To understand the deepness of winter in North America, you must also understand the intensity of summer, as the two are always in tension:
For example, this weekend, we have the farmer’s market Friday evening, then we’re hosting a gig and party at our house. Saturday we have a picnic for the annual general meeting of a local non-profit. Sunday friends are arriving, and we already have my mum and another Aussie friend, Michael, visiting.
Just a normal, busy weekend, right? But every single weekend from June- August looks like that. And it’s in stark contrast to a grey, snowy weekend in late January when I am literally pacing our house, wondering if I should sort through our clothes again.
It’s not that you can’t do social things in winter.
It’s just that it’s dark at 4 pm and even if the day has been sunny, if it’s wet at all, the roads start to ice up as soon as darkness falls. Going out for a drink starts to look like less fun when you imagine the slow, nerve-wracking drive home, with a possible detour into a snow bank.
And so all of the big ticket social occasions happen in summer – weddings, family reunions, graduations: even funerals are sometimes put off until the spring for the convenience of travellers.
There’s a wild berry bush here known as serviceberry, which flowers early in the spring and then produces rather tasteless and mealy blue berries, loved by bears but not often eaten by humans.
Apparently, the reason for the name is that the bush flowers when the funeral services are held – when the ground was soft enough to bury those who had died over the winter and were kept frozen in the wash-house until the time came.
Because of the length and depth of winter, there is no growth for six months of the year. None. And so all the growing must happen in summer, and growth is fast, thick and incredibly verdant once it gets going.
Today, the first light was at 5:02 am and last light will be at 10:21 pm. 15 hours of grow time for my baby plants – no wonder the beans will seem to grow an inch overnight.
Three months is not long to fit in all the camping, hiking, gardening, food production, and outdoor projects in our lives, and the end result is a kind of frenetic breathlessness as we cram our days with tasks and try to sit out the yard with a beer at the end of the day as well.
Summer days here are stunning – beginning with cool [no, cold. It was 40 degrees Fahrenheit this morning, which is 4 degrees Celcius!] mornings with the incredible damp smell of cottonwood buds, reaching 80- 100 degrees and ending 15 hours later with the pink glow of sunset on the still snow covered mountains.
We are a few weeks away from summer heaven – when strawberries are still falling from bushes, cherries are reddening on trees and raspberries are abundant. This kind of luxurious, un-netted fruit harvest makes me realize the scale of Australian birds. I miss the noise of Aussie birds, so coarse and constant when I’m in Montana, but what a fight to harvest a berry!
In late August, we will be in full harvest in the garden, but simultaneously start watching the forecast for a frost and scurry around with frost cloth, hoping to ripen just one more pepper on the bush.
Then one day – bam! it’s over.
There’s a line in a Waif’s song [Vermillion] that I always think about at the end of summer: “She got old, she got idle as a picture/she died with the flowers in the fall.”
Seeing bright zinnias in their prime knocked down by an early frost is always sad. This year we’ll leave – maybe before that frost – and head straight into an Aussie summer.
It’s no secret that I don’t love winter in North America, but there is something wonderful about collapsing into a routine of cosy indoor time after a hard working, hot, activity-packed summer.