Spring refuses to arrive this year. Ask the animals. Here is my Update. I am thrilled to announce that I am an official member of the Wedding Planners Institute of Canada WPICC. Hence I am a certified Wedding Planner.
After officiating at weddings and considering my event planning and working as a Wedding caterer, it felt like a perfect fit. I am planning to focus on Weddings in the Simcoe –Muskoka area with an emphasis on intimate weddings with silver, crystal and linen. A genuine throwback to the days when those detailed dining experiences matter. I am planning to hold such weddings here on Wynyates Estate. I will keep you posted about this exciting new venue.
This winter has been a long one to endure and even the friendly chipmunk decided to return to its safe haven after emerging earlier from its den. The heavy snow and frigid temperatures forced it back to a warm dry spot filled with seeds that it had gathered from all around the property. The Toms don’t care about the snow or the cold, they are in fine form and happily engaged in displays of their finery. They are not one bit deterred by the apparent indifference of the females. There is a violent aspect to this annual ritual, each morning I can hear the intense fighting between the competing males, Toms, who work with a wing man to corral the females. Armed with razor sharp spurs they jump and race about not hesitating to grab an opponent with its bill and drag it about in an attempt to injure and knock off the competition. The robins that arrived just in time for 6 inches of snow, struggled to find food as the sumac was in short supply this winter. That may be due to the drought we experienced last summer. The turkey vultures are struggling to stay in flight and the killdeers are peenting in the sky. Yesterday I heard the distant grating sound of migrating Sandhills. I imagine they are heading to Manitoulin, where I see them each time I visit. Some of the snowdrops courageously pushed up under the spirea bush but remained closed tight as there was no sun to entice the blooms. The other snow drops remain buried beneath a foot of dirty snow that is starting to look like tiramisu. The driveway is mucky and boots are required, I suppose that is some improvement on the heavy work of snow shoes. My opinion is that I prefer the pristine white of snow, littered with the tracks of furtive animals to the sticky, messy mud that demands so much extra diligence and housework. As I am writing this, I see a male downy woodpecker just outside my window aggressively tapping into the birch tree for a meal.
As the snow dissolves and retreats, the ravages of winters slowly reveal themselves. I am reminded of the consequences of all the fall clean up that I got too lazy to do; cracked and shattered ceramic planters, the death of the hydrangea and rhododendrons that I bought canvas covers for but never took the time to wrap the tender bushes. The canvas bags sadly sit on my side porch wondering what happened to the task they were destined for. The sun- faded orange lobster shells, that I threw out after my birthday celebration, not so much to feed the hungry winter beasts but as odor control are peeking out and they let out a crunching sigh as I step over them to reach the remains of a planter put out to adorn the farm for my daughter’s wedding last August. I feel a true pang of guilt as I know it didn’t have to end this way, I could have saved that planter for another year. Yet, I have to be nice to myself and admit there comes a time here in the farm when those chores are done, finis! I can do no more and let the earth and land be swallowed up and embraced by endless months of snow. Let the Fates of winter have their way and I will deal with them… later. I tell myself, like the Danes do – embrace winter; Hygge.
Part of my blog is to document the actual weather to use in reflection while looking back over the cycles of the year. This winter only started to grip the land after the New Year, up until then it was cold but there was little white that lingered over the gardens. Once January arrived, she brought the snow, the melt and the inevitable ice that makes the property an excellent skating rink. From right outside my front door, all the way to the faded brown creaking doors of the barn where the racoon kits were eking out an existence. They could not be starving as fresh feces had been dropped down on the work bench much to the chagrin of the man whose office it was purported to be. Let me say here- that too could have been avoided, if he had covered it with a tarp as I suggested.
I try to dig down and unpack that determined intransigence that comes over those who occupy rural land. The forever ongoing battle between beast and man. Why should I have to cover it up he asks, then adds the racoons should know better. No, you should know better, if not, what have you learned about unyielding nature? Zero. This year the animals kept waking up and were easily disturbed by the slightest increase in temperature or the slightest whiff of human food. There are always plenty of food odors filling the air, as a chef and dedicated baker it is my pleasant air pollution. One particularly bitter and windy morning I was taking apart the recycling boxes when I heard and unfamiliar growl and I stared down into the bottom of the blue bin and there was a semi frozen possum. My heart and mind filled with worry as if my fear tank was being flooded- The catastrophizing began … what if? This creature will die for sure. I found a blanket I would never need again and threw into the cold hard plastic box that glares at me and reminds me of all the work I have to do to recycle- a bane and I resented that icy enclave. I fed the shivering possum peanuts and cat food and apples cut into manageable pieces. I then got to ranting about why do these southern animals insist on making their way to an inhospitable terrain that routinely enjoys and endures 15 feet of snow and regular -27 pipe freezing weather? Where is Darwin when you need him? It all makes no sense to me and here I am being forced to handle yet another wild animal in trouble. Let me remind you that there is no such thing as wildlife rescue in this rural place – its kill it or let it die, there is always another one right behind it. Those are not the sensibilities of a city girl who fell in love with the wild at 3 and never looked back. I treasure each life and agonize when I see suffering and the clear truth that Nature has no conscience. I lament when I see the snow dotted with blood spatters and downy feathers or fur that greet me in the morning. I recall finding the remains of my beloved and irreplaceable feral cat that allowed us into her brave and extraordinary life. I am still angry at nature and yet I know that I should not be. I need to blame someone for her tragic end, tragic for her and for me, but all in nature’s grand plan.
The possum was placed in the shelter of the barn and I left it food for a week and then I spotted a possum in the front garden, and considering how common they are not, deduced it was the one I had rescued. I continued to place a smorgasbord of goodies for the omnivore out each night in those few weeks of enduring bitter cold. Today, I ask myself did it survive and will I live to see it once again this summer. Each winter I have had a flying squirrel come and feed at my suet and it almost became tame. One morning I found blood splattered on the lid of my steel seed container and I wondered if that life ended there. I have not seen the flying squirrel in over a month and animals are dedicated to their patterns and this was out of the ordinary for this sweet and shy creature. Due to the periodic warming up, the usually odor free night air was frequently filled with that scent that never leaves. That gift that keeps on giving and giving. Triggered by warm weather they decided to go in search of food and left lovely gifts if none were to be found. Much like the bees that leave the hives in the winter, doomed to a frozen death and leaving a glowing gold halo around their corpse. I want to tell those that I find struggling in the icy temperatures, barely able to move, to go back to where you were safe. They won’t listen, nature never listens, and it doesn’t have to.
I spent much of the winter studying for my Wedding Planners certification and then kept me preoccupied and engaged. Over the many years of extraordinarily long winters I have learned that hobbies and interests are your best friends to help ward off cabin fever. I am an eternal student and when I am learning, I am at my happiest. This side of my character is an excellent fit when the weather here is so unpredictable, the snow ploughs are even less predictable. You have to resign yourself that you have no control over your day and that chances are good that you will be trapped inside as you watch the snow fall incessantly and you have to enjoy the beauty of the cotton balls falling until the grey, cloud –filled skies decide that is enough, for now.
Yesterday I planted the white tulip bulbs in an indoor planter. Those were the bulbs that were meant to go into the ground in the fall. I never got around to it. You need to understand that I was not just being lazy, the animals have eaten three quarters of all the hundreds of bulbs I have planted through the years. I actual witnessed a squirrel dig up one by one, 12 daffodil bulbs five minutes after I had planted them. I started to take pictures on my phone to document where they were. All that is left of that attempt at gardening is the photo. I should delete that. Life on a farm is full of should. I never took direction very well, rather I always enjoyed giving it.
There are always lessons learned with the passing of winter into spring. This year I rediscovered how rewarding it is to capture sunshine and to preserve it on your shelf. Opening up a vibrant jar of red joy made from the luscious sun ripened tomatoes on a grey winter’s day or twisting and plying the reluctant lid from the jar of golden apricot jam; made with just apricots and sugar, is so satisfying. Even grabbing plump purple frozen blueberries plucked from the organic berry farm up the road brings me a feeling of connection with the earth. Sadly, another lesson is that things and people’s lives change and that special blueberry farm that has filled my baking with incredible fruit was put up for sale. Johnson’s vegetable stand, open 365 days a year for decades fell into disrepair and the aging owner shuttered its doors and now it sits like an empty sad ghost, filled with memories, chatter and gossip.
I will miss the shop, kept so proudly by the owner and guarded by the fierce cashier that would not hesitate to accuse me of overstuffing my basket of beans. I recall choosing pumpkins and buying hundreds of tomato plants from the owner as he would prattle on about his heart attack and the failed surgery that he would be asked to undergo a second time. No one had better beans than those he grew; green and yellow and when I asked him for a bushel of each, he took the time to tell me he couldn’t pick them until the rain stopped or the beans would be covered with rust stains and would be unsuitable for canning- I made dilly beans- hundreds of jars and it was one of the most laborious and painstaking canning adventures of my life- second only to making concord grape jelly with the grapes plucked and picked from my vines- a job so difficult I haven’t bothered to do it again in the last few years. No one seems to like grape jelly anymore- I guess no one eats Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches anymore- even my ex-husband forgot how much he loved grape jelly. The things we forget. I suppose we are meant to forget some of them.
Mr. Johnson would tell me stories about how difficult it was for him to secure seasonal workers from Mexico and he would curse all the regulations that made it so time consuming to offer workers a job. He hated the red tape, who could blame him? Rural life is replete with palpable changes, we are deeply connected to the earth and the roots of community. The local newspaper has two writers and a small fistful of locals it tends to celebrate and re- celebrate. The cliché is true, go to the store for some milk and it takes you an hour to get out of the store due to all the folks you meet and are forced to chat with. Talk is small, real small. Pleasantries and weather and car crashes are favourite topics. Another topic is how difficult it is to get a doctor, and then to get a reliable knowledgeable doctor. Some communities have signs stating that Family doctors are needed. I find it very disheartening that I have to struggle for health care services and so many others do as well. Loads of politics in these here hills!
This morning I woke to so much fog I felt as if I were on a ship at sea. Torrential rains pounded the ground and helped to dissolve the determined obstinate snow. I know that the day will soon come when the grass will be verdant and populated with the season’s first feast for the hungry bees; dandelions. Must I mention here that I love flaunting my yellow fields with impunity as I have no neighbours to complain? Lest I complain about their overly aroused rooster, the incessant barking of their dogs or the mass infestation of my property with their chest high poison ivy forests. One more thing, how about the trees that fell and broke my already compromised “weathered or seasoned” wooden fence that once held in animals. Now the fences serve no purpose other than to rot and collapse.
Standing on my porch outside of my bedroom on the second story my eyes fell to the pond and it came to me – Another rather macabre spring tradition is to take stock of what happened in the pond over the cruel and long winter. The approach has changed over the years. I initially inherited 12 plus full blown Koi that were living in an unsustainable set up where the pond was just too shallow to sustain life. I, being new and a fool to the pond game assumed that the previous owners knew what they were doing and had built a proper pond. First spring in all the koi were the floating orange school of dead and bloated. Next year I rounded up as many of the new seasons Fish and donated them to a local pet store and while on the way out as I enquired about their new life, I was taken aback when told they were now feeder fish – fish to be fed unsuspectingly to predators- I froze in despair.
The next few years I worked tirelessly, with the unbridled help of others to gather all the fish and have them over winter in a very expensive tank that required a ridiculous amount of up keep and gross mouth to mouth siphoning to clean the never ending trail of gold fish poop- they have no shame they wear their poop like pashmina scarves. Ultimately I went full circle and have decided to leave the fish to the fates- not to buy more and stock the pond after Blue Herons, Osprey, Gulls and raccoons discovered an easy meal.
Last year as the pond was over grown with water lettuce and hyacinth I didn’t even notice the fish as I could not see past the aquatic plants- bees have a wonderful way of encouraging everything to reproduce – not just flowers but weeds and aquatic plants as well. I could see and hear the frogs all summer. Last spring as I was gazing out of my back window which faced towards the pond and surrounding gardens one of my out building’s which housed the elaborate 100 gallon fish tank and its forever complicated pump and paraphernalia collapsed crushing the tank and everything else into shards of glass and cracked broken pieces of wood that even a puzzle expert could never put back together. I will never forget the sound or sight of witnessing that collapse. There was such a violence and shock and then the dirty inevitability of facing total loss.
Each spring, I approach the pond with at least one net, which hopefully hasn’t had a red squirrel gnaw through the mesh to make a hole gathering bedding for its myriad of homes it makes all over my property and in my buildings. Then I begin the slow and steady task of removing all the grotesquely bloated frog corpses. Leaving them on the stones as an offering to the Raccoon gods in the hope they leave my vegetables alone- so far it has not worked and my faith in the animal gods has quietly diminished.
I am ready to embrace spring in all its glory. As a child, I somehow seemed to believe that you wake up one sunny morning and the trees were all in bloom and the robin chicks would be incessantly begging for food which made e anxious as I knew the neighbour’s cat was waiting its time, counting the moments before the inevitable pounce. One half eaten chick would be left struggling and I faced my first ethical decision about wildlife. All of it happened at once, it was an event. Like Santa. Nowadays, with more time to observe and after years of experience, I understand that spring is a process. Spring appears like layers of paint on a canvas, one returning species of bird at a time, the appearance of one courageous snowdrop or the bud of the dormant magnolia, now impatient after a too-long winter’s forced rest. I enjoy watching and enjoying the process as spring reveals herself to us. Allowing the creatures, the flora and fauna breathe a sigh of relief as the cold and challenge of deep snow slowly melts away. However, as I watch the female turkeys ignore the doting Toms, I can’t blame them at all. Who wants the burden of raising a dozen or more poults and keeping constant guard in the dangerous and hostile world of predators; both animal and human. Spring, late spring is a time of birth, ask Bambi. Twitterpating has been going on now for about a month, I noticed the change in behaviour. Red Tailed hawks were reconnecting and dancing together in the skies in early March. Cardinals began to serenade each other a few weeks ago and the fight for the right to mate is going on all over the gardens.
I am here Spring, practicing enduring patience or patient endurance, now blow me away. The time for blooms, blossoms and bees. It snowed this weekend and on the first day of May it may just snow again. Lots of local flooding and the peepers have been silenced by the cold. Last year there was a similar Spring cold snap and the peepers song was not to be heard again. The snow drops and croci have closed their petals, perhaps for good. Sadly, the website has changed all of its formatting and I am having a difficult time figuring out how to insert photos in specific places. My brain is numb to all the new technology and I feel less interested in learning it than reading a good book or going for a walk around the property. The winter has sapped me and stolen too many hours from me as I spent exorbitant amounts of virtual time rather than real time. Time is our only real currency and our greatest gift. This spring I am determined to give more of it to people I know and love and less to the tech giants.
Happy May to all.