Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Appreciation of Bygone Eras

Although it isn't officially wintertime yet, being a week and a half away from the solstice, the sub-zero temperatures and generous snowfalls have created quite the glittering wonderland around our home. We've had the opportunity to plough/shovel snow several times now, and it's fun to see the tracks that different creatures have left through the powdery stuff. Deer have been visiting the feeder up on the hill, and we've discovered fox, rabbit, squirrel, and raven tracks around the property. Our bird feeders have been little social hubs as well: it's not uncommon to see an entire flock of chickadees fighting for space around them, with raucous blue jays waiting on the patio beneath, waiting for seeds to tumble down to them.

There is such a glorious magic to this place; one that I don't think I truly appreciated last year when we were living by the lake. Granted, there was a fierce beauty to behold there—especially after the water froze, capturing luminous green waves in mid-fall—but spending a winter in the forest is an entirely different experience. The stillness here is nearly mind-boggling, and although we head into town once a week or so to check the post and buy a few groceries, we often go for days without seeing or speaking to any other human beings. I can imagine that many people find that isolating, but I find it more serene and soothing to the soul than I could ever express.

I actually prefer this type of isolation, but recent experiences have really made me consider what Nathaniel's ancestors must have experienced, living out here in the wild. His family settled here over four hundred years ago, and both sides of his family has several generations' worth of folks who have lived upon and loved this land. Even with all of our modern tools and equipment, it isn't "easy" living here in wintertime: wood has to be cut and stacked, fingers freeze and shiver if kindling won't catch quickly enough, and fierce storms can knock the power out.

When it comes to acquiring food, that's another story entirely. Sure, we have a months' worth of canned tomatoes, beets, and carrots, but we didn't get to can as much as I'd have liked last summer, and the few herbs and leafy greens that I've managed to sprout in the pallid light that seeps in through the window are anaemic at best. On our walk to the grocery store today, we discussed the possibility of MacGuyvering a hydroponic bay in the basement so we can have fresh produce in wintertime.

Speaking of grocery shopping, that's the hilarious topic that brought to mind the idea of bygone eras and ancestral hardships. Having grown up in Toronto, I often had groceries delivered to the door as soon as ice appeared on the roads, or else I'd take a quick walk to the corner store run by a lovely Vietnamese lady to buy any number of fresh vegetables for next to nothing. Out here, a head of broccoli can run as high as five dollars in wintertime, and don't even think about a luxury item like an avocado or an orange. The cost of food is unbelievable, and the only supermarket in town is two kilometres from our house. Walking (or biking) that distance is certainly keeping us in shape, but since the dirt road leading to our home is barely ploughed during this season, we get to walk through the snow to get to our destination.

Much like N's ancestors would have done.

I've read stories about the people who settled this wild land, and the journeys they would take to pick up essential supplies from the closest town. Some would snowshoe for ten km or more just to pick up a bit of tea, sugar, flour, and such, or families would band together and take a horse-drawn sleigh to town for their shopping. A village such as ours would likely have had a general store and a counter (or even a small shop) where people could receive their orders from the Hudson's Bay Company, but every outing to the town centre would have been quite the undertaking.

It was -8C (-2C in the sunshine) when we headed out today, bundled as we were in multiple layers of clothing. I had tights under yoga pants, topped with waterproof ski pants, and 3 shirts (cotton, cotton/silk, and wool) beneath my coat, while Sir N had thermal longjohns under his ski pants. Since the road nearby is basically a treacherous ice slick covered with powdery fluff, we chose to take a path through the woods instead... and what an adventure that turned out to be. As we trudged through knee-high snow, flanked by spruce, cedar, and bare-limbed birch trees, I think I mentioned to Nathaniel that it was like walking through Narnia; I half-expected a little scarved faun to peek around the corner and offer me some crumpets, but then again, this is Quebec—he'd probably swear at me in Joual good-naturedly and then offer me a sip of his bière.

The woods were quite silent as we walked, and the journey had a nearly meditative quality: we both tend to get inspired while walking, and all manner of thoughts and ideas percolated in our minds as we stomped and slid our way to the store. There's something so invigorating about marching through snowdrifts, and at some points we followed deer tracks en route to our destination. We picked up just enough that we could carry comfortably, and headed back the way we came, stepping in our own tracks for ease of walking.

I must say, one develops a startling appreciation for the little things when one has to battle the elements to attain them. The cup of coffee I'm sipping right now is absolute ambrosia, and I'm certainly looking forward to nibbling overpriced lettuce for supper tonight. Our ancestors wouldn't have been able to enjoy fresh vegetables until the first fiddleheads and sorrel leaves appeared in April/May; they would have subsisted mostly on root vegetable soups/stews, hard biscuits, and a bit of cured meat/pickled items they'd have put by in the autumn. I'm so immensely grateful for these small luxuries, which I haven't truly appreciated until now—it's incredible what we'll take for granted until they're not immediately available, and the horrendously unladylike manner in which I slid down the hill and crawled across my porch today ensures that I'll never take any morsel for granted ever again.

Here's to respecting our ancestors' resilience and strength, and to woodland adventures. I may have to cook something on the wood stove soon in honour of those who have come before, and made homes/lives for themselves in this gorgeous, untamed land.

Monday, November 4, 2013

New Beginnings.

If I thought that the last post we made here was embarrassingly late, this one deserves a hearty apology and a batch of home-baked cookies. It's been over seven months since our last update, and although a lot has happened in that time, we could have at least made an attempt to post a note here and there.
I'm sorry, truly.
Now that the dust has settled and we're nesting in for the winter, we can devote a bit more time to burbling about what's been happening with us.

As mentioned above, a lot has occurred over the last several months, not least of which was moving into our own home here in the wild woods. Yes, for the first time in our lives, we have a house all to ourselves, and a nice swatch of land that we can cultivate into garden spaces. This has been a dream of ours for quite some time, and it still doesn't feel completely "real" yet. My guess is that it'll take some time for everything to really sink in; right now, it's still very fresh and exciting, but every so often we'll turn to one another and ask whether we are , in fact, actually here, or whether we'll wake up from this. It's beautiful and overwhelming at turns, but in the loveliest way possible.

Although we've been in our new home for a few months now, we've only begun to scratch the surface as far as decor is concerned. We have a general aesthetic in mind for the house, but it'll take some time to amass the bits of furniture, artwork, and other accoutrements that will make our house truly "home". The building has only stood for about thirty years, so we'll be adding bits outside to give it a more Victorian/Edwardian feel, and the interior decor is a combination of that era's influence, and a reflection of our woodland locale.

At the very least, we've painted over the hues chosen by the previous owner, as they were eye-searing beyond measure. Who paints a kitchen terracotta and yellow? Honestly.
The hues we've chosen for the house have been drawn from the forest around us: river stones, tree bark, moss, lichen, sky, stream, wildflower. The kitchen is white and blue, while the living room is white, grey, and mossy green. Our bedroom is all shades of stone and bark, while N's studio is a manly, woodsy place—iron, wood, loam. My studio is an airy aerie in white, aqua, pale pink, and light grey, and the garden outdoors... well, those will have personalities all their own.

We spent the summer sanding, painting, and fixing things, and the winter will be a time for nesting and planning: those gardens will require a lot of work, and between establishing food-bearing trees, creating raised permaculture beds for perennial vegetables, and scattering local wildflower seeds, we'll certainly be kept busy! For now, let's just hope that the windowsill herb garden grows in the weak winter light, and that the deer will return to visit us over the cold half of the year.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

March's Great and Terrible Beauty.

Spring is approaching.
The last few months have graced us with some of the most beautiful, startling weather I've ever experienced, and if I hadn't fallen in love with rural Quebec before, I certainly have now. There is a perfect, sacred stillness to be found when it's -30C and all is still in the woods. Snow glitters like diamond dust where it clings to cedar and spruce, and even the most hardy animals nestle into their burrows to keep warm on nights so cold, the stars themselves threaten to crack. We saw the green tendrils of Aurora borealis thread and dance across the sky, watched deer pick their way across the frozen lake, and befriended the little red squirrel that lives in the tree behind our house. Now that the snow has begun to melt and days are growing warmer, we're seeing another face of this wild and fierce land.

Photo by John B.

There is no denying that nature is beautiful beyond words, but all that imagery of a gentle, loving, kind Mother Nature/Gaia figure is seriously lacking in honesty. Yes, there is extraordinary beauty in the feathers of a bird's wing; in spring flowers, and baby rabbits, and the way that sunlight dapples lake water... but there is also so much suffering and violence. As I remarked to a friend earlier, " I have heard rabbits scream as hawks tore them from their burrows, and seen fish go through their death throes while being pecked apart by herons." If ever there was awareness of the brutality that exists in nature, it's at this time of year. Winter's stores have been depleted, and spring's new life has yet to burst forth from either earth or womb. A dead deer was found in my mother-in-law's yard up the hill, and within a day, the carcass had disappeared; drawn into the woods and picked clean by every hungry being in the area. Coyotes have been venturing closer and closer, their yips echoing through the woods as they search for food, and though the little red squirrel that lives in our cedar is plump from all the peanut butter sandwiches we made for it this winter, its cousins are looking significantly more haggard and bony.

Lac Simon's ice is receding, and there's a weasel sifting through the debris on the shore. I think I saw him pick up a mussel shell, so hopefully he's found some nourishment on this grey, rainy day. The official first day of spring is in 9 days, and though the landscape is unlikely to explode into verdant fields overnight, I like to hope that this season of rebirth, growth, and renewal will be kind to the many beings with whom we share this land.

Photo by Jim Nix