I’ve never particularly liked the winter season, and in fact, I’ve always been one of those people who dread its arrival every year as the daylight hours become fewer in number. Yet when I observe a duvet of pure white snow blanketing the neighbourhood, with gusts of wind tucking it up around the foundations of every home, I can’t help but pause and enjoy the beauty of it. On another day, my attention may turn to the mist rising from the harbour, or to one of several vignettes making up the landscape beyond my windows.
I remember my initial shock when the owners of a Victorian era duplex located across the busy road from our home, painted it a bright, daffodil yellow. I wondered how I would ever get used to the sight of it, since it had the same effect on me as if a flashbulb had gone off a few inches from my face. The next spring, these same neighbours, brushes in hand, covered their front doors in an ultramarine blue.
Each year after that brought more small changes to the property opposite ours. Then last summer, a red lacquered, wooden chair appeared on the front step, and at the same time, the garden beds on either side bloomed with perennials, including spikes of blue delphiniums and red hollyhocks. What can I say? I was completely won over by the effect. Wow! I thought. A Van Gogh! Well, I may have been stretching the comparison more than a little, but the primary colours reminded me of Vincent van Gogh’s oil painting entitled “The Yellow House” (1888), in which the sky above the streetscape appears to be an expanse of cobalt blue, similar in shade to the doors mentioned above. This winter, after the first snowfall, the duplex not only exuded self-confidence, it also seemed defiant; no drab, gray day could possibly alter its sunny image. Ever. It struck me recently that the paint job I had first objected to, has since become a pure tonic for my winter blues!
There are other scenes, too, that have had an uplifting effect on my mood. The summer after the removal of our damaged crab apple tree, my husband and I replaced it with a disease resistant variety that bears “persistent” fruit. These have the appearance of large, crimson berries, and remain on the tree from fall through the following spring. We also planted two Pieris japonica “Mountain Fire” shrubs several years ago—one in front of each main floor window facing the sidewalk. The cultivar’s name describes them perfectly, since clusters of drooping, scarlet flower buds hang on evergreen branches all winter long, and new leaf growth in the spring is red, too. It’s amazing what a shot of colour will do to one’s morale on an otherwise dull day.
What else makes me happy at this time of year? Blue jays perform their daily antics in the silver-tipped branches of our magnolia tree, and chickadees hop among the dried berries of the Engelmann’s Virginia creeper vine beside the deck. When I spotted a red cardinal in early January, and soon after, a pair of fat robins sitting in the Viburnum nearby, I realized that I should never take anything in life for granted, but appreciate the small moments of joy that make up my day. [Check out my On Gardening menu tab for a description of this wonderful shrub–Viburnum x bodnantense “Dawn”, also known as arrowwood.]
Like me, you may have noticed that sunsets can be spectacular in the winter months. The rose-coloured sky provides a canvas against which leafless trees appear to lean, their trunks and limbs looking as if they were lacy cut-outs made of black Bristol board. Surprisingly, it is in these months that the following lines resonate with me the most:
“I think that I shall never see / A poem lovely as a tree…”—Joyce Kilmer (Trees, 1914)
The stark silhouettes of barren trees taking shape at twilight attest to the truth of this poet’s words. One night–or should I say morning–I awoke at 4:30 a.m. and looked outside to see clouds racing across the sky like a stampede of wild stallions illuminated by the moon. I wanted to capture them permanently, but the slideshow below is unable to convey the speed at which they were travelling, and unfortunately, the images taken with my camera are not as sharp as they should be. During the time I was watching, the trees in our backyard became visible again, developing slowly, much like the details of a chemically infused Polaroid print (an analogy for those of you who might remember such a gadget in the days long before digital photography). If you have insomnia, as I sometimes do, get up and check out the night sky. You might be surprised by what you see, and at the same time, find your own remedy for winter blues.