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. 

Pandemic winter pursuits

“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need” -Cicero, 46 B.C.E.

All geared up for the pandemic winter?  Chilling by the radio, TV, or computer monitor listening to forecasts on pending vaccines?  Wondering why, oh why, the grocery store doesn’t have any broth on the shelves today?  And you know the garden will soon be under snow, and there’s ice, and maybe you’ll stay in today.

So what to do?  What to do?  How are you cultivating yourself these daze?  Many of you are still working from new locations – how is that view from the basement or kitchen table by the way?  And what about those hours in-between?  You know, when too much listening and watching the news of the world can really strip your nerve ends raw. When staring out the window, you suddenly roam into thoughts of COVID testing, roller-coaster stats and bigger, existential realms.

So let’s talk about winter preparations and attempting to ensure that our mental states regain a foothold so that reality is better navigated.  And since that eastern garden will soon be most definitely under cover for a few months…

Green pursuits on a page

…books! There’s a shelf of garden books nearby that looms with green pretension…er…temptations.   The covers catch the light and reflect a touch of guilt that I’ve not read them all yet. This is the promised land – that of broader garden knowledge and inspiration.  Or maybe just horticultural voyeurism.  Some of my books, save a chapter or two, have sat for years waiting to be perused. Is this the year? Possibly. No doubt the reading will accelerate as I count down again to the arrival of seed catalogues but it’s a good start to seed one’s knowledge when one can. 

Winter scene with topiary in Longwood Gardens
Longwood Gardens in winter

What about an online course – some free, some not – offering up a plethora of pleasure and, ahem, intellectualism?  For the green in all of us there are oodles of options from all over the world – check on websites – Longwood Gardens, Kew, etc. Recently, I treated myself to an online tea festival through the Royal Botanical Garden in Hamilton. Oh my.  I had walked tea estates years ago while working in Sri Lanka and admired the tea plants, Camellia sinensis, and knew there were a multitude of varieties globally.  Winter just may be a great time to dig further and to taste broadly. And did you know you could morph into a Tea Sommelier through courses at local colleges giving rise to a professionalism in sipping with style? Tisanes – those bewitching elixirs made from aromatic herbs, plants and roots – could be the beginning of a tea garden or a pot thereof, to plan for next year. Potentially exhausting – must be too much chamomile!

Oh and puzzles.   And boardgames. Did you know some have botanic themes?!? These were the grungy boxes that somehow always wound up at the cottage when we were kids. I particularly remember my mom loving a large puzzle that was mostly black-on-black except for two ballerinas dancing in the moonlight.  For some reason that has stuck in my mind.  Or that an aunt is famous for puzzling without referring to pictures – working along the colour edges to find the puzzle logic. It seemed a pursuit not suited to my generation but that was hubris.  In the sunlight that edged out from the grey clouds this week, I laid out a green cloth on the dining table to do a puzzle a friend had gifted me.  It was huge.  A 1000 pieces – way more that 999. And then, although it meant breakfast and dinner had to be eaten elsewhere, it entranced me –  it became meditative.  Not a bad thing – and then a day slipped away. Think of the focus I’ll be able to apply to garden planning…eventually!

What about pets? Four-footed companions are so welcome at all times but be aware, they can only take so much petting and oh my, any attempted conversation is way too often one-sided…especially if it’s about a food dish unfathomably empty.  Furgus, the great grey cat in this house as you may know, now walks the halls with us.  He keeps pace with our quick step or plod. He’s also gotten used to us picking him up to tuck him into a pile of something soft for the necessary thousands of naps in a day. He goes up and down the stairs when we do and stands by the door if we’re going out.  It may bolster one’s ego to think that something with such steely eyed focus on you is to be admired but trust me, it wears thin when he jumps into the puzzle box or onto your head at night.  Give the wee guys some space so they can work out new routines all of their own.  Too much petting may end up in a less than hirsute companion – keep an eye out for the omnipresent fur balls that dance around the house and lurk in every corner.  Hmmm. Might be able to use them in the garden to repel groundhogs?  Worth a try – now how do I catch those rolling little fluffbulls?

It’s a snapshot of a personal strategy for this pandemic winter.  I’ll worry along with the rest of us but am determined to plot a course forward, well rooted in personal cultivation of self and spirit, seeded with new knowledge from a diverse range of pursuits that will blossom fully, one hopes, in a better year.  And now if only the cat would sit still. Purrfect.

Awww – Furgus likes books too!