Being at Third Beach in Stanley Park this year seemed like an escape to a fantasy world.
I always try to make the trip to Stanley Park to swim at least once every summer. I’ve never left it to September, but our recent week of scorching temperatures encouraged me to grab my chance.
Keith and I found a place both familiar and strange. Third Beach was a world where everyone appeared happy and relaxed. I didn’t see any masks. The parking lot was closed; instead, there was a full rack of bikes, and cyclists were constantly arriving and departing.
We hadn’t known about the closed beach parking lots, but we were lucky and found a parking space in the small Hollow Tree lot high above the beach.
The washroom/changeroom building was open, and people were washing their sandy feet under the taps as usual, but the concession was closed. There was no lifeguards’ sign to tell us the air and water temperature or the tide times.
We had a late afternoon and evening of relaxed perfection. Even in “normal times,” Third Beach is my favourite place in Stanley Park because of its relaxed ambience. It’s more isolated than Second Beach or English Bay.
However, my main motivation for making the long trip from Port Moody is to swim in the ocean. It’s totally different from my usual swims at Sasamat Lake!
Even on a relatively calm day, the waves tell a swimmer who is in charge. I need to time my strokes and my breathing to the massive surges of water that throw me around. It’s fun! The salt water is much more buoyant than the lake I’m used to. Instead of trying to do a swim workout, I just let the water play with me. I can “sit” on it to be rocked and carried. When I’m too cold to stay in any longer, I swim in and the waves bringing me in make me feel like Superwoman.
After drying out in the hot sun for a while, we climbed up the trail to get our simple picnic dinner from the car and returned to eat at a table above the beach. I had no desire to go to the Cactus Club, like we did last year when we went to Third Beach.
We went back down to the beach to wait for sunset. I didn’t want to swim again; I knew I’d get too chilled now that the sun was no longer hot. But I walked up and down the beach with my feet in the water, taking photos, people-watching, being immersed in all that beauty. I thought about how people have been swimming at English Bay, Second Beach, and Third Beach for over a hundred years; Vancouver is so lucky that this place was preserved as a park.
A few people were still going in the water right up to the moment of sunset, but most were just quietly watching, as we were.
Five minutes after sunset, as Keith and I slowly climbed back up the trail, my mind went back twenty years to when my friend Judy and I used to bring our boys here. The same trail seemed shorter then. The boys would run down it eagerly. I didn’t have to think about my knee.
As we reached the top, a cyclist sped by us at incredible speed, far beyond the 30 kph speed limit. Other cyclists followed in the gloom of the deepening twilight. The whirring sounds of their expensive bikes and their quick disappearance added to the surrealistic atmosphere of this magical day’s ending.
I wondered what “real lives” all these relaxed beachgoers were returning to after their hours in the benevolent sunshine and sparkling waves.
We are all participants in a world of uncertainty, restrictions, and fear. Most of us have adjusted to much-diminished social lives.
I am better off than many people. I still have work. I don’t have the responsibilities of children, including their education.
Yet in the wee hours of the night, after that golden evening at Stanley Park, I was awake for a long time. I couldn’t stop my mind from turning to fears about what the coming fall and winter will be like, when we don’t have such a lovely outdoor environment for solace and socializing.
We can’t always deny the losses that the “new normal” has imposed.
I miss the many talented people in my Toastmasters club who chose not to continue when we had to switch to Zoom meetings. We continued as a small but dedicated group and were able to meet in person at Rocky Point Park. Now, with the earlier sunset, those outdoor meetings are coming to an end.
I miss the Phoenix Running Club, now disbanded, and the Mundy parkruns that I thought would help me stay connected to my running friends and community. I miss the Run Club at Running Room. I miss the monthly Editors BC meetings where I could socialize and share professional tips and opportunities with like-minded people.
However, we must be—and are—resilient. Living means change. Changes don’t always appear to be positive, but even out of sadness and loss there can be unexpected growth.
I have a scrawny rosebush that I’ve named Charlie Brown, and it is my reminder about resilience and pluckiness. This year it had a record spring bloom with about fifty roses weighing down its tiny branches. Then it was infested by aphids and all its roses and leaves died. Yet a month ago it started sending out new shoots and now I’m about to see its seven new rosebuds bloom.