The long, long days of June

Now it is green – green with a depth of luxury that most people associate only with tropical places. Here in Winnipeg, at the joining of the mighty Red and Assiniboine rivers, there is an unexpected lushness in June.

The massive elms and cottonwoods that line city streets and haunt the riverbanks, the towering cedars and spruces and tidy ashes and lindens that guard our homes, all contribute to the affectionate blanket of green that wraps us in summer comfort, offering shade from the blazing sun and shelter from the temperamental winds that spring up spontaneously, gently at times, but on occasion with a frightening ferocity. Sometimes the wind is a great relief, especially when the air is heavy with humidity off the lakes. Then its cool fingers help dry drenched skin and caress fevered faces, lingering just long enough to provide a promise of the coming nighttime chill.

If June could last forever, no one would ever leave here. To be wrenched from so much beauty would leave too large a wound. The memory of our Junes keeps us happy through scorching July and golden August to the blaze that is September and October and then through the dark months until the glittering beauty of January and the final promise of spring.

It rains in June. This year it storms. Lightning and thunder and even hail have fallen, punishing us but nourishing the earth, releasing nitrogen for the plants and perhaps even rehydrating the parched soil if it rains long enough. When the sun comes out, it shines persuasively on this prairie opulence, calling on the spruces to lift their branches, the flowers to raise their heads, the small animals to come out and bask in its beneficence.

I do love June. I love the long, long days. I love the sound of the birds chorusing with the sunrise at four in the morning. I love the chattering of the squirrels and the whisper of the wind in the trees. I love the occasional rain coming down in harsh splatters, even when it tears the long awaited blossoms of my tree peony into silken, scarlet tatters only a day after blooming. There were no blossoms last year and only two this year. The rest were victimized by a fickle spring and late killing frosts. Such is the fate of the gardener.

It has been a strange year and I get strange reports from my fellow gardeners. I hear of trees that have green branches but no leaves, of apples that will not blossom and of lilacs that are weeks late into flower. The brilliant red Oriental poppies that usually bloom in May, this year have only just emerged (falling to the same fate as the tree peony) and hundreds of tulips thought it not worth the trouble to send up leaves. I have found some of them, lying inert and mushy under the soil, frozen and thawed repeatedly until there was no heart left in them for living.

Other plants, though, are fully pleased with themselves, looking well dressed and prosperous. The delphiniums are about to blossom and are upright and proud. Not so, the poor double pink peonies, which are prostrate on the ground – I was out of town and left them to their own devices when the sun coaxed them into opening too soon. If the rain stops, I will try to rescue what is left for my vase.

But peonies last longest when cut in the hard bud stage – you can even keep them, either wrapped or in a vase of cold water, for as long as six months so that y

The sun comes out

ou can please your daughter’s heart at her fall or winter wedding. Prevent mould by adding a few drops of household bleach to the water.

The Double Pink herbaceous peony is one of those bomb type peonies that were bred for the vase and always need staking. Peonies that can stand on their own two feet include the magenta ‘Big Ben’ and the lovely ‘Bowl of Beauty’, an anemone type peony. The Itoh intersectional hybrids are all upright without help.

This morning, the sun appeared. What heaven. It is heartbreakingly lovely.







Now the cold has come back

January 23, 2012

A silvery sky dropped feathers of snow covering everything with a blanket of down. Shrubs and furniture were hidden by marshmallow lumps and humps, projecting an inviting roundness. Only the naked trees showed their sharp sides and even those were mitigated by a rime of white.

Under the Manitoba maple, a fat rabbit cleared away the snow from the spot where sunflower seeds had fallen from the beaks of marauding jays, careless in their greed. The rabbit looked as though he had been enjoying this bounty for quite some time, his round girth almost too much to fit through the slats in the fence through which he had entered from the park.

It was very cold outside, truly winter at last. The day before, the mercury had fallen to -27 C, much to the chagrin of some but to the joy of others. All the ice fishermen felt pulses quicken. Now they could venture out on the lakes and the rivers without fear. The skaters could hardly wait to hit the skating trail down the Red River. The isolated folks in the north breathed a heavy sigh of relief. A few days of this cold and the winter roads would open so trucks could haul supplies to their communities. There’s a lot at stake for them: diesel to run their heaters and generators being one of the big ones. Forced out of their once nomadic way of life, they have stripped the surrounding landscapes of firewood in years when the diesel ran out, as it often does.

But here in my peaceful back yard, there is no hint of these hardships. The rabbit hopped away, hesitating before he squeezed through the fence, his footprints the only evidence of his visit – that and the small clearing on the ground, now devoid of sunflower seeds.

The brilliant winter sun came out the next day, smiling on the rosemary and parsley in my kitchen window and banishing all gloomy thoughts. It creeps into every corner of the room coating all in shades of happiness. Outside, the air is crystalline, cutting with the intensity urged upon it by the wind. A face will freeze in one minute, intones the warning voice of a broadcaster. How they love to insert darkness into a sunny morning.

The cold is all right with me. It makes me feel alive and I cuddle into my long furry coat feeling gratefully warm, although the cold will penetrate even this if given enough time. It’s not real fur, after all.

We northern people need this cold. Already eyes are brighter. There are smiles and friendly greetings of, “Cold enough for you?” Or some might say with ironic understatement, “It’s a bit chilly out today, isn’t it?” Chilly or not, there is a spring in the step that wasn’t there in the sloppy above zero weather that ruined pants legs and long coats, and that turned all cars the same muddy gray, regardless of the paint underneath. That too benign weather filled us with a kind of nameless anxiety.

The sky is silver again today, but no bounty fell from above. The wind was still there, but it carried a heaviness of humidity, stinging faces and fingers with freezing dampness. The streets are sloppy again as we scan the weather forecast, looking for lemon sunlight and a return to the purity of the cold, dry air that sets the heart singing.

The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra is launching our 21st New Music Festival this coming week and this year our partners are the folks from the Icelandic community of Gimli and environs. They understand the imperative of winter; it echoes in their music and their wonderful poetry. I will be reveling all next week.

This morning, I announced that we have been invited to New York by Spring Fest to play at Carnegie Hall in May, 2014. I will be relieved by then of my five long years as president so that I can go along and think only of the music.

Life is so glorious.