Posts tagged ‘learning to love winter’

Learning to love winter

I struggle with this one, even living in Victoria, which is by far the most humane city in Canada as far as winter goes. It is Blue Monday, and I woke up today feeling about right for the occasion: a nagging headache from the cold that just won’t go away, and wishing oh-so-much can we please sleep in past 5 am! My dearest sunshine starts smiling early these days. No Blue Monday for the little ones, apparently.

Out the door for a walk with the dog, trees dripping over head, the sky painted grey and pink with the sunrise. There is something utterly restorative about striding through a wet morning in rainboots, breathing fresh clean air, watching birds swoop. Get lost headache. Get lost Blue Monday. I do not need to book a warm weather holiday. I just needed to go outside.



January 18, 2016 at 10:54 am 1 comment

A walk through the garden

rockland primulas 2
Welcome to the new year. I am happy to be still in pajamas at three in the afternoon enjoying a quiet day as 2014 begins. It is calm and overcast today in Vancouver, one of those west coast days where the air is moist and warm. Moss and ferns and lichen rule the landscape this time of year, even in the city, and especially in the tucked away areas of Vancouver Island where we spent most of the last week visiting family.

We had a couple of hours to spare on our way home from the Island this time, and one of the things we did was stop for a walk at Government House gardens in Victoria. I used to live a five-minute walk away from these gardens when Victoria was home, so I know them well.

You can always tell how much care and thought goes into a garden by what it looks like during the winter months. The Government House gardens are a good reminder about the quiet beauty of the plants that thrive at this time of year: Garry oaks, evergreens, lichens, moss, berries on trees and shrubs, first flowers like hellebores, cyclamen, snowdrops and blue-flowering rosemary.

rockland rosemary 2

Cultiver ton jardin is the thought that is with me today as I think about how to approach the new year. Cultivate your garden. It’s not a new idea, but it’s a good one. It comes from a famous book called Candide by the French writer Voltaire. Candide’s life starts out with innocence and promise. Tragedy after tragedy plagues him, however, and after much loss and struggle, Candide concludes that the only path through this suffering is to focus inward, away from those things out of our control and toward practical action: “Il faut cultiver notre jardin.” One must cultivate one’s own garden.

rockland flowers

What Voltaire meant by the garden keeps many a Literature major up at night. A space of our own making, a place of growth and discovery, a gathering of loves, a sanctuary to help us survive trauma and hardship. At times it might feel like a futile exercise, cultivating our little gardens while the world crumbles around us. But without the garden how can we find the strength to create the change we seek?

Last night we had friends over to celebrate New Year’s Eve, and as always I am at a loss when the question of resolutions comes around. I’m leery of resolutions because I’m just not motivated by goals. That seems like a terrible thing to admit, but it’s true. Goals quickly become tasks on a list – obligations – which make me want to run in the opposite direction. I don’t know why I feel that way, but I’ve given up fighting it. Doing the things themselves is fine; it’s the planning to act that brings me down. I attempt to do most of the things I see others striving for: eat well, exercise, and try to live in the best way I can. But I’ll never approach those things as goals or resolutions. If I have a goal I need a motivation beyond the goal itself to see things through. Ideas like mindfulness, intention and sustaining a practice (artistic, spiritual, healthy living, etc) work much better for me than the idea of achieving a goal. I’m wired for living life in increments, not for planning big leaps and bounds.

rockland hellebores

When it was my turn to offer goals for the new year, travel seemed like the only thing to say. It’s too wonderful to hate, so I felt safe putting it on a resolutions list.

“Cop out,” said my husband, who is one of the most goal-oriented people I’ve ever met. He claims travel doesn’t count as a real resolution since I’ve already half done it by making plans for two trips during the first part of 2014: Hawaii in January and then Denmark, Sweden and Germany in March. I think my resolution still counts. And it was truthful: travel is a goal of mine every year, but more importantly, it’s part of my garden cultivation strategy. No matter what is going on my life, being in a new place seems to make it better.

It takes a day of thought to come to a proper answer sometimes. My walk through the gardens at Government House brought quiet and solace on one of the last days of 2013, and reminded me about the importance of creating something beautiful that can stand up to winter in its literal and metaphoric forms.

2014, for me, I hope, will be about continuing to cultivate a garden worthy of all the seasons.

rockland new rhodos

rockland mountains

rockland red berry bush

rockland garry oak

rockland moss

rockland rosemary

rockland tree in front of house

January 1, 2014 at 6:06 pm Leave a comment

Save your pennies!

tulips6 feb 2013
Poor pennies: they’re on the way out. I see signs all over town about penny drops for charity, and our grocery store has already started rounding up to the nearest nickel.

tulips3 feb 2013
It was a glorious day here in Vancouver this past Saturday, full of sunshine and spring. On the way home from a long, long walk we passed a giant rack filled with tulips grown in the Fraser Valley. $10 for three lovely bunches, so of course I came home with an armful. It’s a bargain when you consider the joy of them, plus the much needed cheer they provided when it poured rain all day Sunday.

tulips2 feb 2013
I always put a couple of pennies in the bottom of a vase of tulips: the copper in the coin keeps them standing up tall instead of flopping over. There is controversy that this is just an old wives’ tale, which may be the case. However, I’m convinced that it works and I’m also attached to the ritual of watching the penny float down through the water, and hearing the sound of it plinking in the glass vase, so I guess I’m siding with the wives.

tulips feb 2013
Up until this weekend my plan was to ditch the excess pennies cluttering up my world since they’ll soon have no monetary value. But now, thinking of the tulips, I’m alarmed at the meagre size of my stash. Imagine all the years ahead, all the future tulips, the copper they crave. I searched around the house and put the pennies I found into a jar for safe keeping.

Beware the penny drop, tulip lovers!

tulip pennies

February 25, 2013 at 1:01 pm 1 comment

Paperwhites in bloom

I arrived home from a weekend away on Vancouver Island to find my paperwhites in bloom! Many people grow these at Christmas time, which is a lovely thing, but I’m always away for the holidays so I start mine after New Year’s.

I discovered paperwhites (narcissus papyraceus) about five years ago and I’ve been growing them ever since. It’s a comforting winter ritual: visit a garden shop in December, load up a paper bag with bulbs, and spend a quiet hour potting them up once the holiday chaos subsides. A few days near a bright window is all they need to start stretching green and skyward, and star-shaped white blooms open up a couple of weeks later, bringing brightness to dreary winter days and helping to stamp out the January blues.

paperwhites january 2013 2Paperwhites are easy to grow. Follow these directions in this video if you’d like to try (the video also includes info on growing amaryllis, which are beautiful, too).

January 29, 2013 at 12:19 pm 2 comments

The sunshine that was

Vancouver’s sunny days glisten like jewels this time of year. We had a gorgeous stretch of weather last week, four or five days of sunlight that made morning strolls with the dog and walks around the city oh-so-pleasant.

I found myself at the entrance to Sun Yat-Sen Park, a free public garden adjacent to the Dr Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden on one of the sunny days last week when I was early for a movie. Few things match the joy and decadence of going to the movies on a weekday afternoon, but sitting in the sun for half an hour watching ducks glide around a pond and then going to the movies in the afternoon, well, try to top that.

Weeping birch trees still full of golden leaves hung over sun-dappled water, a few people milled around the paths near the pagoda, and I thought, This is why I live in Vancouver. Because the gardens are open all year.

The movie was also amazing.

November 14, 2012 at 9:41 am 1 comment

Flowers + snow

Winter on the west coast is at its best when flowers and snow collide. Take these two scenes: above is a picture of a cherry tree in bloom just off Davie Street and Burrard in Vancouver’s west end. I took this picture today when I was wandering around on my lunch break. This seems shockingly early for cherry blossoms, but the photographic evidence speaks for itself.

And below, in the same neighbourhood on the same day, just a few hours earlier, is the view from my office window of the 20-minute snowstorm we experienced this morning in Vancouver. It was a great start to my week to be able to gaze out into the swirl over emails and Monday morning coffee.   (more…)

January 16, 2012 at 11:07 pm Leave a comment

Spring bulbs already sprouting!

It’s hard to believe, but the first shoots of snowdrops and crocuses are peeking up in gardens around the neighbourhood, including mine. This photo was taken yesterday afternoon, which you can see was lovely and sunny compared to today’s drizzle and grey. (more…)

January 6, 2012 at 5:18 pm Leave a comment

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