More Than a Tree


Living in Vancouver for the better part of my life heightens expectations regarding “green spaces”, trees, and shrubbery. I’ll never forget the private belly laugh sparked by the visiting American who blurted out ” what the hell is with all this shrubbery?” , clearly flabbergasted by carefully manicured hedges lining our city streets. We have strict laws regarding trees – none can be cut down without a permit, even if on private property. For every tree removed, five more must be planted. Mild winters and early springs are perfect for blossoming varieties; a great deal of thought goes into placement of cherry, plum, magnolia, and hawthorn. The city places trees for optimum visual effect, regardless of the season. My street has everything from plum and oak to sumac.

Ö Ö Ö Ö

If asked to imagine a tree, few people would picture anything like the “fairy tree” in my front yard. These pictures taken on my phone can’t begin to do this tree justice. Barely a week goes by without spotting someone stopping to capture the impossible dimensions and odd tilt of this giant. I’m not a great judge of distance but would guess it was around thirty feet tall. The height is irrelevant; my tree decided decades ago to dismiss convention – why grow tall when you can grow wide and defy gravity?

Little imagination is required to understand why my young children thought of it as the fairy tree. Twisted branches rope around an ancient trunk, leading towards the inner sanctum. Generations of soft foliage cushion nooks and crannies within its cavernous interior. No amount of rain, wind or snow can make their way past its defences. My children are adults now; busy lives leave little time for peeping inside the fairy tree. A few years ago a pair of ducks decided to make it their home; they materialize in spring – I always know when they’ve moved in because at 6 PM every evening they emerge to waddle down the street. At first I pondered – what duck would choose to live in a tree? Then I reminded myself; this is the fairy tree.

Call Me Crazy


Call me crazy, I won’t care. A week or so from now I’ll find myself in Battleford, Saskatchewan, and I couldn’t be happier. I grew up in the country; my rural childhood had seasons, wildlife, and something I perceived as isolation. Aside from the occasional rocking thunderstorm, and the time lightning struck and demolished the tree next to our house – it lacked extremes.

Canada is a very large country, a place with vastly different weather patterns. My farm childhood pales in comparison to that of the prairies. I grew up with lakes and mountains. I lived in a valley, surrounded by fruit trees and sagebrush. Sure it snowed, but never enough to halt our daily march to the school bus, or heaven forbid – issue a “snow day” at school.

In my early twenties I spent a winter working at a hotel in Grande Prairie, Alberta. This is the place responsible for my fascination with weather extremes.  I barely had time to wrap my head around the sun peering just above the edge of the horizon for a few hours each day, when terms like ice fog and snow rollers entered my vocabulary. Ice fog was my first lesson in the wonder of very, very cold weather.  I  knew about block heaters for car engines, you plugged your car in at night to keep the engine fluids from freezing. I didn’t know that despite this, at -40 or -45 degrees Celsius a coin still had to be flipped each morning to see who had to go out and get the thing started. I had no idea my car tires would become flat where they sat on the ground, and that everyone thunked along the road until their tires warmed up. I had no frame of reference to ponder temperatures so cold , water vapour in fog would form ice crystals that hung in the air. Barely able to catch my breath; snow rollers assaulted the house. Far from scientific my explanation of this phenomenon is summed up as high wind blowing across the prairie picking up snow, this snow forms balls, pushed by the wind and growing as they roll along,  they smash into the side of your house with a rather astounding thwack.

Officially hooked on weather, I sought it out rather than waiting for it to come along. While extremely cold weather seemed to offer the most excitement, I wasn’t picky. Any weather rush would do.

Hail storms fueled my hunger. Driving through “tornado alley” in the states gave me goose bumps. One night as we drove across South Dakota a tornado was visible between the lightning flashes. I see my first flash flood as if it were yesterday. We were at the Monument Valley on the Utah/Arizona border when massive thunder clouds started to build on the horizon, within minutes the wind was blowing sand  with such force it stung. All around me people scrambled for cover as hail and rain fell with force beyond imagination. I didn’t move, I couldn’t take my eyes off a red rock cliff; transformed into a muddy waterfall. Out of nowhere an old Navajo man appeared, he talked to me, explaining why mother earth had sent this storm. Never before or since have I felt as “spiritual” as I did that moment.

Last summer in Cuba, tropical storm Emily passed over Havana. Sitting at the edge of our hotel’s roof top pool, I felt the storm before I saw it. Oblivious to the pounding rain, wind, or frantic appeals by hotel staff to clear the roof; I smiled as funnel clouds formed, dropping down and retreating, teasing me with their elegance and power. The hotel staff literally pulled me from the roof as lightning lashed with a fury that surprised and rejuvenated me. Deposited in my room just in time to witness a lightning bolt strike the building next to us. Every hair on my body stood on end, the building rocked as deafening echoes bounced off the battered city. It was incredible, one of my best days.

So now I’m off to Battleford. A tiny blip, planted squarely in the centre of the Canadian prairie. A place where freezing rain, blizzards, and wind chills are a fact of life. I’m going to visit a place where weather changes in the blink of an eye, and best of all; a place where the endless sky, unobstructed by mountains or city lights will give me a front row seat to auroras. The northern lights show will hopefully be the icing on an extreme weather shot in the arm.

Snow Rollers –

http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=snow+rollers&view=detail&id=D9A8786E6C9339F090D5DA14BBF3CA44637AEB1B&first=1