by Heather Phaneuf

Ours is a mill town, its history well-rooted in textiles and the power of a river to create the warp and weft of lives. Last Friday was my tapestry of a day – tightly woven with the delightful demands of the day, high temperatures and the waning of winter. A day bursting with tales to be told and a season of change on so many fronts.

And just as every tale is tempered by a larger story, so we began that morning marking the first pandemic year. A year to the day it was – only a year?  Now vaccines and variants joust with each other on the news feed and in casual conversations as we attempt to wrap ourselves in comfort.  Upon the memories of brutal losses worldwide, and new ways of being that are not quite yet ready to end, we attempted to untangle the knots of our time and then, we relinquished ourselves to the day.

In front of the seed trays soon to be filled, I received an email oozing with the promise of sweetness and spring.  We sensed a beginning, and it was sublime. A friend had tapped the maples and invited orders for syrup, offering the temptations of enjoying a walk through the sugar bush soon.  You just know that here in the valley, maple sap runs in copious amounts when the temperatures swing between highs in the day and lows at night – as do the visions of calories pouring onto pancakes and, oh my, beans and French toast!  It’s going to be a tasty month.

The temperature hit 15 degrees Celsius that afternoon and broke records – I’ll worry about that longer-term implication later – but at that moment it meant a focus on the garden-to-be, or not-to-be, if I didn’t get going on it.

Hundreds of seeds, may have been thousands, were planted.  Using cutting edge technology – an old, cracked pen – I poked holes in soil, used eyebrow tweezers (why use them for anything else right now?) to deftly place each seed into its dusky home and poked name-tag-popsicle-sticks in each.  The tags will get lost at some point, it’s a well-honed tradition here, but at least for a moment or two, I felt like a competent gardener.

Even the smallest seeds had stories. Some were purchased online – a key strategy these days – from favoured provisioners and horticultural clubs; others from friends who will enjoy spending time sitting near the plants and exclaiming later in the year; and then our own stash which had been stored and patiently waiting, in envelopes and mason jars.  A veritable smorgasbord of blooms, herbs and veg just waiting for germination.

Every beam of sunlight was now a welcome garden co-conspirator.  Every drip of water, life. Every bright window ledge – bathroom and bedroom included – is now festooned with pots, trays and green potential. And yes, there was already colour as cuttings taken from last summer’s mother plants were placed just so – a foil for those containers that might be mistaken for just some soil. Ha – just wait.

And the water dripped, dripped, dripped from eavestroughs and branches as when outside, without jackets, just sweaters and loose scarves, we breathed in the complex scents of early spring. Drip, drip, drip – we eyed the upturned rain barrels – not yet.

Needing to further enter this perfect fabric of a day, maybe to imagine the time ahead when spontaneity will again rule the day, we took the time to visit the opening bay.

There the waters swirled and eddied by as the ice changed its solid state back to liquid, twisting like a chameleon flowing down the river. The two Canadian geese who had braved the winter here on ice and snow, were now swimming in opening waters and joined by a third.  Overhead the V-shapes of spring migration had begun, and perhaps old friends were now reacquainted. I imagine our small support group of geese feeders heaved a sigh of relief – the beasties made it through!  And so had we.

No doubt we all think of times ahead when we too will weave our own stories together, side-by-side. Maybe on the river, in the street or in the garden; building on what we have learned.

Our place is now, tomorrow will come.

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