Exploding Trees

Many North American indigenous cultures referred to the first New Moon of the year as the Moon of the Cold Exploding Trees.

This is a phenomena that happens when the temperatures plunge so low the water in the sap freezes, expands and causes the trees to burst their bark.

It is not a silent process. People who have heard it liken the noise to gun fire.

Indeed, many a wilderness dweller has been catapulted out of bed on a frosty night, thinking they were under siege, only to realize they were surrounded by trees exploding in the cold winter night.

Nature is incredible, adaptable and resilient…to a point. Sort of like the people who live here. For months we stay surprisingly cheerful, shoveling our driveways, donning toques, gloves and all manner of winter gear before heading outdoors, dealing with cars that refuse to start, ice on the windshield, eyelashes freezing shut and ice. So much ice. We wave at neighbours, laugh at the cold and view the snow as frosting on our fabulous winterland cake of life.

And then one day we fall on the ice, or our scraper breaks while cleaning the windshield or we just get tired of being cold. Whatever the reason, our inside happiness temperature plunges and it just becomes a bit much. We lose our shit. We burst our bark.

Some people go south for a holiday and litter Facebook with photos of snorkelling, surfing and sunbathing. They send up pithy quotes to their northern friends such as, “We woke up to six inches of sand this morning.”

I click the like button, turn up the heat and brew a cup of tea and question the meaning of life. I get through the bark busting days by looking at seed catalogues, reading garden books and doing that magic thing that we gardeners do so well…looking out at our snow covered yard but seeing the potential beneath it instead. You could call it Mind Melting.

Today the thermometer reads -30 C while the weather report tells me it is -40 C with the windchill. It is a Mind Melting Bark Busting kind of a day.

None of our trees have exploded, thank goodness. At least not yet. It is incredible to think how they adapt and more incredible still, to know they are in a holding pattern. Despite the frigid temperatures and their lifeless appearance, they are just biding their time until they reignite in a froth of green buds and colourful blossoms in a beautiful circle of life.

What hope. What beauty. What a remarkable world we live in.




The Cold Begins to Strengthen

We have been under an extreme cold weather advisory for well over a week. Today it is -25 with a windchill of -38 C. Balmy compared to Monday when it dipped to a windchill of -50 C

I can picture my father coming into the sunny farmhouse, a blast of cold swirling around his knees as he stamped the snow from his boots, proclaiming with a twinkle in his blue eyes, “When the days begin to lengthen, the cold begins to strengthen!”

And so it always does. There is no cold like the cold that follows the shortest day of the year and the slow return of the light. It is a special kind of cold that reaches its icy tentacles into the months of February and March and on down into your bones.

On the upside, the days are getting longer, which is a welcome salve to our frostbitten souls. And then there is the sunshine! The Peace Country excels at serving up generous portions of sunshine and cobalt skies. It may be cold, but it is rarely dreary and I am always grateful for that. And for a warm house with central heating.

It’s been a year since my father passed away and a year and a couple months since my mother died. We miss them. A lot. The grieving process has been a bit of a strange process because they were both so sick and losing their minds for such a long time, so the grief started long before they died and now it keeps morphing around like a shape shifter or something.

I miss who they were when they died, but I really miss who they used to be before that and then all their personifications from the parents of my childhood to becoming grandparents to my own children. Sometimes it feels like I am grieving for several different people, instead of two.

As a farmer and gardener, memories of my parents inevitably end up entwined in memories of plants. I went to Violin Nidra last night, which is this amazing thing that happens every few weeks, where an incredibly talented violinist comes in and plays music while the yoga instructor leads a roomful of stressed out people in a guided meditation. It lasts for an hour, but feels like fifteen minutes. It is beautiful and a great lesson in learning the art of being present.

Of course, the mind is sometimes a mischievous thing that likes to dart off here and there like a hyper chichuaua instead of just staying with the breath.

Last night, in the middle of meditation, my mind unexpectedly filled with wild roses, asters, yarrow, paintbrushes, golden rod, arnica daises, alfalfa, saskatoons, wild strawberries and red clover. While the instructor’s voice urged presence and the violin notes soared over our still bodies, my chihuahua mind furtively began to dig a garden bed in tribute to the Peace Country, to my childhood, to my parents.

I decided that come spring I would see about getting a few rocks and roots from the piles that edge the fields out at the farm. Piles that my sisters and I once helped our parents build as we cleared the fields in preparation for seeding. Laying on the yoga studio floor, no one knew I was busily positioning roots and rocks around wildflowers and berry bushes. Which was kind of a shame, because the result was quite spectacular, if I do say so myself.

Since most of the plants are on the invasive side, I decided to make the bed in the “dead strip” against the shed so it would be safely bordered by the building and lawn. I was just entertaining the idea of transforming the shed into a log cabin (how fitting would that be, right?) when Violin Nidra came to a close. My plans would have to wait.

Today there is a pile of snow against the shed, but soon it will melt and make way for my new bed. That is the magic of gardening. It heals, it offers hope and it can take an idea dreamt up in a yoga class and turn it into something real, something solid, complete with roots, stems, leaves and blossoms; well, solid and real for a season anyway.