How Winter Tiptoed Up and Slammed Me On the Head

Image I was a victim of seasonal denial. Sometime before Halloween I was saying – “Wow, this is amazing.  It is actually seven o’clock at night and it is still sorta kinda warm out.”  Not only that, I was marvelling at the display of radiant red and orange leaves glorifying the trees.  And being a really slow learner, I left the rake out in a pile of garden debris and wandered away from the task at hand mid-job to enjoy some frivolous distraction.  Then I decided to wait for another equally sunny day to finish the job, refusing to go do it the following chilly afternoon with a forecast of snow.  I believed autumn would go on and on and on. 

So it did snow – a gentle flurry of fluffy flakes, and I watched my neighbours’ set their yards and decks and lawn furniture in order through my livingroom window.  “Silly them, don’t they know there is always snow on the Eve of Halloween and this will pass, the sun will shine and melt all this fluff that they’re making a fuss about.” Image  

Wrong-o Daddy-o.  Yesterday I bought bananas and then realized I now had to venture home instead of making a scheduled stop unless I carried my bananas with me, because otherwise I’d be poking them onto a stick and eating them as a frozen treat as it was seventeen below – the temperature at which bananas and milk and other squishy and liquid materials freeze.  I pulled out of the grocery store parking lot and passed by a mound of snow three times the height of my vehicle, plowed into a mini-mountain that cars could park in a hap hazard fashion all around.  The lost yellow parking lines  would be covered with hard packed snow until spring.     Image   

 

Image  It was time for boots and gloves and travelling with survival gear in the car – a tin can and matches and a fat candle. Yes, winter had crept up on me and was clearly knocking me on the head – my rake would be leaning against the fence until the next calendar year and the hose, frozen standing up in the shape it was in when I twisted it from the tap, would stand that way until March. Yep, this is winter.  And we’re deep in it.

The Homecoming Dance For Spring

Who knows where you will discover the tid-bits of information that ease you through life from season to season?  Long ago, a neighbor – a guy who studies entomology (bugs) and engages in long treks in foreign places – told me he never pulls up all his spent plants in the fall, leaving instead a ‘winter garden‘.  So I pass by flower beds where the owners have meticulously cleaned up every last bit of perennial foliage, undertaking a clean sweep of orderly beds, so only stubble remains in the black earth, readying them for the coming seasons – and I’m so tempted to follow their methodical inclinations.

Somehow I resist, instead I carve out a place for small heaps of snow to pile around a stand of stiff delphinium stocks. I leave a nest of black eyed susans stems to sparkle with crystal hoarfrost .  In the back garden the morning sun reaches a small bed of gangly flocks and shines through the tired golden leafs.  This year I even left the most stately eight foot hollyhocks, rising out of a bed of  snow.Image

I’m grateful to my neighbor who led me to the winter garden inspiration, but now it is late February.  The snow is crusty and hard, the dry crisp leaves rattle in the breeze, clinging to the stems like winter clings to the landscape.  On the February long weekend we made the drive through the mountains to our cottage seven hours west.  Home in Calgary, Alberta is a gardening zone three. A hardiness zone  is a geographically defined area in which a specific category of plant life is capable of growing, as defined by climatic conditions, including its ability to withstand the minimum temperatures of the zone. [1]The cottage, in the interior of B.C., is in a place called the Shuswaps and is a more encouraging zone 6.

ImageDuring a short break from the wet weather we were having that weekend, the sun slanted through the slate blue clouds and searching hard, I found the smallest promises of spring’s revival. These weren’t tulips or even wee purple and yellow crocuses.  There wasn’t even a brave pale snowdrop blossom in sight.  But on the far side of the cottage, against the warmest wall I found teeny weeny hollyhock seedlings, dotting the damp earth.  I had shaken the small flat seeds from spent buds and stamped them into the ground on a fall day months previous, and now here were the beginnings of hollyhocks that would grow to reach the kitchen window high above them, and by August the long stems with a multitude of  ruffled pink and white blooms, encouraged by the sun and warm nights, will stretch even higher.  Image

In that zone six it is exhilarating to reap the abundant beauty of nature’s kindness, but my heart swells with admiration for the determined and faithful green thumbs working the soil in Calgary’s much cooler zone three designation.  Gardening in our foothill’s city is an exercise in patience, optimism and hope.  It might be long weeks before I find the hollyhock seedlings here where crusty snow is still the tired background for my now unappreciated winter garden. But alas, when I do see the itty bitty pale green seedlings peeping through the earth, displaying their own determination, they will beckon my faith in the homecoming of our sweet, though perhaps, too short, summer.Image


[1] wikipedia.org

A Perfect Glory Of A Day

Is it over stated to say it is a glorious fall day?  Glory is in the air. ‘Glory’ – (Webster’s definition) ‘something marked by beauty or resplendence, as in a perfect glory of a day.’

Neighborhood kids that went to school wearing new fall cardigans and jeans will be coming home to put on shorts and run barefoot.  Still, a news story reported that the weather is going to change shortly and the s- word is coming.  The reporter said it that way – the S-word.

It was enough reason to change into my gardening clothes and bring in the harvest.  I can harvest my teeny weenie vegetable garden in a couple of hours.  Maybe vegetable patch is a better way to describe what I have going at the top of the yard.

I planted potatoes in the spring for the simple joy of digging them up  – it’s like a game of hide and seek.  A kid from the coast might like to chase clams on a sandy beach, digging into the wet sand where they see a spray of salty water spurt up.  A kid from the prairie has to make do with digging up spuds.  But it’s a sport to see what’s down there in the dark earth, hiding from the slugs and weather.  With my measly three dozen potatoes piled on the kitchen counter I considered letting the whole vegetable patch be poppies and sweet peas next year – maybe just a corner designated for the rhubarb.  Not being a big fan of rhubarb, even baked into a sweet strawberry pie, I could take it or leave it, but  I love the way the phallic shoots pop up first, announcing spring.

Contemplating what other flowers I might add to the mix I started to unearth the carrots, pleased that the green tops were pulling out of the ground with the orange spears still attached.  Suddenly the farmer genes that my grandparents passed along were winning out – I knew that I would poke a small variety of seeds into the ground again next May.  It wasn’t the sight of the muddy carrots, that convinced me to continue – it was the sharp sweet scent, a scent you can’t quite pay money for at the grocery store.  A scent that made  me think of being seven-years-old and my mom washing garden carrots off with the hose and treating us to the first ones big enough to warrant pulling out on a hot summer’s day.

My Grandmother – Nanny – to all our family, started farming on her own homestead at age sixteen when she married my grandfather.  And after they retired to town, she tended a gigantic backyard garden brimming with peas and beans, carrots and onions, beets and raspberries – until she was ninety-four-years old.  She saved money by canning and freezing her bounty.  I carry on the gardening tradition in my two small raised beds, even though my little effort probably costs me more in seeds and water than it saves over the half dozen meals it supplies.

I put away the shovel, rinsed off some of the small sweet carrots, and sat on the grass in the late afternoon sun to crunch on them.  The planting, tending and harvest are  comforting rituals – marking one season passing before the long winter and the anticipation of the spring to come.  But right then, I relaxed on the lawn that will soon enough be white with snow and embraced the glory of the autumn sun.

Spring Time Knee Socks – la dee da

When I was a little girl Easter was the dawning of spring.  My mom, an accomplished seamstress, sewed me and my two sisters twirly Easter outfits – new cotton dresses or skirts and one year, I recall, she even fashioned us bonnets after taking a hat making course.  Our family of seven would take the first trip of the year Up North to Vermilion, Alberta to visit my grandparents.  On Sunday morning, we’d take the curlers from our heads, shake out our bouncy curls (from our normally pin-straight hair) and deck ourselves out in our new Easter outfits.  Despite it being cool enough for crusty snow along the fence and under the trees, it would be a treat to leave off itchy leotards, and pull up instead, brand new white knee socks.  I remember the freedom of that –  my bare legs eager for a bit of afternoon sun to warm them.

Now I have a granddaughter myself and I no longer have a grandmother.  I rarely sew anything and despite having purchased some lovely material, the outfit I bought my granddaughter for an Easter celebration at the family cottage was her first pair of overalls and a bright white onesie with teeny flowers on the collar.  But some Easter traditions must be resurrected each year and in the spirit of that, I brought up the famous Paas Easter egg decorating kit and after the two-year-old was tucked up in bed, her mom, and my mom and my sister and I, all dyed the tips of our fingers green and blue and red, in the process of creating the fancy eggs of my youth.

Oh Baby

And of course, all of us sentimental and reminiscing adults, laid out an Easter egg hunt for the only wee one young enough to be captivated by the search for the over sized-chocolate-holding plastic egg containers, though still too young to grasp the suggestion that a big bunny placed them in their obvious spots among the crocuses and  hyacinths. 

Maybe by next year I’ll sew her a twirly dress and find some teeny knee socks – but I think we observed enough tradition to successfully call up the glory of spring.

Patience is a Spring Time Virtue, right? Right??

We’ve been fortunate enough to take a holiday from the  hard Canadian winter and escaped to Maui , along with groups of spring break tourists with kids of all ages in tow, tiny children splashing bravely through aqua waves, to pouty teens glued to their cell phones.  I felt blissful in Hawaii.  My Alberta-straight hair curled with the soft humidly.  My skin glowed (or perspired), turning light brown – where it wasn’t glowing red.

We jumped waves, lay on the beach and drank by the pool – and our drinks always had little umbrellas in them beside the chunk of pineapple – it was part of the holiday.  As I walked along the tropical landscape I picked up plumeria blossoms and held them under my nose, trying to hold the  luscious sweet scent in my memory.  I took photos of the red ti leaves and of the even brighter ruby-colored torch ginger. I aimed my camera at the startling orange tulip tree and below it at a brilliant yellow hibiscus, and even at the comical pineapples dropping off a palm tree during a hard gust of wind.  I wore sandals and breezy skirts and bathing suit tops – I had purposely left behind any gray and black summer clothes – those too often being the colours of my winter wardrobe.

I never forgot that I was in vacation land – not my own land. With the time change we arrived back home in Calgary midmorning.  We didn’t say much as the taxi drove us passed what is still, despite my hopeful fantasy otherwise, a gray, white, and beige landscape.  While my husband tried to deal with his jet leg, I slipped my  brown bare feet back into a pair of winter boots, as there were still small heaps of snow outside and I walked the garden – the way gardeners do in the spring.  I forgot the huge Hawaiian leaves and dazzling tropical blossoms and looked so carefully, pushing at the soil with a stick until I found the tiny red-tipped tulip leaves struggling through the firm soil, then further along a clump of round fresh leaves of an early columbine plant reaching for the sun, and finally – spiky deeper green shoots of a chive, as well as a young strawberry plant in the corner of the vegetable garden.

My tropical holiday was like a trip to Atlantis – mystical in its abundance of   showy  displays of blo0ms.  But home again, I have no choice but to wait patiently for colourful floral and fauna.  I can only anticipate the blanket of snowy pink apple blossoms, the  crimson hollyhocks waving on long stems, a scattering of  midnight blue cornflowers, or my magnificent rose-hued double poppies springing up somewhere new.  I promise myself to appreciate them more than ever when they come, to marvel not just at their beauty and grace, but at their hardy fortitude.