Those Woodpecker Winters

”Wake up! Wake up!” The woodpecker knocks, flying from tree trunk to tree trunk, swooping gracefully between the branches. “Spring is here. Wake up!“

Against the pale white bark of the poplar trees, her red crest hat can be seen by all the creatures of the forest, like a flame alight in dark meadow.

“Wake up, poplar!” She knocks. “Wake up, spruce!”

“Let us sleep. It is only April. The winter is still not over.” Poplar replies with a shiver of her branches.

“Even the ants are still hiding in their burrows. ” Creaks spruce. “Let us be if only for a few more weeks. Wake us when the hares winter white coats have fallen, or when the wasps stir from their nests. Not now. It is still too soon.”

“Oh, but poplar, if you do not wake now and show the fresh green your leaves to the winter she will not know her time is passed. And spruce, if your boughs do not bud fresh and bright winter will wonder why you wait.” Woodpecker knocks, flying from tree to tree tapping her bill against the cool wooden trunks. “So, wake up! Wake up, I say!”

Spruce shivers her needles in the spring breeze.

Poplar shakes her bare branches against the whisps of low clouds.

”Let us sleep!” The trees all say together.

And so woodpecker flies along her way, red hat and all, chased by a stray snowflake fluttering down towards the ground and adrift on the cool spring winds.

Winter Reprise Surprise Run

Sunday Runday, and yesterday morning I did some work in the yard, took the dog for a lovely spring walk, sat in the grass, cleaned up some flower beds, and generally enjoyed the spring.

This morning we met for a run on icy sidewalks and through ankle-deep snow.

These woodpecker winter days are nothing too surprising for anyone who has lived here very long. The gentle-jabbing joke that quickly circulates on text threads between local friends is “ok, who put their snow shovels away for the winter! It must be your fault!”

So, surprise… no.

But it is still very much a shock to the system when one is expecting something slightly warmer when planning a spring run.

I’d already cleaned up and packed away all my winter running gear. The mitts, hats, heavy jackets all tucked into the closets once again. The shoe spikes hidden away for next winter.

Maybe it was my fault the snow came back for a reprise.

We immediately made for the trees and escaped the icy city streets dropping into the river valley trails. The snow was deeper there but the ice was far less dangerous.

The snow storm had blown in quickly and aggressively, dropping a near-horizontal storm on the whole region. Somewhere between five and ten centimeters of fresh white powder covered the ground and then also the west side of everything. Wind. Horizontal snow. It sticks in unexpected places. The fluffy white kiss of winter’s last gasp clung to the trunks of trees and every branch of every tree creating a magical scene along the trails.

I spent almost as much time snapping photos as I did running.

As much as we’re used to a fresh snowfall here, it never ceases to be a breathtakingly beautiful opportunity to inhabit these familiar spaces as they are temporarily dressed in an all-encompassing snowy veil.

And temporary is the key word.

Even on the loop back I could see the melt begin.

Have you ever felt that sensation of momentary awe when you witness some bit of slow-motion nature happen in real time. Like, when you walk through the woods and a branch tumbles to the ground from high up in a tree. It has been growing there for years attached to the trunk of an even older tree, and then in that one moment as you pass by it happens to reach a critical tipping point between gravity and connection, and it falls down to the ground.

This morning was like that, except in high speed clumps of snow were loosing from their grip on the woods, tumbling through the lower branches and releasing a puff of snow as they crashed to the ground, here, there, here, over there, and there too.

Even the slippery city walks had mostly thawed as we returned to our vehicles and stopped our GPS watches for another successful Sunday run.

And by next Sunday, likely as not we will be back to treading through familiar spring trails and snowy paths will be just another week gone by.

Season

Three months into writing daily missives here on this blog and it occurred to me that there is one particular word woven through my stories to which I have not given much thought. It is a word with multiple, distinct meanings, and that fact should have been obvious for a guy who writes about the outdoors, cooking, and cast iron cookware.

SEE - zunn

Simply, to flavour or preserve food with salt and spices.

Or… simply, to ready a cooking surface through the application of heat and oils.

Or… simply, the delineation of winter from spring, spring from summer, summer from autumn, and autumn back into winter.

Maybe not so simple?

The etymology of the word season seems to come from the Latin satio, which is itself entwined in the word to sow, or to make something ready.

One readies food to be eaten or a pan to be cooked upon.

Nature readies the world to grow, blossom, produce, and come to life …and then resets itself to make ready all over the next year.

Seasoning is an act of maturation and preparation.

It is purposeful conditioning.

To season is to make something richer and more ready.

These concepts strung together clearly form a broader theme for the things I’ve been thinking about and writing about and sharing here. Three months in, ninety disconnected posts, and some forty thousand words spent has distilled down to one not so simple word: season.

To season. To be seasoned. To welcome the changing seasons. To ready the heart and mind. To sow a space for good food in one’s home. To mellow the harsh cold iron of a skillet against the delicate organic surface of food. To flavour life as one ages one’s mind and soul against the cyclical reset of the universe. To season.

The Snowy Drive Home

As I posted on Twitter less than an hour after we cleared this particular winter driving mess: The downside of a winter vacation is often the treacherous drive home!

After a quiet morning of wandering around our hotel in the ankle-deep winter snow of a mountain wonderland it was time to pack the car and start the drive home. But where on one side of the mountain it was sunny and magical, a few kilometers North on the same road, just around that big mountain there, a heavy cloud had settled into the valley and the wind was blowing.

All of this was making for a sketchy drive homeward.

Winter Roads and Mountains.

I was the passenger. This is sometimes the worse seat to be in.

All you can do as the passenger is sit quietly and try not to be a distraction. I accomplished this heavy task by pointing my phone camera out the front of the car windshield and taking in the rare view of a lonely winter drive down an empty mountain highway.

The video called “Winter Drive” is from part of our long, slow, snowy drive yesterday.

I include a second video for context, as “Kananaskis Cruising” was a short out-the-side-window clip of the same twenty-five kilometer stretch of highway we had driven inbound less than fourty-eight hours previous. Notice the lovely mountains that are barely ghostly shadows in the video taken a couple days later.

We’re hearty, snow-trained Canadians… eh.

We have high-quality winter tires on our four wheel drive SUV, emergency supplies in the back hatch, and have both driven our share of winter roads.

But.

There was no cell service anywhere along this road.

There was a kid and a puppy in the backseat.

The advanced driving features (lane detection, collision detection, etc) of the car had tapped out and were just flashing a yellow light apologetically from the dashboard.

And snow, ice, cold, and speed are never a trivial combination no matter who you are and what technology you are using.

Conclusion.

The worst of the drive (actually) was less impressive visually. As we turned up onto the main four-lane cutting vertically up the province and across the prairies, the one hundred kilometer per hour gusting winds had blown a number of large trucks off the road. The car shook for three hours and we had to stop to refill our windshield fluid because the asphalt couldn’t decide if it was wet, icy, or snowy, but all of it spattered on the glass obscuring the view. Passing these jackknifed in the ditch and watching them through a muddy, snow-streaked pane of glass as the road of gusting wind creaks and groans the seals of the car is a glaring reminder that the buffeting of the vehicle as it shakes is not exactly an amusement park ride.

But in the end… (spoiler alert) we made it home safely, if very slowly.