It’s that first whiff as a wave of wood smoke wafts by your nose. It’s the lawn chairs pulled out from the back of the garage, now waiting on the patio. It’s the surprising warmth of the sun in the late afternoon. It’s the pile of brush heaped into the portable firepit, spitting sparks and sinking into coals and ash. It’s all of this that draws me outdoors, out into the fresh spring air.
That’s when the bag of marshmallows emerges, and last summer’s marshmallow sticks are pulled from their hiding place. The stick ends are whittled clean, and the familiar ritual begins. Bundled against the chilling breeze, we lean into the warmth of the fire as we meditatively twirl our marshmallows over the hot coals. Smoke tendrils spiral upwards as the white-coated sweets turn brown and pocked with heat. I lift the perfectly toasted marshmallow to my mouth. Mmm.
Photo taken on April 10, 2011
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 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
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
The light is changing, I feel sure
that winter’s grip is not so tight
and twilight has a touch of warmth — no more
abrupt sunsets, the sun rudely diving behind the horizon
before evening arrives — now the day lingers, looking back,
drawing curtains of pale pink and indigo across the window of the sky.
The cold still creeps under cover of darkness, encasing the land in ice,
but morning comes early — impatient now to work its own miracles –
turning snow into slush, ice into water,
warming the sleeping world to life.
Photo taken on February 10, 2011
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
A few snowflakes are spinning lazily through the air outside my window. I know from the weather forecast that this is just the beginning, the harbinger of a huge storm which has paralyzed portions of the U.S. from Texas to Maine. From what I’ve heard, the storm won’t be as severe here, although we are expecting heavy snow, with about 30 centimetres by tomorrow morning.
It was on this day 35 years ago, in 1976, that Saint Johners experienced our “storm of the century”. The Groundhog Day Gale was completely unexpected. The day started calmly, with the temperature around the freezing mark and a light wind. The winds rose to more than 180 km per hour, causing a huge amount of damage across the city. Windows were smashed, telephone poles toppled, cars and sheds and airplanes were flipped and crushed. At high tide, the water rose over the low-lying parts of the city, and the hurricane-force wind carried the salt water for miles inland, causing electrical failures not only that day, but even months later. The gale was followed by days of bitter cold, which — combined with widespread power outages — sent many people to seek shelter. Miraculously, the only person killed was a man whose ice-fishing shack was blown across the river.
Already, outside my window, the few snowflakes have become a steady snowfall. On the internet I’m reading about the “snowpocalypse” in the States, and — on the other side of the world — a cyclone the size of New Zealand that is pounding northeastern Australia. It looks like many of us will see another storm to remember for years to come. But if it’s any consolation, I don’t think the groundhog will see his shadow today.
Photo taken on December 9, 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
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
For a while, yesterday afternoon, I thought we were in a different world. Instead of arriving in civil flakes, gently collecting in swirls and drifts, the snow arrived all at once. The sky turned dark mid-afternoon, then I saw a few flakes drifting past the window. Then the world turned white.
It’s not the best kind of weather to be driving in, but when the snow hit, everyone and their car headed for the roads, hurrying to get home before it got any worse. Ironically, it got better, afterwards, but how was anyone to know?
Then I discovered that my dad was at a mid-afternoon doctor’s appointment. His vision is not what it used to be, and he doesn’t have winter tires on his car. So we headed out to try and rescue him. We headed out in this, with the slipping cars and snarled traffic, where you could hardly see the edges of the road.
It turned out that my father had left just before we got there, and he did make it home safely, as did we. Fortunately, everyone knows about winter driving here. People drive slowly and carefully. And that van that started sliding down the hill toward us? We stopped and let him in — he ended up sliding right in front of us — and the line of cautious traffic continued on its way.
Photo taken on January 12, 2011
Do you see the hedge first, or the houses? Do you see the tiny yellow buds on the topmost twigs, or the green wreath decorating the door? As you walk by, do you notice which tidy post-war houses have their walkways freshly cleared of snow, or do you watch the late afternoon sun as it wraps the neighbourhood with yellow ribbons of light?
I know there’s work to be done and phone calls to make, items to check off my to-do list and projects to finish. But right now I’m busy. Right now I’m outdoors, feeling the cold air on my face, watching the dogs track unfamiliar scents from tree to telephone pole, and listening to the crunch of my boots on the snow-crusted sidewalk. For 30 minutes, nothing else matters more than being here. I don’t have a lot of time, so I want to make the most of it.
Photo taken on January 4, 2010
I’ve read a number of other people’s resolutions and goals for 2011 in the last couple of days. It almost seems as if, on the stroke of 12:01 a.m. January 1st, their ambitious plans suddenly popped up on the calendar, ready to be checked off the list.
I look at my calendar, and it tells me nothing.
Sure, there are lots of things I’d like to accomplish in 2011, but my main goal — a successful career change — needs more than a few quick checkmarks. As I’ll be turning the big 5-0 soon, I figure that whatever career I end up (hopefully sooner than later) should be one I can stick with.
I feel like I’m ready for a change, but I don’t want to rush into the wrong decision.
This photo, taken during a snowstorm last January, reminds me how much things can change. Since it was taken, we’ve built a fence and made a lot of improvements to the house and garden. But here in the middle of winter, it’s harder to see the changes, the thick snow falling now doesn’t feel any different than last year’s snow.
So I’m not in a hurry. I’m taking stock, watching the weather, and trying to be prepared for the inevitable changes that lie ahead, just around the corner.
Photo taken on January 20, 2010
We had a green Christmas. The sun shone, the roads were bare and the temperature was mild. Although I was hoping for snow, I admit that it couldn’t have been a better day.
Then, late on Boxing Day, a Nor’easter blew up along the coast and dumped a pile of snow and some rain through the Maritimes. As I write this, a blustery wind is shaking the trees and blowing last night’s fresh snow into sharp-peaked drifts. The landscape has completely changed. My shoulder and back muscles are still sore from shovelling snow yesterday, and I know there will more shovelling to do today.
Welcome back, winter.
Photo taken on December 27, 2010
Although Christmas is called a “festive season”, today is when the fun really begins. Everyone I know is now focused on one intense 24-hour period: Christmas Eve to Christmas dinner.
We’re almost ready. We’ve baked cookies (gingerbreads, walnut snowballs and chocolate-dipped florentines), chosen and wrapped gifts for family and friends (everyone will be getting at least one thing that’s homemade), and put up the Christmas lights. Today we’ll be getting the tree and tomorrow will be dedicated to tidying and trimming, accompanied by a feast of Christmas music.
But I will admit that — as much as I enjoy the activities, the parties, the service, the carolling, the family gathering, the food — what I am really looking forward to is the week after Christmas. That’s when I will have time to review everything, replay my memory of the best moments, look at whatever gifts I may have received, and savour a few leftover treats. Our visits with extended family and friends will feel more relaxing because “the big day” will be behind us. And the shining new year, full of the potential to challenge and astound us, is just around the corner.
Photo taken on December 16, 2010
I wanted to share some photos of the Christmas lights in our neighbourhood. The houses are so beautifully decorated, they just need a good snowfall to make the scene look more like Canada and less like Florida. Instead, I’ve chosen this photo, taken last year during a snow storm. This (to my mind) is what a picture-perfect Christmas looks like, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen this year. We’ve had rain and wind during the night, and it looks like it will be another day before it blows over. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll have a few flakes before Christmas, but the temperatures this week are at the point where any snow could turn to rain (or vice versa).
Still, it could be a lot worse than rain on Christmas. It could be a lot of rain, like the 150 cm over 24 hours in southwestern New Brunswick last week that caused a river to overflow its banks, flooding 120 roads and damaging nearly 100 homes. It looked like Christmas would be ruined for many people this year, but for the amazing, generous and heartwarming response from local businesses, neighbouring communities and politicians who have collected funds and organized disaster relief, hosted dinners, offered temporary places to stay and distributed dehumidifiers and other supplies to those affected. With so much generosity, so much warmth, so much welcome, who needs snow?
Photo taken on December 9, 2009