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.

The Space In-Between

So the cookie jar. From the moment I saw it on the store shelf, recognized it as a nostalgic vessel from my childhood and then left without buying it, I’ve been hanging out in that itchy space between craving and grasping.

A place that is very familiar territory.

Anyone who has ever kicked a habit that doesn’t serve them anymore knows the place I am talking about.

This space is where you pitch your tent and set up camp when you are trying to quit smoking or drinking or whatever vice you’ve been using to shut down the chaos in your head.

I huddled around the campfire in this twitchy territory, almost thirty years ago, when I crushed out my last cigarette.

I returned just over ten years ago when I quit drinking.

Other things I try to put down in this space, but with far less success. I set them down only to return to snatch them up again; rushing across the Grasping Line with my prize like a quarterback clutching a football. Things like chocolate, worrying or material objects I want but don’t need, like a cookie jar.

What happens in the mind between thinking about  a peanut buster parfait or the purchase of a material object, be it a cookie jar or a pair of new shoes, and the having of it? What happens when you choose to just stay in that uncomfortable twitchy in-between territory and breathe?

This is the foundation of meditation. This is the purpose it serves.

Most Buddhist teachings focus a lot on this middle ground. This place that is so rich and fertile with possibility every time you find yourself in it.

To begin with, most people run through so fast they don’t even realize this incredible space inside them exists. The idea comes to have a snack and you get up and have one. Done. From craving to grasping in fifteen seconds or less. At no point is there a pause. A meditation, if you will.

The first time you slow down enough to find yourself in this strange in-between space and recognize it as such, your world opens up just a little bit wider than it was before and nothing will ever be quite the same again. Your numb-out vices may remain, but now you know there is another space you could choose to hang out in instead. Suddenly you have options.

To begin with the in-between place feels like a torture chamber. Why not have the thing you crave? It’s right there. What’s the harm? Just take it already.

It’s only when the craving and the grasping itself becomes its own form of torture that you start to pause in the between space. You’re so stressed out, so exhausted, so unhappy and nothing is helping, so before you grasp, you think, I’m just going to hang out here for a while. You set down the bag of chips, the bottle of wine, the vial of drugs or the credit card. Or maybe you’re addicted to  ego, to worrying, to anger or to a judgmental mind. Whatever it is, you just let go. It feels really, really, scary. But it also feels really, really, good. You realize this is what freedom feels like.

Pair this with some quality tools like meditation, yoga, creative pursuits or perhaps recovery meetings or any spiritual practice or teachings that make sense to you and you will find you can hang out in this space for longer and longer periods of time. It’s like training for a marathon, but instead it’s mind training.

I stumbled across a CD by Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun, about ten years ago. Her gentle, often humourous, compassionate teachings launched me on a path of trying to learn more about this in-between open space. I’ve been moving along on my spiritual journey at a blistering snail pace ever since.

Titled “Don’t Bite The Hook; Finding Freedom From Anger, Resentment and Other Destructive Emotions” this CD quickly became a mainstay in my vehicle. In fact, the original set had to be replaced because I wore the first one out. And then I wore that one out as well. Today, I have a digital version on iTunes that I listen to. I have listened to her teachings so often I can quote bits and pieces by heart and yet, every time I hear them I learn something new.

This week I learned just because I have space on my counter for a cookie jar, doesn’t mean I need to put one there. I can just allow the space-and the memories-to be.


If You Don’t Get What You Want You’re Winning. I Think.

A night of freezing rain has kept the tires parked in the driveway and the cookie jar safely on its shelf in the shop.

And maybe a good thing it is too.

I did a bit of peeking and poking about on eBay and Etsy and discovered the cookie jar of my childhood was made by Bartlett-Collins.

The company started way back in 1914; Bartlett was an Oklahoma oil man, while Collins is cited as being an East Coast glass man. I suppose Bartlett brought the business sense and the cash to the equation, while Colllins was the one that blew the glassware into creation.

They made an assortment of glassware ranging from kitchen lamps to stemware to cookie jars.

All kinds of cookie jars.

I came across an identical jar to the one we had, only in turquoise.


And then I found one in red…


And another in yellow…


You can see where this is heading, right?

To make matters worse, these days homes have cupboards that fit tight to the ceiling. Not ours. We have old-fashioned solid oak cupboards with a generous space between where the top stops and the ceiling starts. The sort of cupboards that would have HGTV bringing in sledge hammers for demo day. OR the sort of vintage cupboards perfectly suited for fitting many, many, vintage cookie jars on display along its top. It could go either way.

With all the money saved by keeping the cupboards, just think of how many cookie jars one could buy!

Ack! What’s happening to me?

This is how I suspect all collecting starts. One small unnecessary item tugs at the heart. A single innocent purchase that serves as the thin edge of the wedge. Before you know it the floodgates are pried open and one morning you stumble out to the kitchen to make coffee and realize cookie jars have taken over your life.

I don’t know if that’s a bad thing or not.

I love watching American Pickers on TV, but not just because of the bargains and finds that Mike and Frank pick up along the way. I love watching it for the collectors they meet. It fascinates me why these people collect the things they do and how that one coveted group of items can shape their entire life.

I suspect many start because of a childhood memory, like me with my cookie jar. Or it is an offshoot of a personal profession or hobby. Woodworkers collecting antique hand tools, electricians collecting glass insulators, doctors collecting old medical paraphernalia.

Once it gains a toehold, our hunter gatherer instincts kick in. It becomes less about the item itself and more about the thrill of the hunt. It’s no longer about living in the past, but a reason to get up in the future.

I remember hearing a person telling about how he collected a particular line of lenses and filters for a certain vintage camera. He spent decades stopping at every thrift shop, every antique store, every flea market, slowly adding to his collection. Finally, there was just one lens left and his collection would be complete.

One afternoon he and his wife stopped in at an antique shop, and there it was. The last lens. His wife couldn’t believe her husband’s good luck. She smiled and placed a hand over her heart, as he slowly picked it up off the shelf. She stopped smiling when he just as slowly, just as deliberately, set it back down and left the shop.

They got back in the car in silence. As the car swung onto the highway leaving the shop and the lens in its rear view mirror, she said, “I don’t understand. You’ve been looking for that lens for over 20 years. Why didn’t you buy it?”

It took him a few miles before he could find the words to answer.

“I don’t know why I didn’t buy it. I think I just…I just wanted to want it for a little bit longer,” he finally said.

I think this means you’re probably doing better at life than you might think. if you get everything you want, you might find out what you really wanted was the wanting. If you don’t get everything you want, maybe you’re really winning.

Maybe this means we should all be striving for just one good healthy slice and not the whole pie.

Maybe this explains why we get so much joy from giving and sharing, but get a bit crazy in the head when we get too much.

So does that mean I am leaving the cookie jar on the store shelf?

I don’t know. But maybe.

The Cookie Jar

I wandered into a local shop that sells new and vintage items. It’s one of those places with jars of buttons, tins of chalk paint, beaded clothing, jewellery, handbags and antiques, artfully arranged in such a way, you find yourself moving along as if someone slathered honey on the bottom of your shoes. You move through the aisles in a dreamy, sweet, slow shuffle until a sticky memory stops you in your tracks altogether.

Or at least, that is what happened to me. I reached the end of an aisle, looked up and my heart stopped. There, in mint condition, sat the cookie jar from my childhood.

Well, not the exact jar itself, but one just like it.

I was so still, so transfixed, for so long, that I caught the attention of a salesperson who came over to ask if I needed help. I almost started to point at the jar and tell her we had one just like it, but I knew if I started I wouldn’t be able to stop and it would fast become a case of over sharing awkwardness, so I just shook my head and smiled, not trusting myself to speak.

I didn’t tell her how I had grown up on a farm some fifty miles southwest of her shop where an exact replica of the jar once sat on the counter in a sun-filled country kitchen.

I didn’t explain how difficult it was to lift the glass lid to sneak out a cookie without being heard.

I didn’t tell her that my Mom used to make peanut butter cookies which she then crisscrossed with a fork so it left a kind of grid pattern on the face. A pattern that today’s kids would call a hashtag, I suppose. She also made unbaked coconut cookies and my father’s favourite, boiled raisin.

I remember taking cookies out of the jar and placing them into a Tupperware container to go with the lunch our mother was packing for our father. During seeding and harvest there was no time for Dad to stop and drive in from the fields for lunch, so lunch went to Dad. By the time I was ten, like my sisters before me, I was allowed to drive Dad’s lunch out to the field in our truck, my feet barely reaching the peddles.

At Christmas, Mom filled the cookie jar with shortbread and divinity fudge, along with sugar cookies that my sisters and I iced with green and red icing and too many sprinkles.

Both my parents passed away in this last year.

It has always struck me as sad and not a little unfair, that the objects people touch can survive for so long, while the lives of the people themselves are so fleeting and fragile.

Looking at the jar, I doubted my mother would have chosen it for herself. The gold leaf and boldly painted fruit wasn’t her taste at all. She likely received hers as a wedding gift back in the fifties and probably wasn’t sorry when she was finally able to afford a more muted replacement.

A part of me shared my mother’s taste-or distaste in this case. Add to that the fact I rarely bake cookies and hate clutter on my kitchen counter and it should have been easy to walk away.

But of course, it was much more than a possibly tacky cookie jar. It was the jar that had sat as a cheerful background prop to my entire childhood. I knew if I was honest with myself, I would understand that I didn’t want the jar back, I wanted my childhood back.

I wanted our parents back.

And so, knowing the futility of it all, I resisted the urge to reach up, grab the jar off the shelf and hug it to my chest all the way up to the cash register. Instead I took out my phone and snapped a picture, telling myself that was just as good.

Except maybe it isn’t.

Yesterday was Saturday.

Today is Sunday, the shop is closed, but here I am, unable to get the cookie jar out of my head. Still wanting something tangible to remind me of a life that was.

I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but I strongly suspect it will be this…


Christmas is coming, after all, and someone needs to make cookies. And then that someone is going to need a place to put them. And if I rarely make cookies in the months that follow, well, I can still let the afternoon sun glint off the gold leaf and cheerfully painted blobs for the rest of the life I am given.

The jar may not always hold cookies, but it will always hold memories and maybe that’s worth making room on the counter for.


I’m a Christmas Tree Genius! Than Again, Maybe Not.

This morning I realized the house we bought in April and have been madly in love with ever since, was, in fact, a terrible mistake.

Simply put, there is no room for the Christmas tree.

Back in April all I could think of was the garden. Where the Christmas tree would go was the furthest thing from my mind.

But now, standing in the living room in late November, with the partially assembled tree swelling up like an inflatable elephant in a mouse house, it was clear there was only one viable solution.

Put the house back on the market and find another place to live. Preferably within a week, so as not to lose too much decorating time.

And breathe.

I sat down to consider other options, trying to ignore the fact that when I pulled the leg rest out on the couch, my toes were in the tree.

There was only one spot the tree could go and it simply didn’t fit.

I then landed on a second solution.

We would close in the deck, knock out the wall of the living room and voila! There would now be space for the tree in all its glory.

Again, we would have to build this new addition within a week so as not to slow down my decorating schedule.

If only the tree were half as wide, it would have fit perfectly.

And then I had a third idea, only this time it was a really good one.

I would simply leave off the branches on one half of the tree and smoosh it against the wall.

Not only did this solution work, it looks fabulous. You would never guess the entire tree wasn’t there. Only the bottom four rows needed to be halved. Once I got to the top I was able to fit the branches all the way around. This configuration also made the tree far easier to string the lights and garland on.

I figured I had landed on a solution of genius proportions. Well, maybe not genius exactly, but moderately inventive and game changing.

A quick google proved otherwise. Turns out “my” idea has been done plenty of times before. What is that old saying? Necessity is the mother of all inventions. In fact, you can even buy trees already halved.

While I’m a little disappointed my idea wasn’t unique, I am beyond relieved that we don’t have to move or build an addition. So is Darcy.




Whose Grousing Now?

I am a bit OCD with my bird feeding. Every feeder gets a measured cupful as this seems to be just the right amount. Any less and the birds are hanging around looking hungry, any more and seed gets scattered EVERYWHERE and this drives me to distraction.

It’s not just an aesthetics thing, though it is partly that. I worry about attracting mice, or encouraging birds to spend time on the deck where they might fall prey to the neighbourhood cats that prowl through from time to time.

Darcy accuses me of simply being stingy with the feed. On his days off he fills the feeders to the brim and seeds fly EVERYWHERE.

This morning I looked out at the sunflower seeds all over the deck from Sunday’s exuberant feeding, with much irritation, until I saw this…

A prairie chicken!  The big bird was happily pecking up all the scattered seed like a barnyard hen. Whose grousing now, right?

I am sure the bird is more than capable of perching in one of the large feeders, but somehow he looked far more at ease pecking up seed off the deck.

There will be no stopping Darcy now.