I watched helplessly last spring and summer as our resident chipmunk systematically pillaged EVERY SINGLE ONE of my more exotic bulbs.
He did not like the daffodils.
And that’s why it’s the one bulb every gardener should have in multitude in their gardens. It comes in an endless number of variations: short ones, tall ones, white ones, peachy ones, single blooms, double blooms… and the list goes on.
It’s also the first cut flower to make its appearance in these parts. Dust off those vases!
As much as I love to see these beauties make their appearance in the perennial flower beds there is something I love even more about coming across them in unexpected places.These plants are native to meadows and woods in southern Europe and North Africa so maybe it’s that they just look more at home in a natural setting like this
Whether you come upon them naturalized in the woods or nestled between later flowering plants in the perennial border, they are excellent harbingers of all the joy in store for us this flowering season.
I love Dr. Seuss. But, I think he might have oversimplified the Waiting Place. I’ve been in the Waiting Place since after Christmas when my mother became sick and died. I waited in her hospital room every day while she was transitioning from this life… (to another?) And every day since her passing, I’ve been waiting to see what my life will become without the responsibility (and pleasure) of caring for this person who was the focus of so much of my attention these last six years. While I’ve been waiting, I’ve been taking care of business, travelling, and pursuing my creative interests, but it’s been waiting none the less. I think this is the nature of transitions. It’s that place between what was and what’s to come. Dr. Suess calls this “a most useless place”. Here’s where I disagree. I think it’s a difficult place, but not a useless one. Change rarely happens overnight or on a pre-determined schedule. His words do, however, carry a fair warning. There’s a danger of getting stuck in the Waiting Place. Sometimes we forget that we’re only meant to be there temporarily while our systems are adjusting and preparing for the change to come.
And the change will come.
One morning we’ll wake up and realize that it’s spring. The robins who’ve been waiting too are suddenly singing at dawn with their newly found purpose. The recently frozen ground cracks and the first shoots appear. The ponds unthaw and running water is the background melody again.
All in the right time. The waiting somehow makes this so much more exquisite.
The first harvest of the season is underway here in southern Québec. The success of this harvest is dependent on the perfect combination of below freezing nights and mild days. We’ve had a few of those perfect days, but in the last week or so the daytime temperatures didn’t go above freezing. The sap flow stops on those days and the busy maple syrup producers, who are often farmers as well, continue on cutting wood, birthing calves, plowing driveways… I think you get the picture. They’re very busy people.
Drinking the first sap is built into our DNA – at least my DNA. Here are my parents circa 1948 doing just that. My mother is recently arrived from England in this picture and obviously hasn’t purchased her Canadian “going out in the woods” clothes yet.
We haven’t been to a “cabane à sucre” this year to see the sugaring process in full swing, but we did tap a lone tree not far from the house and stopped at it yesterday on our way back from a cross country ski to quench our thirst.
Another nor’easter has blown in today. It is snowing heavily now and the fire is lit. We’re staying close to home to wait it out. The trees will be waiting it out too. It’s like that this time of year.
I started this scarf/shawl while my mother was dying in the hospital. Knitting was a way to calm myself while accompanying my mother on her last days. And I think it calmed her too. Knit, purl, knit….. a steady incantation in a predictable pattern, like breathing. Knitting was one of the womanly arts that was big in my mother’s life and in her mother’s life before her.
It is now March and the scarf is almost finished. It continued to work its magic over the months since my mother’s passing as memories of a long life lived arose and faded while I knit. I’ve had a hard time finishing it, but I have a hard time finishing most things. Now it’s time to weave in the ends of which there are many, as you can see. Fitting, I guess.
The Crows are Gathering
The spring migration of crows has reached our area. Now as I lie in bed in the early morning light, I hear the birds awaking too. The crows have been the first to break winter’s silence. Robins won’t be far behind. Migrations are happening as they should which feels comforting in a world so full of bluster and chaos these days.
I have some new socks on my knitting needles. I joined the Handmade Sock Society during the winter. I just loved the name. It speaks of a different time when people gathered for simpler reasons. Except now, of course, we gather online – hashtag handmadesocksociety. I love knitting socks, they suit my practical nature. I rarely knit socks with patterns, but I’m making an exception so that I can be a society girl.
Today I start learning calligraphy. I’ve always felt this pull to create with my hands. It’s something passed down to me from my mother’s lineage – they were knitters, and dressmakers and midwives.
I guess all of this is just another way to weave in the ends.
I was going to write about the woes of March. I was going to call her a lyin’, cheatin’, bad friend full of broken promises. I was gathering sad pictures to prove my point.
But then something shifted. I had written earlier that our love or hate for winter was a question of attitude. If that was true, and transferable to other seasons, my loathing of March and April might be in need of a serious attitude adjustment.
My body tenses just thinking about March and April. My mind is wanting to embrace the beautiful idea of spring but my body memory tells me of cold, northerly winds, fast moving weather systems that dump 30+ centimetres of wet snow overnight, and interminably grey skies. We don’t have spring in southern Quebec, we have winter’s slow and painful exit.
Buddhists would say I have set myself up for stress and suffering – one part of me desiring an early spring and the other part resisting what is present. And they would be right. Since I’m on the path to ending suffering, there seems to be work to do here.
The first order of business is changing my thinking about spring’s arrival. If I no longer believe that spring arrives here on March 21st, I can’t be disappointed when she doesn’t show up. So, I’m officially moving the start of spring to April 21st. This is much more realistic and a very good first start in my attitude adjustment.
Now that I’m not expecting spring until the end of April, I can move into acceptance. I anticipate there’ll be some exquisite days when the sap runs in the trees and our bodies will feel a joy that only people who have wintered here can really know.
On those days, I’ll be outside breathing it all in.
It’s the other days that might be more of a challenge. Facing challenges reminds me of a story that Fred Rogers, the creator of the children’s program Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, used to tell. He said that when he was a boy and would see scary things, his mother would say to him, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” I’m wondering if a similar strategy could work in facing the challenge of a winter that never seems to end. We could seek out the helpers:
Visit a local maple syrup producer and breathe in the sweet aroma of boiling sap. Have a sip of fresh maple syrup or eat some sugar on snow while we’re there.
Listen and watch for the returning birds.
Invite friends for dinner or meet them at a local pub or eatery.
Add lighter foods to our diet – more vegetables, less carbs.
Buy some tulips to add a little colour and to remember that spring has arrived in other places.
Look for the beauty in the changing light, the sun’s last rays, the moon rising…
I wrote a blog post awhile back asking if you were a winter lover or hater. You can read it here if you missed it. I concluded that it was a question of attitude: how willing we are to embrace winter. I realize I am a winter lover, especially when we have an old fashioned winter with plenty of snow.
I love the deep dark of December. The lights are brighter and the music sweeter because of the dark.
January is traditionally our coldest month and finds me in full hygge mode. There is always a fire in the fireplace, I have the books I haven’t had time to read stacked on the coffee table by the couch, a knitting project or two in the basket, and a list of Netflix shows friends have recommended to check out. I am so ready for all of this!
There’s not much that I don’t love about February. I love the peachy light that floods the fields and woods this time of year.
I love that the sun rises just that much earlier and sets an hour later than it did at solstice. And I love the snow. After my month of hygge in January, it’s time to get outside and move. The snowshoes and x-country skis are left in the entrance way or by the front door and it doesn’t feel quite right if they aren’t used once a day.
I especially love ending February outdoor days having a drink in town in one of the bistros that the after ski crowd frequent. It’s contagious, this enjoying winter thing.
Mary Oliver, the poet, writes: “The song you heard singing in the leaf when you were a child is singing still.” I’m thinking that the song we heard singing in the snow when we were children is singing still too. We just have to be outside to hear it.
I haven’t been getting up early to write since my mother became sick and passed away. It didn’t feel right to be back to “normal” when nothing at all felt very normal. I took care of things that had to be taken care of and I started cooking again, but there was a real reluctance to take up life as before.
That’s why looking out at the post dawn view from my writing place this morning is all the more special. I’m being called back it seems. It happened slowly. I went for a first walk, looked up at the trees, and remembered being part of something far greater than myself. I knew I had to be outside again. And that’s how skiing has become the great healer for me.
It has helped that it has snowed almost non stop for the last week or so and conditions are just perfect on the network of trails that zig zag through the woods behind our house and beyond.
A neighbour who owns a massive tract of land has been busy clearing trails and building bridges for the last year or so. The network of trails is so extensive that I feel giddy with excitement at the prospect of exploring a new section each day. The trails are all marked with different colours of surveyors tape.
It becomes really interesting at the places where the trails meet.
I don’t know much for certain these days, but I do know that movement and being in nature is the great healer for me. So every day I’ve been clicking my boots into the bindings and heading outside. It feels right.
I am a planner. At the start of the new year you can usually find me in a sunny spot in the house with journals and papers and an assortment of coloured pens reflecting on the year that has passed and projecting myself into the year to come. It’s my way of tying up what has ended and looking forward to what is to come.
Not this year…not part of God’s plan. At the end of the Christmas holidays which were a riot of family and fun, my mother was unexpectedly hospitalized. I received a call in the middle of the first night from the doctor who told me my mother was in respiratory distress and I should come. My mother did not pass away that night as it turns out, but was given another twenty-four days. We both had this time to rest in each other’s presence and for this I am grateful.
Moving into acceptance feels like the opposite of planning to me. It is a much quieter place and doesn’t involve any grand schemes of what might or might not happen in the year to come. It’s about being okay with what is.
Acceptance, it turns out, is not letting me bypass grief or the visceral sense of loss deep in the cells of my body. But it is calling me back to life. Can happiness be that far away?
Our house is back to its pre-Christmas state except for a few poinsettias scattered here and there and a vase of pine boughs decorating the piano.￼ Gone is the tree and one of the infant beds I borrowed and most of the toys on loan have been gathered in the entrance to be returned to their owners. That’s a wrap for another family Christmas.
But as memories will, they linger. Looking out on the sliding hill this morning, I can still see bundled up figures carrying the red plastic sleigh to the top for another, maybe faster, trip down. And as I awake in the dark of the early morning, I think I hear the sounds of jet lagged babies filtering through the air from the other side of the house.
This home, for a short while, held it all: chaos and excitement, long family dinners around the table after the babies had been bathed and put to bed, friends and family visiting. As life will have it, it also had its dramas: the night the adventurous twin was stuck in the bathroom and the adults were orchestrating a rescue worthy of the navy seals, and then there was the call in the middle of the night that my ninety-six year old mother was in respiratory distress and might not make it until the morning.
After returning to the house from a long day spent in vigil over my mother who was now stabilized but still far from out of the woods, I sat on the couch watching my adult children in the kitchen bantering about who could make the ultimate sandwich. Tears welled up in my eyes. How could there be so much sorrow and joy all at the same time? I thought of this paradox again as I was returning from another day at the hospital and saw the January full moon hanging impossibly large and pink over the pale blue mountains just below. Beauty and sadness holding hands, each compelling in very different ways.
Glennon Doyle Melton who writes a blog called Momastery and is the author of two memoir style books has coined the word “brutiful” for this phenomenon. Life is brutal and beautiful, sometimes both at the same time – maybe often both at the same time. I am wondering if it is love that allows us the grace to see the beauty in the brutal. I hope it is.