Sunny day, magic day, rainy day

The wind is doing its best to blow the new gazebo and fence right over.

The wind is doing its best to blow the new gazebo and fence right over.

It was a brilliant day in early spring, just what I needed to get my garden renovations under way. We were installing a new pergola, a new back fence and at the same time, I decided I’d like a little stone patio to house a fantasy chair I discovered in a local garden centre.

What a job – the guys pulled down and discarded the old fence and I got busy redirecting the garden stepping stones, resetting them, digging and levelling the earth in which to set them. It wasn’t so much the lifting of the pavers as it was the digging of the grass and weeds by hand, but at the end of the day, I was pretty well done in. I came into the house exhausted  but exhilarated.

Glenn designed and erected a fence that lets us see into the park behind our house and Friday, a wonderfully warm and sunny day, our reward was to watch a young man try out his new drone in the park. I went out to chat with him about this marvellous device  that I had written about but never seen up close. Distracted by me, the poor kid let it run out of power and its homing program kicked in. Unfortunately, the GPS setting was lightly off and it crashed in some trees. But it was that kind of evening, full of light and magic and with a pair of blue jays darting in and out of the garden looking for the peanuts that the squirrels keeps stealing and hiding, while we sat in the waning sun and admired our handiwork in the back garden.

Then yesterday, up at 6:00, out in the garden by 7:00 and a full day of digging and planting and weeding and wonder — at both the garden and the fact that I felt great with no body aches or pains supposed to be associated with my age. I planted about 30 perennials in the new garden that we made last fall out of newspaper and topsoil so that Glenn would not have to mow between the roses.

Today is a different story.

It's windy and wet, very wet and very windy.

It’s windy and wet, very wet and very windy.

It is wet. Very wet. The wind is gusting up to 84 kmh. A friend just emailed and said that in addition to being the only non-staff person at the local garden centre, the wind almost blew her off the Perimeter Highway. And it is relatively cold at just seven degrees.

It rained — hard — just two days ago, too, but in spite of that, the ground when I knelt on it yesterday was already dry enough not to wet my knees. Although we have had no snow since mid-march and some 20-degree-plus days already, many of the perennials have been reluctant to show themselves. A few of the hosta have poked up their noses, but most are still in hiding.

I keep checking the weather on-line to see if anything has changed in the forecast because I don’t like the bad news we’ve been getting. Snow is threatened and the temperatures are supposed to drop below zero. I think of all those perennials that I planted yesterday — fortunately they have been outside hardening off the for past two weeks, but I hope they survive

The 80 kmh winds blew the new gazebo off its pins and  pulled the fence away from its post.

The 80 kmh winds blew the new gazebo off its pins and pulled the fence away from its post.

(I just went outside to get you a few pictures and the wind blew the gazebo off its pins — I righted it but have little hope that it won’t happen again. The wind is forecast to stay steady from the north at 50 with gusts as high at 90 for the next 18 hours or so.)

The thing is, the ground here has been so desperately dry that this rain can only do some g. Perhaps all the rain will help keep the plants from freezing when the temperature drops below zero as it is expect to do this evening.

(Oh, no. the gazebo and fence have been hit again).

Glenn and I just went out and this time we shored the thing up form the outside, opened the gate to let the wind blow through and Glenn has tied it down, using some rope and tent pegs. We will hope for the best.
Stay tuned. I’ll update you when I know if the perennials have survived — not to mention the fence!

Glenn tied the gazebo down and I tied the gates open. Here's hoping for the best.

Glenn tied the gazebo down and I tied the gates open. Here’s hoping for the best.

Of cats and fish and stone and the passing of time

Todd Braun is a Manitoba stone sculptor and gardener. His beautiful stone art can be found in many locations throughout the province, in private gardens and public spaces. Todd owes his gardening prowess to his mother, Gail, a wonderful gardener in her own right.

~ Dorothy

 By Todd Braun

Ruminations
The old saying, “change is the only constant in life” has been especially true here at Elemental Stone lately. Lisa sustained a nasty break of her right ankle mid last December. Remember all the ice? So, since last December, Lisa has been confined to a wheelchair or an at home hospital bed and will be there for at least another month. Hopefully she’ll be able to start putting weight on her right leg in a month or so.

On Jan. 7, 2015, my dad passed away. Dad had been ill for some time so his passing wasn’t unexpected. However, losing a parent is one of the larger events in the life cycle. For many of us, “Dad” can be a larger-than-life person, at least that was the case in my experience.

When I was a kid, dad told me, “Live like today is your last day and plan like you’ll live forever.” I’ve often thought of that and when I look around this place I can see some of his philosophy rubbed off on me. The message I got and the example I witnessed was, “Do what you love and believe in with all your heart.” The Sufi poet, Rumi, said something like, “Let the beauty you love be what you do.” I’ve always liked that saying and I think my dad could relate to that thought, as well.

So, it’s been a time of contemplation and reflection. With that in mind I included some pics from a few years back: water lily, Nicotiana sylvestris and Uncle John’s hollyhocks. People often ask me about the big gate at the back of the house, so I included a picture of loading the lintel and the long granite bridge. This depicts the arrival of the south pillar of the west gate, in 2006; exciting times.

Cat and fish news

Kazoo

Kazoo

Cash

Cash

In Cat news, the Elemental cats are doing well, not overly impressed with the recent cold snap but happy to be spending these cold days in the workshop. Two weeks ago, Wilma and Banjo, our two spoiled house cats, welcomed (with partially open arms) two new arrivals – four-plus-month-old Kazoo and one-year-old Cash. Both cats are rescue cats and both are part Siamese. I have a weakness for Siamese cats.

The fish are longing for their summer pond; April isn’t too far away. Banjo the cat must have some fisherman’s blood in him. One of his favorite pastimes is watching the fish in their big tank in the basement. Banjo has fallen “SPLASH” into the fish tank a dozen times by now. I thought the first time he fell in would be the last but, like a true fisherman, Banjo’s not afraid to get a little wet from time to time… and it makes the fish laugh.

When stone is fish or fish is stone . . .

Fish 4

Fish 4

Speaking of fish, I just finished my fourth small fish sculpture.

Sometimes I think of the thousands of worked stones I’ve left behind in my lifetime. I wonder what will be become of them when I’m no longer here. The big fish I made a couple years ago was inspired by ancient Egyptian fish-shaped vessels. Maybe in 1,000 years someone will dig up one of my stones and wonder about our time. Will anyone in the future be inspired by what is being created today? I’d like to think it’s possible.

I suppose the inspiring artifacts of tomorrow will be the objects created today. Like the ancient Egyptian craftsman who made the beautiful stone fish – an object of beauty in it’s time that endured long enough to inspire me today.

Inspired by stone
I’ve had a lifelong fascination with stone work and artifacts of the past. In some way, I sense what I do is a continuation of that ancient tradition. Stone is one of the few materials that can span lifetimes.

Local stone fashioned by local hands uniquely define a region. In the day when transporting stone was more difficult than today, entire towns were built of local stone giving the appearance of the buildings growing out of the land itself. This concept is more familiar in the Old World but I also see it closer to home – like the beautiful old fieldstone buildings in Morden, MB.

I’m looking forward to getting back to the tools on a more regular basis soon, the lengthening days. This winter hasn’t been as productive (stone wise) as I’d hoped three months ago. I have several unfinished pieces from last year that I hope to complete soon. Now (before the spring rush) is a good time to talk if you have something in mind for 2015. We had several semi loads of granite blocks and boulders hauled here last fall, so the selection is pretty good and, of course, if I don’t have the right stone on hand now, I’m always getting more once spring arrives.

We are starting to think of plants and what we’ll be doing for garden tours. I’ve already placed my first order for unusual plants.

Regards,

Todd, Lisa and the cats

Confining cities: a giant falls

Cedars covered with snow

Snow flowers on cedars.

There is a hole in my garden this morning. When I look out the window in front of my desk, missing in the scene are the strong arms of the old cottonwood tree. It was felled this past week.

It was not an easy departure for this giant; It took two days and six people to bring it down, but at last it surrendered with a heart-felt thud as the huge trunk hit the ground. You could feel it all through the house which shook with the impact. It was only 43 years old.

Sadly, that’s the way with hybrid cottonweeds. They grow quickly, live vigorously and die early. Out in the open, without the restrictions of city life, native poplar trees can reach 100 years or even more. But in the city, the hybrids face all sorts of impediments to their growth and they become susceptible to disease, soil compaction and limitations on their root growth. In the case of our cottonwood, it had vastly outgrown its living space; it was beginning to drop twigs and branches at an alarming rate and my husband had to make one too many calls to the roto-rooter-type people to clean the sewer lines of its adventitious roots.

We don’t look forward to coping with those live roots over the next summer as they will continue to spring up throughout our lawn, but that too is the nature of this wonderful tree. With a short lifespan, you need additional survival methods and, with a root system that sends up suckers even after the main stem has been removed, chances for rejuvenation are that much greater.

I don’t want to think how the birds will mourn him this summer, though.

Poplar being felled.

The poplar coming down.

Poplar felled.

The poplar comes down with a thud.

Nobody talks to the crossing guard

It’s a beautiful winter so far this year. White flowers of snow have fallen every other day, cleaning up the  landscape and hiding the dirty sand laid down by the City. Of course, we need the sand, especially after the ploughs have polished up the streets and removed the soft snow cushions at the curb edges that helped us to stop at corners.

I shouldn’t complain. It’s probably that I have a bias against high-density cities and I have never been an acolyte to the June Jacobs school of thought. Her anti-utopian vision of bee-hive living is in complete opposition to the Cities Beautiful way to which I am passionately committed. While proponents claim that the “economics” of high density living offer advantages, I have severe doubts about this over the longer term and I worry about the stress such an environment must ultimately take on citizens. I shudder to think what those towers of glass and cement will look like 50 years from now — but anyone who has seen the wasteland of downtown Detroit will have some idea.

And now there is a new threat to the City Beautiful concept: artificial claddings made of a styrofoam-type material that has a lifespan of about 15 years — what happens when this material gives out? The mental images are not pleasant.

As for me, I hug the edge of the city and would move outside if I had the choice, but businesses and personal economics keep me where the streets are paved. If it were up to me, I would spread the city out even further, with lovely parks and treed spaces to separate neighbourhoods — sort of like Charleswood, where I and my neighbours live in harmony with trees and breathing space. In my small subdivison built in the 1970’s, there are seven parks. People walk all the time and they get to know one another. They leave their porch lights on at night, a habit I find wonderfully warming and welcoming.

June Jacobs and compact cities fans claim that high density living promotes a sense of neighbourhood. Hmm. When my youngest grandchild was born in Toronto, I stayed for some weeks with my daughter while she was recovering from the birth. Every day I would walk six-year-old Julia to school and, when we crossed the Danforth, I would always say good morning to the crossing guard. She would say good morning back and one day even spent enough time to tell me that she was originally from Winnipeg.

But one morning, Julia floored me by asking in a six-year-old voice full of censure, “Why do you talk to the crossing guard, Grammy?”

“Shouldn’t I?” I asked, mildly amused.

“No,” she replied, emphatically. “Nobody talks to the crossing guard.”

It made me think about the alienating impact of population density where people seem to need to protect whatever diminishing space they have by not speaking with strangers.

I compare that with going to our local garden centre yesterday to buy a Christmas tree. Children were running about, admiring the plants and soaking up the atmosphere. They talked to strangers and strangers talked to each other. What a lovely freedom from fear.

Note: The above was written December 1, 2013, and just never got published. The hole left by the cottonwood is now filled with perennials on a temporary basis while I decide what new tree to plant. The promised sprouts did spring up and kept Glenn and I pulling them all season long. But the grass, no longer quite so out competed, is making a comeback.

And I still feel the same way about density in cities.

 

I left my heart in Andalucia

In Mijas pueblo, the honeysuckle blooms in January.

In Mijas pueblo, the honeysuckle blooms in January.

The climate in winter is gentle. Dark green pines and cedars pierce the azure skies, their shapes mocking the surrounding mountains: some rounded, some upright and pointed. Pretty scents assail the nose — sweet white clover and others less defined. Bougainvillea trails purple and rose over stone and stucco and always the hush of the dark blue sea whispers soft songs to soothe the scene. The sun gazes down, unperturbed, blessing the land and its people.

This is the coast of Spain, the Costa del Sol, in January. The pace is leisurely, traffic flowing at a restful 80 km per hour along the old Roman road, now the A7, slowing to 40 at the many gentle roundabouts, so that cars move in easy waves, ebbing and flowing like the ocean the road runs beside. The vistas are awe-inspiring and so many that awe soon turns to expectation.

Populations are punctuated all along the coast with pockets of dark pine forest covering the undulating landscapes. Narrow streetscapes in these communities run free-style, supporting walled gardens and hidden houses, in a build-it-where-you-can pattern. There are restaurants every few hundred metres to feed the frenzy of sun-seekers that will soon descend on the coast from all over the world. The Spanish Mediterranean is a favourite destination for fog-bound Brits, whose varied accents colour the English spoken by many of the tradesmen and servers.

In our suite, the colours are beige and white with a touch of the dark blue of the sea. Shapes are rounded, echoing the curves of flowers and flowers are the inspiration for light fixtures and fabrics.

The food is plentiful and good. Local olives and chorizo sausage make converts of our companions whose edges have been smoothed by seven days of serenity away from their stress-ridden lives at home. The local wine helps.

In the towns and cities, people crowd together living amicably in layers along slender streets lined with their small but mighty cars and buzzing motorbikes. Impeccable spatial skills are required to maneuver some of the byways where only a pencil-width on either side separates the moving from the stationary. I drive as one with the rented BMW that I already seem to know more intimately than my Mercury at home. In Marbella I get off the main avenue and end up in congested alleys that were surely meant only for pedestrians.

Gibraltar

In Gibraltar, we climb, climb, climb to the top of the rock, up a one-way track that leads to the summit and an encounter with some aggressive monkeys (they call them Barbary apes), one of which attempts to join us inside the car through an open window. As we descend the rock, the track turns into winding, narrowed streets and it is with relief that we finally reach level land and wider boulevards.

We are innocent of the murky doings of Gibraltar, which is said to be the gateway to Europe for the cocaine trade. All along the coast, magnificent villas and communities are being built with the proceeds of this traffic — money that finds construction a convenient laundering method.

We visit Puerto Banus to spy on the rich and famous, who are wisely tucked away out of sight, leaving the gawkers to the hawkers that try to sell us knock-off designer wares as we study the yachts and overpriced products in the exclusive seaside shops along the quay.

Mijas Pueblo

Another day, we meander up a mountain above Fuengirola to reach a tourist village, Mijas Pueblo, which offers fairy-tale vistas of the land rolling down toward the sea. One of the white villages of Andalusia, Mijas Pueblo is like a movie set, perfectly staged like Portmeirion, the tiny mock village on the coast of Wales where they filmed The Fugitive. The shops are hungry for business because it is winter and the merchants flock around us, offering buttery lambskin leather jackets at wildly fluctuating prices.

We explore the cheap market at Marbella, visit the giant La Canada mall there and another in Fuengirola, gleaning post-Christmas goodies at very reasonable prices.

Granada

Al Alhambra.

We trek to Granada, seeking the gardens of the Alhambra. Our route takes us high into the mountains, which are covered in snow – the first time it has snowed here in three years, we learn later. The wind is strong, the perfect roads are winding and all but empty. We stumble through Granada, thanks to Google maps, which drop us off in the middle of town on a road closed to all but taxis and busses. But we follow our noses and find a way to the complex of palaces and gardens.

The gardens are magnificent and so absorbing that we miss the time for the tour of the palace (as if I cared). In spite of the cold air, my camera is hot from taking pictures.

We return via the coastal route, past the marching windmills and around the mighty dam, oozing through tunnel after tunnel, slipping through the mountains we climbed earlier. The views are breathtaking, the weather warming as we wend our way down to the sea.

Back on the coast, all around us are palms trees and oranges, cactus-like succulents just bursting into bloom, olives and, we are told, almonds just ready to burst into bud. Brilliant scarlet honeysuckle smothers white washed walls and dates hang heavy on some palms. I love the gorgeous rounded pines and the cork oak trees. I am driving so I can’t satisfy my urge to take photos of all the stunning plants whenever I want to, but their image are seared into my mind.

On the hills above the highway, all along the Costa Del Sol, beautiful urbanizations flaunt their privilege of residing here in the favoured land.

Home

Home now, the images of Spain warm the snow-covered vistas that proclaim the reality of minus 24 (feels like minus 40) weather of Winnipeg in January. Still, the third day after returning, the sun comes out to shine on a fairyland of frost, the trees glittering with ice crystals. The icy air feels good on fevered cheeks and forehead, clearing a jet-lagged brain.

Home is where the heart is, they say, and I am glad to be here. Still, I have to admit that I left a tiny piece of my heart in Andalucia, just as the old song says.

Once you have been to Andalucia and gone away

Your heart will stay in Andalucia

Both night and day . . .

The Christmas tree

I believed in the magic of the Christmas tree and would gaze into its depths for hours.

I believed in the magic of the Christmas tree and would gaze into its depths for hours.

When I was a child, Christmas always held a special magic for me. I would get a warm feeling of anticipation near the beginning of December, dreaming of the good things to come – the Christmas tree, the presents, the fruit-filled cakes and puddings. The very air seemed to twinkle with possibility, the house ready and waiting with an expectant feeling. Everything would be waxed and polished — I loved that smell of floor polish; it spoke of order in a chaotic world.

When I was 11, chaos visited.

We lived then in a small mining town in the East Kootenay Mountains of British Columbia. It was a good life – people were making a lot of money and it was easy come, easy go – that was B.C. in the latter half of the 1950s.

My parents were young and full of hope for a wonderful life. We were a tight knit family of eight, with six kids.

Then, in early November, my father was in a car accident and broke his ribs. He contracted an infection, followed by a severe allergic reaction to the antibiotics that put him in the hospital for several weeks. In those days, there was little to back up a family of six when the dad was off work, so things were not easy. To make matters much worse, just when he was ready to go back to work in early December, there was a massive layoff at the mine. By the time Christmas drew near; we were very, very short of money. No Christmas tree, this year, said my mom. And my heart sank. I didn’t care too much about the presents or the cakes and puddings, but I did care about that magic tree. And I believed in its magic.

Mom did her best: the house was clean and polished; it smelled of floor wax and expectation, but as the last few days of school passed and nothing changed, I sank into a pit of gloom. My pessimism may have been abetted by the fact that there was not a lot to eat – a deer my dad had shot in the fall was nearly all gone – we had been living on deer meat and porridge, a dreary diet, but it would be even drearier when the meat ran out.

Still suffering the pain of slowly healing ribs, Dad was out every day looking for odd jobs, but the whole town was depressed with so many out of work and there was really very little to be had.

The last day of school before the Christmas break, I was given the task of taking down the class Christmas tree. As I lifted off the ornaments, I got an idea and, even though I suffered terribly from shyness, I mustered the courage to ask the teacher, “What are you going to do with that tree?” I waited for her answer with my heart throbbing in my throat.

“Throw it out,” she replied. “It’ll be all dried out before we get back to school.”

“Can I have it?” I asked. I thought I would faint before she answered.

She looked at me dubiously, but shrugged and said, “Sure. If you want.”

I dragged that skinny little thing home in the darkening day, tugging it up the hilly streets to our house in Upper Blarchmont, the new subdivision where we were the proud owners of a brand new, but Spartanly furnished, house. At last I was at our front door, shouting for my mom to show her my prize. It didn’t occur to me that we were surrounded by evergreens – the mountainsides were full of them for the taking with a saw and a bit of energy.

She came to the door and hid her look of dismay. I remember her hesitation before she smiled and helped me bring it in. “But,” she said gently, “we don’t have any decorations.”

She must have seen my face fall, because she got that look of concentration she assumed when she was problem solving and then she said, “But let’s see what we can do.”

My mother was a creative and resourceful person. She made some paste out of a bit of flour and water and then we tore old magazine pages into strips which we fastened into round circles to make chains. The chains were a blend of interesting bits of story mixed with the jewel-like colours from the photo spreads. The more we worked – all the kids got into the act — the more enthused we became and soon we were laughing and having fun, coming up with other magazine paper designs for our tree. Mom even pasted together a star for the top.

It was a beautiful tree. For the next several nights, I sat in front of it, gazing into its depths, discovering possibilities and miracles that only I could see. At last it was Christmas Eve. Dad had explored every avenue to make a little money, but there was simply nothing to be found. Every door was closed. We went to bed that night, a gnawing in our stomachs that came from more than just the tiny dinner we had eaten.

Christmas morning dawned, very white and cold. The furnace was coal-fired but it would burn wood, a good thing since there was a whole world of wood outside, but the fire had died down in the night. I remember shivering under the covers when my sister and I woke, listening to Dad downstairs stoking up the coals. “Stay in bed till it warms up,” he shouted, and when he had it roaring, he bounded upstairs and back into bed himself. We were only too glad to obey.

Suddenly, there was a mighty banging on the front door. Terror froze my heart. Who could it be? All sort of evil possibilities presented themselves. I cowered under the covers beside my sister, listening to Dad go to the door.

Then we heard it. “Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!” The voices were ringing, a smile hidden in the sound. There were happy, stomping feet. There was the noise of things being carried in.

“What a beautiful tree,” said a female voice. “Bring that in here, John.” We didn’t need Dad to invite us to come and see. My sister and I crept downstairs and what we saw was quite wonderful: gaily wrapped presents under the tree. Boxes full of something on the kitchen table. Two warmly dressed people just leaving, saying again, “Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!”

We felt Mom’s presence behind us. She wrapped her arms around our shoulders and together we went into the kitchen where dad was standing, looking stunned. We’d all forgotten to be cold. On the table were two huge boxes stuffed with food – and the prize was a giant turkey. But there were practical things, too: sugar and flour and potatoes and cabbage and carrots and lovely, thoughtful things: syrup and a big tin of Malkin’s strawberry jam. The list went on.

At the very bottom of the box was an envelope that said, “Merry Christmas from the Ladies of the Purple Heart”.

“They should call themselves Ladies of the Golden Heart,” said Dad in a wobbling voice. Mom simply wept, silent tears that she wiped away with the sleeve of her bathrobe.

I don’t remember the presents. My sister and I were just glad that the little kids: my six-year-old brother, five-year-old sister and the three-year-old twins, found those gifts under the tree when they came downstairs.

I was filled with a boundless joy that day. It seemed to me to be a miracle – we had not asked for help – had not told anyone of our need, but somehow, they had known and responded.

I gave the credit to the tree.

We learned later that the ladies were part of an auxiliary to the local Elks lodge. They gave up their own Christmas morning to go from one house to another, filling the Christmas wishes of all the families that had been hit by the layoff.

Knowing this didn’t spoil the magic for me, though. What mattered was their kindness and the cheerful, matter-of fact way they dealt out their charity. They will live forever in my mind as the Ladies of the Golden Heart.

And I still believe it was the tree that told them.

I still believe in the magic of trees.

I still believe in the magic of trees.

Of remembering, the first snow and christmas trees

Dave Lutes of Treewise hangs lights in our 35-foot blue spruce.

The first snow of winter, November 11, 2014 seen though the screen from my office window.

Now it’s November and the mercury, if we still had mercury in our thermometers, reached a high of only -9 C today. The wind is sharp. It cuts through fall clothing like shards of glass, seeking out seams to slice between. It’s not that -9 is that cold in Fahrenheit — only just under 16 degrees — but the negative numbers send psychological chills to our bones.

There is no snow, only skiffs sometimes in the morning. It fills driveway cracks and teases small insects into to hiding under garden debris. I make an absent-minded note to cut off the ugly stems of the globe thistles, but I know it won’t get done, and what does it matter, after all? The stark bare stalks, now standing sentinel-erect, will finally bow to the will of winter and, just like the rest of the perennials, return their borrowed nutrients to the earth.

The peonies huddle in the cold. I don’t cut them back in deference to the advice of an old gardener who would know much more than I. He says leaving them standing will protect their hollow stems from carrying rain water and snow melt down to rot their roots. Yet . . . I find myself sometimes doubting old-timer advice — it often doesn’t correlate with the logic I have learned. After all, the winter-broken stems will still be open to let snow melt in come spring, cut down or not.

Another local garden guru advises me to fertilize my Christmas cactus when it is in bloom. This makes no sense to me when I know that plants need sunlight to photosynthesize and use up fertilizers, yet Christmas cactus blooms in the darkest days of late autumn or early winter. Seems to me the time to fertilize them is before they go into semi-dormancy with the darkening of the days which stimulates the output of their flowers.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Poppies in a summer garden not far from here.

Poppies in a summer garden not far from here.

I awake this morning to find that the snow has slipped silently over the land through the night. It’s very quiet now at day break, the usual sounds hushed by a thin white blanket and the world seems clean and calm.

It is Remembrance Day, November 11, 2014, 70 years after D-Day, 100 years after the outbreak of the first Great War. It is odd how this day stands out in my memory over the years. I think of a day back in school, a warm sunny day in November, when a girl suddenly fainted at a ceremony as we stood silently remembering those who had died. One moment she was standing straight and rigid beside me, the next, she was flat on her back, not crumpling the way you would think one would fall, but falling backward and landing with a thud.

I think of the five Remembrance Days that I served in Parliament, each of them solemn and heavy with feeling as we laid wreaths in darkened rooms and took part in the great theatre of official remembering.

November 11 has also been a joyous day, celebrating the birth of my first daughter, Lori, who is as perfect and as pretty as the poppy that commemorates this day.

Ah, that poppy, Papaver rhoeas, the field popy, the poppy of Flanders Fields, the poppy that is one of the seed bank plants whose seeds can lie dormant for many years until the soil is disturbed by some physical event. During the war, artillery falling in the fields of Europe caused the poppies to spring up, staining the landscape red and inspiring Colonel John McCrea to write the poem whose words are etched in my brain:

In Flanders Field, the popplies blow

Between the crosses, row on row

That mark our place: and in the sky

The larks still bravely singing fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

A shiver runs down my spine as I read. In my mind, I can see what McCrea saw — the scarlet flowers, the white crosses, the birds winging overhead against a cloudless blue sky while the booming of distant guns bears testimony to death and destruction.

At 11:00, I will take that two minutes to reflect, thinking of my father and how the war killed him although he returned physically unharmed. He was just a child when they sent him off to the front, only 18, and what he saw and experienced never left him. My father had a poet’s soul. The horrors of war gouged out deep furrows of sorrow that no amount of singing or playing or reciting nonsense poems could ever erase.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

But today, thanks to my darling daughter Lori, is also a day of rebirth and celebration, so after the sorrow at 11, I will go on to celebrate the lovely part of life; that it renews itself, just as in a garden the plants re-emerge each spring from their own particular type of dormancy, whether it be from seed or bulb or from sugars stored in roots. The sun will spread its warmth again. Tender leaves will spring on delicate stems from trees suddenly exhuberant, released from their long winter sleep.The beauty will return.

And yet, in its way, this first day of snow is also welcome, bringing calm, quiet and repose swathed in gentle folds of white. There is a time for waking and a time for sleeping and both are lovely.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

DSC_0294

Dave Lutes of Treewise sends a “thumbs up” signal from the top of our 35-foot blue spruce. The wind was blowing, the tree swaying, but the intrepid Dave hung the lights and the tree smiled.

Last weekend we asked Dave Lutes of Treewise to help us put up the Christmas lights on our blue spruce tree. It had grown too tall for Glenn to reach the top with his makeshift tool fashioned from a pool brush with an extension and a hook. We expected Dave to arrive with a truck and a cherry picker. Instead he arrived, well-covered, and shimmied up the centre of the tree like some overgrown cat.

Dave is a tree man, extraordinaire. His view is a lofty one from the tree tops, his preferred perch. His affinity for trees is natural and unbreakable. As he climbed our tree, he dislodged insects nesting in its centre and broke off dead branches, removing these irritating things from the tree’s trunk. I imagine it sighing in relief.

We thank you, Dave. And our spruce thanks you, too.