Now that I have had the zipper replaced on my parka, there is an ease at venturing out into the chilly December morning. There is also ease when the wind is at bay, and nothing, not even a spent leaf drops from the trees. Walking though December light, and stillness is a luxury.
It isn’t difficult on these mornings to stay in the moment, and be engaged with the surroundings. The low morning light is golden as it filters sideways through the forest. Though my concentration ebbs as flows between a pop song on repeat between my ears, and just how much sugar and butter I’ll need for a batch of gingerbread men, the surroundings win out. And winning means that I am free of the noise, mental and emotional, to just indulge in the silence.
Our only companions this morning are a flock of angry chickadees reminding me to keep the bird feeder filled. I have fallen behind in this task. Add it to my to do list.
We walk past a field of Napa cabbage, or is it bok choy? It looks good enough to eat.
On some walks I am struck by the shades of earth, taupe and deep dark greys of the horizon, mingling with a crisp distant blue sky, dropped in behind the torn paper cuttings of heavy cloud and fog perhaps rising off of the lake, beyond my view.
There are other moments on our walk, when I wonder what it is that will greet us, in a month or two. Ice encrusted snow? Deep powder? Hard frozen bare land? It will be cold no doubt, and I will be glad that my parka is good for another season. And for now, I’ll stay in the present.
We had a drought this summer, our well didn’t go dry, but others’ did. I held my breath as I sparingly doled out drops of water for the tomatoes, and the watermelons. Fall rallied and gave us rain, enough to give the garden a renaissance. It seemed as though everything that shut down or died during the summer, wanted one last kick at the can, given the opportunity. Buffalo beans, daisies, rhubarb and raspberries all made an admirable showing. Morning Glories took off, and the tomatoes kept a steady stream of shapes and colours. Not until a recent frost has most of the garden been shades of green, echinacea purple and cone flower yellow. I’m not sure if the plants were as dumbfounded as I was. Or perhaps they knew.
They did indeed give us a great, intense and brief show, making us almost forget the long hot days of summer, monotonous, not broken by a late day storm, or an early morning shower. It was a summer of heat and dry and more heat, and cracked raised beds, and dust and weeds dying and grasses flourishing in the vegetable garden, but dying on the lawn. It was weird and complicated.
No one expected the fall would be one of the most intense, long lasting and colourful. I thought, with no water the leaves would surely turn brown and drop off the trees and we would be into winter with little fanfare. But this autumn has been one of the most colourful and long lasting. The colours are intense, moist, shimmering, vibrant and downright healthy.
I suppose we all want to have a chance to show our best, show what we are capable of, given the right conditions, regardless of age, wear and tear and history. These opportunities may or may not come along. Nature had its moment this year, and most importantly, it had an appreciative audience.
Recently I have had my less enlightening moments in the garden. I get overwhelmed and curse under my breath, the garden and Christmas. Yes, on my darkest days I do admit that I hate them both equally. Yet, on closer inspection, what I hate are others’ expectations around these events, seasons, occasions. I love my version of Christmas, and I love my version of the garden: a place with mayhem, fauna chewing at new growth, flora choking out other growth, and the fact that I need a pick axe to plant every new and generous donation from fellow gardeners.
Up where we are, yes up, the soil doesn’t exist, it has all been washed down to where you are. We have rock and clay. Our perennials have persevered admirably, much better than my patience
To be fair the garden and my little tinkling pond has provided much pleasure and mindful relaxation. But I am coming to see that I do not work on the garden, it works on me, trying desperately to explain what goes where and what will never thrive. My problem is that I still need to slow down, even more, and listen, while it speaks. Some things thrive and others wither.
It doesn’t seem fair to go on about the weather, no matter how much we Canadians love to talk about it. But I will, just for a sec. Tonight an “Alberta clipper” is headed our way, after a chilly weekend, we are in for snow and then rain, but it is finally ushering in above freezing temperatures. Tomorrow could be absolutely balmy, but wet. Hope is on that dark horizon of approaching storm.
A colleague had mentioned a few weeks ago something about me swanning around my home, pajama clad, on Sunday mornings. What a lovely, if untrue vision. This particular person is a local minister and commenting––somewhat slyly sliding it into our conversation––on my lack of attendance at church. I have to say that the picture I am posting in this particular blog is my cathedral on Sunday mornings. For me, my union with the big picture takes place under a ceiling of wonder. I try to get out back whenever I can during the week, but our long walk on Sunday morning, down through the woods, through farmers’ lanes, up escarpments, and across more fields, is filled with silence, timelessness, absolute wonder, even on the grayest of winter days, discovery, not to mention observation of a wonderful curious little being who connects distant tales –in time and geography––of the animal kingdom, back to our trek and to our moment.
There is comfort in the solitude, occasionally we come across someone else, a neighbour enjoying the same thing. In our light conversation (about the weather) we understand what it is that brings us to the middle of nowhere. It’s not that there is now a lack of busyness, it’s just that busyness is replaced by something I find far more nourishing. I can’t really explain it, nor should I have to.
Well, I did have high hopes that spring might have arrived. I know April can be a cruel month but this is downright absurd. The snow is accompanied by a very chilly north wind, which my neighbour describes as “clean air.” Like drinking pure water, we have this lovely clean pure air from the north. Yes I appreciate that aspect of it. My lungs thank Jack Frost. But it is so damn cold! To think that five days ago I was cutting back ornamental grass and pruning the raspberry bush. Last weekend, I planted lettuce seeds and had a celebratory beer as the temperature climbed to a comfortable 14 c. Now it is minus six, and all I see are the precursors to spring blooms — I think that the late daffodils will somehow end up merging with the early tulips for quite a show, if the squirrels don’t finish things off first.
To add insult to injury I even washed and readied the hummingbird feeder, just in case they arrived early, pooped and hungry.
Like a confused migratory bird, there is something unsettled in me, about all this. I have my mid season agenda, to sit out on the deck and relish signs of spring, enjoy the smells of thawed soil, and the beginning sounds of the peepers, frogs in the neighbouring wetland, while distant v-shaped tracings of geese shift and ebb from south to north. But now? Now the windows are shut, the wind howls as the clouds race by and I do my best to cheerfully find scarf, gloves, parka and toque for a good natured stroll in the back fields for what surely must be winter’s last hurrah.
Just on the tipping point out of winter and into spring. This week the bulbs made a commendable effort before being startled by a cold snap. The morning of this picture was cold, clear, and still. The low light glowed like the embers of an approaching summer heat wave. I am optimistic. I like the warmth.
It is strange how a simple crystal clear day can raise spirits, make you want to plunk down on a wood fence (in your parka and toque) and listen to the silence for a long while. But days move, with their own speed and don’t really wait for you to have a moment. For that you have to be the moment and be in the moment.
I’ve noticed that what nurtures me through this time of year is hope. and the hope is more specifically for the show that the garden will give me, and after the show, the bounty, that I can wander among and pinch at and nibble on. The yard is layered with memory now, of what I planted years before, and what spring bulbs I planted more recently, in the fall. There are victories –– sugar baby watermelon –– and disasters –– the never bearing blueberry bush. I am determined this year to combine visuals, a butterfly garden, with tastes, raspberries where the strawberries failed. I am slowly learning what works, what doesn’t and which plants ask for some compromise, diplomacy, and a little understanding.
While I wait for the first bits of daffodil yellow, I will relish the low light that paints the morning gold, and will soon enough warm the petals and leaves of this grey garden.
A few days ago, a heavy mist “shrouded” our part of the county. Shrouded? Clouded. Slipped in. Grew into. Aspirated itself. Well, all of the good verbs have been used. Let me say then that the fog gave a theatre-set appearance to our world. The way flyes and curtains and backdrops and foot lights never really convince an audience of depth of space, this fog managed to define tree line, foreground and background in clearly defined dimensions. That particular day I did not have my camera, so could not catch a photo of the eight deer feeding in the field behind our meadow…you’ll just have to trust that I saw them. In the mist, on the stage set, leafless ghosts of trees defining a foreground and background.
(I think the mist elicited a sense of security. So yes the mist covered our land like a security blanket, literally.)
When the deer became aware of our presence some collected, joined the others––not at a panicked pace––and then, in a very specific order, one after the other bounced single file to the distant woods, where they could find more security.
Yesterday, in the clear morning air and with camera in hand I came across the deer, only four this time, and they paused for my photo op. I made no secret of my presence and they seemed to find this more reassuring than when I disappeared momentarily behind a nearby tree to continue on my path. It was then that they took flight, and very quickly. Only the white underside of their tails flashing in high arcs in the distance, as I emerged from behind the tree.
On the foggy day, I had cursed myself for leaving the camera, but was later reminded as I recounted my story and my carelessness, that it would be the mind that would have to record this beautiful tableau this time.
I have become obsessed with that perfect night sky picture. We live under a perfect night sky, clear enough to see the spontaneous flare of a shooting star, a passing plane or satellite.
Photographing the night sky has reminded me more of being in the moment than most other moments in nature have done. In the winter, with a still minus 25 Celsius night, the fingers pinch, bare feet (yes) sear –– I am too lazy to dress properly –– all because the night sky has caught me by surprise and I have to dash around to get camera, tripod and perhaps a coat.
Photographing the night sky can bring you into the moment, as you wait for the 25 second exposure, staring skywards, or it can take you far from the moment as you stare longingly at the camera, hoping that the picture will be clear (meanwhile the night sky revolves over head, clear as a bell, wondering if I’ll have the wherewithal to take note).
One night I half cursed as the camera focused on the Southern sky, while a shooting star streaked overhead, not that far off from a fish that got away story, but I do see them from time to time. Nothing that you can plan on.
I post this picture because I think it may be the clearest one I have taken so far, you can’t set focus on infinity, it must be just short of infinity, and for some reason I managed to set the focus just right, somewhere between here and forever. Indeed I must have been in the moment to remember all of this…
I looked out the window this morning expecting some more cloud cover, some grey, some chill. A soft layer of morning cloud, lay between me and an unmistakable hint of blue. And on the horizon, behind our closest Juniper, sparks of sunlight broke through the branches. For one day, or several hours at least, a temperamental winter had loosened its grip.
We set out towards the woods and the ravine, for our “long” weekend walk. The whining wail of coyotes greeted us, a sound normally heard after sunset and then in the deeper hours of the night. But they must have been hailing the changing texture of flash frozen stream and path beds, where rain followed by deep freeze had created a shiny, slippery landscape. Even my dog knew to walk around these obstacles. Me, not so much, as I teetered comically (and ignorantly) to keep up.
I had to unzip my parka, and soon I was sweating in the generous heat of the sun. We passed a trickling stream, found smells that had been preserved throughout the season, to now melt, rot, act as clues and guideposts and way markers for the busyness of wildlife traffic whose prints criss-cross our path.
With the help of our neighbour we have forged a path for the spring, but with this optimism I must remember that March hasn’t even given us thought. We lie in the way of a moody month whose history is the stuff of legends, as we recall mid-month snowfalls of years gone by. And as always April will promise more than it delivers. For now, we grab a doggy toy and head for the yard to break through a softening crust with all the satisfaction of popping a layer of bubble wrap, and sink into a granular layer of diamonds.
We had a whole lotta snow this week, for one day, and it was just like snow days as a kid, where getting to school was impossible, but not so to bundle up and play for hours until soaked through with sweat and boots full of melting snow from tunneling, rolling, constructing, swimming, drowning and face washing in the stuff.
My dog expresses the joy I feel at the snow as he delves and dives like the Loch Ness monster towards the back of the meadow, only to collapse again indoors from the rigorous workout.
I look at the garden and am optimistic this year. This year, less failures and more flowers. A neighbour planted a garden from seed in a tiny plot in the back fields, the likes of which struck me as magic and secret and perhaps not planted by anyone during the past century. Such was my thinking until I asked her. It provided waves of colour from poppies to cosmos to bachelor buttons, a shock of colour visible from half a kilometre away.
I have no idea why I feel the way I do in the grayness of melting snow right now, perhaps optimism mixed with a bit of ego. We’ll see. We’ll eat lettuce early, beans middle and then tomatoes followed by squash. And among it all butterflies will flutter from bloom to bloom. And my dog will be there to help with the harvest.