THE WINTER OF SNOW Another year begins-but the snow never ends. I am sure this is the most snow we have had in any winter in my memory. As is the lament of everyone in this part of the country, “There’s nowhere to pile any more.” People who bought snowmobiles within the past few years will finally know why they did it. There is no such thing as setting off for a nice walk in the woods. Any trail not regularly travelled-or snowplowed-will leave you above your knees in snow. It must be hard on the wild animals to find food or just to travel through the belly-deep white stuff. It has been cold, too, with very few Chinooks to shrink the snow banks. Ah well, as the saying goes, “If winter comes can spring be far behind?” In a word, “Yes.”
It’s here. The first snow of winter. The forecast threatened it a few times earlier this month but always we escaped. I thought we had escaped this time, too, when I woke at six and saw only rain. I did a few household chores and when I went into the kitchen to make coffee I glanced out the window toward the yard light. What? How could it be snowing now when it missed its overnight opportunity? But, it was, and it continued for most of the day, accumulating perhaps four inches. That was yesterday. Today has been sunshine and the look of Christmas on the snowy spruce trees. Cold enough that most of the snow stayed, but we have no room to complain. It has been a wonderful fall with plenty of opportunities to store away the hay, put the garden to bed, and fill the woodsheds. I think that this spring, summer, and fall have given us one of our longest snow-free periods in recent times. We missed having our usual big May snowstorm this year and we were also spared a September snow. Parts of the Dakotas and adjoining states had such a devastating blizzard in late September or early October that their cattle, not yet in their winter hair coats, perished in the tens of thousands. Through all that our cattle grazed contentedly in warm sunshine on plentiful still-green grass. True, we can have our weather disasters too, but this is great country and I wouldn’t trade it-even if there is snow on the ground today.
It’s the first of October. Summer is over. Oh, there will be summer-like days with hot sun and warm breezes but that will not be summer. We are into fall and, like it or not, the seasons move forward, not back. We have had a great September. There have been ample opportunities to batten down the hatches for the coming of winter. The haying was finished in August. The bales are safe in the elk-proof corrals. The woodsheds are almost full (oh, the aching muscles from stacking it all!) The garden is harvested. The last of the tomatoes from the pots against the south side of the house were finally picked green and the plants surrendered to the inevitable frost. Some of the petunias bravely bloom on but they are on their way out. A truly killing frost will almost be a mercy now as I can’t quite destroy the poor stragglers while there is an ounce of life left. As always, the coming of fall makes me a little sad. Our winters are so long compared to our summers. Once the grass and leaves finally give up their green we will see no more of it till late April, at best. Still, this is no time to lament as many of the poplars are entering October still fully dressed in green while most years the leaves depart with September’s end. Although I mourn the passing of summer, all is not lost. There is a special comfort that comes with wood fires and long evenings with good books. This is the time for the bears-and for us-to den up and rest a little before the demands of another busy spring. Another season. New challenges. Old comforts remembered and renewed.
Two of my life’s pursuits have been writing and teaching. Both can, at times, leave you wondering if any of the “gems” you spew forth actually land on fertile ground. This past week I have been rewarded with two separate reassurances that, indeed, sometimes they actually do. While I was at my table at The Bergen Farmers’ Market selling books and pie-yes, I agree, it’s a weird combination. Think of it as food for the soul and the body. Two young men came up, brothers, whom I had taught in the ’70s and ’80s. I had fond memories of having them in my class and they had good memories of having been there. The one who had been in my homeroom remembered that we had read The Outsiders in class and then added, “We did a lot of reading that year.” Yes! Yes! Yes! There is nothing an English teacher loves more than hearing that. Thank you, Darcy and Troy! A couple of days later I received an email from a girl (woman) whose class I had visited as an author 27 years ago. She remembered the writing exercise I had done with them and said that afterward she and her best friend competed to use the best technique to “hook” a reader at the beginning of a story. She also wore Cowboys Don’t Cry to tatters. What a gallant death for a book! Thank you, too, Heidi! If anyone reading this has a great memory of someone who inspired you years ago-or not so many years ago-tell them. It is a wonderful gift to receive.
It is the season for the war planes, the velvety-scarlet or electric-blue gossamer-winged machines of airborne destruction. They swoop through the air, sometimes clicking dangerously, other times silent and deadly. The good news is that this powerful air force is on our side. It is made up of mosquito-hungry dragonflies and they take their work seriously. I have never actually seen one ingesting its prey and often wonder if they swallow the mosquitoes whole or tear them apart with mighty jaws. Either way, little time is lost before the hunt seamlessly resumes. I remember being scared of the dragonflies as a child. My great aunt called them devil’s darning needles and the legend was that they would sew you up. I didn’t actually believe that but the approach of this huge, noisily-clicking insect was still scary. With jaws like that, wouldn’t they bite? Now, I doubt that they bite and I am honored if one of these flying works of art should deign to light upon me for a moment and afford me a close-up view of its intense colors and masterfully-engineered design. To watch a group of them flying, silver-lit against the evening sun is a special treat. Fly on, darning needles!
Lots of rain again last night. This morning’s sunshine glitters on every wet leaf and petal. The air is so clean you could bathe in it. It is the height of the flowering season. Perennial lilies, delphinium, catmint, day lilies, bellflower, yarrow, and roses are all blending their colors in a beautiful mosaic. In their pots the annual petunias, snapdragons, cosmos, and phlox crowd each other for space to show off. Having a big country yard is hard work and it will never be perfect like the little city ones but I will put up with a little grass in the flower beds. It is still paradise out there!
Here in Bergen we have been so lucky-or blessed-whichever way you want to see it. The floods of southern Alberta did not come, although plenty of rain definitely did. The TV weather rated Sundre’s accumulation during the flood period as somewhere over 100mms. Since then, we’ve had hot humid weather, warm humid weather, and wet weather, a combination guaranteed to keep my hair permanently bedraggled. But the plants don’t mind the humidity. The grass practically jumps back to replace each mouthful chomped down by the cows. Less conveniently, my lawn grass does the same for each swipe of the mower across it. I’ve been taking the quad out before 7 each morning to check the cows pasturing a half mile away. What a beautiful world at that time on a summer morning. It could be the dawn of time-except for the lack of dinosaurs-with the mist rising off the perfect, untouched greenness that surrounds me. Some days, if I go a little later, I stop at a swampy place for the dogs to drink and lie in the water to cool off. Today, as I waited for them to finish their ablutions the scent of crushed mint drifted up from the plants along the water’s edge, adding a little extra atmosphere to the freshness of the morning. I wish Apache had involved herself more thoroughly with the scent of mint. She’s been rolling on her rotten old cow bone and, to put it mildly, she STINKS. This fact was brought home (literally) to me yesterday when, during a violent thunderstorm, I let the terrified dogs in the house. “Doggedly” Apache followed me from room to room for comfort. WHEW!