Snow Sculpture 2019

I’ve been wearing my toque for months. Seriously. It started snowing September 21 of last year and I’m not sure I’ve taken it off since. I know this because the other day, when I washed and brushed my hair–and let it dry without jamming a wool hat on my head, I was showered with compliments.

“Did you get your hair cut?” someone asked. “It looks so… so bouncy… or different today,” someone else commented.

On the other hand, I showed up at church this past Sunday wearing Nordic boots and ski pants and no one said a word. (I had come straight from a ski clinic and didn’t have the time, will-power or physical strength to change.) The marvelous thing about my outfit is that no one batted an eye. Not one person.Five months of winter will do that to a community. And I think it’s wonderful. Which is kind of what this year’s snow sculpture on our front lawn is about. The magic of winter.

Now, that last sentence might have made some of you gag or click the little “x” in the right-hand corner of your screen. Given the weather over the last half-year, that is a legitimate response.

But. If you’re still here, this snow sculpture is for you! You are the kind of person who would ski in a snow-covered ditch and talk about it as ebulliently as your last trip to Paris (Bonnie). You are the kind who would wade through snowdrifts with me for an hour, during a blizzard, just for a breath of fresh air (Shannon). You are the kind who grew up in the tropics but are teaching your kids how to thrive in what feels like the Arctic. (Anna Lissa) Here you are friends:

Stan does most of the work, the rest of us help shovel, carve a little and give a lot of critique from the curb

Don’t Got Time For That

“I am sorry to inform you that the jury convened to adjudicate the applications did not approve your project for a grant.”

I read the line over twice to make sure I understand it. Wonderscape didn’t get the grant from the Saskatchewan Arts Board. The proposal I had spent days writing had failed! I had wondered, while crunching numbers, requesting testimonials and writing motherhood statements, is this worth it? Does it make sense to while away time when I’m not sure of the outcome? Shouldn’t I be working on my own writing projects, or something valiant like scrubbing the bathtub?

I call my sister, which is what one does in these kind of situations, when I find out about the refusal.

“Should I still try to form a non-profit now that the application has been rejected?” I ask her. “It’ll take so much time and paperwork,” I moan.

There is silence on the other end so I keep going. “Plus, I know nothing about bylaws or articles of incorporation.”

In the end I decide to incorporate. This means filing paperwork with the government, multiple meetings with the director of the local art gallery, writing articles and bylaws, finding board members, scheduling an AGM, printing financial reports and budgets and preparing agendas. It’s all overwhelming, mostly because I keep ruminating over the same questions: What’s the point? Is this worth it? Do I have time for this?

*

Anne Lamott tells the story of when she went shopping with a dear friend who was dying of cancer. The friend brought along her six-year-old daughter to help Anne buy a new dress. Anne stepped out of the change room, adjusting the neck line and pulling on the skirt, while the young daughter skittered and skipped around her mom who was in a wheelchair. Anne tugged on the fabric and complained about looking fat. She wondered, too, whether the dress made her arms look flabby.

Her friend, who would die three weeks later, looked at her from her chair for a long time. Then she said, “Anne, you don’t got time for that.”

*

A teacher from Susanna’s French immersion school emails us asking if Stan would be interested in making a snow sculpture outside the school for French Education week. I read through her note and think about all the electrical work in the basement, the flooring that needs to be installed and the ceiling tiles we ordered last week. We definitely don’t have time for that, is my immediate thought after reading her request, but I wait to ask Stan before responding.

I bring it up as soon as he comes home from work and he immediately says, “Sure!” without hesitating.

What one person ain’t got time for, the next person does.

*

The morning of the first Wonderscape AGM I wake up at six with a feeling of dread. I had been dreaming about Robert’s Rules of Orders and my inexperience chairing formal meetings. I get up and review the stack of papers I’ve prepared for the new board members. Some of them, who are coming from over 100 miles away, will soon be on their way.

Hours later, when we sit at my table, I remember how I had met each one of them:

I found Shannon in 2016 at the Kenosee Lake Kitchen Party, where I spotted her wearing her dark-rimmed glasses. I knew I had to get to know Shannon and had a hunch by the way she smiled, sang, talked and moved that she would know a thing or two about arts and connecting people. I asked her to meet me one afternoon outside my cottage in the forest where I had set up my laptop on a make-shift table to work on the first Wonderscape retreat. She listened to me talk for a long time. Then I listened to her. And I knew I had found exactly who I  needed. Now she’s here, taking minutes and reminding me what I wanted Wonderscape to be in the first place.

Marea sits beside her. I met Marea on the side of the road. Well, not exactly the side of the road, but in her pottery shack, which runs on an honour-system, at the side of the road. She came out to meet us just as we were about to leave money in her cash box in exchange for a beautiful bowl. We started chatting and laughing, which is easy to do with Marea, and that’s when I felt another little nudge. Should I ask this stranger if she wants to come to Wonderscape? Finally, right before I left,  I got brave enough. “I’m trying this new thing,” I said, faltering. “A creative arts retreat… you might be interested?”

Rebecca is next to Marea. She invited our family over for a bonfire the first day we moved to Saskatchewan almost 10 years ago. We ate hummus and stared at the flames and I thought, What are the chances that someone who likes the outdoors and art and neighbours lives just down the street?

An acquaintance gave me Sarah’s name. They said she was an artist and even had her own TV show. I called her immediately and told her she had to come to my house. She did.

Twila and I spoke in Spanish the first time we met as she had recently returned from a decade of living in Guatamala. We’ve since become family friends and raise each other’s children.

Gillian is here because Sarah thought she would fit the Wonderscape team. She’s a pianist and vocalist and though I’ve only met her once before I already agree with Sarah.

These are the people who traveled through a January storm to get here. Who bring their experience and talent to the table. We establish quorum then spoon coconut chickpea curry over basmati rice. We make motions, second and carry them. We eat brownies. We talk about creativity and artists-in-residence and vision and values and fund-raising and nature and painters and writers and photographers. The snow accumulates on their vehicles while the candle flickers before us. Surrounded by these woman I am infected by their enthusiasm and decide it is already worth it.

*

Life is short. We may have more than three weeks left, but we still have to pick and choose how we’ll spend our minutes and our mental energy. The next time I look disapprovingly in a mirror I’ll hear Anne Lamott’s friend say “You don’t got time for that”. I’ll hear it when I wonder if I should do the dishes instead of write the next paragraph. When I languish on Facebook instead of going outside. When I stay on the beach instead of swim. When I organize my closet instead of planting my garden. When Stan rummages around for his snow-sculpting tools and I wonder when he’ll run the wires. When I start complaining about the hours I put into Wonderscape.

I don’t got time for that.

We don’t have time to pass up on the things that make us flourish. The things that might overwhelm us, make us cold, exhausted or even unavailable to do other things, but that make our life richer and wider and deeper.

When will you hear it?

*

Notes:

*Thanks, Katrina, for always being interested. I wrote this in response to your FB message asking me about the AGM.

*I heard Anne Lamott tell the aforementioned story to Kelly Corrigan on this podcast as I was priming our basement walls.

Improbable

I went for a walk last summer, then came home and scribbled my impressions in my notebook. In November, while flipping through my “vomit drafts”, I found a few of those images and strung them together to write a poem.

It was a hot July morning
but my three-year-old insisted on wearing snow boots.
She settled into the stroller, still in pajamas,
for our normal spin through the prairie.
I didn’t stop until she begged to get out,
to step off the path
to grab a handful of Saskatoon berries,
to stand by the pond and yell
over the deafening chorus
of red-winged blackbirds,
to pinch off wild chamomile flowers and stick them up her nostrils
like an old woman inhaling smelling salts

Near the end of our walk we went through the cemetery.
A truck was parked in our path…

Literary Mama published it this week. Click here to read the rest.

DSCN2058_The most delicious thing about being published is that a stranger thought my work was worth sharing. It means that it is somewhat accessible, even if you don’t know who Spunky was (my childhood dog) or anything else about me. I’ve submitted other pieces to Literary Mama, but for some reason this one made it. And today I’ve got an extra lilt in my step!

 

Loppet

If I understood hashtags
or knew why I should use them
I would type out a whole slew:
#myfavouritemonth
#duckmountainloppet
#makethemostofit
#20kmandstillhappy
#crosscountryskilove
#swapyourbabyforakidwhoskis
And it would all be true
expect for the parts that
were left out.

Like when I lost Stan at the start and was left without wax or water or food
and teared up,
partly because I thought we were in this together–
but mostly because of the food.
And then, when I found the girls six kilometres later,
one of them had a breakdown and refused to move an inch farther
and yelled crazy things
and I yelled crazy things back
and smiley men in spandex swished past us, commenting on the
superb day,
while we feigned pleasantries.

But that’s not all that would be missing.
The catchy phrases wouldn’t describe
the wood smoke or braided rugs or sliced oranges
at the warm-up huts.
They wouldn’t ring like the laughter of the hut-host who invited us in for sausage
and gave my thirteen-year-old advice about boys.
Or capture Mary skip-hopping while she skate skis
like a forest nymph or Susanna’s flushed cheeks
or Belén whooping through birch and pine.

Hashtags would certainly be quicker and easier
but sometimes quick and easy isn’t as
satisfying as sore biceps and stiff hips and sweaty necks
and run-on sentences that
become
a poem.

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Why I Care About a Mouse Tail

The moon is a small sliver and the sky is overcast tonight. Stan is trying to back our small Saturn, and trailer, down a narrow alley that borders a park at the edge of the city. The trailer hitch is short so it’s incredibly hard to back up at the best of times, never-mind doing it in pitch darkness with soft snow ready to swallow the tires. He gets stuck so I get in the driver seat while he pushes. Then we try again; I call out directions while he maneuvers the trailer back towards the fresh snow. (This is the second night of shoveling so we’ve already cleaned off the stuff that is easy to access.) Finally we make it to our destination and I start pushing up piles with the snow scoop while Stan hefts it into the trailer.

I notice a home owner peek his head out of his garage to find out what the commotion is about. He stares for awhile and then retreats and I wonder if he will tell his wife about the crazy people shoveling snow off public land. I also wonder if we actually are a tiny bit crazy.

Sweat starts to trickle down my back–under my tank-top, tee-shirt, sweatshirt and winter parka. I can hear Stan grunting while he heaves snow at his usual frenzied pace. “I wonder,” I call through my scarf that is frozen stiff, “if we’ll be nostalgic about this when we are in the old folks home. Can you imagine sitting around and talking about the days when we used to steal snow for sculpting?”

When the trailer is piled high we lumber down the block-and-a-half to our front yard and half-empty wooden box. About 3 loads later, it’s finally full to the top and ready to sit for a few days while we wait for the snow particles to bond.

About a week later, after Stan has taken the wood form apart and finished 95% of the carving, we spend a couple evenings taking care of the last details. He’s working on the mouse’s nose and teeth and I’m on a step ladder, shaping the feet.  It’s dark and quiet enough to hear the scraping sounds our tools make against the snow. “Just so you know,” I tell my husband, “I would never be doing this if I hadn’t married you.” I’m not unhappy, or even complaining about the -30 temps, I’m just stating the obvious. How marriage affects us in ways we never would have known when standing at the altar. The next night this truth becomes even more apparent.

We’re laying in bed, and just before falling asleep Stan comments, “I think the tail is too wide for the body. It would look less reptilian if we narrowed it.” I agree and roll over. Hours later, in the middle of the night, I awake for no reason. I toss and turn and think about all kinds of stuff, including the mouse’s tail. Suddenly it’s all I can think about: how I’ll need to get the saw out in the morning and shave off the sides, how the mouse’s hind legs are curved, and how the buttocks should partly cover the tail. And then I think, why on earth do I care about a mouse’s butt at stinkin’ four o’clock in the morning?

But I do care. I care because we’ve invested so much time in it already. Because snow is a beautiful thing to work with. Because people like to drive by slow and crane their necks and take pictures. Because my girls look forward to the sculpture on their yard every year. Because creating something–anything at all, even a mouse’s tail–is the opposite of apathy; it affirms that there is meaning and that we have a reason to care. And I care because I married Stan, of course. Which is the main reason why I’m worried about how a mouse’s tail comes out of its butt.

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Stan cuts off a lot of snow blocks when he starts carving–they girls love to use these in their snow forts

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Saron and Free help us pack the snow

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Ice-boating

“I’m feeling distressed,” Susanna tells me one day after school.

“Oh yeah?” I respond, not terribly concerned. Susanna has a penchant for being dramatic so I wait for her to continue before I decide if I need to get down on my knees and cradle her face in my hands.

“Yeah. I’m distressed because I’ve never, EVER, not even ONCE been to West Edmonton Mall!”

“Mmm,” I say, my hands still in the dish water. “Yep, West Edmonton Mall is pretty cool. Have all your friends been there?”

“Yes! And Disneyland too! I’m the only one in my class who hasn’t been to Disneyland!”

“That’s tough,” I say, because I am super-mom; so empathetic, so non-judgmental, and patient. But only for a few minutes. When her litany of complaints goes on a little too long something snaps and suddenly I don’t feel sorry for my well-fed, completely-clothed child. She senses my change in demeanor (I think it has to do with me telling her I will get very mad if she keeps on talking) and quiets down.

After a moment or two of silence I add, “We haven’t gone to West Edmonton Mall or Disneyland, but we’ve done other things. How many kids in your class have slept overnight in an igloo? Have any of them gone on a canoe trip? Or how about sailing on ice?”

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You don’t get to chose the family you are born into; you don’t get to chose if your parents give birth to you in Japan, Canada, or Iran. You don’t get to chose if they are Buddhist, Christian, or Muslim.  And you don’t get to chose if they are the kind of people who will take you to Disneyland or West Edmonton Mall… or take you ice-boating. My daughters got Canadian Christians who take them ice-boating. And they’re stuck with them.

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Belén and Susie with friends Jillian and Evan

We drive an hour to find a lake without any snow cover and when we arrive the conditions are perfect. Our friends, Kevin and Carol, have already spread a buffet of snacks on their tailgate and set-up lawn chairs around freshly drilled fishing holes. The sun is shining, (our thermometer reads +8c!), the wind is blowing, and the ice is thick. Even though the surface layer will melt throughout the day, there are still about 20 inches below all the puddles to support us and our vehicles.

Stan unloads the boat he fashioned out of wood, a bed frame, and an old hockey stick. While he puts the pieces together the children take turns helping and tripping over each other, discussing who will go first.

I interrupt them. “I think Dad should go first and explain how to do it; he needs to give instructions while everyone is listening,” I say firmly. “Right, Stan?”

“Uh… I think this is the kind of thing that you just have to figure out while you do it,” Stan mutters while trying to attach the guy wires to steady the mast, which isn’t really the response I was looking for.

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After everything is rigged Stan gets in the boat and motions for Susanna to sit in his lap. I am watching from afar (changing Vivi’s diaper in the front seat of our car) and hoping Susanna’s helmet is on tight. The wind isn’t strong enough to propel them both so Stan gets out after a little ride and gives Susanna what I imagine to be more instructions and a strict warning not to go near the open water by the mouth of the river. At least this is the conversation I have in my own head when I see my daughter lay low in the boat, haul in the sail, and pick up speed.

“Does she know how to stop?” I yell at Stan while I grip Vivi’s bare ankles. Stan can’t hear me of course and it’s useless to shout at Susanna–all I can do is watch silently. My daughter is riding the wind, flying across the ice, whooping and screaming, and heading straight for our Mazda 5 and our friends’ half-ton truck. I stop pulling at Vivi’s diaper tabs and wait for the moment, and the fear, to pass. It does. Susanna sails the boat right between our parked vehicles and then steers into the wind to stall it. Turns out she does know how to stop.

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Giving Susanna a push to get her going

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When Belén tries it for the first time the sail catches the wind and lifts the right side of the boat a few feet into the air. The next moment all three skates are in contact with the ice and she is in motion. Stan tells me the the boat is inherently stable and the risk is fairly low but adrenaline courses through my body anyway. I feel the same rush when it’s my turn and I’m scared, amazed, and confused all at the same time; it goes faster and is more fun than I expected, but I don’t understand how it works. When should I let the sail out? When do I suck it in? How does the speed of the boat interact with the force of the wind?

Stan tells me it’s something you just get a feel for, so all of us take turns feeling the wind as it pushes us across the lake, listening to the metal blades on the ice. The breeze dies down sooner than we’d like and it’s almost completely calm by the afternoon’s end. Never before have I wished it would get good and cold and windy, but I do now. If the mild weather keeps up we might have to wait until November to try it again, which seems too far away.

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Soaked through! Using our car to dry layers of clothing.

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Shelly and Jack come in time for another fish!

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On the way home both Belén and Susanna thank their dad for building the boat and taking them sailing. I agree with them. “That’s the coolest thing we’ve ever done with our kids,” I say to Stan. But don’t take my opinion at face value. We’ve never taken them to West Edmonton Mall or Disneyland after all.