“Farmer planting a tree” from the Mosaiculture Exhibit at Jardins Botaniques de Montréal,
Crazy how hard it is to imagine another season when you’re in the middle of this one. As you’re walking down a snowy, slippery sidewalk, imagine you’re in your sandals and shorts on a hot day. Or imagine yourself tending your garden in a sun hat and shades. It’s difficult, but barely possible if you concentrate hard enough. It’s like you’re remembering a time far in the past, or a place you once visited on vacation; yet, you’re imagining your own backyard. The birds are singing, there’s a butterfly fluttering in the breeze and landing gently once in a while on a luscious red poppy in full bloom. The air has that heavy, humid quality of mid-July, and your underarms and back of your knees are soaked with sweat as you kneel in the grass, digging for weeds. The dirt on your gardening gloves makes it awkward to push the sunglasses back up on the bridge of your nose without getting your face dirty. The cicadas are making that weird buzzing noise, that freaked you out a bit as a kid. Every once in awhile you sit back on your heels to admire the result of your work, the tidy flower beds, the pile of weeds you’ve put to one side; or you watch the ants going about their business, building an anthill under the variegated ornamental grass plant. You make a mental note to read up on the best way to get rid of them.
Oh, wait, nope, it’s the beginning of January and the snow is several feet deep on the lawn of your backyard. The ants are dead or hibernating, and the only birds that are still around, hungrily hitting the birdfeeder (and by the way, making a huge mess as they crack open the sunflower seeds) are the common sparrow, the occasional group of chickadees, or, on a banner day, a couple of cardinals to brighten up the barren branches of the lilac tree. The only time you’re in the garden is when you want to dump the compost. You have to trudge through the snow to the corner of the yard, push the pile of snow off the top of the compost bin, remove the lid- if it’s not frozen shut- to empty the disgusting bin of the week’s veggie peelings. Close lid, trudge back. Doing the most minor chore outside is just harder and more tedious in winter. On the up side, the air is crisp and clear and the sky never seems to get this blue on the hot days of summer. Winter days like this are exhilarating. They make you want to take a long brisk walk, grateful for your long johns, sweater, hat, coat, hand-knitted scarf and warm boots. Only thing is, after about 15 minutes you start to sweat like crazy and you have to loosen your scarf, take off your hat and unbutton your coat.
Maybe summer’s too much of a leap from a day like this. Spring is practically around the corner, let’s try that. Imagine the spring weather is finally here, when the air is sweet and warm, the snow is melting in a huge rush towards the sewers; you have to wear your rubber boots to enjoy going anywhere. Even the smell of dog poop can’t lessen the thrill that winter is almost over. Trading your winter coat in for a spring jacket is the most exciting wardrobe change you’ve made in forever. Your Maltese comes out and looks disgustedly at the puddles, carefully tip-toeing around them; when approaching a particularly huge one where the shore looks ever so far away he stops and looks up at you as if to say, “what are you going to do about this?”. You pick him up and deposit him on the opposite side of the Atlantic and he carries on, but soon strains to return home. The muck is too much for him and a bath will be in order.
Back to reality, still more than a month before the glorious, messy day described above. Today, it seems ages since we had a “mini-chinook”, or what is more prosaically described by weathermen as “an unusual warming trend”. Here in Montreal, the freeze-thaw cycle is usually one of the challenging aspects of our winters. If it were a real chinook, like in Calgary, where it apparently spikes up to 20C overnight, that would be amazing, but here it just gets a few degrees above zero and creates great pools of mucky snow; add some freezing rain to the trees and, voila, you’ve got the recipe for the 1998 Ice Storm. Sloppy conditions can be awful, but I yearn for them this year. I don’t think we’ve hit the zero mark since December.
I love living in Montreal, where the seasons are very distinct. They don’t come around when the calendar says they should, and winter lasts way too long, but they anchor you to the present and that’s supposed to be a good thing, right? That’s today’s mantra? Live in the now, be mindful of the present moment. I’m okay with that, but like everything else, there’s a limit. Those of us who have chosen to live in this tough climate need the occasional escape our imaginations can give us.
So, let’s allow ourselves another brief escape. It’s autumn and the leaves are turning all the colours of the warm spectrum. The weather is beautiful some days, with lots of rain in between. Revel in the beauty, because it’s disappearing soon. You’ve only just decided it’s time to put on the jacket you reserve for the all-too-brief days like this before it’s back to the tedious winter gear. There’s always a bright side; you can keep a favourite jacket for years since you only get to wear it for about three weeks in spring and another two in the fall.
The first day that you feel a change in the air sends a thrill through you. The heat has been unbearable, so the cool air is refreshing and somehow you can ignore the portent of winter in the enjoyment of the here and now. The only problem is the grey sky and the frequent rain and the approach of November, nobody’s favourite month. But for now, it’s still September and the temperature is what I guess it is all year in Vancouver: 22C. If I love this temperature so much, why don’t I live where it would be provided more often? That’s the age-old question, and of course the answer is complicated.
I probably could have settled down in some temperate location years ago if I really hated winter. The bottom line is, I guess I don’t hate it so much (all the time). It’s part of the whole package, the great experience of being Canadian, and certainly the experience of being a Montrealer. I think of winter as the default season here. It’s the rest of the year that’s an anomaly. The other seasons are just a break from winter and hardly seem real. Like the wise man said, ‘Mon pays, ce n’est pas un pays, c’est l’hiver”. Why try to fight it?
Now there’s a cardinal eating at my bird feeder and I’m enjoying sitting in my dining room, looking out onto the frozen world that he’s brightening up. I don’t have to put on my outside clothes for hours yet. That’s for future me to worry about.
Enjoy a taste of the Tchaikovsky program we’ll be playing this week at the OSM. Here’s his violin concerto played by Itzhak Perlman with the Philadelphia Orchestra.