- Frugalista Faves
- Frugalista Bookshelf
- Great Gardens
- My Roots
- Subscribe to the Mailing List
“Freezing rain,” he says, turning to stare out through the pebbled glass with me.
The precipitation hovers between liquid and solid, as if it can’t make up its mind what state to be in. Rain slithers in rapidly lengthening icicles from the slick branches of the trees. The grass has stiffened, bristling like a cat at the sight of a skunk. The leaves of the yucca have an unearthly sheen.
We look at each. We don’t need to speak. We’re both remembering the night we awoke to transformers bursting into blue flame outside the windows of our city house, the explosion of tree limbs breaking and crashing to the ground, crushing cars and the roofs of houses, pulling down wires, tearing up roots. We were at the epi-centre of the Great Ice Storm of 1998, and the damage is still visible in the city: in the leafless winter you can still see the truncated tree crowns that took years to scar their wounds with a furze of green.
We can thank the ice storm for The Leaf. Out here, the power was off for six weeks. Whole woodlots bent their heads to the earth and were cemented there by weeks of snow. We’ve been cutting those U-shaped trees for firewood for a decade and still we come across them, deep in the woods, like giant croquet hoops abandoned after a game. Half the apple trees split down the centre, undone by the weight of water. The devastation was too much: a year later, the owners put the place up for sale.
“How long do you suppose it will go on?” I ask, thinking I should be filling pots with water, locating the candles, the matches, finding the camp stove in the attic while we still have light.
“It’s already turning to snow. Look.”
Glassy needles of something thicker, whiter than rain slant through the air. Not rain, but not snow, either.
“Sleet!” I say, meaning Canadian sleet, the peculiar mix of snow and rain that happens when snow melts as it falls. In the United States, sleet is ice pellets, but here in Canada, sleet is happy confirmation that it is snowing up above, relief is at hand.
All day it snows. Beautiful, blowsy flakes. They pile up on the fence posts and the sagging wire of the chicken yard. They knit tall white touques on the outdoor solar lights. They spread a white quilt over the grass and the gardens.
“Just what I’ve been waiting for!” This has been an odd winter: the long, warm fall has poked into January, with a thoughtful dusting of snow at Christmas, but otherwise, the ground has been bare. The cold will come eventually, I reasoned, and a deep freeze without snow would penetrate deep into the soil. “I don’t have to worry about winter kill now.”
The next morning it is still snowing. Every tree branch is piped with white; every forked twig holds a globed nest of snow. The limbs of the big spruce are weighted with colouring-book dollops.
We are gobsmacked by the beauty. It takes me a minute to realize something is missing.
“Where are the cedars?” I cry.
“Between the ginkgo and the cherry. The tall, thin emerald cedars.”
In this climate, bones matter, especially in a garden. At least half the year, nothing is in bloom, just those shapes to please the eye, remind us of warmer times to come. I planted the trio of slender cedars as a counterpoint to the pale, dancing Shiva branches of the ginkgo and the rich mahogany reach of the ornamental cherry. The space where they should be rising in narrow, green cones is blank.
My eyes sweep the yard in gathering panic. The birches have buried their heads in the snow. The red cedars, grown from seed and just entering their adolescence, have also disappeared. The ball cedars are squashed, as if they’ve been stepped on. The spirea is flattened; the big old viburnum is leaning on a poor little pair of Alberta spruces.
My Beloved and I both grab brooms, pull on our boots and barn coats and stomp into the white paradise, ruining the smooth pelt of the yard in our clod-hopping eagerness to get to the trees.
“You take the birches, I’ll do the cedars,” I call out, turning east while he heads north. My words are swept away in the wind that has come up. Good, I think. The wind will blow away the snow, relieve the burden.
The emerald cedars are split down the middle, the cluster of slender shafts splayed every which way, buried in snow. I release the tips first, brushing and prodding with the broom, shaking my way down the branches of the spindly trunks. I inspect each one as I release it from the snow: nothing seems to be broken. If I can get them upright, they’ll be okay.
Why, oh why didn’t I wrap them this year?
When the snow is shaken off, I beat them with the broom, hoping to dislodge the ice, but it has spread like a fungus, over, under, into the needles like a second skin.
How can they survive, I wonder? How will they breathe? I remember vaguely a story from Minnesota, a woman who was found frozen after her car skidded on the winter ice. She was alone for hours in minus twenty-five degree weather. Her limbs couldn’t be moved, her skin was coated with ice. She survived, I don’t remember how.
I stop shaking the cedars. The ice I’ve managed to work loose litters the snow, flecks of needles and bark embedded like insects in amber. I’ll the kill the trees if I keep this up.
I move tree to tree, brushing off the snow, lifting the flaccid branches, trying to restore their shape. The moment I let go, they fall back onto the snow, as if in despair of ever standing tall again.
My Beloved has better luck with the birches. Relieved of their burden, the tips spring into the air, branches waving in relief.
“They’re still bent a bit, but when the ice melts, they’ll be okay,” he says.
I’m not so sure about the cedars. I keep a close eye on them as the snow stops and the temperature plummets. Minus twenty. Minus twenty-five. The sun does its best but the ice won’t budge. For days, each of a thousand tiny crotches in the apple trees hangs onto its nest of snow. The branches bend so low the deer don’t have to rear onto their hind legs to strip off the last of the autumn fruit.
Now the cold is lifting a little. The sun, that eternal optimist, continues to shine. Maybe now the ice will melt, I think. But winter is a willful architect. It rearranges the landscape to its own harsh and lovely principles, sometimes slowly, without guile, sometimes swift and brutal.
“I should be thankful the ground was covered before it got cold,” I say to my Beloved, “and that no bones were broken.” <.p>
I am grateful, though I can’t help wondering how many of those bones will have to be reset.