I’ve been walking to work lately, most days. I take the neighbourhood route, avoiding the busy road until the winding residential streets run out. I walk in the cool of the morning, on the sunny side of the street, past quiet houses, and listen to the birds sing. Sometimes I see other people out walking their dogs, or jogging.
I arrive at work, where the spot I used to park has been taken over by roofers, and the rest of the parking lot has been removed by the construction crew working on a large building project. We are surrounded by drilling, thumping, hammering, blasting, and digging. Sometimes we can hardly get out the door for the cement trucks, dumptrucks or other heavy equipment moving in and out of the construction site. Yet people still manage to arrive, anyway, for art classes and gallery openings, workshops and meetings.
Then I walk home again, and when I reach the quiet streets of my neighbourhood, I see kids playing in backyards and cars pulling into driveways. And people are out walking dogs and jogging. And sometimes these two yappy dogs are out in their front yard, watching, ready to scold or gossip or at least make a lot of noise as I walk past, smiling.
Photo taken on March 31, 2011
I’ve been waiting for this, for the tiny patch of purple here, the splash of golden yellow there, for the crocus and scilla and hyacinth, the johnny jump-up and colt’s foot, the first flowers of spring.
It’s not easy to find flowers in our neighbourhood, as the deer have been brazen, nibbling the tender new growth as soon as it emerges. There are hoofprints in our flower beds at the front of the house, and signs that the deer have been leaping the fence to empty our bird feeder at the back. Some people put human hair around their tender plants to discourage deer, and others cover their beds with tangles of wire and fencing. Many people seem to have given up; they have no flowers at all.
We, on the other hand, are planning a bountiful crop of flowers, herbs and vegetables. My partner has been poring over seed catalogues and garden advice for months, charting hours of sunlight and drawing beds and borders. We have tiny kohlrabi and calendula seedlings up already, with many more expected to follow soon. And, yes, plants die, they fall prey to fungus and pests, drought and deer, but — this is my philosophy — if you plant generously, there will be enough for the pests, the deer, and you. And perhaps you will discover a patch of carrots miraculously untouched by worms, or a basketful of beans, or a pocket of perfect golden flowers to make you stop, and smile, and marvel at the persistence and bounty of life.
Photo taken on April 3, 2011
The moon was amazing on Saturday night. I had invited friends over to help me celebrate my birthday, and as the moon rose, we crowded to the front window, marvelling at how full it seemed. This was a “super moon”, when the moon is the closest to earth in its orbit and full at the same time. This phenomenon happens only about every 18 years.
As NASA explains here, “Full Moons vary in size because of the oval shape of the Moon’s orbit. It is an ellipse with one side (perigee) about 50,000 km closer to Earth than the other (apogee). Nearby perigee moons are about 14% bigger and 30% brighter than lesser moons that occur on the apogee side of the Moon’s orbit.”
On Sunday morning, I woke early, and saw the moon bright and clear in the western sky. I put my long lens on the camera and headed outdoors — well bundled up against the cold — to watch the moon. I’m amazed how well I could see the geography of it; the pits and craters scarring the surface were sharp even without the camera. After watching and taking photos for a while, I went inside to warm up, then headed out again half-an-hour later as the moon was setting.
As I watch the moon set this morning, it still looks full and round and yellow in the pre-dawn light. It still looks familiar and mysterious and wise, a distant companion keeping watch. Good night, grandmother moon.
Photo taken on March 20, 2011
I’m glad spring doesn’t wait until the snow is gone. It doesn’t wait for the solstice, the calendar, the ideal configuration of the earth and the moon or the planets in their courses. It doesn’t even wait for the detritus of autumn leaves and mulch to be removed. Spring is ready at any opportunity — it rushes in from every direction as soon as winter turns its back. And all of a sudden (or so it seems), everything is growing again.
In our front flower bed, a bevy of bulbs are busy pushing their green shoots into the air. There’s a whole crowd of them now, the same shape and height, growing taller and stronger as the day itself grows longer and warmer. I imagine them greeting each other as they emerge from their winter hibernation. Hello neighbour, lovely day, how did you enjoy your vacation, nice to be out in the fresh air, watch out for those deer… The garden, the field, the forest is full of the soft murmur of leaf and frond, seed and shoot.
Yesterday, we marked St. Patrick’s Day with the wearing of the green. The natural world is right in sync, emerging to celebrate the first garden party of the year.
Photo taken on March 17, 2011
Sometimes when I’m on the verge of waking, I linger on the edge of sleep, reluctant to relinquish that moment of possibility between dreaming and consciousness. In this moment, I feel anticipation and hope, I sense that something good might happen when the day begins. The closest word I can find to describe it is “madrugada”, a Spanish word meaning dawn or daybreak, or more literally, the hour before sunrise.
On many mornings, when I open my eyes and wake up, this moment vanishes; routine and responsibility rush in, and I push my dreams aside. But if I wake up early, in that hour (or two) before sunrise, I don’t have to rush into the day. I can sit for a moment and think about my day, my dreams, my desires, my disappointments. In the quiet of this madrugada, I can listen to God and be open to my heart. And I find that if I start the morning with stillness, I am better organized, better prepared, and better balanced as I head into my day.
As I look toward the future (now that I’ve passed the long-anticipated 50th birthday milestone), I realize it is this awareness of each day that is becoming most valuable to me. As much as I enjoy getting “stuff”, acquisition is not my goal; neither is career climbing or travel or fame. None of this will ever give me any satisfaction unless I know who I am, unless I can be whole and at peace in that moment between dreams and waking.
Photo taken on November 4, 2009
It feels like a miracle, the way the winter has all but disappeared. Barely more than a week ago, it seemed that the tall snowbanks and thick ice would never leave, but then the mild temperatures and rain arrived and washed most of it away. It’s hard to describe that sudden burst of joy I felt on seeing patches of bare garden already showing signs of life, how quickly the green shoots are starting to emerge!
As the spring solstice nears and the sap starts running, I feel my own energy level respond. I walked in the garden yesterday without a jacket, and it felt like such freedom. The birds are more plentiful, and more vocal, too; yesterday we heard a cardinal, and saw a small flock of red polls in the maple tree. Spring is arriving and I want to be outdoors; I want to revel in it.
There are changes in my own life, too. On Saturday, my partner and I played our first ever “gig”, a 30-minute program of harp & recorder while guests gathered for my aunt’s 95th birthday party. We had both worked hard to prepare the music and it showed; we actually sounded good, and — bonus — it was fun!
And tomorrow I will be celebrating my 50th birthday. This turning of the year is also a turning point in my life. I don’t know what to expect, or even what I’ll be doing in a few months, but I have a hunch that whatever happens next is going to be good!
Photo taken on February 21, 2011
I know it’s not spring yet, but look — patches of bare ground have appeared where ice-encrusted snowbanks once ruled, I can see a ring of grass around the maple tree, and, on the sunny side of the street, a sidewalk! This past weekend, the temperature soared to 9 degrees celcius and it rained (other places were not so lucky). We lost two-thirds of our snow. It feels like such a relief.
Along with the warming temperatures, other signs of spring:
- a sleepy housefly was buzzing and bumbling around the kitchen at work
- the goldfinches are beginning to yellow up
- the cat actually wants to go outdoors
- lost dog toys have suddenly turned up in the backyard, having been there all along
The construction project uptown has moved into a new phase of work, and the excavation for the new parking garage has begun. When I walked by the construction site yesterday, I smelled mud. Mud! Any day now, road crews will be out with fresh asphalt to start filling the huge potholes that plague the city streets.
The construction season has begun. Can spring be far behind?
Photo taken on February 24, 2011
I was browsing my winter photos the other day, and actually cringed when I found one with the comment, “Yay, the snow is back!” We’ve had so much snow this year, I can hardly believe I felt that way only a few short months ago. At the same time, I’m aware that all this snow will seem as unreal as a dream in another few months.
In the last few days, I’ve been walking around our property, making mental notes:
- the snow is over the top of the driveway reflectors
- look how it’s drifted right across the fence
- it’s higher than the railing on the back stoop
- the snowbanks along the road are taller than me.
Right now, we’re inside looking out at winter and wishing it will go away. But it will go away, and we’ll be outside looking into our memories, shaking our heads as we say to each other, “Do you remember all that snow we had last winter? It was up to here!”
Photo taken on February 28, 2011
If plants had feelings — and who says they don’t? — they would feel very sad at being neglected in a dark corner of the house. You know they are feeling sad, because they literally droop with sadness, moping in the shadows, turning pale and dropping leaves, trying desperately to catch your attention.
And when you relent and place them in a sunny window, giving up your own sunny table to make your plants happy, oh my, what an improvement to their spirits and yours! You can almost see them purring with pleasure as they bask in the light, leaning in to the window as close as they dare and even sacrificing the tips of their leaves in quest of the sun’s life-giving rays.
And if plants had dreams — you know they do — they would dream of mountain slopes and steamy jungles, hot breezes and drenching rains, the call of parrots and the rainbow shimmer of butterfly wings, a tropical paradise where winter is banished forever.
Photo taken on January 20, 2011
That combination of snow and rain on Friday night made for some horrible driving. I agree that the trees look really pretty.
I arrived home safely, but then managed to wedge the car into a snowbank, and with all that ice underneath, all the wheels could do was spin. I was so relieved when my partner remembered the old rug in the garage, and between the two of us, we managed to get it free again.
That high wall of snow and ice chunks left by the snowplow Saturday morning across our shared driveway made me want to cry. I almost cried again when our neighbour’s friend drove up with his plow to clear it.
We bundled up and took the dogs to the park yesterday, but it was so cold I wanted to turn around and go home again. But once we were in the shelter of the trees on the sunny side of the lake, it was warm again, and people were smiling, and the snow sparkled in the sun.
More snow is expected today, and more rain tonight. To be continued.
Photo taken on February 27, 2011
I used to wish I could be a cat, to have nothing more to worry about than whether to sleep, eat or play. I’d watch the family cat saunter from one cosy corner to another, leaping effortlessly to the back of the couch to watch out the window, tail twitching, then on to the floor to stretch luxuriously in a patch of warm sunlight. To our current cat, playtime is as important as sleep. As I write this, I can hear him chasing his foam jingly spool up and down stairs, the floor over my head resounding as he pounces and leaps and races across the room.
One of the things I admire most about cats is their ability to watch and wait, as patient as a rock (except when they think it’s meal time). Outdoors, they will do their watching from a hiding spot — a shaded blind under a bush or the back steps — but indoors they are bold, they know the window protects them and they do not hide their curiosity at the comings and goings of the world outside. Like these cats, I spend a lot of time looking out windows, watching the changing sky, the people walking by, the wind in the trees.
I used to think that a cat looking out the window was longing to be outside, but now I’m not so sure. Like me, they are watchers; they just want to see.
Photo taken on February 21, 2011
I’m been feeling down lately — and it’s just silly, because I’m really enjoying my job at the moment, and we went to the theatre and symphony and caught up with friends over the past week — but…
- It’s February, and the sidewalks are horribly icy, but spring is coming in the sense that today’s snow will be mixed with rain and freezing rain (yuck).
- I have all but disappeared from my online communities (my apologies for not coming by to visit lately) due to total lack of inspiration.
- I haven’t even taken any photos for a week (this image taken two years ago shows Saint John looking almost exactly as it does today, icicles included).
- When I was reorganizing my desk a few weeks ago, I dropped my favourite lens, a 24mm prime. Fortunately the lens itself seems to be fine, but the autofocus is no longer working.
- My ankle sometimes still aches where I hurt it last fall.
- And, well, I’m going to be 50 next month. I’m not shy about claiming my age, but I am afraid of aging, I am afraid of not being able to walk, I am afraid of not being able to carry my camera wherever impulse takes me, I am afraid of not being able to see clearly.
Yes, I know these February blues will pass, that my petulant whining will magically disappear in the face of a new adventure or new accomplishment, or new month. I’ll be waiting.
Photo taken on February 25, 2009
You don’t know what will trigger it, whether storms or stillness cause the shift. It could be as simple as water dripping from the end of a melting icicle, or the gradual realization that, yes, the days are getting longer at last! But when the longing for spring hits you, there’s no turning back.
I love Terra’s comment on my barbecue dreaming post, “I have been having the same feelings of longing and separation from the earth, the green, the smell of the dirt (or my own sweat!). I love winter but I am starting to really yearn bodily for the warmth of spring…”
At home, we’ve been talking about our plans for this year’s garden. My partner has ordered a whole slew of seeds, and I suddenly have the deep desire to plant something. Winter, yes it’s been a lovely visit, but it’s time to pack your bags. We’re waiting for spring to arrive.
Photo taken on February 5, 2011
I can’t believe the snow this year.
The snowdrifts are almost hip deep.
The snowbanks on each side of the driveway are over my head.
Can you remember the feel of grass between your toes?
Every day I have to bundle up.
I have so many layers to put on when I go out.
I have so many layers to take off when I come home.
Can you remember the sound of bees humming in the hot afternoon?
It’s impossible to go anywhere.
The sidewalks are deep with drifts, or too icy for safe walking.
The streets are slippery, the parking meters half-buried by snow.
Can you remember the smell of hamburgers cooking on the barbecue?
Photo taken on February 2, 2011
After the storm had blown through yesterday, we went through a walk through the quiet streets in our neighbourhood. As we walked, we admired the sculptured snowbanks piled high by plow, snowblower and shovel, and smoothed to softness by the wind.
Walkways and driveways had already been cleared in front of some houses, and others were deep in drifts. A dog ran out to greet us as we walked by; his owner was busy with the shovel in front of his house — you wouldn’t have known he was there except for the snow flying up over the high bank. Another man with a snowblower was working farther down the street, and I could hear the sound of an ice scraper behind a running car in a nearby driveway. A taxi drove by, taking the turns carefully.
There was still a nip in the wind, and the soft snow swirled from snowbank to snowbank as we followed the tire tracks through the snow. We returned home, our cheeks red from the cold, cleared the back steps once more, and hung our hats to dry over the mudroom heater.
Photo taken on February 2, 2011
Today is the first of February, the loneliest month on the calendar. There are no holidays to look forward to as we shiver through another 28 days of winter. Of course Valentine’s Day brings its own particular warmth mid-month, but if you don’t have a Valentine, you are left out in the cold.
And there are a lot of lonely people out there. Sometimes you notice them, people who seem impossibly needy, or so brittle and afraid of being hurt that they’ve grown dragon scales. Other people seem quite ordinary, just like the neighbour across the street who you’ve always thought has got it all together, then in a chance conversation you discover she’s lonely, too. I’ve had a chance to talk with a lot of strangers lately, and in conversation — past complaint or concern — I’ve discovered that what many people really need is a friend.
This is in no way an attempt to belittle people’s legitimate complaints or concerns, worries and anxieties. I just feel compelled to point out how a little warmth and an understanding smile can really make someone’s day. I think February should be a month for friendship, not just romantic love, a time that we share some of our warmth and make this cold month a little less lonely.
Photo taken on February 21, 2009
My new job is a new beginning, but it’s also an ending. It’s an end to lazy mornings lounging in my pajamas, and mid-afternoon play sessions with the dogs. It’s an end to looking through employment ads and updating only the expense side of my balance sheet.
In the past week I’ve tried to absorb more information than is humanly possible to retain, began to bond with people who will soon be leaving, and learned some of the history of a place which is now in the midst of change. It was a mentally and emotionally exhausting week.
I am preparing for an undefined role in the difficult time of this workplace, at the moment in which everything seems to be in flux. Yet there is so much potential — it could turn out to be a really fascinating and fun job. But if this first week is any indication, I won’t be following a predictable pathway, I’ll be helping to clear a new one. Yikes!
Photo taken on January 30, 2011
“Put brain in gear before opening mouth” — that’s what my dad used to tell me when I was younger. I was a chatterbox (do you remember the wooden phone on wheels?), always asking questions.
I still process out loud, but just as often I talk to myself silently. I’ve learned not to verbalize everything, so the inside of my head is filled to overflowing with talk and ideas, only some of which I manage to translate into action. For example, I’ve worked out what I want to say in my email reply, but sitting down and typing it becomes a chore because, in my mind, I’ve already replied and moved on. The moment I think of something should be the moment I do it, but I hesitate, and the moment is gone.
I think I could learn something from this starling, chattering away with her friends while she works, clambering on the suet cage, pecking at fallen seeds on the snow, talking and working at the same time. She has no baggage, no tasks untended, no projects piling up, no future plans. She lives in the moment, and she moves on.
If you’ve ever heard starlings perched outside your window, you’ll have heard their colourful language of bubbles, squeaks, catcalls and exclamations. They love to tell stories. I think if I ever get my brain examined (as people occasionally suggest), the brain surgeon would discover a flock of starlings chattering away inside my head.
Photo taken on January 27, 2011
This streetscape is one of Saint John’s treasures. The group of “jellybean” buildings are c.1860 Second Empire row houses with sophisticated carved window and door surrounds. They are colourful and quaint, old and attractive. They remind us the time when most buildings in the city centre were wood, and the fact that most burnt in the Great Fire of 1877.
A few steps down the street in either direction are modern office buildings, brick and concrete, glass and steel. They house scores of office workers, shops and businesses. They are tall enough to command a view across the city. They are not particularly notable as architecture and do not attract tourists, but they are also a vital part of the city.
The beautifully painted row houses are now locally famous because a citizen’s group lobbied — successfully — to save them from the wrecking ball. The city was concerned that they were decrepit and needed the land to build a new office building. Over time, the old wooden buildings became more expensive to maintain, and the new concrete buildings became easier to construct.
The question is always one of balance, between a city’s historic heart and its economic vitality, between something old — to keep us rooted, and something new — to give us wings.
Photo taken on January 20, 2011
Saint John is one of the sunniest cities in Canada… but only in the winter. In fact, an Arctic front arrived over the weekend, bringing clear crispy nights and bright sunny days. The crusty snow is so reflective you have to wear sunglasses outdoors to avoid being blinded by sunlight.
In short: it’s frigid. Currently, the windchill is minus 36 Celcius.
* * *
I’ve written before about my efforts to find a job, and my decision to start my own business focusing on freelance photography and writing. It’s been a long wait and struggle trying to find the right niche. Well, I think I’ve found it. I’ve started working again, but I can’t as yet say too much about the job because many details are still to be worked out. And in the past week, I’ve had two people ask for my business card. So, I’ve ordered some business cards and started to put together a website here. Obviously, it’s still under construction, but I welcome your feedback.
In short: things are looking up. I’m thrilled.
Photo taken on January 22, 2010
Jingle Bells is not a Christmas carol, it’s a winter carol. It’s a song of the open air and the scent of fir trees. It follows the rhythm of the harness bells, the steam rising from the horses’ flanks as they pull the heavy sleigh, the tug and creak of the runners as they slide across the snow. It’s a song of friends and family, hot cups of chocolate held in mittened hands.
The most magical sleigh rides are at night. I remember going out with a group in my university days on a long ride across fields and through the woods. It was a clear still night, the temperature hovering around minus 15 celcius, the air so cold it made our eyes tear up. At first, there was lots of chatter, laughter, singing. Then gradually our voices died away, and in the silence we could hear only the steady stamp of the horses’ hoofs, the jingle of the harness, the creak of the sleigh. It was a moonless night, so I felt — rather than saw — the shapes of trees as we passed. I looked up and the sky was filled with stars; they seemed almost close enough to touch. As the sleigh glided through the snowy fields, I watched the sky and felt like I was flying.
I’m glad they still have sleigh rides in the park, pulled by horses instead of machines. There’s no modern equivalent to the old-fashioned pleasure of riding in an open sleigh.
Photo taken on January 16, 2011
It’s raining today but I don’t want to show the rain. I want to show the black road glistening between white banks still tall from last week’s storm. I want to show the shards of icicles, half buried in the spongy snow. I want to show the chickadee, feathers fluffed against the cold, hopping from branch to branch. I want to show the inner life of the forest, the way the treetops hum and sway in the wind, the sheltered pockets beneath the wide-boughed spruce, the soft fragrance of cedar.
It’s dark today, but I don’t want to show the dark. I want to show the mystery of light.
Photo taken on January 6, 2011
Look at how the world has changed
a sea of white surrounds us
but look again, though all seems dead
the seeds of spring remain
Beneath the snow, the earth is sleeping
beneath the ice, the river dreams
beneath the trees the groundhog waits
to herald the coming spring.
Photo taken on January 16, 2011
One thing about Saint John: there is no shortage of hills. So if you were given a sled for Christmas, you would find plenty of slippery slopes around here to try it out.
One of the best sliding hills In the city is in Rockwood Park, just across from the pavilion at Lily Lake. When I was a child, we came here as a family and crowded on the toboggan, all five of us. I was first, my legs jutting up and over the wooden prow. My brothers were behind me, then my mom and finally my dad, his strong legs curled around us with his feet hooked into the front of the toboggan, steering with his arms. I remember the long walk up the hill, the feeling of wet wool, and the swift movement — a blur of trees and children and flying snow — on the way down.
Seeing the faces of these two girls sliding on the hill yesterday reminds me of how much fun it is to play outdoors in the winter. Maybe I’ll head out today to play in the snow before the weather turns to rain.
Photo taken on January 9, 2011