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
Ever notice how fire hydrants look like little firefighters? Look at their red uniforms, their shiny helmets, their arms stretched out to help. Look at the way they stand protectively, patiently, ready for any emergency. They are short but sturdy, always the first to get dug out of the snowbank, but the last to get noticed in a crowd. They provide many community services, including acting as a message board for dogs and a vantage point for parade-watchers.
It’s good luck to have a fire hydrant near your home (we have one across the street), and it’s also good for your insurance rates. It’s a comfort to see their little faces keeping an eye on your neighbourhood. When there is a fire (fires do happen), that little fire hydrant could be your best friend in the whole world.
In the town of Tweed, Ontario, all the fire hydrants are painted — there is a cat, a pirate, a chef, a police officer — but here in Saint John, they wear their classic uniforms. They don’t need painted faces because they already look friendly. And they have names: this one is named McAvity. McAvity here is part of a small army of firefighters protecting our city. Brave McAvity.
Photo taken on February 24, 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
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
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
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
When I was young, we often went on hikes together as a family. My dad has a collection of topographical maps of this area, scratched with pencil lines marking the trails he has found and followed. Many of these trails are unmarked; following them was always an adventure.
I remember one hike, in winter. We were walking beside a frozen lake, skirting the edge of the woods, and we could not see the path; only the trackless snow lay ahead. I was feeling cold, and I wanted to go home. Then my dad told us a story about Robert Scott’s expeditions to the Antarctic, and the challenges he faced in exploring its permanently frozen landscape.
Somehow, hearing that story made all the difference. As I imagined being in the Antarctic, I began to feel like an explorer, and I started paying more attention to my surroundings. And I decided that, if this was an adventure, I could put up with a little cold and inconvenience.
One of these days I might make it to the Antarctic to see it for myself. In the meantime, I can have one adventure after another, right here.
Photo taken on January 5, 2008
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
There is a joke among photographers that the general public’s taste in images can be summed up in two words: sunsets & kittens. The appeal of the colourful and cute seems to be constant and worldwide.
I took this photo last week at a park on the west side of Saint John. It was mid-afternoon, although the sun was already sinking rapidly. The tide was high and for once there was only a light breeze blowing off the Bay of Fundy. We walked out to a path along the edge of the cove, drawn by the loud booming of the waves crashing against the bouldery beach and echoing against the rocky cliffs. I shot this image into the light, which meant losing most of the foreground detail to the strong contrast. The low sun, partially screened by clouds on the horizon, cast an almost metallic light across the scene. I decided to enhance these golden tones, and yesterday I posted it on Flickr.
And today, I’ve discovered that the image has become a sunset — it has already been added to one gallery of sunset photos — and it has attained a level of popularity well over that of my favourite photos.
I think I’ll go look for some kittens.
Photo taken on January 6, 2011
I’m the kind of person who likes to sit and think. I have a very rich mental life in which I enjoy many adventures and have lengthy discussions with imaginary and not-so-imaginary people. In my mind, I am witty and wise, and the bon mots I tend to miss in real life are always ready on the end of my tongue.
Since I’ve been out of the work race the past six months, I have had lots of time to sit and think. I’ve discovered, to my delight, that I enjoy writing. I have been studying areas that interest me, like project management and website optimization. I have been working on my father’s Memoirs. I have been pondering life and the future direction of my career.
And I’ve been pleased to see that many career and work experts recommend that everyone, no matter how busy — especially if they are busy — set aside time in their day to enable mental processing and reflection. Since most people need time to get up to speed in the day, experts recommend scheduling time to think (or in GTD terms, do a “mental sweep”) in the morning.
People who set aside time every day to free their minds from their immediate tasks are better prepared for whatever may be on the horizon. The next time you feel pushed for time, push back. You’ll feel less stressed if you take a few minutes to just sit and think.
Photo taken on January 6, 2011