There’s a blotch of red that is moving within the euonymus creeper that covers the back yard fence, and although I’m busy shovelling the recent downfall of snow from the patio, I catch glimpses of our recent visitor.
I lean on the shovel and focus on the greenery; the cardinal is scrounging for any yummy morsel. It’s the male, so he is not in disguise; his black mask is a dead give-away.
The euonymus is an evergreen shrub that can climb; I have a number of them against the wooden fence that are at least five or six feet in height. Thirty years ago I planted some sarcoxie (green leaves) and some fortunei (variegated yellow leaves) and now some of the sarcoxie are turning variegated yellow. The gardening centre guy told me to cut out the yellow leaves so that the two shrubs won’t mix their colours. I prefer the mixture, so I have ignored his advice.
Earlier, when I closed my back door, a host of sparrows flew out of the shrubs that line the fences. (They’ll be back. They are boomerangs – they always return.) The boxwoods that are too tall (because I am lazy and don’t prune them back in the fall) are safe harbours for the sparrows, juncos, finches, and cardinals. Oh, and squirrels.
The viburnum that the garden centre assured me was a miniature species and would only grow 3 to 5 feet is another safe haven for my feathered friends. It should be – it’s over ten feet tall now. And although it is only five years old, I have pruned that viburnum multiple times. I have to prune it – every summer my neighbour hints that it is consuming her garden. She has a valid point. But the scent of the flowers when I walk out into my back yard is heavenly, and I delay pruning as much as I can. Besides, when I prune the shrub-turned-tree, it looks so prim and proper for a few weeks. I much prefer her wild and expansive state – her branches span the garden fence and I often think how lucky the neighbour is to see her spreading arms each day.
Trees fascinate me. As a beginning gardener, I searched high and low for the latest trends in perennials – I wanted flowers. Thirty years later, (my garden which is very small) is filled with trees and shrubs – or – shrubs that are trees.
On my wish list is a weeping cypress because it reminds me of Gandalf. I call them wizard trees. My front yard is just screaming for a Gandalf – then, the garden truly would be magical.
The snow is the slushy wet stuff that is back-breaking heavy and although I’ve been slogging away for an hour, the white stuff seems never-ending. But I rest often. Rest. Shovel. Rest. Shovel. I’m in a rhythm.
Many Canadians avoid the harsh winters and flee to sunnier climes; we do not. We brag that we embrace winter and all the differing weathers that it throws at us: ice, sleet, slush, rain. We’ve had the whole slurp-y goulash this winter – one moment I’m admiring the snowdrops that peek out of the ground (you are too early, I tell them; pull your heads back in – save yourselves) and shopping in 16 degree weather (last week), and the next, I am chipping away at the ice in our driveway with a pick axe. “It’s crazy weather,” is my new mantra.
Today’s snow is perfect for snowballs, if you don’t care that your gloves will be soaked through. Years ago, my kids would play for hours outside in the snow, building snow forts and walls – castles and fortifications. Throughout the neighbourhood snowmen marched up and down the street, as bags of carrots disappeared from my fridge. Their creations would slouch around for a couple of months back then (in the dark ages), until they turned to lumps – no longer white (half yellow), stained with dog pee. Or something worse. Back then, no pooper-scooper city by-laws. The snowmen lingered because “climate change” and “crazy weather” were phrases not yet spoken.
I take many rests. The man down the road began his driveway after I came out, but he has finished and gone in. I suspect that he didn’t observe the sky, nor the red cardinals’ daily meeting in the trees that line our street. I’m still shovelling. I push the snow (or shove it) a couple of feet but it’s water-logged so I am slow. And I pause again.
The trees are so black against the grey sky – the wiry branches always remind me of tangles and plaques of a brain scan of a person with Alzheimer’s. I used to try to push that image out of my head, but I no longer resist the thought. Too many years of resistance and a misguided attempt to understand the disease.
The sky is completely grey; the artist has covered the canvas with a wash of white, and then smudged the whole thing in grey. Then, she has wiped away the grey. The colour that remains is grey-white. It’s beautiful. But far off, just above the rooftops and tree tops there is a single streak of blue, peeking out. The artist has taken her knife and scratched out a streak of blue in the sky. It’s beautiful, too.
When I decide I’ve shovelled enough, I go in. I had cleared a pathway to the shed for my husband, and I cleared our neighbour’s driveway, too, along with our own. I make myself a cup of green tea, and just as I settle into my comfy armchair to read, I glance out the window. It’s snowing heavily again.
I’ll finish my tea and a couple of chapters of Ian Rankin’s latest Rebus novel, and then I will take an aspirin for my back and look for some dry gloves. I have more work to do.
But first, a quick prayer: Please, God, there is a house for sale down the street, please send a young family with strong, young people. Or, a snowplow.