*A brief note of explanation to avoid confusion – This passage was written in mid December. Life being what it is (busy/unpredictable) I wasn’t able to post it until now.
It’s night and the house shudders in the wind. Today’s snow has turned to sleet. Freezing rain is a burst of pellet spray against the windows. Something heavy thuds down outside. There’s a hum before the furnace kicks in with a comforting rumble but cold air still finds a way to creep in through the lath and plaster walls. For the first time this year I hear a plow pass by out on the highway. I miss November.
Normally by this time I’ve seen enough snow to last me the season. This year there’s barely been a dusting (until today). December’s brought a lot of rain mostly. It was a brief reprieve before the inevitability of a Canadian winter. The gravel drag of the plow blade as it meets pavement can’t be denied. I am nostalgic for November.
I don’t remember such a November. Maybe it seems singular in that every warm beautiful day stood in startling contrast to the rain and sleet and snow of Novembers past. Along the lakeshore the wind that ushers in the end of autumn is stinging, bitter with the winter to come. The wind that came this November was silken and warm. It was still strong but smelled of clean earth and sunshine instead of the damp and rot of a dying season. What should have been skies of pale tones of cornflower or dead slate gray were draped in summer shades of magnesium blue. The light was such that the early sunsets of short autumn days came as a surprise. Rather than frost-bitten brown, the fields and lawns wore green velvet expanses of fallow, moss, grass, and winter wheat.
The night sky was the most remarkable thing. On clear nights, a low ceiling of stars blazed over head so bright I swear you’d think twice before reaching out your hand for fear it could burn in that cold fire. The moon, in part, and in whole, was like no other moon. Early in the evening it rose as a titan figure gigantic on the horizon. Often crowned in a halo, at its zenith the light of even a sliver was bright enough to give pause. One night in particular, at its rising, the moon was a Cheshire grin of golden caramel scooped out of black velvet skin. By midnight the crescent above was hard white, so brilliant that the moon was outlined in a diamond silhouette. That night I dreamt I lay sleeping within a curved arm of golden skin sheened in silver light. I sheltered in that languid embrace until the break of day. When I awoke I swore a scent lingered in the linen, the crisp smell of fallen leaves and something else indefinable.
It’s -12°C right now (that’s about 10 °F for you Fahrenheit users). I think the coldest it’s been here this winter has been – 22°C. The drifts of snow are so high in my backyard that the dogs are having trouble finding spots to comfortably do their business. The cats act as if it’s a personal insult every time the kitchen door opens and a blast of winter air rushes in. It’s cold outside and I have ladybugs in my kitchen.
When the crop rotation behind my house is beans, come harvest time, we’re inundated with ladybugs. They cover the back of the house and creep in through cracks. You have to give the back door a good shake before you open it all the way or ladybugs will drop off the screen right onto you like nasty little assassins (despite the “lady” in the name they certainly aren’t ladylike – they bite). Because they range in colour from light brown to red, I accidentally ate one once thinking it was an un-popped kernel of popping corn. It wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever eaten but it was pretty close.
Two weeks ago a big fat fly flew into my head. It ricocheted off and landed on the floor all winter sleepy and easy to catch. A couple of days later I watched one of the dogs lick a spider off the wall. It wasn’t even a regular house spider but one of those stilt legged monstrosities that lunge along like the alien machines in a H.G. Wells novel. The other night I was lying in bed and I thought I heard a mosquito. Maybe I was dreaming, or it could have been a delayed concussion from that fly whacking me in the head. On reflection it couldn’t have been a mosquito. It could have been the hum of a dying light bulb or a fly induced ringing of the ears. The alternative would be to have to wonder about the why/ how of a mosquito in my house – in FEBRUARY – in ONTARIO – CANADA. And I’m not willing to do that.
Fall is long past. It’s February which is the time of year that all the creepy crawlies and antennaed thing-a-ma-bobs should be hunkered down into whatever crevice they’ve opted for to avoid the deadly grip of the season. Having bugs around in winter is definitely something I could do without (especially the ladybugs). If I had my way the fact that it’s cold enough to freeze our pond outside should mean it is cold enough to keep the bugs down and out. Here’s the thing- Summer and fall it is warm so you put up with the bugs. Winter you put up with the cold so you shouldn’t have to deal with the bugs. It makes perfect sense to me. Now if I could just get the laws of nature to fall in line-that would be great.
Step 1: Wait until less than a week before Christmas to purchase your Christmas tree.
Step 2: Decide it’s a good idea to purchase your tree in the after dinner hours of a moonless December evening.
Step 3: Head out to the farm you usually buy your tree from to find the farm yard dark. Uncertain as to what to do, wait because you want a tree and this is where you usually get one but it looks like they’re done for the season. After what seems like an uncomfortable amount of time someone will come out of the house.
Step 4: Turn down the farmer’s generous offer to let you head back into the snow covered bush and cut down your own tree.
Step 5: Pick one of the four pre-cut trees that you only just noticed as it is extremely dark in the yard. Pay for the tree. Load it into the van and head for home
Step 6: Once home unload the tree and leave it in the backyard where it will stay for the next day and a half even though you were certain it was absolutely necessary to get it that very evening. Notice the farmer short-changed you a dollar. Well it’s dark, that sort of thing happens, and it is Christmas…so ho ho ho. You will have gotten your tree though and success deserves a glass of wine. Go ahead and indulge.
Intermission- It will rain all the next day and night. Friday morning the winter wonderland will be a sodden muddy mess and it will be very apparent that the “snow drift” in your front yard was just a light cover of snow over top of a huge pile of leaves you never finished raking because someone broke the good rake.
Step 7: Get your first look at the tree in the light and notice the elbow bend in the trunk that you missed when you bought it in the dark. Trim the stump but not too much because you paid for a big tree and dammit you’re going to have a big tree. Make sure you lay lots of plastic sheeting on the floor as it is hardwood and you don’t want that to get wet while the tree drips dry. Drag your sodden tree round the front of the house, in through the front door (pine needles, pine needles everywhere!), and spend a fair amount of time trying to anchor it straight in the tree stand. Realize this tree was just born crooked, you paid for it, and you’re going to have to live with it. It will look okay if you only view it from the front. Anyway it’s the holidays and there’s no need to get in a flap about little things.
Step 8: Shoo the cat away from the tree. Tidy up a bit. Pull the cat out of the tree. Get ready to go out to dinner and the theater with family and friends. You can decorate the tree when you get home. Shoo the cat away from the tree. Close the door to the living room. The cat will not be pleased.
Step 9: Head out for the evening. Make sure the person you’re driving into town with hates city traffic and, despite knowing it is the exact hour of the Friday evening rush hour and that Christmas is less than a week away, will become so incensed they won’t be able to enjoy the restaurant and then later, exhausted, will sleep through the first half of the play. Your other friends will stay awake so you will have people to talk to. Decide that a glass of wine during dinner might be nice. Hell, why not make it two? You should probably super-size those because it is Christmas after all.
Step 10: Return home and check on the tree. Shoo the cat away from the tree. Notice most of the water in the tree stand is gone. Put more water into the bottom. Pull the cat out of the tree. Pour a glass of wine. Check the water level and THEN notice the water leaking from a crack in the bottom of the stand onto your hardwood floor. Grab the shop vac. Turn it on. Don’t panic when it doesn’t work. Grab some towels and sop up the water. Drag the tree outside. Google shop vac trouble shooting. Fix the shop vac despite its horrible design weaknesses. Spend an hour drying your floor with your hairdryer hoping it won’t stain. It will. Drink another two glasses of wine. Go to bed.
Step 11: The next day after your breakfast meeting head to the hardware store where a clerk will convince a dubious you that their puny tree stand will indeed hold your 8 ½ foot tree. Go home.
Step 12: Realize the clerk lied to you. Hate the clerk and wonder if it’s okay to have a glass of wine even though you haven’t had lunch yet.
Step 13: Plop a bucket into the old cracked tree stand, drill holes into the bucket, and run the tree screws through it. Take your tree, which is now 6 feet tall because you so wanted the new stand to work, and put it in the old stand. Voila it’s up. Decorate your tree. Make sure you don’t put a single solitary breakable ornament on it…shoo the cat away from the tree…no tinsel either.
Step 14: Shoo the cat away from the tree. Get a spray bottle to shoo the cat away from the tree. At one point notice the tree has fallen over. Spend a half hour trying to get your already decorated tree to stay upright in the broken stand until you admit it’s just not going to work. Grab some picture wire and string it from the picture rail to your tree. Your tree will be standing upright again. Who knows for how long but yea-a-h! Have a glass of wine.
Step 15: Leave the spray bottle on the ground in front of the tree as a warning to trespassing cats. Have another glass of wine and consider whether or not it’s time to start on the hard liquor.
The music for today’s post is Neil Young’s Comes a Time. When taken in the proper light the lyrics strike me as particularly appropriate for this post.
“Through the sharp air a flaky torrent flies, Mocks the slow sight, and hides the gloomy skies; The fleecy clouds their chilly bosoms bare, And shed their substance on the floating air.”
*This post was originally hosted on another blogging platform (MSN Space to MSN Live and finally WordPress). When the content was transferred the media files were lost. I’ve chosen to add new photos rather than delete the post. I try to match any updated content to previously posted comments. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t so the comments can seem to be out of context but I don’t want to delete any of them as they are a part of my blogging history.
The scale has tipped and the night slides into the hours that close on dawn. Unforgiving, the caustic breath of glacial air is an acid bite that wounds the throat and burns the lungs. The silence of a sleeping world is pierced by the sharp break of crusted snow underfoot. The protest of fractured crystal banks from the wall of pines and races back through the thin cold air. The winter cirrus, a haze of hexagonal gauze, surrounds the moon and crowns her with a rainbow halo. That luminous pearl, no coy satellite among her diamond courtiers, blazes out from under the veil of her father’s shadow while reflected shades of sky wash the snowy fields in lapis waves.
The window frame centers the wall, a bas relief of cream against the waves of burnt sienna. Six feet high and three feet wide the window is corniced and crowned by the benevolent gaze of beveled bulls eye rosettes.
The muntin bisects the window into north and south. Each pole is divided by nine, graphing eighteen adjacent worlds each distinct yet sequential.
The soft fog of curtain sketches the surface in cabochons and brilliants. Within those hollows the concave drops of grey winter light rise up to rim the threaded borders. Minuscule mirrors reflect and magnify the morning composition.
Angels dancing on the head of a pin, each lavender puddle is a universe. Archimedes’ constant reflects from the pattern scattering in parallel arcs of fixed circumference. Echoes falling back, whorls of frozen meringue float down to cover the dark green of cedar bows.