Staying Separate and Apart – Together

To write this story or not – but I’m a writer and it’s what I have to offer. I’m isolated with part of my big family…

Since I was a kid in grade four I’ve found joy and solace by putting words to paper (screen). As we all hunker down in our homes I feel the need to write. I want to share the family humour, the lightness of humanity and the very tough bits too.

To catch you up – here’s a brief tale of our situation at our ‘camp’ away from the world, though at the same time as we’re away we are deeply engrossed in events unfolding everywhere. I was out of the country with my adult daughters for a special short trip. We knew to be cautious in our travels – handiwipes in our purses, hand washing everywhere, hanging together. Even on our return we weren’t worried. Social distancing wasn’t a thing that first day. It was more than 24 hours after that when our world started to be dumped upside down with the disturbing frightful realization of how Coronavirus had insidiously crept into our province.

It was recommended that my husband work away from home because of my having come from away. We decided he would head to our cottage and prepare it in case any of our adult kids wanted to isolate. (It was the beginning of the odd toilet paper hoarding – though honestly folks we legitimately needed some). He packed the truck up with supplies as if it was a family retreat over a summery long weekend but this time he had cleaning products instead of blow up beach toys and canned goods, not marshmallows.

Our youngest daughter was studying for an important graduate entrance exam and followed him. Her big sister is the mom of our two young granddaughters and her husband was out of the country not aware yet that he’d have to head home. So there I was with my husband telling me to follow him to the cottage on the lake to finish this isolation time, but I felt like a big mother hen and needed to take care of my eldest daughter and my granddaughters, at least until her husband was homeward bound. So we were hanging together at bit over meals, the girls doing art at my kitchen table, their mom and I trying to sort out what everyone everywhere was sorting.

It was March 12th and snowing, not that usual spring snow which is heavy and wet and perfect for snowmen, but instead light flakes blowing and drifting through the night and day. Normally another flipping snow storm would be enough to fill social media with chatter but I remember the weather wasn’t mentioned as we all caught up with the threat of the virus and were deep in social media attention mode.

Waiting for my son-in-laws return and the snow to stop making the roads treacherous – I started to pack. But hold on – what was I packing for? … the now recommended fourteen days after travel to be over? Or some long otherworldly escape for how long …? Would I want outfits to maybe go out locally in the early spring sunshine in another week? Or comfy clothes to be sick with some version of the virus? Was I taking a stack of books to read near the calm lake til it was all clear – or bleach, disposable gloves and lotion for hands we’d be scrubbing for who-knows- how long?

We have four ‘kids’ – two sons in another city, sharing a home with one of their girlfriends. More mother hen – I had to know what they were doing as the numbers of people being tested for the damn virus was slowly growing. I was worried about our boys and the girlfriend – all in the entertainment business whose jobs had closed up – but the boys were more concerned for us in this world of the Coronavirus where at our age we were annoyed at being counted among the older folks and in that broad demographic that was most at risk of serious trouble. The mind spins . Damn it I’m not near ‘elderly’. The guys worried that if they’d unknowingly been exposed they could pose a risk to us. I wanted them to leave the threat of the big city and be exactly where we were. We talked a lot. None of us had any knowledge that we’d been directly exposed. Had we in our travels? Had they in contact with a wide swath of folks at work? We changed our minds and changed them again and decided to come together and practise being apart together – however that would look.

Normally in my life I’m pulled tight into my own city by my dad whose in a senior’s residence and wants our company desperately. But I couldn’t visit him. I was ‘free’ to go. (That’s a whole other story to be gently told).

My mom passed last year – oh Mommy, you never ever could have imagined all this. The whole world is so far off kilter, nervous and stunned, watching numbers go up, and now our government is calling Canadians home. When does that happen?

I drove down the highway alone, trying not to stop – so aware that I was isolating from others but feeling the separation of people from me. There were some cars but mostly it was the truckers and me . It took me so long to pack extra who- knows- what for a trip of indeterminate length and purpose that I was amused at my own indecision. Tucked in with a box of chocolates I couldn’t resist in the car were weights for exercising, and my sewing machine ??? I had high boots for deep snow and sandals for hot weather. Should I bring the hair dye from the back of the cupboard though it’s not my current fav colour’? Those young women can go falsely grey but I’m still fighting the good fight.

I passed the biggest herd of elk I’d ever seen standing in a tight group beside the road in the moonlight. No social isolating for them. When I arrived at our cottage my husband was asleep and my daughter headed to bed. It was calm. The lake was still. A slip of moon shone over it. But beyond the mountains I’d driven over, the world was changing, changing, changing.

WINTER – A LOVE STORY (sort of)

Photo 2018-01-08, 11 25 48 AM

It’s a familiar plot – girl gets winter, girl loves winter, girl wants winter to go away. This year I can’t help but be fascinated by this season, to examine all his strong points before I beg him to leave me alone. (Let me make him a ‘he’ for my analogies Kind Reader.) Oh, I’ll want him back – in a muddled accepting sort of way – but not for months and months, and not seeing a way around his strong personality and in-your-face charm.

 

I have to say it again – I have never, ever, ever seen so much snow in our back garden, which the weather guy backed up saying there is more accumulated snow on the ground this February than EVER recorded. Photo 2018-02-08, 2 25 57 PMIt was a Bing Crosby white Christmas, preceded by a white November, and followed by a whiter still January.  Albertans who can’t not talk about the weather (how else would we warn each other to not drive, to not freeze off our noses, to not slip and fall) can’t stop marveling at all the piles of deeper than ever snow this month.

I share the belief that if you’re going to live with winter for six or more months of the year you have to find some way to embrace it. Skating is my winter passion. It’s the aspect of winter I adore;  the reoccurring memory of my sister and brother teaching me “one, two, three, glide”, the shiny reflective ice on a late afternoon, the sound of my blades swish, swish, swishing, the marvel of my granddaughters learning now, and along with their mom, becoming my new on-the-ice companions.  Photo 2018-01-19, 1 28 15 AMBut even to skate this year I’ve had to work out kinks with my relationship with winter.  There’s just been so much damn snow! We’ve all had to labour just to leave the house, and to clear the walks, and to stay upright (there’s been record numbers of bone breaking falls in the city), hec it has even gotten tricky to maneuver the bumpy residential roads that are packed higher than the sidewalks with all this accumulated snow.

Now all that said – here’s where my fascination comes in – it’s with the wonder of winter – how it’s larger than life this year. I stare out at in from my writing desk, into the back yard, where the snow is heaped up so high on every surface of the garden. Overwhelmed with  the irresistible urge to plow through the deep piles of fluffy whiteness, I invited my five-year-old granddaughter to join me so I might feel less silly, but had to first make pathways for her short snowpant clad legs. We marveled at how it was almost burying the pedestal bird bath, how the berry patch, the flower beds, and the vegetable garden were several feet under all that snow.  We talked about the seeds in the ground that had dropped from flowers in the fall, about how they were way way down below us as we tramped along. “The snow will melt,” she said, “Right Grandma? And that will make the seeds grow to flowers and then the bees will come and make honey. Right?”

Of course, right.

One of the prettiest aspects of this winter time is how when we shut all the lights out at night before bed, the snow glows a peaceful white under the moonlight and into our home from every window. Staring out I think about the flowers and the bees making honey when this is all over, and I can start a new romance with spring…

(Comment and tell me about your love/hate relationship with winter where you live…this one’s something else 🙂

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“The Earth is Like A Child That Knows Poems”

Spring has returned. The earth is like a child that knows poems.” – Rainer Maria Rilke.

March. March, March. The word sounds like spring. Like hope. Like the smell of thawing earth. The smell of renewal and something you can taste coming to an end. That was the way I began one of my most ‘liked’ blog posts. I’ve puzzled over the popularity of that post that was a simple tribute to spring, but I must have done so wrapped in the warmth of summer, or delighting in the first blanket of snow changing a dull brown yard to a magical white one, because if I’d thought about it at this stubborn time of year I might have grasped why it garnered so much attention. Its easier to understand its popularity today, and yesterday… and all the frozen days before – in this winter that refuses to give up its grasp.cherub

As a collective my friends and family and even strangers around me are pleading that this March weather let go. The temperature rises from minus sixteen to minus eight and we want to cast off the heavy coats we are tired of, to turn our faces toward the afternoon sun ever so hopeful. There are still piles and piles of snow to melt before the hardiest crocus has a chance of pushing out of the earth. So maybe not this week or next but soon the words of this long ago well ‘liked’ post will come into play again:

easter 2012-ish-11Spring with a promise, just a promise blowing in the wind, of buds pushing out of the ground, of light cleansing rains washing away the sifting dirt of winter, of a neighbor reporting the sighting of a good luck robin, of a hard crust of snow melting in an afternoon, the winding hose left out during a late October blizzard appearing again. Birds sing in the morning and sound lighter, water drips off the roof and a cat meows in heat. I swear people too are more animated, slightly off balance with the extra light and sense of coming out of the dark, having made it through the long nights. March – skip past us, deliver us to the newness of another season.

“Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems.” ~Rainer Maria Rilke

March. March, March, March. The word sounds like spring. Like hope. Like the smell of thawing earth. The smell of renewal and something you can taste coming to an end. A close. With a promise, just a promise blowing in the wind, of buds pushing out of the ground, of light cleansing rains washing away the sifting dirt of winter, of a neighbour reporting the sighting of a good luck robin, of a hard crust of snow melting in an afternoon, the winding hose left out during a late October blizzard appearing again. Birds sing in the morning and sound lighter, water drips off the roof and a cat meows in heat. I swear people too are more animated, slightly off balance with the extra light and sense of coming out of the dark, having made it through the long nights. March – skip past us, deliver us to the newness of another season.

easter 2012-ish-26

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.

Dear Deer – You’ve Crossed The Line Now Bro

Okay, I’ve heard the folks that defend the wildlife that hangout on hiking trails built straight through the forest, or even those animals that roam the streets of towns plunked down in the National Parks. Sure, sure we humans have “encroached on their territory” mixing up the poor creatures about what really is their natural habitat (or maybe it’s the McDonald’s French Fries they’ve been hand fed that have caused their confusion). But it is not those particular hapless creatures that I have a beef with.
The ones that have me and my neighbors up in arms (just figuratively speaking – so far) are the gang of pushy deer that have encroached on us. I’m stymied as to how the hec it came about – it started with a couple of the agile ungulates making what we thought was a guest appearance on our city street.two deer
Now understand, we’re not on four acre lots easily mistaken for wild countryside. No, no, for years (and years and years) the city has moved south and our very residential neighborhood is almost inner city – as in metropolis. I think it went like this – Bambi and Flag in an amorous spring romp accidentally bounded into a neighborhood far from ours and went on a tear. Suddenly they came upon true civilization and a road with a zillion cars on it. They dared each other to shock the drivers and somehow sailed across it – making the pair feel rather brazen. “That was a heart stopping blast, Bambi,” shouted Flag over the din of traffic, “But where the hell are we?”traffic
“Who cares?” Bambi called out, high on adrenalin, “I want to do that again dude.” So on the two clomped – into our freaking territory. They would have trotted by elementary schools, and high schools, service stations and pizza parlors, hair dressers and tanning salons.shopping mall
“Yo, so this is where the people come from,” Flag, the smarter of the two might have figured out, as they stared down from the top of a pedestrian overpass, unless Bambi had his way and they skidded through the traffic again. Now, there are miles and miles of city streets before ours, with yummy spring tulips waving their colorful blossoms on all of them, but it was on our stretch of suburbia that they decided, holy cow, they’d hit the mother lode. As they made their way from yard to yard crunching flowers down to soggy nubs Flag paused long enough to lick his lips and say, “We have to get word back to the gang to head out here. Who needs to trip through the messy forest foraging for sustenance when this is here all laid out in even rows ripe for the picking.”chewed tulips
“Whoa Flag buddy, watch out. There’s a crazy woman at three o’clock that just chucked a shoe at me. Didn’t hurt, but now she’s waving a broom. Want to get the hec out of Dodge?”
“Shoe Shmoo. You’re kidding me about ever going back, right Bro? We’ve found the Promised Land. I say let’s call in the troops and lay down roots.  Baby, I feel like I’m home.”

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

Oh Baby – Let’s Swing

“How do you like to go up in a swing,
Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
Ever a child can do!

Up in the air and over the wall,
Till I can see so wide,
River and trees and cattle and all
Over the countryside–

Till I look down on the garden green,
Down on the roof so brown–
Up in the air I go flying again,
Up in the air and down! ”

The Swing –   Robert Louis Stevenson

Up at our cottage there is a small clearing in the trees, with a view toward the lake.  It is a place some of us (probably the girls) always looked at as if it was where you would slip off to with a new boyfriend when it seemed you had been inundated with aunts and uncles, and cousins or other lakeside visitors –  to get away and whisper, or steal a kiss without being observed by dad.

It is a place to go when you are feeling like a moment, or being contemplative, or are in love, or out of love – a place away from the other places, a place to steal a kiss, or tell a secret. IMG_4581

 

 

 

And then our eldest had a baby who has a love of swinging, and we’d drive for twenty minutes to the park beside the local baseball diamond.  At last I knew what the spot in the trees needed – a swing – a swing for a toddler, but a swing for a long-legged kid or a grown up, too.

Lucky for all of us my son-in-law, the toddler’s daddy, is a recently graduated architect with a passion for building – no pre-packaged swing set kit for us.  On three of the hottest days of last summer he happily constructed the perfect, simple baby swing and a ‘big’ swing, and a place to climb and slide – with awe struck assistants from those of us eager for the finished product.

It was a hot summer with the lake temperature invitingly warm, so swimming and boating and floating we’re so much of what we did – not much swinging at all.IMG_4641

But it’s British Columbia, Canada and there are long crisp seasons where the lake is the backdrop for more quiet pursuits, times when there will be a fussy baby that needs to be soothed or too many folks will be crowded inside, and two others will have to slip out to that spot in the trees and take turns simply swinging.nest painting-2

It’s January now, the ground is icy white, the still air promises more snow and cold.  But hey, it’s time to dream of  spring and going “up into the air and down”….

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.