We humans can’t help but react instinctively to a beautiful smell, can we?
In my last post, The Perfect Recipe for Bread, I mentioned how wonderful the smell of freshly baked bread is in your own home. The same is true when you bake a cake, cook a roast, light a scented candle, or when you bring a bouquet of flowers inside: the aroma fills the whole house and gives you a deep sense of pleasure.
You get the same pleasing effect when you take a walk in your neighbourhood and can detect cooking smells emanating from houses as you pass by: here someone’s making a rich stew, over there a spicy curry. Even better is strolling by someone’s garden and being enveloped by the scent of the lilacs or roses growing there.
But what if a beautiful aroma could permeate an even bigger area?
During this worldwide crisis, many of us are concerned about the changes that are being wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic. We wonder what the world will look like once we emerge from the lockdowns.
Will life truly return to the way it was before? Will there be thousands of small businesses that will never reopen? Will we ever be able to gather in large crowds like we did in the past? Will the way we “do life” have changed permanently because of this pandemic?
It’s at times like these that we need something that never changes, much like conifers. During the winter, when deciduous trees are bare, I’m thankful for coniferous trees. These loyal friends, like the spruces, pines and firs, still have their mantle of green, which they’ll keep year-round. These silent sentinels might not be flashy, but we can count on them not to change.
Sometimes the sweetest things take the most effort to produce, don’t they?
Take, for instance, maple syrup, one of Canada’s iconic products. We often use it atop pancakes or waffles, or in desserts (see below). This delicious liquid starts out as sap collected from sugar maple trees.
Right now it’s maple syrup season in Eastern Canada: as the weather warms, the sap in the trees starts flowing freely. Holes are drilled into the trunks of the maples, and buckets or tubing collects the dripping sap, which is then transported to a central location.
And then it’s ready to be bottled, right? No! Actually, the process has only just begun.
Finally! At long last we’re starting to see signs of spring here in Toronto.
There’s still a bit of snow on the ground, but the tiny snowdrops in my garden are already shyly blooming. The tulips are just starting to poke the tips of their leaves above the ground like a periscope, as if checking to see whether it’s safe to emerge.
“The flowers are springing up, the season of singing birds has come, and the cooing of turtledoves fills the air.” (Song of Solomon 2:12 NLT)
After a long winter, it makes my heart sing to see the beginnings of spring.
But do the flowers and trees themselves sing? And if they do, what is their song telling us?
When winter still has us in its icy grip, it’s hard to imagine that it will ever let us go. There seems to be no end to the frigid temperatures and snowstorms, and it can really get a person down.
What can we do to give us hope during a bleak, cold winter?
A favourite thing that gardeners do is to curl up indoors with some seed catalogues. They read about the promise of future luxuriant flower gardens and abundant crops of vegetables. It lifts their spirits and helps them hold on until spring comes.
The other day I went for walk at the Toronto Botanical Gardens. Even though the trees were bare of leaves and there was snow on ground, it was still a place of great beauty.
I noticed something strange, however, about the other visitors to the park. I must have passed at least a dozen other people as I walked the winding trail down the ravine to the river, but they were all standing stock-still.
Had I wandered onto a set for some science-fiction movie, in which aliens freeze people in place in advance of taking over the planet? Or had all these people been suddenly afflicted with a disease that left them immobilized?
No, the reason they were standing as motionless as statues was because they were all staring down at their smartphones.
Last summer, I had an unusual visitor. A lady I didn’t recognize came to my front door and rang the doorbell. I’d never seen her before, but she was clearly from the neighbourhood, as she had come on foot.
She said she had come to apologize to me.
I was mystified. This lady was a total stranger: why would she need to apologize to me?
If you live in a cold climate, have you ever woken up to discover that there had been an ice storm overnight? You look outside to find the bare branches of the trees are encased in a thick layer of ice.
The effect can be absolutely stunning. The branches glisten and sparkle in the sunlight. People rush outside to take photos of the ice-covered trees.
But the beauty masks a danger: those bare branches are at risk. They were never meant to carry the weight of so much ice. The branches may break off, and the tree can be left devastated.
Do you ever feel like you’re carrying too much “weight”?
If you live in eastern North America, you might be lucky enough to have seen a gorgeous bird called the northern cardinal. The male is especially distinctive, with his breathtaking red plumage and black “mask” on his face.
Up here in Canada, the cardinal is at the northernmost part of its range. We’re especially fortunate that, unlike many songbirds, cardinals don’t migrate south for the winter. We get to enjoy their presence year-round.
But what on earth do the cardinals eat here, when parts of Canada might be covered in several feet of snow?
Did you know that some people make a hobby out of “reading” the forest in winter? By that I mean identifying trees despite their being bare of leaves this time of year.
This can be quite challenging, because frankly, many species of trees look almost identical to each other without their leaves. How do these nature lovers do it? How do they “fill in the blanks” and distinguish one species of tree from another in winter?