Solstice soliloquy – of sorts

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
The world offers itself to your imagination.
Calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting,
Over and over announcing your place in the family of things.
– Wild Geese, Mary Oliver

All alone in an early afternoon, from the front seat of our car, I watch as the two Canada geese, Branta canadensis, slowly walk up the small hill from the bay to the cage.  Here the female moves forward and the male, wing dangling, struts at a distance – ever wary.  Eventually she leaves and he takes a turn nibbling on frozen corn and peas outside and just inside the cage.  They are elegant and strategic.  I think a trust is growing.  I smile while the stomach clenches.

Here at the bay, the water freezes in great rotating arcs.  The moving water that travels through the thrum of the hydro plant and falls over old rocks and tree limbs orchestrates a mixing, a slow blending of deep blue and icy white. It whirls against the land where kayaks and canoes were launched in the warmer days, it nudges the shrubs on the sides and flows within the sight of those living on higher ground above the mighty Canadian Mississippi.  The churning is slowing as it is covered by winter – a time of quiet contemplation in a year of rollercoaster velocities and unknowns.

And there are the geese.  The last geese of the year, a mated couple near defeat from a wing that won’t work and a season that won’t wait.

I had been watching them for a few days at that point, wondering at their lingering in our most comfortable town like so many do these days.  Then a wing bent funny, toward the earth in an unnatural way – like that of an angel.  An angel wing.  This one would not make the journey high over rivers, rooftops and rising temperatures to green-scapes down south.

Community can be in the street, face-to-face, and a social media thing. A simple message about the feathered residents in the bay and contacts were provided that just might be able to help.

We called every suggestion for help – avian organizations in the nearby city that operate on small and particular budgets with passionate volunteers but none to send out to the valley in a time when birds are having adventures left right and centre while pandemic “bubbles” keep volunteers at bay.  But solid suggestions were put forward: provide food, find trust then catch them.  Catch them.  Circle them and throw blankets. Uh huh.  The urge to help is overwhelming at moments like this.

There came a day when the geese were no where to be seen … and I felt relief. Relief and belief that either nature had found a way or that someone else had taken them for care.  Mostly, I felt relief that a self-imposed responsibility could be extinguished and I could walk away.  Not good thoughts, the type that worried my brain late in the evenings. Oh, the things we learn about ourselves when in the wee hours of the morning.

But they came back.  Must have been sight-seeing down the river.  

And then an email appeared from a newbie in the area who had been putting a home in place nearby. “Welcome to the neighbourhood” I said after listening to how this full-time transportation employee and family had chosen our town to grow and to provide rescue services of all feathered friends.  Are you kidding me?  This had to be a harbinger of the gifting season and a chance for geese, without the goose being cooked.  The cage, a refuge with food, was put in place. Action and growing trust continues.

And there was a gal from the valley, who works with dogs for the blind – another good soul – who watched the pair with us and would eventually donate a huge sack of corn. Avian dining continues.

Then a woman, living near the bay and willing to keep an eye on the situation and provide sheets if needed.  Care continues.

While at one of the beloved local cafés, a barista suggested we get in a boat, maybe a canoe or what about a wetsuit and a board?  But there is the frigid water and oh yes, the moving ice. Suggestions continue.

This winter’s tale is still in the telling, not ended yet.  It may be that this pair are content in the bay for the season. Maybe they’re helping to carry us through the winter ahead. We will hope for the best for the garden we all play in is large and you’re never alone.

Happy solstice all – some gifts, like hope, don’t need wrapping. 

A harvest of crabby delight

You just know there could be orchards of goodness out there waiting for the child in you to come out to play.

Like most of us in this pandemic year, we look for new pastimes – a means to find moments of joy in difficult times.  With the cooling of the season and yes, the turning of the first leaves to autumn gold and red, it means embracing a sense of adventure – one that mingles community with taste!

Case in point – crab apples, Malus.  This town, on the edge of wild, is home to many a crab apple tree.  Many are beloved. Most of the year, after the riot of spectacular spring blooms have faded, you wouldn’t even notice them but come September, well.  Red and yellow fruit brighten against the green leaves in private yards, lining streets, and on the edges of woodlands where their perfume bounces on the breeze.  A scent of – is it cider? – wafts down the streets and tempts passersby. You just know there could be orchards of goodness out there waiting for the child in you to come out to play.

The immediate result here? We played! And right there, on our back deck, beside the painted red rocking chair, a large basket brimming with fruit from two crab apple trees, Malus ‘Dolgo’.

We hadn’t really noticed them until a gardening friend (thanks Allan!) sent an email suggesting we enjoy the bounty from trees he had planted in the community.  Sounded like a fine idea and we wandered over one afternoon eager for a harvest – although honestly unsure what the ultimate result would be.  

Did I mention we were new to this?

Must confess, we didn’t realize we were looking at apple trees at all.  In fact, we were convinced that the apple tree that we were looking for must be hidden behind these plum trees – so thick they were with small fruit.  It only took one bite to push plums out of our minds and to recognize the small, sweet-tart rounds of luscious crab apples! Fast forward – the basket on the deck.

Within the course of a few days, and a well-placed Facebook post, suggestions gleefully flowed for pies, dried fruit, applesauce, apple butter, apple jelly – all shared with the excitement of well practiced tastes.  This was rapidly followed by offers of hand cranked food processors, jelly jars and in one case, of an actual taste tester. The generosity of garden folk was so appreciated when we realized that this simple act of apple transformation into imagined winter delights was going to take some learning.

Now, somewhere in the depths of the pantry we had stored a box of canning jars. The idea had entered our minds years ago but over time the jars had become candles holders, impromptu vases, dust collectors. However, we did have a large pot, a hand crank food processor, and new lids. There was also the seemingly infinite reams of advice on the web, in cookbooks and through the freely shared experiences of friends pulled into kitchens by harvest delights.

These common apples, as they were once known, could have become so many things from jams to pies. But for us, through the shared experiences of those who succumb to the temptations of apples – move over Eve – we washed and we boiled, we strained and we canned. It was the best of times – who knew?

Now we smile to think that downstairs, on shelves tucked against a wall, the dark shadows obscure the rich red of crab apple sauce and crab apple jelly that wait to help us make it through winter, then spring. Once there, the lovely trees will bloom again, a cycle of green, and of friendship, leading us forward to the delights of new days – embracing the bitter and the sweet.

Foundations of this place

The property has become a welcome green hug in this time of pandemic and may just be the best distraction there is.

It’s raining today, yay!  I’m at the computer, staring out the window, when I’m pulled into memory of this place – and it’s green.

Green, in my mind, is about nature and gardening – cultivating land, community and story. Going into the green means developing an interesting relationship with something bigger than ourselves and engaging with a community way wider than our own reach.  It involves not just the big picture but the small, the pleasure of slowing down to meet the timetables of seasons, to pause and see.  It means constantly learning and being open to the experiences of plants and the people who tend them. 

It’s been 21 years since we moved here and I value the moments I can just breathe, focus on a season, a plant, a bird, or animal.  The property has become a welcome green hug in this time of pandemic and may just be the best distraction there is.  21 years ago we kept a wary eye on YK2, this year – well – we’re still waiting to see how the impact of COVID-19 will all work out.

2.06 acres on a corner lot and all with fine, green bones. After World War II, the original owners had purchased a larger lot of land – three sections in all – and over the course of a lifetime, raising children and working, they had planted.  There had been a calculating, creative gaze cast over the planting of this former farm field at some point and the map of trees, windbreaks, planting beds and garden structures were evidence of it.  Our land – or the land that we now inhabit – was the second home to this hybrid couple of Canada and England.  It was all quite amazing that it then passed into the hands of an urban couple who, at best, had grown four, maybe five, hostas in the suburbs. 

A large portion of the perimeter is a vast cedar hedge and provides privacy.  Maples – silver, sugar, and Manitoba – are also scattered over the land joined by balsam, spruce, and pine.  We were so lucky in those first years to find a young fellow in town who mapped out and identified all the trees for us, so we knew what we had committed to. Elm are slowly losing their foothold as the rot has set in. One tree lost to time, now stands, blackened, and twisted against the sky, as a macabre reminder that much can change. It will come down in its own time but not until generations of Flickers, squirrels – grey, black, and red, Pileated Woodpeckers and untold others have fashioned homes in the crags of this old snag.  Histories are so much better with feather and fur involved after all.

Lilac planted for a friend now gone – but still here.

Lilacs, white and shades of lavender, tell a tale of our time here and fragrance the air with stories to be told. Lilacs are my partner’s favourite flower and that very first spring, in the middle of a lawn, I planted a deep purple promise whose heavy blossoms now greet us every year. Others were added over the years. This summer we propagated from some of the parent trees to ensure their company remains with us well into time – oh, and of course to shape more gardens.   

Willows loom and shift with the breeze – they remind us of times when we were children and would run through streets with long, flowing wands of green. With the drying that will accompany climate change now and into the future, we know we may lose some of these trees over time and are beginning to succession plant saplings. There was worry when the extended drought and heat caused the silver maples to drop leaves and the trees overall put out so much seed that we found ourselves sweeping off the deck and surrounds in July. These trees are friends of ours – we hurt when they hurt and feel joy when the leaves burst through.  When our friends lost their leaves, we felt it in other ways too – the canopy cools the house but when depleted, the temperature rises for those below. This season though, August rains helped pull them and us through.

Add to this growing palette a house, a barn-shaped workshop, and a teetering glass potting shed, and you have a good idea of what we moved to.  The potting shed would be taken down in time before it sagged into memory and a pergola was put in place, the workshop was painted fire-engine red and festooned with a painted quilt block, and the house remains to anchor it all.  

Finding a green place is to begin an adventure and today a means to survive the long months of pandemic isolation.  Into the green we went, happy, expectant, and wary at the same time.