bottom in the air. Now we were driving parallel to the causeway and then right across to just east of Lumberman’s Arch. There were piles of great logs by the roadside and debris of branches and fir fronds beside it that had been cleared off the road, but still needed to be carted away. Where there had been a thick dark forest of three hundred year old trees, there was open air and a dazzling yellow light coming through the brave few survivors of the storm. Again, these tutus of root and soil bared their undersides, but so many of them, there was an impression of warriors fallen and their giant round shields with Celtic root knotwork decoration dully tarnishing on their last battlefield, beside them. It reminded me of Verdun where every centimeter of soil had been bombarded at least once. Only jagged tree stumps had remained there. In this park there were a few more survivors than that, and the ground was green with ever persistent swordferns.

We drove on where the road goes up and around, then under the Lions Gate bridge, still in the park, approaching Prospect Point where there is another restaurant, a casual dining one, and a tourist trap gift store. From these two vantage points, one is able to see across to the North Shore and out across Burrard Inlet. It is a magnificent view. Just below this Point is Siwash Rock, by legend the Squamish hero who was changed into a rock to glorify his purity and unselfishness. Hundreds of thousands of visitors come to see this rock every year.

Before the storm, people could park their cars at this stopping point, and be greeted by a screen of tall firs that would lace some of the most beautiful sunsets. A short walk to the view point takes one to some of those rent-a-telescopes and the view  which had, by man’s hand, become unobstructed for a full glorious view of the North Shore mountains, the communities of North and West Vancouver, the mouth of the Capilano River, and the renowned First Narrows Bridge. Familiarly called the Lions Gate Bridge, it is an engineering feat of its time, a long spanned suspension bridge built in the same year as the Golden Gate Bridge in 1937 (they look the same too!) , contrasting its cheery orange paintwork against a predominantly blue landscape. It’s a fascinating view, especially as this is the gateway to the to the Port of Vancouver and there is an endless traffic of giant cruise ships, tankers, cargo ships, sailboats and pleasure crafts.

On our way to dinner (yes, we finally got there – we were just forced to take a detour, you see), this was my first view of the storm’s devastation. Prospect Point must have born the brunt of the howling winds from two directions. There was nothing left. Nothing!

You could now see right out to the west. There was no lovely tree lace to decorate the sunset. Prospect Point had become bald! There was more debris, more giant logs lining both sides of the highway. The City had worked three months to clean and open up the roadways, and still it looked as if the Wind Gods had left their matchsticks and pick up sticks out in the rain after a lusty day of play. We were in awe of the forces that had wrought this work.

We arrived at Ferguson Point soon thereafter, settled into a parking space, awe still in our conversation, awe still marked on our faces. This was indeed devastation.

There was Doctor Gee and his dinner companion, waiting at the most advantageous table in the restaurant, looking straight out on the sunset in preparation at the mouth of Burrard Inlet as it joins the Georgia Straight. In the late day sun, the mass of tulips in the gardens at the foot of the window swayed to a gentle breeze. Spring was here in force. A party of ten teenage girls celebrating a friend’s birthday were dressed in their prom-like best dresses, unquenchable,  goofing about as they waited for a photographer to capture the moment, backdropped on this magnificent scenery.

We entered and greeted our host and his invitee, commenced pleasantries of how we were doing and comments on our health.

Outside I could see the teengirls jostling for position, each with their own digital camera, wanting to take home a souvenir of their exciting dinner party, each waiting for their turn to line up the other girls in a group photo. I was eyeing this energy bursting party outside as Doctor Gee gently brought my wandering eye back to the table with:
“Will you have some wine with dinner? It’s red, I believe? Or would you care for an aperatif this evening?”


One Response to “Falling Giants or After the windstorms”

  1. lookingforbeauty Says:

    As an afterword:
    If you want to see photos of the Stanley Park devastation, just Google
    Stanley Park Devastation photos and there are several sites with amazing photos to see. I couldn’t chose one over another to facilitate your view, so I invite you to do some exploring and see what the power of wind can do with the savage play of the Wind Gods.

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