photos: Joe Thompson enjoys the view from a rooftop near his home in the Downtown Eastside. Photo: Jackie Wong.

Joe Thompson touches the sky

Joe Thompson is a Hope in Shadows calendar vendor, an avid photographer, and a writer. He lives in the Downtown Eastside and enjoys exploring the rooftops of the city using his primary mode of transportation: the scooter.

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“In the early ‘80s, I lived in
 New York for a while. While it was exciting and there was lots going on,
 I found that it was periodically quite oppressive—stunningly crowded with buildings and people and activity.

“So I made time to go to places out of
 the way, like Riverside Park or the Staten Island ferry, just to have breathing room. Just to have what I came to call a Canadian sense of space. I haven’t paddled a canoe on a Northwoods lake, and the only loons I’ve heard have been on TV, but it is possible to have a large sense of space,
one which remembers the Voyageurs,
the Inukshuk, and a vast prairie sky.

“It’s a big, beautiful world. And sometimes, you need to feel that bigness, and breathing room—a big piece of air to breathe. We live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world (allegedly), yet who takes time to notice and appreciate it? Climbing up to our rooftops is one of the ways I do it.

“When I came back to Vancouver from my time in the States—Vancouver’s home—I just tripped across a rooftop and liked it. Eventually, I started collecting them. You’ll notice, once you get up there, how quiet, how serene, it is.

“Right here, down on the ground, 
there’s a lot of distraction, there’s a lot of background noise, there’s a lot of activity, there’s a lot of clutter. And when you get up on a rooftop, that clutter drops away and you get a chance to look for what matters and what’s significant. You get centered.

“Rooftops can be a meditation time, a cleansing few minutes that can be a real benefit worth tucking into a day.

“That quiet, the falling away of distractions, the rising above clutter,
can clear the mind to see things, perhaps usually unnoticed, maybe even a bit of self.

“Taking time to look matters. What is seen depends on who is looking. And sometimes, choosing a different point of view can generate fresh insights.

“There’s an Oscar Wilde quote: ‘We are all in the gutter, but some 
of us are looking at the stars.’ It’s just nice to visit with the moment of something bigger, something grand.

“And it’s easy to do if you know some rooftops. Many of them are free to access: they’re parking lots and other things. And there are some vast, vast spaces out there.

“It’s a way of touching what’s real.”

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